Swedish actor Gustaf Skarsgard as Merlin
Getting to know the Cursed men
Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - August 1, 2020 - 12:00am

Now streaming on Netflix, Cursed is a retelling of the Arthurian myth from the point of view of a young woman named Nimue, who is played by Australian actress Katherine Langford of 13 Reasons Why fame. (In the old English legend, Nimue is known as Lady of the Lake who gives King Arthur the Excalibur sword.)

As the story of Cursed goes, darkness descends on Nimue’s land because of Father Carden and his Red Paladins’ merciless efforts to rid the world of the “unclean” through fire and blood. The young heroine finds herself thrust into a mission to deliver a mystical sword to Merlin the magician (Swedish actor Gustaf Skarsgard) so as to save her kind, the Fey.

Australian actor Devon Terrell as Arthur.

Nimue enlists the help of an “aimless” mercenary named Arthur (Australian actor Devon Terrell). Their destinies get intertwined with The Weeping Monk (British actor Daniel Sharman), the cloaked “champion” of Father Carden’s religious order, which prides faith and dogma above all things.

Cursed is adapted from the 2019 young adult (YA) novel of the same title created by Frank Miller (300) and Tom Wheeler (The Cape).

The 10-episode fantasy-medieval series has been on the Top 10 most-watched lists since its premiere on July 17. Getting as much attention as Katherine are her male co-stars Gustaf (Vikings, Westworld), Daniel (Teen Wolf, Medici: The Magnificent) and relative newcomer Devon (best known for playing the young Obama in Barry).

In a virtual roundtable interview, we had the opportunity to get to know them more, as they shared with us their thoughts on their characters, as well as the Cursed’s timing and relevance.

British actor Daniel Sharman as The Weeping Monk.

On the main attraction of doing the Cursed:

Daniel: “I was interested to see why (the producers) would want to redo it. What kind of thinking was behind it, why we do this. And then, I spoke to Tom (Wheeler) and we spoke about what it was that he wanted to achieve with this and the angle that he wanted to take and the surprising things that you wanted to do with kind of subverting this story. I was just very impressed by this version that he was trying to tell.

“And I thought it was quite a timely thing to tell this story. I was definitely kind of charmed by what he was talking about and what he, you know, told me — that he wanted to make a story that his daughters could access as ways of being heroines in their own life.

“And I have a younger sister, who just turned 10, and she’s a warrior, you know, she’s a real-life warrior, so, being able to like give her a role model on TV, in this world, is also really cool. And so, I was just charmed by that idea.”

Gustaf: “I’m also a huge fantasy fan. I grew up with fantasy. I was always a fan of the Lord of the Rings books growing up, and so I always had that sort of escapist streak to me. Growing up in the city, there was always something amazing about the magical world of nature and fairytales. And then it was the character. This Merlin character was written in a way that I’ve never seen before. And it’s a really wide-range character. There are several archetypes at play at once, and I thought that this would be really fun to do.”

On the preparation they had to go through and the challenges they faced in filming the series:

Daniel: “I usually work with somebody that I really admire, a teacher in London, and he works with your rhythms and the movements of your character first. So, that is somebody that I go to usually first because it’s important to break down where trauma lives in your body or where the history of the character goes, and how they express themselves, and he and I go through that and just work out exactly how the rhythms of this human being are kind of expressive.

“And then with this character particularly, there’s so much physicality to it, and I am the least limber person, you might say, and I can’t reach my toes, for example. I knew that this character had to be so agile and nimble and flexible because his expression came from fighting, from killing, and so I did a lot of movement work. I actually did some ballet for this part because I wanted to get this sense of length and grace in movement. And then, I worked with a trainer. We did all the pull-ups and push-ups, and jumping up and, you know, and all that stuff. And then I lost it all in quarantine, of course. But it was a way of being able to be in my body, and to be expressive without words, you know.”

Gustaf: “Well, coming from Vikings... There was a lot of battlefields and mud and cold, and the weather is not as bad in England. And, you know, since Merlin’s quite the castle dweller in many scenes, it was a bit drier experience, a bit more comfortable experience.

“Having said that, there’s something about the genre that attracts me. Again, it’s that element of living out my childhood dreams of, you know, riding horses, swinging swords and all that stuff. I just find all that fun.

“I mean, the challenges are always of a different nature. What I really liked with Merlin was that he’s very intelligent and cunning and I had to find that in myself. And I also had to work a lot with the language, which is fun, because English is my second language. It was definitely a chance for me to really conquer the language in a way that I haven’t been able to before. That was fun and challenging.”

Devon: “(Challenging was) physically staying in the shape that I had to for the character for 10 months, and creating someone who wasn’t so much about him looking like Thor, which I’m gonna be honest with you I tried to get the show to allow me to do that.

“But, no, it was more of that physical nature of staying in shape, and mentally and emotionally trying to wield the sword while conveying emotion, and at the same time, break down what’s happening to you in a relationship, the relationship you’re going with in the moment… It was always a battle every day. (The challenge) would have to be that and just shooting over 10 months.”

On what they thought of their roles and why playing them is important:

Daniel: “The story that Tom told me and the surprising twist of who he is and what his past is in the end of the series, in episode 10, allowed me to play around with an idea of finding out how somebody would be the character that you meet, The Weeping Monk? What kind of trauma would have to happen for someone to end up in that position, what kind of indoctrination would have to happen and, and I am a sucker for those things in my life.

“I love, you know, going into traumatic people and figuring out what makes them work and so, it didn’t take much for me to be kind of challenged and interested by the part, because on top of looking really cool with a cloak, you know, sword and all that stuff, I was intrigued by the idea of giving this person the humanity and understanding how they got there.

“Even the kind of more scary or the more villainous, I think that the onus is always on you to make it as understandable and as human as possible, and that was my challenge. That’s why I wanted to do it.”

Devon: I mean, first of all, obviously, when people see this character, they look at me as a person of color. And, I think, that’s a big point for a lot of people. Growing up, I loved fantasy. I was a kid that had a cardboard box and would draw a sword out and cut it out and fight with that and I didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me on screen.

“I’m 27 now and it’s still not a lot of roles that I’m like, oh, that reflect me. I think people of all colors and all races, we want to see ourselves in these worlds where it’s your imagination. I always say, if you can believe in a magical sword, how can you not believe that a person of color can play Arthur? And so, as a person of color, it’s very important within this world to show that.

“But also, he’s a mercenary and he’s charming... But it’s very different to the royal blood that we know... So, I’m really excited because Tom and Frank, I don’t know if everyone’s seen the series or the whole thing, but he goes on a journey where we’re still only scratching the surface of. Is this the person that we believe to be the king?

“(Of course) Nimue is the focal point, I would never want to take anything away from that. I think Katherine did such a brilliant job. But also having a character of people of color within this world... we can only go further, I think, and I’m kind of at that moment in my career where I’m understanding that diversity isn’t something that we should pat ourselves on the back. It’s what the world looks like. It’s something that the world needs to come to understand… And that’s what we want to see on our screens, especially on Netflix.”

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