One of the highlights of our set visit to Sins of the Father was watching the fight scene between Arthur and Uther Pendragon at the climax of the episode. In any television production, there’s a certain amount of “down time” for the actors, as the technical requirements of a scene are prepared ready for shooting. During the gap between the rehearsal for the fight and the first take, Bradley James and Tony Head popped across to the set for Gwen’s house, although they warned that very soon, “We need to get back to beating each other into a pulp…” And within two minutes of them sitting down together, it’s very obvious that they enjoy teasing each other…
Is it usual to spend such a long time on one single scene?
Tony Head: Basically, because the audience is looking at it from both sides, and both ends, we’re covering the whole room, so it takes a while to relight. Each section we have to shoot both ways.
Bradley James: Normally the fighting’s outdoors as well, so the camerawork isn’t as difficult. Here, the set is prohibiting.
Tony Head: Nah, we just started bashing each other!
Bradley James: I do this a lot, so it doesn’t take me as long to pick up a routine any more, whereas Anthony hasn’t done any of this before…
Tony Head: What do you mean? “Haven’t done any of this before?”
Bradley James: …but I don’t think you can tell, because he’s picked it up very quickly. It means I can go for it, rather than with someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
Tony Head: Contrary to what my “son” says, I have done a lot of fight scenes before – cheeky beggar!
Tony Head: No, I didn’t know. I found out as we went along. It was always known that he has got a bit of a shady past. But I still maintain – and we’ve tweaked a few things as we’ve gone along because of this, because he was just pure villain to start with – it’s more about the truth as you perceive it. He’s not just an out-and-out villain who’s used magic and lied about it. He’s used magic and lied about it for the right reasons!
Will Arthur start being nicer to Merlin?
Bradley James: No, I will never be nice to Merlin. It’s his job for me to be nasty to him, and I will do it with the gusto I’ve been doing it so far.
You do seem to enjoy it…
Bradley James: He tries to overstep his mark quite a lot, and you have to keep him down a peg or two. The dynamic isn’t going to change too much.
Bradley James: That’s a compliment to the scriptwriters…
Tony Head: And to you!
Bradley James: Any time we seem to go too far off-script, there’s a quick phone call to the producers’ office to see if it’s alright. I don’t think there’s too much adlibbing in there. There may be bits and pieces but nothing that sticks out in the memory. I presume to speak on behalf of Colin, but we have quite a lot of fun when we get together to film those scenes, so I think when you have that relationship it makes it easier to play off each other and have fun. The scenes seem a lot more alive like that.
Tony Head: There’s just constant banter on set. The two of them find each other, go to a corner, and just… banter!
Tony Head: Hot! They’re beautiful costumes, and they have developed this season. They have got more high concept. Certainly Uther’s stuff is the business. I’m just waiting – [in real world fashion] we’ve had the 1970s and the 1980s… I’m waiting to go back to medieval now. We should go out draped like this.
Bradley James: The novelty’s worn off for me – wearing this chainmail is ridiculous. Don’t get me started on the chaps! The next job I do, I do not want to go anywhere near chainmail or armour. I want to be a surfer who wears shorts, and that’s about it, on a beach.
Tony Head: I’m very glad I’ve not had the chainmail experience too much this year.
Bradley James: But they look good – the costume team has done an excellent job.
Did you have any qualms, after seven years of Buffy, going onto another show with the potential to go the same sort of length?
Tony Head: No! To be honest, I don’t know how much of it Uther will be around for. I think his days are numbered at the moment, but no, the bottom line is one always wants to be part of a successful show. It’s very pleasant to have some longevity to your character so that you can work through story arcs, and have somewhere to go with it. It hasn’t stopped me from doing other things as well. It’s great, I have to say.
It’s nice to be part of something that got such great production values and is building up an extraordinary following. Buffy I thought might be a one-off experience. But it’s not, it seems.
Do you know where Uther’s path is taking him, or is it a question of his sins eventually finding him out?
Tony Head: The old adage of “oh what a tangled web we weave” applies – he has led a life of deception but that’s not necessarily [a bad thing]… His prime concern is keeping the lid on this little hotpot of a kingdom that has got marauders at every border and has got people who would like to usurp his throne. These are troubled times. And in trying to keep his position, he has manipulated things, and has played with fire at times, so I think stuff will catch him up. There’s an awful lot of stuff in his past that he would probably like to stay in his past.
Tony Head: Sins of the Father is a pivotal moment for Merlin. He knows that Morgause is a sorcerer and what she said [about how Uther lied to Arthur about his mother] very likely is true, but he knows that Arthur would never forgive himself. He would be a changed man if he kills his father.
There are lots of balls in the air, and lots of moral dilemmas. The good thing about someone like Uther is that he does create a lot of conflict, and conflict does make for good drama.
If you were a real king, what rules would you make?
Tony Head: I think I’d try and make politicians a bit more clever, and I think I would make sure people treated animals better. I don’t like the way a lot of people treat them – we seem to think the only way to make an animal work with us and be with us is to shout at them a lot and make them do things. It’s not true: we can work with animals.
Bradley James: It has very little effect on my life – or it hasn’t had any effect whatsoever.
Tony Head: It must be flattering though?
Bradley James: It is flattering. I told my mum – I look like her, so I said, “There you go, the gene pool has come up trumps.” But it’s not something that really has materialised itself into whatever it would materialise into. It’s not had any effect, to know what that means.
How are you both finding the fan attention?
Bradley James: The post – there’s lots of post! Other than that, life is normal.
Tony Head: For my money, Buffy was one of the forerunners of this. The internet fandom is the most extraordinarily powerful tool, and it’s good to know there are people out there. But when a show like Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, whether Fox keeps it on is swayed by the power of the internet, is a great thing to know. You know that a show like Merlin has an incredible fandom on the internet. You feel very well supported.
What do you like and dislike about your characters?
Bradley James: I dislike his dress sense! Likes: the sporting side, the table tennis side to Arthur…
Tony Head: Likes: my costumes are great. I love the role that I play on the show. I don’t think I’ve got any dislikes about Uther, to be honest, he’s a really interesting character.
Are you as brave as Arthur in real life?
Bradley James: Nowhere near – but some would say I’m a lot more intelligent.
[and Tony Head’s response to that was lost in the call back to set...]