Rupert Young unofficially started his acting career playing a donkey at age 4, but on "Merlin" he's been able to live the dream of a lot of youngsters.
"Every boy kind of grows up at some point in time having a sword fight or wanting to do it. So when you actually do it with real swords having these huge battles, it never ceases to be exciting," said Young, who plays Sir Leon in the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. "It's very rare that you grow up and you can actually take a picture of sword fights and watch them back and they actually look really cool. So we always loved doing that and then tried to make them more and more exciting as we went along."
Last week, American fans were treated to the start of the biggest battle ever staged for the British series when Syfy aired the opening of the two-part series finale. The show's five-year run, and that epic battle, conclude at 9 p.m. CT May 31 with "The Diamond of the Day, Part 2."
For Young and his co-stars, filming the battle pitting Merlin (Colin Morgan), King Arthur (Bradley James) and the Knights of the Roundtable against Morgana (Katie McGrath), Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) and their forces of evil was especially taxing, with a lot of green-screen work and full-on physical exertion.
But, he told me during a recent phone call from London, they all felt it was worth giving fans a fantastic ending to the series. "I think it's full of very exciting, edge-of-your-seat moments."
Young not only enjoyed going out with a huge final battle, but also how series creators Johnny Capps, Julian Murphy, Julian Jones and director Justin Molotnikov ended the finale with something unexpected and, for some fans, controversial.
"There's a little button at the very end that some people either love or hate," Young said of the scene that I won't spoil. "I think it's quite a good thing to have something that is a bit random that makes people go, 'Oh, is that genius or is that terrible? I can't quite decide.'"
The entire cast and crew, too, appreciated being able to "end on a high," with the show still so popular and at the top of its game. That fact helped to ease mixed emotions during the final days of filming in France.
"We finished on a Friday and that was a huge, really exciting and sad day," Young said, "but it was a really nice day and we had a little party."
The partying started on Thursday night, when Richard Wilson, who plays Gaius, had a get-together. It continued after filming ended in France on Friday, and then the production had another celebration back in London on Sunday. "We saw the show out in style, I have to say," Young chuckled.
Young and the other cast members, especially those who played the knights, still get together. Read more about that in the photo gallery captions above, and found out more about Young's donkey role in the interview excerpts below. (If you can't see the gallery above, please click here.)
You guys have been done filming for a while. Do you still have your hair long?
It is still pretty long, yeah.
Is that how you wore it before or did you grow it for the show?
It kind of grew in the show. When I first auditioned it was kind of longish and it kind of got longer. And then I think before Season 4 I had it cut because I was in a play. I was hoping to keep it short and they said, "No, you've got to grow it. You've got to grow it long." I got it cut just before Christmas and then I kind of haven't had it done since then. ... I can cut it at any point but I think I'm afraid I'll lose my strength if it comes off.
Are you missing your friends from the cast?
I am, yeah. The good thing about it is you do catch up a lot after the show. I've done a few jobs where you get very close to people and you say you must keep in touch and you never see them again. But with this it's different because we've spent so many years with each other. We kind of have this bond that, you know, a lot of people have gone off and done work and done other things since we finished. But we always come back and see each other.
I'm seeing Tom [Hopper] tomorrow. I'm gonna see Eoin [Macken] today. Bradley [James] I saw when I was out in L.A in February. So we all see a lot of each other and all the directors and the crew. It's a very odd job in that you feel that you've kind of made friends for life. You do very much feel like a family. When we're filming we have to say that but actually, you can go six months without seeing each other but ... when you see people you slip say back into relationships that you had before, making people laugh and getting annoyed by each other and really like each other at the same time.
So, yeah, we're very lucky like that. I don't think there's anyone that I would be very pleased to not to have to see every day. Probably just me.
It's always fun to see behind-the-scenes videos or from Cons because it really does look like you genuinely like each other and aren't just being polite.
It's great. When we were filming it was quite intense being away [from home], and we all got on very well. But it really was like a kind of sibling relationship--especially with the knights--we can wind each other up but also we just have a real laugh together. ... We had such a giggle; we know how to have a good time.
I would say a lot of us do these Cons not just to see the fans, but it means that we all get together and kind of cling on to doing the show and seeing how popular it is as well. It's great that we've been able to [have that]. You never know, I've done jobs where you can't stand the people you're working with. We're very lucky, and I think that's why it works so well on screen.
This season we saw the roundtable for the first time. How was that for you guys?
