Undoubtedly, there have been numerous adaptations regarding the legend of Arthur. But what about the Lady of the Lake? Netflix’s newest fantasy series Cursed delves deeper into the story of Nimue — the sorceress who inevitably becomes the Lady of the Lake. Based on the novel by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, Cursed turns the fabled Arthurian legend on its head. Arthur is a rough-around-the-edges mercenary hellbent on finding a certain sword. Merlin is a blathering alcoholic who’s lost his magic. There’s genocide, religious authoritarianism, and a Middle-Aged landscape rife with political overtones. A land where the chivalrous knights of fairy tales walk the Earth.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit in on a virtual press junket for Cursed, representing Geek Girl Authority among other outlets. I got to chat with authors Miller and Wheeler, Devon Terrell (Arthur), Gustaf Skarsgård (Merlin), and Daniel Sharman (The Weeping Monk). Now, we were only granted a handful of questions per interview. Regardless, I had a blast picking the brains of the creatives behind and in front of the camera.
Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler
Firstly, we spoke with Miller and Wheeler. Admittedly, it was difficult to contain my excitement around the legendary Frank Miller. He’s a geek god! In addition, Miller and Wheeler curated such an intricate world with Cursed. They managed to find a way to innovate a tale that’s been told countless times. That’s no easy feat. So, what inspired the pair to shine a spotlight on the Lady of the Lake? Here’s what Wheeler had to say:
Yeah, for me it was the combined thrill of tackling this mythology with somebody like Frank Miller. Right out of the gate I knew this would be very different aesthetically than any King Arthur story we’ve seen before. But what were we going to bring that was new to the table from the context of whose point of view? And I would say that was sort of a mix of being drawn to that image of the Lady of the Lake that it evokes a lot of questions.
Now, for my question, I wanted to know whether Miller and Wheeler had a collaborative relationship with the actors. Could they bounce ideas off their performers and vice versa? Miller chimed in with this:
Oh yeah. The cast has been a thrill. I mean, each one you get to know them and you get to know the sorts of things they like and the sense of humor that they bring to it. You get to play to it a bit throughout the production. For instance, with Gustaf, you’ve got his physicality, which can’t be denied.
He’s a very physical guy. Very body proud, moving guy, which really redefines Merlin in many ways. And Peter Mullan is who I always love to list because he brings this cheerful, diabolical quality that I think is world-class. There are many others, but I’ve always found in all my adventures in screen work that the actors are probably the biggest delight I have.
Next, I asked the duo if there was a particular scene they were excited to see on screen. Wheeler provided an in-depth account here:
There were a spoiling amount of moments where you go up on set and realize, ‘Oh, we’re here? This is happening today? Oh, cool!’ Because we, of course, had worked on the book together, you didn’t quite know what would be kind of coming together that day. What they had just designed or what set had been realized the night before. That was always really magical. I mean, crafting that little girl, that little Nimue in the barricade. I remember one of the earliest drawings from the book that Frank did was that young Nimue against that demon bear.
I think getting that right, really trying to get Frank’s work on screen, and seeing that is really iconic for Nimue’s character. But there were many of those moments. The kind of finale on the bridge, not to give anything away, had several moments of where we brought everything to bear. VFX, the set work, the performances, the actors had built to these moments and prepared for them. So there was a lot of culmination of moments that we had been very patient to try to preserve, to really pay off the story. So a lot kind of came together in that bridge scene.
Miller also added a scene he envisioned while writing the book:
Yeah, yeah. All I’ll add here is that for me, the image of Nimue plunging into the water is one that I remember being drawn to by the text as I wrote, ‘must draw.’ To me, that represents so much of the entire series wrapped up in that visceral image. I drew it, and then actually seeing Katherine [Langford] on the day being plunged was quite a thrill.
Overall, they were absolutely lovely gentlemen. Miller and Wheeler doled out thought-provoking answers with every question asked.
Secondly, our group moved into another virtual room to chat with Terrell — the young man who would be king. Even though our time with Terrell was transient, I could tell the actor possessed the charisma one would expect from a dashing royal. Since he portrayed such a famous character like Arthur, I asked him if he initially felt intimidated at the prospect of doing so.
When I was auditioning for the role, I remember getting the audition and I got given The Weeping Monk and Arthur. I was actually helping a friend with The Weeping Monk audition. Then, I read it and I was like, ‘Wow, this is going to be amazing, whatever this is, this is going to be crazy. Netflix is doing this.’ And then I got the audition for Arthur and The Weeping Monk. They were like, ‘You need to put it down for Arthur.’
And I was like, ‘That doesn’t really look like me. I don’t really know why I’d do that.’ But getting through the process, I knew they wanted to find the right person for the role. So, I felt that I’d earned the role in the auditioning process. I never really felt the pressure after that to try to prove anything to anyone. Because at the end of the day, I don’t play a role going, ‘I’m going to play it as a black man or person of color.’ I tried to bring authenticity and vulnerability to the character. So hopefully audiences appreciate that kind of take to the character.
Now, I decided to ask Terrell the same question I posed to Miller and Wheeler. Was there a scene from the Cursed script he was elated to see on screen?
Yeah, I’ve seen the whole show, but I’m really excited for people to watch the last two episodes. There’s two scenes that I just remember being like, ‘Oh wow, this season is coming to an end.’ You’ve just got to give everything at the finish line and give everything you have. Cause this character has grown immensely in that time. So there’s a battle scene in [episode]10. There’s an emotional scene with a family member in [episode] nine that I’m really looking forward to people watching. Hopefully they feel what I felt when I was going through the process.
