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Tube Thursday: “Merlin” 's Prince Arthur ain’t exactly a prince of a guy

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Tube Thursday: “Merlin” 's Prince Arthur ain’t exactly a prince of a guy

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You remember what happened to Wart in “The Sword in the Stone,” right? How he suddenly went from being Kay’s clumsy squire to becoming the “ … rightwise King born of England.”

Wart pulls the sword from the stone in Disney's "The Sword in the Stone"
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Well, Bradley James now knows a little bit about Wart must have gone through. Given that -- two short years ago -- this 24 year-old was just another student graduating from Drama Centre London. And now Bradley is playing Prince Arthur on BBC One’s hit fantasy series, “Merlin.”

“I finished drama school in July of 2007,” James recalled in a recent phone interview. “And by January, February of 2008, I had been cast in ‘Merlin.’ I consider myself extremely fortunate to have landed a job like this straight out of school.”

“Mind you, my friends were a little weirded out by this situation,” he continued. “They found it extremely odd to see me on TV every Saturday night. But they’ve since calmed down and realize that I’m still the same old Bradley, that guy who tells those awful jokes.”

Bradley James in the BBC's "Merlin"
Bradley James as Prince Arthur in "Merlin"
Copyright BCC One. All Right Reserved

What helps James keep things in balance is that “Merlin” (which has just begun airing here on the States on NBC on Sunday nights. Which makes “Merlin” the first British drama to air on a U.S. network — un-retouched, un-recast — since “The New Avengers” ran on CBS back in 1978) is a period piece.

“So unless I go out strolling in my chainmail, people just don’t make the connection,” Bradley laughed. “Which means that I still get to have a private life.”

That said, James is extremely grateful for all those cards & letters that he receives from “Merlin” ‘s viewers. Who clearly enjoy this revisionist take on the Arthurian legends. Which has Arthur and Merlin (played by Colin Morgan) barely out of their teens when they first meet.

Shot from the BBC's series "Merlin"
(L to R) Colin Morgan & Bradley James in "Merlin"
Copyright BBC One. All Rights Reserved

“You have to understand that the version of Arthur that I play is considerably different from the Arthur that people are used to,” Bradley explained. “On ‘Merlin,’ my character is still quite a ways away from becoming a wise & noble king. He’s a spoiled brat, actually.”

Of course, what makes playing the part of Prince Arthur fun is that James knows where his character is going to wind up … eventually.

“We all know the man, the king that Arthur is supposed to become,” he stated. “But what ‘Merlin’ is about is how Arthur eventually learned to be a good & wise ruler. It’s a long, long journey. But he has Merlin there to guide him, help keep this arrogant teenager on the proper path.”

Merlin smiling in the BBC series "Merlin"
Bradley James as Prince Arthur in "Merlin"
Copyright BBC One. All Rights Reserved

And speaking of guiding … Bradley’s quick to praise the folks from Shine Limited, the independent production team that’s behind this BBC One fantasy series.

“They’ve been terrific since Day One,” James said. “Early on, they brought in seasoned directors who helped me learn how to craft a proper performance for television. (Stunt director) Andreas Petrides taught me how to swing a sword. It’s great to have a role like this. Where you get all sorts of on-the-job training.”

When asked if he had a favorite show out of the first 13 episodes of “Merlin,” James was quick to mention “The Labyrinth of Gedref” (which – co-incidentally – airs this Sunday night at 8 p.m. on NBC).

Frank Finlay as Anhora in "The Labyrinth of Gedref"
Frank Finlay as Anhora in “The Labyrinth of Gedref"
Copyright BBC One. All Rights Reserved

“I’m really pleased with the way that that one came together,” Bradley said, “We had a terrific director on that episode, Stuart Orme. Arthur goes on quite a journey in that episode.”

And speaking of journeying … Now that BBC One has begun shooting “Merlin” ‘s second set of 13 episodes, the one and future king has really been racking up those frequent flier miles.

“Last week, we were France. This week, we’ve been shooting at Cardiff in Wales,” he said. “But next week is the one that I’m really looking forward to. That’s when we finally get a week off.”

Bradley James in the BBC series "Merlin"
The cast of BBC One's fantasy series, "Merlin"
Copyright BBC One. All Rights Reserved

Which will then give Bradley a chance to slip out of his chainmail and once again hang out with his friends. Who – by now – are hopefully used to seeing their pal play Prince Arthur on television.

FYI -- If you haven’t yet seen “Merlin,” this coming Sunday night would be a great time to sample this BBC One series. You see, NBC is actually airing two episodes back-to-back on August 16th. “The Moment of Truth” starts at 7 p.m. while “The Labyrith of Gedref” begins airing at 8 p.m.

And if you like what you see that night, be sure and circle Sunday, August 23rd on your calendar. For that’s when NBC will be airing the final two episodes of the first season of “Merlin.” “To Kill the King” starts at 7 p.m. while the season finale -- “Le Morte D’Arthur” -- begins airing at 8 p.m.

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