Transcription by Katrina King. Katrina wields the magic and tames the dragons.
Katie McGrath has brought the character of Morgana a long way in the first three years of the show Merlin. She started as a royal ward and trusted friend to Merlin, Arthur and Gwen and slowly transformed to misunderstood seer before becoming the greatest enemy to her former friends and the entire kingdom of Camelot. As the fourth season of the hit series begins airing on Syfy, Katie graciously took some time while preparing for season five to speak to me about the character and what we can expect going forward.
POP CULTURE ZOO: So I know that you’re prepping for series 5, but if you can cast your memory back a little bit, where do we find Morgana at the beginning of season 4?
KATIE MCGRATH: You find Morgana embracing her inner, darker, magical side completely. All the seeds of promises you had about her from series 1, 2 and 3 are finally coming to fruition in season 4. All those little hints about the dark magical power that she would have, you find. Within the first 3 minutes of season 4, you see it. All the promises of her being a badass? Season 4 is about Morgana. Morgana and her evil, evil doings.
PCZ: We really get to see her cut loose, then, in series 4?
KM: You really get to see her embrace the real her! Y’know. She’s amazing. She’s confident. She’s self-reliant. She’s self-possessed. She’s, y’know a real sort of modern, composed woman. She drives the story forward. She’s unlike she’s been in any of the other series. She starts out as this pampered princess; and she becomes this scared girl; and then she becomes this sort of unsure, still playing the both sides; and then by the time you see her in series 4, she’s on her own. And she’s all right on her own. And she’s managing to sort of be herself, be in control, and control her own destiny at the same time.
PCZ: Have you been surprised at how far Morgana has come, as an actress, but also the character itself, how far she’s come over the last 3 seasons, going into the fourth?
KM: Oh god, I’m thrilled! I mean I always knew that what they wanted her to be was the ultimate villainess of the piece. Because if you know the legend at all, you know where she’s going to end up. But I could never have imagined that she would be as wonderful as she is. And I really have to thank the writers, and Julian and Johnny for that, that they made her not only this very confident and composed woman, but that they seeded in these bits of some sympathy to her. So that thought, from the first season to the fourth, you can really see where she’s coming from.
PCZ: I guess, in the back of my mind, I keep kind of hoping that there’s something that redeems Morgana or brings her back to the side of good for a little bit, or is that out the door at this point?
KM: No, I think ultimately there is going to be a day of reckoning, at some point, with Morgana. I don’t think you’re going to see it in season 4. I think it’s going to be one of the later seasons that you… She’s going to have to one day come to terms with everything that she’s done and everything that she’s been part of. But at the moment, she’s on such a path. And she’s blinkered to what she’s doing. She can only see the end in sight, and she can’t see the collateral damage that has happened all around her.
PCZ: Is there any point where she might see Merlin as possibly somebody that she could bring to her side, as an ally?
KM: I think the great thing about the story is that it’s the battle between good and evil. It’s darkness and light. It’s two sides of a coin. And that’s Merlin and Morgana. You can’t have a hero without a villain. And I think ultimately if you end up with both of them on the same side, where’s the fight? Y’know, I love the fact that they’re opposite sides. I love the fact that he’s good, and she’s bad. And I think if they end up on the same side, what’re they gonna fight for then, at that point? You need to have them as opposites. And I think that’s what makes the story so great at the minute, that’s what makes season 4 so great. Merlin finally has somebody on the same level of power as him, that can really challenge him, because he didn’t really have that so much up until now. Not a continuous presence. And I think Morgana has become that. I think that’s what’s made the story move on and what has made it sort of grow up.
PCZ: Now, obviously, Morgana is not at all shy about using her magic in public, and things like that. But, it seems like Merlin is still trying to kind of keep his magic secret. Is that going to hinder him in fighting Morgana in season 4 and going forward?
