Many of us would have probably heard of the legend of King Arthur. You know, the brave knight who wielded the legendary sword Excalibur, which only he could pull out from a stone, and was supported by a powerful magician Merlin and the Knight of the Round Table who overcame odds to rule over Camelot.
But have you heard of Nimue, the Lady of the Lake?
Katherine Langford, whom you might remember as Hannah Baker in 13 Reasons Why (2017-8), will be playing the titular role of Nimue in Netflix’s upcoming series Cursed, an “epic reimagining” of the Arthurian legend. Nimue, the story’s heroine, a rebellious teen who joins forces with a young mercenary Arthur (played by Barry’s Devon Terrell) and Merlin (Vikings’ Gustaf Skarsgård) to find a holy sword and save her people.
Ahead of the show’s release, we had a chance to sit down and virtually interview the creator of the show, Frank Miller, and showrunner Tom Wheeler. We were also given the opportunity to talk to cast members Katherine, Gustaf, Devon, and Daniel Sharman (who plays The Weeping Monk).
Read on to find out more about the production, their characters and why this coming-of-age tale is an important discussion of real-world issues.
Katherine Langford and Gustaf Skarsgård
What was it about Nimue/Lady of the Lake that attracted you to the role?
Katherine: I am a history buff and I love learning and the fantasy genre. The Arthurian legends are obviously one of the greatest known tales we have. But when you think about the characters, you think of Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table. You rarely see the female characters. So to be able to dive into the Lady of the Lake and her backstory really interested me. She’s one of the most prolific characters yet little is known about her.
What were your first thoughts of the script and why did you decide to join the cast?
Katherine: I read the manuscript two years ago and it was an interesting time as I was looking for something special and different. I wasn’t necessarily looking to do something on TV. When I read the script by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, I knew it was something I would love to be a part of. Not only is it of this legendary tale, but it retells it through a new lens. I knew the people attached to it and what Netflix wanted to do with the story, and it made me feel like it is a project they wanted to tell justly. Also as a young woman, roles where I was able to tell the story of a heroine and acknowledge the challenges don’t come by very often. It was something I felt very honoured to be part of.
Gustaf: When I first got the script, I was sent five, which was unusual as you normally get one or two. At first, I wasn’t looking at this as I just spent five years in a medieval Viking show. But when I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. I read all five at one go and I wanted to know what happened next. I was immediately invested in the character and not least Merlin. I just thought that this was just way too much fun to pass on and I have got to do this.
How was the role you played in Cursed similar and different from previous works?
Katherine: The genre is something I’ve not done before. I knew it was going to be an incredible challenge in terms of scale but also the skillset that came with it, such as learning horseback-riding, sword fighting and dialect in a short time, and having to maintain these for the duration of shooting. What feels different is the personal journey you see Nimue go through. When we first see her, she’s very restless and doesn’t quite know who she is or where she belongs. Throughout the series, you see her embrace herself and her powers and grow into her womanhood. That’s a story I haven’t necessarily touched on before.
Gustaf: There are aspects of Merlin that I have played before through eccentric, destructive and intelligent characters. I haven’t played a magical character that has lived for a few thousand years. That’s a new perspective and what that does to your perception of other people and the tendency to use them as tools than as people in their own right. Another difference is that Merlin is such a broad character with all these archetypal aspects, which also differs from what I’ve played before. Yet, I can use my own acting persona and experience to play Merlin as he also played these different characters depending on the situation.
How does this portrayal of Merlin differ from what has been done?
Gustaf: I think it differs in every way. I’ve not seen Merlin portrayed like this before as a complicated character who is cunning, charming, enigmatic, cruel, selfish yet with a huge heart. He’s battling his own demons. Another thing about Merlin is that there isn’t a fixed idea on who he is. He’s quite open as compared to other prominent magicians like Dumbledore or Gandalf where you know they have a long grey beard and all that. Merlin is a lot more open to interpretation.
How did you prepare for your role?
Katherine: We always wished we had more time to learn new skills but fortunately, we worked with an amazing stunt coordinator, Steve Dent. I worked closely with Dent for three weeks prior to filming where we just dived into sword fighting, horseback riding and stunts. I would also go physio to try my best to not get injured and maintain my stamina. This role has given me a lot more respect for people who train for months because it really does take that time to train and maintain it for such a long period of shooting. It was definitely a challenge and I loved every minute of it.
