Elliot Knight is here to save the day — and that’s not simply a pun. The actor has a lot of saving and unveiling to do on ABC’s Once Upon A Time as the ever powerful sorcerer, Merlin, and we can’t wait.
You never quite know what you can expect from ABC’s Once Upon A Time, which is why we were pleasantly surprised when the show integrated the world of Camelot. Naturally, it only makes sense that the biggest sorcerer of all would join the show’s mega-huge cast — so this season we welcome Merlin (and Elliot) to the mix. As we are slowly but surely getting into Merlin’s backstory, the gang are regaining their memory after Emma Swan, who’s now the Dark One, had everyones memory wiped. As David, Mary Margaret, Regina, Henry and the rest of Storybrooke try and figure out what Emma is up to, the one who knows all answers is Elliot Knight, or as he’s known on the show, Merlin.
See. Literal magical knight in armour.
Elliot Knight has been all over our TV screens over the past year or so with role as Aiden on ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder and his most recent role as Merlin. We caught up with Elliot over the phone to chat about what it’s like to portray the most iconic sorcerer of all time, his role and friendship with Viola Davis and his future in filmmaking.
ANDPOP: For those who don’t know, your first big role was just a few years ago on the UK series Sinbad, where you were Sinbad himself. Can you talk us through how you got to play such a legendary character?
ELLIOT: Oh my gosh. Sinbad was great. That was 2011. I was actually in drama school in Manchester and it was a three year course and I was towards the end of my final year and I started auditioning for things. Sinbad was one of my firsts and I was just so happy to go up for something in that kind of world. I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up in four audition rounds and I just went in each time and was happy to be there and excited. I had the fourth audition and just ended up getting it. A week later I was in Malta and I was training, getting ready to do this twelve part series and filmed it over a year. That was really amazing. There were so many different versions of this story being told. So I suppose in those ways it was very similar to playing this character Merlin now.
And was there a certain actor or person who inspired you to get into the world of acting?
It’s not so much that it was one person that I looked up to, if anything, it was more that I recognized there wasn’t really one person I looked up to who inspired me. I didn’t think that was right. So I thought, well if I didn’t have a specific role model like all these other people around me who want to follow acting and do what they love, they have these points of inspirations. I didn’t feel like I had a person who reflected someone like me, who wanted to still achieve others things around them, who had the opportunity to do so. When I was growing up, I thought there has got to be other people like me from similar backgrounds or in any other way who want to do something like this. So wouldn’t it be great to be a role model for other people? If I managed to have opportunities like the ones I’ve had and gone on to do more and enjoy an early start of my career, wouldn’t it be great if I could be a source of inspiration for someone else like a younger me or people who are like me and want to do the same?
So you always wanted to be an actor?
I’ve always been a performer. I was always writing little plays myself. I watched a lot of Disney, like most kids. I danced when I was growing up as well. I’ve always been connected to the arts, I guess. I have always been a creative soul. Acting is something that [the] more that I watch, the more that I’m engaged with.
I have fallen in love with it [acting] more and more all the time.
I keep reaffirming that it’s what I want to do and I suppose realizing it’s always been something I would be doing. No matter what. No matter how soon the opportunities came, it’s something I would always pursue.
I’ve also read that you also have an interest in filmmaking. Is there a certain genre that has appealed to you and persuaded you to film aside from acting?
To be honest, that was more recent. I’ve always loved how things looked and taking pictures, and cinematography. But I’ve only really taken an interest in it very recently. I obviously see things all the time that I love and that have beautiful cinematography and such talented DOPs [director of photography]. It was something that I wanted to start getting into. I’ve just been starting slowly with my own project. I went around LA the other day and I think I spent about fifteen hours walking around with my camera walking around taking pictures and finding little details around the city. I met a few people as well who said they didn’t mind me taking their picture and chatted with them. It was one of the most fun days I’ve had since I’ve moved here actually because I’ve discovered so much and so much about the people as well. Aside from that I’ve directed a couple of music videos which one was shot quickly, not a high budget thing. My friend Keiynan Lonsdale put an EP out a couple weeks ago and the video for that single [higher], I shot and directed with him in Sydney. And that just went out on Youtube yesterday, and that’s pretty cool.I’m just kind of doing my own projects and enjoying that and teaching myself about the technical side of that world.
That’s awesome. And last year you made an appearance on How To Get Away With Murder.
So we haven’t forgotten about Aiden, but what do you think he’s up to right now and do you think he will return?
Thank you for not forgetting about him. I definitely haven’t. It wasn’t all fine when it ended. There’s definitely still some stuff to sort out. You never know what’s going to happen on that show obviously. If there’s one thing you can say is that I don’t know if Aiden is going to return or not and if he did under what circumstances. Like I said, there’s still some ground to cover with his and Michaela’s [Aiden’s former girlfriend] relationship and maybe there’s more twists along the way.
