Camelot on Starz
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a cartoon, a silly comedy, a musical or, in this case, a dark series with a contemporary vibe, I’ve always been a big fan of anything to do with the legend of King Arthur. From what I’ve seen of CAMELOT, I expect I’m going to be a big fan of this version as well.
My only complaint is that, in a re-negotiation of contracts between the entertainment giants Netflix and Starz, Netflix subscribers will now have to wait a full 90 days before the series will be available for instant streaming. Yes, it sucks, but we can all sign up for a few months of Starz if need be. admittedly, this is not an ideal situation and one I suspect the network may come to regret. Time will tell.
Recently I had a chance to speak with CAMELOT’s director and creator Chris Chibnall (TORCHWOOD), Joseph Fiennes (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, STEALING BEAUTY, FLASHFORWARD) and relative newcomer Tamsin Egerton. Fiennes stars as legendary sorcerer Merlin and Egerton will be setting hearts a flutter as the young and beautiful Guinevere.
Pop Bitez: While I understand you’re approaching the legend of King Arthur from a contemporary perspective, it looks like it must be a lot more fun to work on a period piece as opposed to the contemporary stuff. Has that been your experience?
Tamsin Egerton: Almost always. I actually love doing period pieces and purely because it takes you into a different world mentally. The clothes you have to wear are so far from our everyday clothes that it immediately helps with the character and the sets that they get to build are just so beautiful and just so new and fresh, it’s like going to a completely foreign country and experiencing a new culture that you’ve never seen before because, you know, you’re exploring different worlds as it were, especially at Camelot. I mean it’s just so magical. I mean, you know, is it myth or is it legend? No one knows if it’s real of not. I know that Chris and the art director went to India to get a lot of his materials and dress the set with some incredible artifacts he’d found out there and so seeing these sets and then… the costumes were just absolutely beautiful. And yes, so much more -so personally so much more interesting than wearing jeans and a t-shirt and walking around somebody else’s house. Yes, absolutely.
Joseph Fiennes: Yes. I kind of echo that. I think it’s a large part of how an actor works, this is on an outside, not an inward level, which ultimately can affect your inside interior world, the stimulation of what’s around you, and none more so than in a period piece. I say period with caution because this is a modern piece as much as it is set in a different time, age and myth, it’s relevant or else it wouldn’t be made and we wouldn’t be putting our energy into it. It’s relevant for us today because in some ways it throws up a mirror to all of us. But having said that, from the outside perspective it’s great to have, you know, the atmosphere and the world that’s invented for you. As an actor you really – you get stimulus and you’re effected by that whether it’s costumes or wonky funny beards or wobbly sets and castles or actually just being in the real deal, being in the Wick low Mountains in County Dublin is pretty stunning. And you really feel like you’re in – you’ve sort of been catapulted in a sort of quantum leap into the Celtic times. And that’s really good and exciting.
Pop Bitez: And I imagine, in a way, you feel the ghosts of the past in that environment.
Joseph Fiennes: The goats?
Pop Bitez: The GHOSTS!
Joseph Fiennes: Oh the GHOSTS, I thought you said goats. Ghosts, yes you do.
Pop Bitez: (laughing) Sure, because Dublin’s really known for its GOATS.
PopBitez: (cont.) So Chris period piece versus modern, again, I understand the approach to the material is contemporary, but the esthetics…?
Chris Chibnall: Yes, Yes it’s fantastic. As a writer and show runner you’re not just kind of creating a set of characters and putting them down in the modern world. You know, you’re world building and, I think particularly with this, where it is in the history it is absolutely myth, you know? There might have been an Arthur, you know, there’s various interpretations of history, but, you know, the myth that we’re telling here with Merlin and all that, it’s so open to be manipulated and created. So yes, you’re building this whole huge world of castles and sword fights and then you can have some magic and, you know, it’s fantastic, yeah and absolutely wonderful. But also then, you know, we wanted to place it within a real context. The great thing about the dark ages is there’s very little documentation available. There’s very little evidence. There’s a certain amount but some of it’s contradictory. A LOT of it’s contradictory. So, you know, it was a joy doing something in a different era. Yes, absolutely fantastic.