Gustaf: I feel like I’ve been preparing for this role my whole life. Besides tapping on the vast spectrum of characters in my career to play Merlin, I feel like this is my genre. When I was younger, kids would be playing football while I took fencing and horseback riding. I’ve always wanted to be Robin Hood and I have a scar on my finger because I shot myself with a bow and arrow as a kid. The role just felt very natural. Of course, I had to prepare for the role in terms of physicality, voice, accent and more. That was just hard work and preparation but I was lucky to have experience to help me out.
Cursed was filmed in many locations, which was your favourite?
Gustaf: I think North Wales was my favourite. We were shooting in Snowdonia National Park which was tremendously beautiful and a place I haven’t been to before. It had an ancient feel to it. We also felt in amazing old ruins, castles and churches so there were a few spectacular locations.
Katherine: We shot in some of the most incredible locations. We shot in an abbey that was I think close to a thousand years old. It was incredible to see those buildings, be in them and be amidst that history. We went to many locations that most people aren’t allowed to go and that was special. Also for Nimue, she shot a lot in forests. To be able to be outside in nature and in Wales, there was something really ancient and special about it.
What is your favourite episode?
Gustaf: My favourite for Merlin was episode 6 because I am in it a lot. That was the most important episode as we really get to know his past and deepen the relationship between Merlin and Nimue. From Merlin’s perspective, that would be my favourite. I would also like the last episode as it was quite climatic.
Katherine: I love episode 6 for that reason as well. I think in the middle of every season there’s always that episode which just sinks deeper and sets the tone for the rest of the season. 6 felt very powerful in that sense where you get a lot of information and insights. For me, episode 10 is really moving and powerful and probably one of my favourites along with episode 1 because it is the first one we shot and the OG set-up for the season.
How was the experience working with each other?
Gustaf: It was great. I first met Katherine on audition during a chemistry read where she was already cast. I had to prove myself and it was tremendous from the get-go. She’s so talented, present and so playful. I was really impressed by her and that made me want the role more as I knew I could do a lot with her. When we were working together, we had a lot of fun and we trigger each other emotionally very easily. There is a really strong connection which I am grateful for and we’re close friends both on- and off-screen.
Katherine: I watched Vikings and Gustaf has such an incredible presence. The beauty of being able to work with him is not just the reasons he said but also now seeing it in the final product. He just transforms and there is something very smart, subtle and watchable about him and I’ve learned a lot. We also had a lot of fun and it was nice to go to work and be in that energy. He’s incredible to be around and generous with his time and thoughts.
What would you say is the beating heart of the show?
Katherine: This show has many journeys where everyone goes through a transformation to become a stronger, more powerful version of themselves, which is amazing to watch. Also, the relationships between characters, which I can’t spoil too much, are tied very tightly yet they’re vulnerable. Such tensions weigh throughout the season and while it is heartbreaking, it also makes you want to root for them. It is the connection forged through the craziest and most bizarre times and in the end, what matters most is one another and the people you love.
Gustaf: I would also say that Nimue is the beating heart of the show. She’s such a central character and we follow her so closely. It is her struggle.
What was the most memorable moment during filming?
Katherine: Gustaf and I have a bunch of incredible scenes. There is this one scene with other characters and I felt really bad as I got really sick shooting it.
Gustaf: That was the climax of episode 10 and we spent a lot of days shooting and trying to get it right. The episode was meaningful for all our character arcs as everything came together for the finale of the season. It was the first time I acted with some of the actors so it was a special time as we shot the climax of the show.
The show has been described as a coming-of-age story. How do you think this show reflects some of the real-world issues that we are currently facing?
Gustaf: Thematically, there is a lot that reflects the reality we live in. We’re talking about religious oppression, minority oppression, obliteration of the natural world. We also looked into the legitimacy of power, which is one of the core themes of the Arthurian legends.
Katherine: In addition to that, in regards to Nimue’s journey, what we see is her coming to her womanhood. It is this journey from being restless and not knowing where you belong to discovering and owning who you are. Regardless of genre, time and age, that’s always applicable to anyone and everyone around the world. We’re always striving to figure out who we are, where we belong and what our purpose is.
Devon Terrell and Daniel Sharman
What are some of the challenges you faced while being in character?
Devon: 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. So, it was kind of just one of those overall things, where it was physically and mentally, it was always a battle everyday, so it would have to be that and shooting over 10 months.
Daniel: Mainly the challenge is my costume. Which, although is very cool, takes a long time to get in and out of. And it’s not the easiest thing to fight in, which is what my character does all the time.
