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Although filming already is under way on the third season of BBC’s international hit Merlin, audiences in the United States are only now enjoying Series 2 on Syfy.
And Merlin, not unlike the wizard himself, is growing stronger. Last week’s episode set season-high standards for total viewers (1.54 million), adults 25-54 (835,000) and adults 18-49 (621,000).
One cast member not surprised by the show’s U.S. success is Angel Coulby, who plays Gwen — or, as she will eventually be known in Arthurian legend, Queen Guinevere.
Coulby, who said playing Gwen is like a real-life fantasy, shared with Spinoff Online some hints about what’s ahead for the Once and Future Queen.
Spinoff Online: SyFy shared news earlier this week that last week’s episode of Merlin had its highest viewership levels of the season and that, overall, the show has been attracting a steadily growing audience since its debut in April. Why do you think Merlin is catching on with American audiences?
Angel Coulby: People are falling in love with it around the world. It’s very popular with audiences everywhere, but I think it’s just a really enchanting story. I think people really like that fantasy genre, whether it’s things like Harry Potter or Avatar, things that really allow that kind of escapism viewing where you can just lose yourself in another world.
And with Merlin, it’s always been a hugely popular story in the U.K., the various versions of it. But now they’ve made it very accessible in a way and very glossy, and it’s very well-written and it has a lot of great guest stars. It’s just got a lot going for it, I think.
Were you a fan of sci-fi and fantasy before you landed the role of Gwen?
I was definitely a fan of fantasy and sci-fi to a certain extent. I really liked Star Wars — I was always a fan of the old Star Wars films — but I loved fantasy stuff. I think that’s part of the reason why I wanted to be an actor, because I saw myself, in my imagination, in another world. And I was also a fan of the Arthurian legend, and I actually wanted to play Guinevere after I saw a version of it on Channel 4 in the U.K. I think it might have been Ava Gardner playing Guinevere, and I just thought, I’d love to do that. That would be pretty cool. So I’m actually very lucky to be able to do it now.
What do you think about a new generation of fans – both young and old – being introduced to Arthurian legend through a TV series versus reading the original tales?
We kind of have to face it. These are the times. I think kids should always read books because it’s really important to read these stories and learn in that way. But I think a lot more people are watching telly and using the Internet, so there is no reason that we can’t bring that kind of historical element to them through that medium. There are so many different versions of the story and we’re not trying to be “accurate.” So this is kind of just another new version.
Early on in the first series, Merlin calls Gwen “one of the best seamstresses in all of Camelot.” How’s your sewing in real life? Have you ever made your own clothes?
You know, it’s funny that you should ask that because I just got a sewing machine [laughs]. I am making my own clothes and I’m really enjoying it. So yeah, I am quite a good seamstress and I think I’ll only get better.
So if this whole acting thing doesn’t work out you’ll have something to fall back on.
Maybe. Or maybe I’ll just bring out my own fashion line.
During the first series, it looked like there may be a bit of revisionist writing going on and that Gwen and Merlin might hook up. But as the series moves on, Gwen is now falling for Arthur and Lancelot. Does Merlin still have a chance?
No [laughs]. Unfortunately for Merlin, I don’t think so. I think that was one of those things where he was the new guy in Camelot and she didn’t know he was a magician but she was very impressed by him and by his bravery. He was this new guy, who was a little bit odd and I think she was intrigued by him. But I think as their relationship grew, they just became friends. And just in terms of the actually story, the story is Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere, not Arthur, Merlin and Guinevere. I think the writers wanted to move things on and follow that path instead of creating a whole new love story.
It’s already been teased that Lancelot will return for Series 3, so I guess it’s safe to say that the Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere love triangle is not finished yet.
No, definitely not. Anyone who knows the legend knows that there is a lot more fraternizing to go on between Gwen and Lancelot in the future, so I imagine he’ll be back. He’ll be popping back every now and again.
Can you give us any other teases of what’s ahead for Gwen at the end of Series 2, heading into Series 3?
I think her main story is the development of her relationship with Arthur and the fact that they can’t have an actual relationship. They’re constantly challenged by their feelings for one another.
And in Series 3, you meet a member of Gwen’s family and there’s an interesting story around that, as well.
You once played Katherine in the Doctor Who episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” opposite David Tennant. Would you love to see the TARDIS land smack-dab in the middle of Camelot for a Doctor Who/Merlin crossover?
[Laughs] I don’t know. Who knows? Maybe? That would certainly be an interesting possibility.
Merlin airs new episodes at 10 p.m. Fridays through July 2 on Syfy.