There are so many versions of the myth of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. In fact, there is already one on your television right now in Syfy's Merlin. But the new series Camelot premiering on Starz this Friday is a brand new take. We got a chance to take part in a conference call with stars Joseph Fiennes (Merlin), Tamsin Egerton (Guinevere) and writer Chris Chibnall, who confessed to spending quite a bit of time searching for the perfect pint of Guinness while shooting in Ireland. Here's what they had to say about their characters, the series and if we'll see the raciness Starz has become known for.
Joseph on playing Merlin, the iconic wizard:
I guess I kind of read as much as I could but really was speaking to Chris Chibnall and asking all the sort of pertinent questions. [That] made me feel like we weren't going to do an off the peg kind of Camelot which has been done or at least themes of Camelot or at least characters in Camelot have been touched upon in many films and TV series before. So it was really to pick his brains and in doing so, I got fired up by tackling Merlin in a fresher angle. I guess youth is a predominant factor that we were seeing, a young King Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower). I'm into my 40s. I wanted to have the scope which I felt Merlin kind of has in his Machiavellian bipolar way, that he's not to be trusted. Yet he is fighting for this great speed of power and is really sort of publicly a master to some degree in orchestrating Camelot and King Arthur. So he's a strange, dark, devious character and I just wanted to have fun and get away from the cloak and the staff and long, long beard and the pointy hat.
Tamsin Egerton on making Guinevere her own:
Guinevere's been done quite a few times and especially as a mature, young woman who is either the damsel in distress or the warrior, the warrior fighting your strong-willed woman. So I was talking to Chris and he kind of wanted both of us in a way. He wanted a variety of things in this Guinevere. He predominately wanted her to be real and natural and make mistakes and be passionate and be the feisty young girl, but then also completely naive and innocent and ignorant at the same time. So it was yes, fantastic as an actress to be able to tell their thing and also quite confusing at times. So that really hits me. I felt I wanted to not take away whatever actions are done before. Because I think if you steal other people's characters it doesn't work with the context of the scripts in what is written. So I wanted to make her my own. I was petrified in the beginning because it was such an iconic character, Guinevere, especially being a young lady myself. I've always wanted to play her.
Chris Chibnall on his approach to Camelot:
There have been so many different versions of the legend and of Camelot. So what I wanted to do is strip it all back and sort of go back to the beginning and tell the story of Arthur from the beginning of the relationship between Merlin and Arthur. And also then going back to the source material of Malory's darker [story] which is kind of the most complete version of the myth in many ways and going, "Well, here are the events and here are the stories that we know but what might it have been like if you lived through them?"
If you kind of take it for granted that all this stuff happened, how would it be to be Arthur and be 19 and just be quite happy and comfortable in your life? Then this mad, shaven-headed man turns up at your house and says, "Oh, you're adopted and by the way, you're the king and come with me halfway across the country, we got to sort out some war lords." [It's] really looking for the emotional truth in everything.
On the sex and violence in the show:
Chris Chibnall: I think as a writer what's great and what's key to Camelot is it's a story about passion in both the personal and the political. So the political aims are brought down by personal passions all the way through the myth. What's great is we're able to show that. You don't ever want to be, or I don't ever want to be, gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous, but when it serves the stories and serves the characters, it's nice to be able to do that realistically and with credibility. So you don't want to do it for the sake of it and you don't want to shoehorn it in. But it's another good tool to have in the toolbox.
Tamsin Egerton: For me, it's all about the writing. If the writing is allowed to breathe and to be more realistic and you can up the ante a bit more, then that's fantastic as an actress because obviously you're going off what is written. So to that extent, it's fantastic. I also have to agree with Chris, I mean especially with Camelot. Guinevere and Arthur's story is so about the passion, more like it's about the sexual attraction between them. You can't have that story and show that sexual attraction with them kissing and then shutting the door. I mean it just doesn't work.
On the pace of the show:
Chris Chibnall: Well, I think one of the key things we wanted to do in the first season was really set the foundations. There's no rush with the story. It was one of the things that when I first spoke to Chris Albrecht at Starz about, he was very strong about. He said, "Take your time and don't rush. We've got time." Really what he wanted to see was how all these characters come into this world. So that was a great kind of permission from the boss to really spend time with people. So, you'll see a lot of the iconography this year. You'll see the Lady in the Lake, you'll see the Sword in the Stone. You'll see the very, very beginnings of a round table right to the end. But this is about bringing together the group of people and the building and some of the artifacts of what will become the legendary Camelot.
Camelot airs its two-hour premiere at 10 p.m. on Starz.