Pop Bitez: And Joseph you were talking a bit about the process, I’m just curious, do you think your previous Shakespeare work on stage and on film helped in your preparation for a role like Merlin?
Joseph Fiennes: I don’t know. I think all experience is in some way, shape or form filtered down to helping you in your present moment. I guess that, you know, Shakespeare might do. With Shakespeare you’re trying to work with a fairly archaic language, although in certain aspects it’s deeply modern, but you’re trying to phrase it rather like a jazz player or something it, for a modern audience, to make it scan and be understood, and I guess it’s the same not with language but with this sort of visual syntax and the world that’s nothing to do with us and yet we’re trying to make it connect for a modern audience. Really it’s all about the human condition ultimately. So that’s what you’re looking at. You’re also looking to have some fun as well because that also translates. And I think the preparation…. maybe wearing tights once in a while helps, getting up on a horse a couple of times before might help. I think on those sort of practical levels…
Pop Bitez: Right.
Joseph Fiennes: …maybe it has helped.
Pop Bitez: Well, just in looking at the brief pieces I’ve seen so far of CAMELOT, I feel like there are hints of Falstaff and even Iago in your performance, though, that might just be something I’m projecting….
Joseph Fiennes: Well great, all projections welcome in that regard! You know, there is definitely..a sort of Iago… though I wouldn’t say he’s ruled by jealously, Merlin, but he is not to be trusted, and he says one thing and means another, he’s deeply bipolar, he’s sort of part angel, part devil, and he’s other worldly as well. So, you know, all of those sorts of characters that Shakespeare writes in that regard. But maybe there’s a flavor in there. I guess it’s complexity and the complexity that we’d love to try and find out what’s the sort of mechanics behind it.
Pop Bitez: And Chris, provided there is a second season -and I’ve got my fingers crossed there will be- can we expect to meet Lancelot in the first episode of season two?
Chris Chibnall: (laughs) You’re off to spoilers and we haven’t even done season one yet! I’m still putting the music on episode ten!
Pop Bitez: (laughing) Well, he’s not in Season One so, I had to ask!
Chris Chibnall: (laughs) Yes, no, I like your style though — well done.
For those that don’t know, THE WALKING DEAD is the highly anticipated series, based on the comic book of the same name written by Robert Kirkman and published by Image Comics. THE WALKING DEAD tells the story of the weeks and months that follow a pandemic zombie apocalypse. County Sheriff Rick Grimes travels with his family and a small group of survivors, constantly in search of a safe and secure home. But the constant pressure of fighting off death on a daily basis takes a heavy toll, sending many to the lowest depths of human cruelty. As Rick struggles to keep his family alive, he will discover that the overwhelming fear of the survivors can be far more dangerous than the mindless walkers roaming the earth.
At the 2010 SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON I had a chance to speak with Director Frank Darabont (THE GREEN MILE, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE MIST) and Key Special Makeup Effects Supervisor Gregory Nicotero (KILL BILL: 1&2, SIN CITY, TRANSFORMERS, HOSTEL), along with series stars Laurie Holden (THE X-FILES, THE SHIELD, FANTASTIC FOUR, THE MAJESTIC) and Emma Bell (FROZEN, HATCHET 2, GRACIE). I’ve actually been sitting on this interview since July as I thought it would make more sense to include it closer to the series premiere and, at last, that day is finally here!
Laurie Holden and Emma Bell of the new AMC series THE WALKING DEAD
Pop Bitez: So, how closely are you following the plot line of the graphic novel with the series?
Laurie Holden: Well, of course there are some slight deviations from the original material, you don’t want to see exactly what’s in the graphic novels because it’s like, been there, done that and, you know, just because a character dies in the comic doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll die in the series and, if they do, it might not be until season two or three.
Emma Bell: This entire first season, all six episodes only cover like, three or four days. We’ve actually been comparing it to the series 24 because with each episode A LOT of things happen but not a lot of time passes.
Laurie: As an example, my character Andrea – in the comic book- is in her cute little sweater, hanging out with her sister and she’s just like “oh, look, I can shoot a gun” and it’s all happy and light but then she eventually becomes like this warrior. Only we’re not to the warrior part just yet, so there’s been an opportunity to really explore the love of the sisters and show Andrea’s softer side. She’s got a lot of toughness to her, she’s a strong entity but I really appreciate how we’ve been able to take our time and, you know, make her a fully developed person. Trust me, she’s not a happy camper, she has a sense of humor and a vulnerability but she’s still tough. The biggest difference from the comic, I guess, is that you’re not going to see me in fatigues, with the pony tail, you know, strapping on the gun, in the first six episodes because we have to have a place to go with her.