That was quite exciting because there were a few things we were looking forward to in the series. And the roundtable was just--yeah, it was so exciting. It's not the kind of little version of the roundtable we had a few years before when we all got together. But this big table, it was just amazing. ... You turn up in France in this massive castle and you walk into this huge room and there's this incredibly massive roundtable in the Great Hall. It's absolutely extraordinary. It was just a big monumental moment I'd have to say.
Then it got even better because they decided that they wanted to paint the middle of the table with a little dragon. You've obviously seen it, but this gold dragon that originally wasn't painted on it. So having walked in and seen this incredible thing that was shipped over in like 12 pieces. Then this amazing French girl was having to paint it. So she's on all fours in the middle of this table painting the dragon gold.
So the roundtable for all of us was a huge highlight. It was a great day for us, both for fickleness and for what it stood for. So it was great.
Let's talk about the final war and what it mean for Leon and for the knights.
In the previous series we've had battles, I suppose. There have been little battles here and there, but this is a monumental thing for the knights. And I think we all know that it is a huge thing and that we may not all come out of it alive. There's always that risk when we fight in that world, but this I think the stakes are much higher. It's brutal and the stakes are so high; we're fighting for Camelot and the future of Camelot. It's the riskiest thing any of us has done.
We've already lost Sir Elyan; how was that for you as a group of actors?
That was sad. It was a really hard day as well when we were filming it. ... We lost Lancelot last year, but we always thought he might come back. But when you lose any from our number, it's a big thing. And that was a sad story; I really liked that episode. I thought it was particularly moving.
But I think also, [even though] personally I loved having Adetomiwa [Edun] on set, I think it was brilliant in the writing that one of us went in terms of [the stakes]. I think there are a lot of shows where, you know, all the knights will be fine. It's like they're always fine; they'll be there next week because that's part of the show. And then when one of them goes you realize how the stakes are, as I said before, a lot higher and no one is safe.
And that's a good precursor to what's coming up ... I think.
Were you all satisfied with the way the show ended?
Yes, I think so. It's a very odd thing because you want it to end well. I was satisfied that it ended on a high, and people especially in this country and the feedback we're getting from all over the world, people loved the end. I think some people were not frustrated, but sad, it ended. And I felt sorry for the English followers, because it went out Christmas Eve and the last episode is quite dark and quite bleak. So I think a few Christmases might have been ruined.
But I think it ended very well. ... You don't want to leave it too open that they go and actually in time bring the show back. It'd be great to have spinoffs and things like that, but it's good to finish the show so that it's a complete five seasons. I think it's a show that's going to be watched continually. It's still being repeated all the time here.
I think they did a very good job. It ended strongly.
When you wrapped did you have a big party?
We did. ... You get very tired at the end anyway. Everyone's kind of looking forward to finishing because it's quite full-on and early starts and late finishes. You just want to break really. We had one week off in the middle, but everyone's so tired. But then we got to the last week when people suddenly realized, "Actually, wait a second, we don't want this to finish yet." And so we went out a bit and we were all pretty well behaved ...
I just remember being exhausted. I was out a lot in the week and on the Friday night we finished and then Saturday morning I had a flight to Ireland to go to a friend's wedding and sing at a wedding. And I went to that and then the next morning I had a fly back to go to the wrap party in London. And then the next morning I had an audition for something so I couldn't stay out too late. So I just remember being exhausted.
You guys had a lot of battle scenes in those last two episodes so that was probably pretty taxing just the physicality?
Yeah, we did a lot of green screen, which is very time-consuming and full-on. But it's always great. He had some amazing stunt coordinators and we had amazing stunt guys who were part of the family and, yeah as knights, that's what we loved doing.
What's coming up for you after this and also, were you inspired to act at age four when you played a donkey.
You heard I played a donkey? That's very good knowledge. Yeah, that's when I realized I was destined to the stage, I think. My mother made me an amazing donkey ears. I was always taken to the theater with my mum to see things. Theater seemed really exciting to me. ... I've been so lucky.
Coming up I did a little part in a show called "The White Queen" on Starz. The scripts are amazing. I was a guest in one episode and a really exhausting project. So it's nice to do something straight after "Merlin" like that. I went to L.A. at the beginning of the year and auditioned for a few things out there. I'm at a point now where I'm just trying to be a tiny bit choosy while I can be on the back of "Merlin." I just don't want to run to something for the sake of it; having been in a big show you want to keep up that momentum and be doing classy projects if you can. Cut to a year's time and I'm at the end of things. [Laughs.] But right now I'm just kind of being a bit pickier.
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