I feel like Aiden is getting on with his life now and moving up professionally in the ranks and doing what he wants to, something Mikayla loved about him so much in the first place. If he did come back to the show, it would very cool for him to move super high up in what he’s doing. I feel like he might come back tied to something, tied to a case with a sense of power. Or he comes in as a lawyer — something like that rather than just popping up and not connected to anything. Or maybe connected to something we don’t know. I don’t know, but I would love to come back. I love playing Aiden, I think he’s cool.
I hope one of your theories comes true. Was there anything in particular you learned while working with the cast that helped you grow as an actor?
I’ve always been a fan of Viola Davis, I think she’s amazing. So when I got that role, and they started shooting and she was doing it — it wasn’t the reason I said yes, but it definitely helped. Even though I didn’t have any scenes with her [Davis], I did get to chat with her quite a bit when we weren’t filming. She was so lovely, [and] reminded me of my mom. ‘Cause she did. I felt so comfortable around her, and she just had this very relaxed, calm, confident, open and warm energy. A lot of the time, the most valuable thing that you learn about actors and your craft, you learn them off camera when you’re not acting. It’s more about the actual people themselves and their insights on the world. How that relates to their work, how they feed that energy into their work and how that informs what they do. I was really grateful to work with her, that was a lot of fun. And another reason why I would love to return.
Awesome. And you’re currently on ABC’s Once Upon a Time. The writers of the show have a thing for taking some beloved childhood characters and putting a dark twist on them, i.e. Peter Pan — what can we expect from Merlin once he escapes the tree?
When he escapes the tree. When will that be. [laughs] I guess I can’t tell you what to expect, but I know that a lot of people are saying a lot of different things about him. At the moment all we know is what Arthur is saying and we just learned that Arthur isn’t all that he seems to be this whole time. I guess people question the things they’ve heard. A lot of people wonder if he’s going to be evil, a lot don’t know. What I say is that Merlin is going to be very, very heavily connected to the huge events of this season. He’s already been connected to so many up to this point. We’re going to learn a lot about the world that we’re in, not just Camelot, but the whole world of magic. In terms of what to expect of Merlin, you’re just going to have to wait and see.
What is the most exciting thing about getting to play such an iconic character?
There’s so much fun playing these characters that are so well known and legendary. They’re tied to so much magic and all these wonderful adventures and stories. You’re surrounded by wonder when playing a character like this. You just get to enjoy being a part of the history and magic. That’s one of the most enjoyable things for me and if I can do that with work, that’s a huge bonus. Also, because I’m so grateful with the casting for this role — I’m so dissimilar to previous imaginings of this character. I’m not trying to live up to others standards and I think the show is good for that. They don’t ask you to come in and try and cope what someone else did or do the same thing. Like you said, it’s all about giving twists to these characters and whether it’s with how they are or the stories that they’re involved with. It’s been really great that the guys had an input on what they wanted to see in Merlin and then looking at the script and the context of the story with whats happening with Emma and everyone else in Storybrooke and Camelot, and finding a great character who can tie them with those things. There’s so many wonderful points about of getting to play around with a character like that. He’s so well known, powerful and magical. I mean how can that not be fun? I’m having the best time.
Is there anyone in the cast that you have felt a bond to, or made you feel very welcomed since it is a fairly big cast?
It’s a huge cast. In terms of when you’re working and what you’re filming, you don’t always see everyone else. I’ve got to work with Jen(nifer) Morrison quite a bit and I’ve enjoyed getting to know her and hanging out with her. She’s good fun. Lana [Parrilla] is great. I guess I have seen a bunch of people. Emilie [De Ravin] was great. Sinqua [Walls] is awesome. I love Sinqua. He’s ugh, [laughs], he makes me laugh a lot. He’s really cool, fun guy. Liam [Garrigan] is wonderful. Everyone’s lovely. But in terms of people I’ve spent time with, worked with or seen, there are a few people I’ve really enjoyed getting to work with because I’ve had the opportunity. And maybe some people we haven’t met yet. Oooh.
[Laughs] And to have fans get to know you more on a personal level, I’m going to ask you a few rapid fire questions.
What actor would you love to work with?
I just watched Sicario with Emily Blunt and I think she’s amazing. So I will say her.
Is there a musician/band you listen to before filming?
Ooh. A lot of Hans Zimmer.
What is your favourite TV show at the moment?
I always give the wrong answer to this. One second.
Um. I just finished the first season of Homeland. I guess that’s the one I’m really getting into.