When Devon Terrell was cast as King Arthur in new Netflix series Cursed, his reaction was unexpected – he burst straight into tears.
“I had a little cry, I’m gonna be honest with everybody,” the 27-year-old Australian actor told RadioTimes.com. “I showed a little vulnerability.
“I never anticipated to get an audition for a role like this. We haven’t seen a rendition of a person of colour playing this role. So it was definitely something that, as soon as I got the audition I was excited, but I was tentative at moments like ‘Do I even have a shot?'”
As it turns out, he did. Having previously broken out playing another future head of state – the young Barack Obama in 2016 biopic Barry – Terrell was well placed to take on this youthful version of the Once and Future King (with a heavy emphasis on future), years before he took charge of Camelot.
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“We’re not having to see the leader from day one,” Terrell said. “We’re seeing him grow as a man. We’re seeing him fall in love, his relationship with his family. So it’s a very different story.”
In fact, in Cursed Terrell’s Arthur is nothing but a humble mercenary playing second fiddle to Nimue, Katherine Langford’s super-powerful Lady of the Lake, but with the promise that he may get his hands on her sword Excalibur as the reimagined series goes on.
“I’m excited to tell this, before the legend started,” Terrell told us. “Who is this person going to become? And how does Nimue lead us on this journey? Because I think Katherine did such a wonderful job of bringing this to life.”
Before that, though, Terrell has to face an even deadlier challenge – internet trolls. From the very first days of his casting there were murmurs from those who didn’t like the idea of a non-white actor playing King Arthur, or thought it historically inaccurate, and their number has only grown as the series nears its premiere.
Clearly the potential for this outrage to grow weighs slightly on Terrell’s mind, with the actor bringing up the issue independently when asked about the pressures of the role.
“I understand that some people might have backlash about a person of colour playing the role, and [say] it doesn’t make sense and stuff,” Terrell said.
“But also those people need to educate themselves that the character is a mythic legend. There’s stories about him possibly being a bear, or a lion!”
Yes, it’s hard to argue about historical accuracy when the “history” probably isn’t real – and even if you did choose to, it’s worth mentioning that in the older legends of King Arthur there were people of colour who joined the Knights of the Round Table, like the little-told Sir Palomedes.
And to any Arthurian fans concerned about his casting, Terrell was full of reassurances about his dedication and commitment to the role.
“The first thing that went in my brain was ‘I have to know everything about this character – I have to know more than anybody else’,” he said. “So I did a lot of research as soon as I got it.
“But then I also have to find the similarities and the emotional depth to bring this character to life. I didn’t want to create a performance that sat on the fence. I wanted to pick a direction, which moments I made him vulnerable, which moments I made him feel like he’s becoming a leader. And it’s the beginning of a really long journey.
“I knew the research and the demands of the character, what people’s expectations are,” he continued. “And for me, I’ve played a role earlier in my career, playing Barack Obama, facing expectations of what people are going to expect, but at the same time you can’t just give people what they expect, you have to give them the authenticity of what you are within that character.”
Overall, Terrell seems to be more than ready to take on the responsibility of playing Arthur – even though he’s keen to disprove Shakespeare’s great axiom of uneasy heads wearing crowns.
“I hope [everyone knows] I took it very seriously and this isn’t just your normal role you play,” he told us.
The Fae and Arthur (Devon Terrell) in Netflix’s Cursed
“For young people of colour… growing up I didn’t see myself a lot of the time in these worlds. And so I would have loved as a young person to see someone that looked like me.”
“I can see how coming into this character I would be like ‘God, there’s a lot of pressure,'” he concluded.
“But I think if I start feeling the pressure, you’re going to start seeing that within the character. It doesn’t feel authentic, it feels like somebody trying to please people.
“And for me, acting isn’t about pleasing people – it’s about making choices that feel authentic to what the story is.”
And who knows? Given Arthur chance, maybe Cursed will be Terrell’s chance to do both. It is a world of myth and magic, after all…