Frank Darabont: In a loose sense, fundamentally, you know, I’m always going to be chasing what Kirkman’s done, but we’re definitely taking detours along the way, stopping to smell the roses as it were, but basically we’re sticking close to what he’s done because it’s terrific stuff. The beauty of doing any serialized television is that, what you can’t do in a feature, is really spend that incremental time getting to know characters and the character driven stuff works so well in television. If you look at THE WIRE, if you look at THE SHIELD, if you look at BREAKING BAD, which is currently my favorite thing, you get to know these people over a period of years, versus trying to tell a story in two hours or less.
Gregory Nicotero: And the more you care about these people, the more horrific it is when something bad happens to them. Like Robert Shaw getting eaten at the end of JAWS, it’s like a character you’re invested in and you’ve spent all this time with, on a show like this you get to know them, so the horror is all the more real because you know them more deeply than you would if you’d just met them in the span of 90 minutes.
Emma: And because we all, like, sort of live and work together in this “camp,” there’s so much bonding going on that when we do shoot those really big action sequences, where we’re all being attacked, you know, it’s pretty surreal to look around and watch everyone crying and freaked out and holding the people who’ve been bitten and you’re like, “Oh my God, these are my people, this is my family,” so it’s sort of great when we do those sequences because you realize we must being doing something right in the other scenes that we feel this connected to each other.
Laurie: I’m really enjoying the character development. We’ve got some really super actors on this series and whenever they write us some great scenes, where we really get to interact with each other, and we get to see that little bit of humanity when someone opens up their heart, you know, those are the moments I really look for.
PB: How familiar were you with the graphic novel before you started?
Gregory: When the graphic novel first came out I remember I was shooting in Austin, I don’t remember what show it was, with Robert Rodriguez, and I went to Austin Comics and it was there, and I remember buying two issues and I went back and I went, “Dude, Look! A comic book about zombies!” and we were so excited, because he and I always talk about zombie stuff, so I read all of them, I got pretty deep into it.
Emma: I didn’t actually know it but we all got the comic books when we started and I actually became a pretty big fan. They’re really well written and totally lend themselves to a T.V. show. As I was reading them I remember thinking this is so perfect for the screen.
PB: Now this is a pretty bloody show, right?
Emma: I think I still had fake blood on me when I was riding on the plane this morning. I mean, when there are zombies around you’ve gotta kill them. (Laughs) So, yeah, there’s ton’s of blood. We couldn’t really show that in the previews but it’s there, if you want that, you’ll get it.
PB: Have you had any problems with the censors as far as all the gore and violence is concerned?
Frank: That hasn’t really been an issue, I can’t say “fuck” (he laughs) and that’s pretty much it, that’s actually the only barrier I’ve hit. The truth is we’re making our decisions in terms of how we want to shoot something based upon how it feels best, sometimes there’s the “less is more” approach and sometimes there’s the “more is more” approach. With a zombie thing, you NEED a “more is more” sometimes and we’re just not running up against those constraints. There’s no Standards and Practices doomsayer saying “Oh no, you can’t show blood!”
Gregory: There’s actually one guy at AMC who, every time he sees the dailies of a gag or something we did, he emails me and says “Oh my God, I just saw this today!” (Laughing) I mean, the people at AMC are so excited about the series and that really makes our lives easier because, you know, even when I did LAND OF THE DEAD, I remember George [Romero] was nervous about the rating and so he actually came up with this really great idea. He said, “we’ll shoot a bunch of zombies in front of green screen, you know, walking left and walking right so that, for the theatrical version, if there’s an objection to the rating, we can just add a zombie pass, strategically at a specific point, that distracts just a slight bit from the gag,” and then, for the DVD those zombie passes were all taken away. George was always really conscience of that because they practically strung him up in the 70′s for all of that. DAWN OF THE DEAD was actually released unrated, so, we’ve come a long way.