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Richard Wilson ('Merlin')

Monday, September 15 2008, 09:02 BST

By Neil Wilkes, Editor, Digital Spy

Magyarul / Angolul

The classic Arthurian legend of magicians, dragons and knights is about to be retold in Merlin, a new big-budget Saturday night drama from the BBC. The new version focuses on Merlin's early days, following the young wizard as he learns to harness the skills that will one day make him a man of legend. Guiding Merlin on his Harry Potter-esque training course is the learned court physician Gaius, played by Richard Wilson. Avoiding all temptation to utter Victor Meldrew's infamous catchphrase, we spoke to the veteran actor to find out more.

What can you tell us about Gaius?

"Gaius is a new character in Arthurian legend. He's the young Merlin's mentor and the court physician. He has a very long CV and quite a dark past."

 

How does Gaius feel when Merlin (Colin Morgan) first arrives in Camelot?

"He thinks Merlin is someone he's got to keep in check - then he realises Merlin's extraordinary magical potential. It's more powerful than Gaius has ever seen. The point is that King Uther (Anthony Head) has banned magic in the kingdom. Merlin is a natural magician, so Gaius has to curb him because if he's found out, Uther will kill him."

 

Did you know much about the Arthurian legend, and do you think this interpretation may anger some of the 'purist' fans?

"No, in answer to the first question, but I know a bit more about it now. There have been so many versions of this which all contradict each other. This is a sort of 'hip' Arthurian legend. The language is slightly modern, and when it comes down to it, are there really such things as dragons?"

 

How does it feel to have a full head of hair for this role?

"It's nice to have hair for a while. I haven't had it for a long time. One person asked me if I'd grown it especially, which was a great compliment to my virility, I suppose. It's nice to have a robe as well, apart from the tripping factor. Robes are very hard to go upstairs in."

 

Did it take much persuading to get you to take the job?

"I thought quite hard about it because it's a long commitment. Filming has been in Wales and France, so it's a long time away from home, which is not particularly attractive. Eventually I decided 'yes' and though it's been very exciting to be a part of."

 

Do you think you'll ever shake off being associated with Victor Meldrew first and foremost?

"Well watching this, I expect some people will say 'oh, Victor Meldrew's doing magic now'. Victor will never go away because he's there all the time and he keeps being shown all the time, which is fine. Some people will be disappointed [with Gaius], I suppose, but you can't really answer that question until it comes out."

 

How has it been working with Colin?

"Terrible. No! He's wonderful, extremely professional, very hard-working and very well-trained. He's not that long out of drama school but very easy to work with."

 

Do you socialise much with the younger cast?

"When we were filming in France I went to Disneyland with them and lasted about half an hour. I thought there were much more interesting things around than Disneyland. Initially I wanted to see it, so I went on Magic Mountain with them. But that was enough."

 

How do you feel about the series being picked up in the US?

"I'm absolutely delighted. And also I get more money! It's good to be seen in America, not that I want to go and work there. Well I would, but not for long periods of time."

 

Do you watch much TV?

"Oh yes, I have two Sky+ boxes. I watch a lot of documentaries and certain dramas like Dexter, The Wire, things like that. I don't watch comedy, unless it's something I really like, such as The Fast Show or The League Of Gentlemen. I get very angry when the Sky+ breaks, because they do frequently. You end up losing stuff. I always say 'I should try to archive that programme', but I never do."