What was it like, getting the role of Arthur?
Devon: It was one of those processes where everything just fell into place, and I did a chemistry read with Katherine it went so well, and they were like, “Wow, wish we could just capture this in a moment”, and thankfully they captured it over 10 months, and it was a really beautiful process and I’m really grateful for it.
You’ve acted as Barry before and now as Arthur! What do you look for in roles:
Devon: I look to stay employed, that’s my first thing. I think the second thing is, I look for things, you know, though it’s a long life it’s also short – I’m not gonna be able to play a thousand characters, or a hundred characters. So when I play a role, I like to give my life to it, I like to research everything I possibly can, you know, for me it’s characters that feel like they’re looking for more than just themselves.
Arthur has been interpreted in so many ways, what does your Arthur in Cursed bring to the show?
Devon: Growing up, I loved fantasy, I loved you know, 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. And I think people of all colours and all races, we wanna see ourselves in these worlds, where these worlds are, you know, it’s your imagination.
What do you find particularly interesting about the character you play?
Devon: What I find really interesting is how vulnerable he is at moments, and how he masks that with bravado and charm. And, it really breaks quickly especially when it comes to his family, I think that’s the most interesting aspect of him. Being the king is not on his mind at this moment, or I don’t think he thinks that is possible at this moment.
Do you think Cursed is still relatable in this day and age, since it takes place in medieval times?
Devon: Yeah, absolutely, right now. I think especially in the moment, right now – I mean I don’t want to make direct – because there is so much pain going on in the world right now and it’s such a raw kind of time, I think in a general sense, I think the conversation of the abuse of power, and demonization of the other, I think that’s something that is really important to the story.
Could you share a memorable moment from set?
Devon: Yeah, Katherine falls over quite a bit. I’m just gonna be honest right now, she’s not gonna say it, but I’ve seen her fall over a few times. I didn’t have a lot of interaction in the world [of Cursed] with Gustaf, but outside, he’s such a good guy, he’s such a beautiful, beautiful person. So is Katherine, she’s an amazing person.
Both Katherine and Gustaf talked about their horses, how attached they were to their horses, do you have a horse-related experience?
Devon: I don’t like to think of myself as the horseman, but yeah, I am the horseman of the group. I had this big horse called Travis that was huge, and he came on, and my [original] horse actually fractured his leg on the first day of shooting, and I was like, aw. Second day, I was like, this is terrible, I’m gonna have to get used to a new horse, and then this horse came from behind and was like “Nuieughhhh”, and I was like, “That’s my horse”, that’s Travis, and so we got very connected. Horses are just incredible, incredible creatures. They’re scene stealers as well, you don’t want to do a scene with a horse, they’ll steal the scene.
When you first got the script, what did you think about it?
Daniel: I was just very impressed by this version he wanted to tell. And I felt like it was a timely thing, to tell this story now.
What was it about The Weeping Monk that initially attracted you to the role?
Daniel: It didn’t take much for me to be interested by the part, because on top of looking really cool with a cloak and a sword and all that stuff, I was intrigued to give this person humanity, and understanding how they got there. The kind of more scary or baddie, the more kind of villainous, the earnest is always on you to make it as understandable and as human as possible. And that was kind of my challenge, that’s why I wanted to do it.
If you had to choose another character to play in this series, who and why?
Daniel: If I was to be a character, I mean Merlin, you know, if you’re going to get magic you might as well be a drunken reprobate wizard, it’s pretty cool. So I probably want to be Merlin.
How did you prepare for the role of The Weeping Monk?
Daniel: I did a lot of work and 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, one of my friends, and we just did all the pull-ups and push-ups and jumping up 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, it’s to be a killer without saying it. So that was different this time, a lot of physical preparation.
How important do you think Cursed is now, especially in a time of so much war, injustice?
Daniel: There’s something nice about escapism, this world, this fantasy world, is kind of epic, so you can get lost in it and forget that there are things going on in the world right now. But I think it’s important that the story also has something of a kind of universal theme of what injustice looks like, what love and acceptance or greed and hatred look like. And I think that’s why this story is kind of persistent through centuries, it’s because we have something that we identify with. You know, it’s a balancing act, obviously I don’t think that we have direct parables in it but the point being that the story is not entirely escapism, it’s kind of a manageable, palatable thing for people to think about human things, human injustices.
Which scene would you be the most excited about for your fans to see?