Terrell is an absolute sweetheart and I don’t use that phrase lightly. He came off as a genuinely nice person. His work in Cursed is nothing short of enchanting. Terrell’s star is most certainly on the rise.
Thirdly, I was given the opportunity to ask Skarsgård multiple questions. I was one of three outlets present at this particular roundtable. You may know him from his role on Vikings, and his Merlin takes on a similar tone to Floki. It’s quite evident that Skarsgård has a knack for embodying “weirdos.” However, he was the embodiment of easy charm for this interview. Besides the knee-jerk urge to ask him how he found inspiration for his iteration of Merlin, I also wanted to go a different route. I asked him if he could pinpoint the most challenging scene for his character.
It’s hard to say, because it’s always challenging in different ways, but one huge challenge was the very end in episode 10. It’s a very climactic sort of cliffhanger end, quite literally. That was definitely challenging, to get that done well. Luckily, we had three days to get it done properly. That was quite epic and challenging.
So, I eventually asked him if he drew inspiration for Merlin from real-life figures or fictional personas. Sometimes you have to voice the typical interview queries.
I never draw from particular performances or people. Having said that, I’m a product of my previous experiences and whatever I have been exposed to, both in my life and in fiction. But I don’t have a particular role or person that I would have drawn from. Also, especially not in terms of earlier iterations of Merlin, because I feel like what we’re doing is something so completely different. So it would be sort of pointless for me to do that.
Next, I asked him if he had a favorite line of dialogue from Merlin.
Oh, my God. That’s so hard. I’m going to have to go back. There’s so many great lines, though. Now I can’t come up with one. Yeah. I wish I had the … Well, Merlin has a line which is, I think it’s quite beautiful. He says at a point in the show, ‘Dying is easy. Living takes imagination.’ It’s pretty good.
It was abundantly clear that Skarsgård had fun playing Merlin. You could see it in his performance. I could also sense this while watching him give his interview answers. He just really enjoys performing.
Lastly, our group interviewed Sharman, who played The Weeping Monk. Now, my first introduction to Sharman was via his stint on The CW’s The Originals. That was several years ago and Sharman has since gone on to star in critically acclaimed projects. Now, it’s obvious that he’s remarkably handsome. But, enviable genes aside, Sharman is a talented performer. He gave immensely detailed answers during this interview. When someone is that passionate about what they do, there’s a certain light that infuses their eyes. It’s wonderful.
So, I asked Sharman what initially drew him to The Weeping Monk character.
Well, there are a couple of things. One was Tom and I had sat down and talked about who he was, and what his backstory was. How he had come to be the way he was. I was very interested in that. I was very interested in him telling a story of somebody without words. Having to narrate a human being without using any expression of saying what’s happened, but to let that be an internal process that you watch. Then, with an added thing of Frank Miller’s aesthetic in mind and all of those put together, I was just very intrigued by this world. By what they were going to do. I was very interested in being this very misunderstood and enigmatic character that doesn’t say a lot. All those things made me go, ‘Yeah, I’d like to do that.’
I followed that up by inquiring whether Sharman felt he could give creative input beyond the script regarding his character. Was there a lot of collaboration with the writers and directors?
Yeah. It actually really was. I think Tom and Frank had come up with a framework of what this looked like, but I had certain things that I really wanted for the character. Like I took out a lot of his lines because I just didn’t want him to talk as much. I didn’t think we needed them to tell his story. Tom was really great about that. He just went and he agreed with me and we just took them out. That was really cool. I felt like he trusted me to know that I wasn’t trying to get out of learning lines or trying to shirk my responsibility.
It took me a while to work out who he was, but I felt like I could work it out. He and I had talked a lot about who he was and how expressed himself. Therefore, I think he kind of left it to me to be able to go and do it. Largely, that’s because I don’t say a lot and also I come in at various moments. So, I feel like he left that to me a little bit, so that was a nice responsibility.
I’m a sucker for diving into the acting process (I studied it in college), so I had to ask him if there was a challenging scene for The Weeping Monk. To be fair, I posed this question for the other actors. Uniformity is inexplicably important to me.
Well, the final episode was really challenging only because there was a lot of things that come to the fore for him. There’s a very physical moment and then an emotional moment that all meet each other. So the last episode is challenging because it’s a hard thing to physically be run down into the ground to get somewhere. Then, on top of that, for emotionality to come out of somebody that’s so bound. To get to that point takes a lot out of you. You’re physically and you’re mentally holding onto this thing. In the last few scenes, you have to express a sense of a leaking out of your true self, which is always challenging and really hard to do a lot.
So, the last scenes are like… We’d done 10 months at that point and it was one of the last days. So, your sense of like, ‘Wow. This is 10 months of working with this and going through this, and keeping this secret.’ Keeping who he is and keeping this whole thing under wraps and then it leaking out at the end, that’s fun. It’s great fun, but it’s tough.
There was this quiet storm brewing in Sharman. At face value, he appeared very easygoing and introverted. But I could tell that acting is a cathartic outlet for him, as it is for many performers.
Cursed stars Katherine Langford, Devon Terrell, Gustaf Skarsgård, Daniel Sharman, Peter Mullan, Sebastian Armesto, and Shalom Brune-Franklin. All 10 episodes are currently streaming on Netflix.
This article was originally posted 7/18/20