KM: What’s amazing about season 4, I actually have the same sort of y’know, worry, because obviously, once Merlin’s magic comes out, so much of the show would change, and it would become something different. I really was sort of curious to see how the producers would find a way around it. I don’t know how much of a giveaway I can give you, I don’t know how much of a spoiler you want me to give, but the producers, with the way they’ve come up with it, have found a way for Merlin to be magical in public without giving away his secret. That’s how he interacts with Morgana in a magical way, because Morgana still doesn’t know Merlin’s secret, but she still gets to fight him magically. Does that make sense? Once you’ve seen it, you’ll understand what my convoluted explanation means.
PCZ: I’ve avoided reading anything about the episodes coming out of England, but I’ve had journalist friends who’ve told me that there’s a pretty big fundamental shift coming up, pretty early in the season, so I’m looking forward to that.
KM: It’s pretty hardcore. And I think it’s something that people have been waiting for. They’ll be saddened by it, they’ll enjoy it, they’ll have a whole myriad of emotions when it comes to it, but I don’t think anybody is going to be disappointed. I don’t think there is one person who can watch season 4 and come away from it, and not think that everybody has done a beautiful, a brilliant job. Because people worked so hard. What they’ve managed to achieve for TV is 13 mini-movies. It’s astounding.
PCZ: Fantastic. So looking back at everything that’s happened to Morgana, especially in the first season, and things she found out about Uther, and the way Merlin mistreated her, at this point, do you think she sort of feels justified in what she’s doing?
KM: God yes. Yeah, god yes. She absolutely is feeling entirely justified in everything she’s done, otherwise she wouldn’t be doing it. You’d see her much more conflicted, you’d see her much more upset. But the fact that she’s so blinkered by it, she honestly believes she’s making the right choices. She believes she is saving people like her. She believes she is punishing the people that would in fact, y’know, push her to death. She’s entirely committed and feels that she’s vindicated in what she’s doing.
PCZ: So as an actor, is it more fun to play the bad guy than the good guy?
KM: [laughs] God yeah! You could ask any actor. I just worked with Tom Felton, who is obviously Draco in Harry Potter, and he was playing a good guy in the job I was doing. We were sort of staring at each other, and he was like “Y’know what? I think I’m loving what I’m doing, and I’m loving being the good guy?” But there’s something really, really empowering about being evil.’
PCZ: [laughs] Excellent.
KM: And I have to agree with him.
PCZ: Now Merlin is, obviously, a huge, huge success, and very, very popular in England. Have you been surprised at how popular and big it’s become in America?
KM: You can never imagine it. When you start a show, you just hope that somebody’s going to watch it. You hope your mum is going to be the one person who’s going to sit down and really spend the 50 minutes and invest the time in it. And then, y’know we went to Comic Con last year, and there were so many amazing shows at it, and so many people, and you were afraid that nobody would turn up. Then we walked into a room, and there were a thousand people who knew who you were. And you can’t wrap your head around it. I just found out that Syfy are showing the entirety of season 3 on Christmas Day. I mean that’s a big undertaking. And for them to show season 4, I think you’re only getting it about 2 weeks after it finishes here. It’s the 6th of January, and our last episode goes out here on the 24th of December. So the turnaround for it is so quick. It makes you realize how popular it is in other countries. Y’know, I was down in Capetown doing another job, and I was sitting on the makeup bus, just sort of getting ready. And I’m sitting there, and the next thing you know, a stunt guy walks in, and he’s this big stunt guy, like huge, bearded and everything! And he’s chatting away, and all of a sudden, he gives this little girly yelp, and goes “[gasp] Morgana!!” It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen out of this 17 stone stunt man, but y’know, Capetown. It’s the sort of atmosphere, it’s another part of the world, and he knew who I was.
PCZ: Fantastic. Well, again, thank you very much for your time today. Looking forward to seeing all of season 4, and season 5, and many seasons for Merlin to come!
KM: Aww, you’re very nice and very charming, and thank you very much!