Daniel: Well, I think the end episode, for me, is the culmination of his internal battle to become externalised. So, it’s kind of the moment that you see who he really is. And I think what’s nice about that is that it takes a long time. You have to get all the way to the end to see what is internally going on for him and what the conflicts are and I like that, you know, like I like making people wait. I like that, you have to get a long way in before, and invested in it before you can be surprised by it. So I’m excited for people to get to the end. I think it’s cool to see the whole thing play itself out.
Have you ever had to work with so much eye makeup before? It’s medieval guyliner! How was that like for you?
Daniel: I look like a kind of member from an 80’s glam rock band! But no, I loved it. The point was that these are birthmarks on his eyes. There was a lot of talk from me about what those were. I wanted there to be a story behind them and, eventually, you find out why and what those are and the details [of the birthmark].
Cursed is a big sweeping fantasy that takes place over many different locations. But what was your favorite location to film in?
Devon: I would say Cornwall, in England. Just history wise, there’s a lot of history in that area, in episode 10 we shot there, and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been as the tide goes all the way out, and within an hour it would come all the way in. It’s the first time I saw a rainbow on the land, I was like “What’s going on?” It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve learned a lot about England and England is a scary place, so it will rain, shine, then go back to rain, then storm, in about an hour. It’s very terrifying. But no, it’s a beautiful place to shoot, and so is Wales as well.
Daniel: What’s good about the places we shot was for me, it was going back home. There is something very special about shooting in your home country where you grew up and rediscovering the country a little bit and also, going back to your mother’s cooking as well, which is a bit of a plus.
Showrunner Frank Miller And Creator Tom Wheeler
Cursed takes place in medieval times, where issues like gender discrimination, family fueds, etc is still present. Is this reflected in the series?
Tom: I think we are drawing a lot from fantasy, and we are finding that some of these enduring issues and problems in these stories that are a thousand years old are still sadly, kind of relevant today. I think that’s part of why these stories have the strength they do, and are strong as they are today. So it’s important to us to talk about these things and sometimes they just come up in the writing because that’s what’s going on in the world.
As someone who’s been actively involved in various films in the past, what about this particular project drew you to it?
Frank: Well really, I’ve been in love with the Arthurian legend since early childhood. Seen Disney’s Sword in the Stone, and ever since all the permutations it’s had, over all the years. What drew me to it was that it’s an epic hero story; I’ve always loved it. That’s really the central purpose of my career – these hero stories.
What are some of the messages that young adults can take from this series?
Tom: The power of ceasing your own destiny. The ability to shape your future, regardless of the odds and Arthur through the [original] story is a young man, thrust into this responsibility and in this case, this story, we are learning about Nimue – a young woman, thrust into responsibility who will kind of shape and guide the destiny of Arthur and some of these other legendary characters.
Frank: And I’d add that I think a theme that has to run through this kind of story and it runs through this one acutely is perseverance. That is the persistence of being willing to see things through and to fight on with the odds against you and to attain the goal of making things better.
What was it like taking Cursed from pages to screen?
Tom: A lot of craziness and a lot of work but it was all really thrilling and exciting, and to see those chapters come to life was fun for me.
Frank: What was thrilling, in particular to me, was to talk to some of the big craftsmen and say to them I needed to kind of see what kind of knives that the characters would be carrying. At one point, Tom and I were discussing a scene and I said I wanted to see some medieval dental equipment. Because I knew whatever it was, it’d be scary.
What was the collaboration between both of you like?
Tom: I never dreamt that I would collaborate on it with Frank Miller or that we’d get to do this with Netflix – the resources, the scale we’re able to do it on, but it just came from that initial connection over the world [of King Arthur] and then the excitement to tell it from this point of view, from Nimue’s point of view. [The story of Cursed] was powerful to both of us and spoke to a story we hadn’t heard that had magic, and tragedy and romance.
What was the casting process like for Cursed?
Tom: [Having] Katherine Langford as Nimue, and having someone with her skillset, having this kind of classical look that seemed kind of ethereal, yet she has this range, this depth, this emotion that she has access to was really exciting and got the ball rolling in a big way. We knew that if we could have someone that could swing the sword and be our fey queen, then a lot of pieces began to fall into place. We have been blessed with a hugely talented cast, also, just great people – a terrific team, hugely committed to this, and just gave it their all.
Season 1 of Cursed officially premieres on Netflix on 17 July.
Featured image: TPG Images