As sultry jazz singer Jessie Taylor in BBC2’s new drama Dancing On The Edge, Angel Coulby has wowed critics with her amazing vocal performance.
But astonishingly, the actress had never sung in public until she auditioned for the part.
Stephen Poliakoff, who wrote and directed the series about a Thirties jazz band, last night admitted he had no idea that Coulby could sing until she decided to audition for the part at the 11th hour.
‘What is so extraordinary is that Angel hadn’t told her agent she could sing and she had never sung in public before,’ he said. ‘When we were casting, we decided to have open auditions because we thought we would need a professional singer who could act on the side. Angel turned up very late in the process and had to audition for us at Ealing Studios without musical accompaniment. But as soon as she opened her mouth, we knew we had found our Jessie. In the words of the old cliche, we were blown away.’
Angel’s character is based loosely on real- life singer Florence Mills, who is said to have had an affair with the Duke of Kent and who died at 32 after contracting tuberculosis.
The BBC has officially announced that the current series of Merlin will be the last.
The fantasy drama will bow out with “a spectacular conclusion” this Christmas, the BBC has confirmed in a statement released at midnight. The special two-part finale will see Merlin’s re-telling of the Arthurian legend reach “its natural and dramatic end”.
Co-creators and Executive Producers, Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy commented: “This is the series where the storylines truly reach their apex. We always felt the story of the legend was best told across five series, leading to a spectacular finale that draws on the best known elements of this much-loved story and brings to a conclusion the battle for Camelot. We’d like to thank the amazing cast and crew for their professionalism and dedication, the BBC, FME and all of our partners globally for their incredible support and encouragement across the last five series. But chiefly, our thanks go to Merlin’s remarkable and loyal audience around the world for their enthusiasm for the characters and Camelot universe.”
BBC One Controller Danny Cohen added: “Merlin’s mix of magic, adventure and humour quickly became a hit with BBC One audiences and has continued to thrill families over the last five years on Saturday nights. I admire the creators’ decision to end Merlin on a high, but also know that we will miss it in the BBC One schedule. On behalf of BBC One I would like to thank Shine and all those involved in the making of the show both on and off screen. I hope fans will tune in over the coming weeks to see the spectacularly dramatic final episodes, and we have ambitious plans for new drama in the Saturday evening slot in 2013.”
Angel Coulby (Guinevere) said: “It has been a very special and memorable five years making Merlin. I feel extremely proud to have been part of such a brilliant show and such a great team. I think we’ve told the story we set out to tell, which ends with the fantastic two part finale by the way! I believe the key to any successful show is making sure you leave people wanting more!”
Angel has been interviewd by RadioTimes – she talks sword fighting, fan mail and being part of ‘Team Merlin’.
What does series five hold for Gwen?
I’m thrilled because Gwen is a lot more glamorous this series. Now she’s queen she’s gone up in the world and her costumes are beautiful, sexy, off-the-shoulder numbers. It means I spend a lot more time being laced into corsets but after four years of shabbiness I’m not complaining! Oh, and look out for a really exciting storyline involving Gwen and Morgana…
What skills have you acquired in five series of Merlin?
Sword-fighting, although I’m always jealous of all the swashbuckling the boys do because we girls don’t get to do quite as much. I do more horse riding this series, which I love because we get to work with such stunning horses. Mine is white with a mane done to the floor – it’s like a Barbie horse.
Are you inundated with fan mail?
We don’t just get mail! We get fans from all over the world turning up at the chateau in France where we film from as far afield as Australia. One woman dressed up as Percival and knitted a chainmail cardigan with straps, cuff and cloak. She’d really gone to town. Merlin is now so popular there are often swarms of people with cameras outside the chateau and even in the chateau because it’s open to the public.
Is that distracting?
It’s a bit weird because you can sometimes have a huge audience watching you. But it’s also nice because they’re really excited to see you and obviously love the show – it stops it feeling like just another day at the office.
Isn’t it supposed to be a kids’ programme?
It’s definitely grown up as we’ve grown up and as the fans who watch it have grown up. It’s become a lot darker but it’s handled well: something terrible will happen but then there’ll be light-hearted banter between Merlin and Arthur.
What’s it like behind-the-scenes?
We’ve been working together for such a long time we have become like a family – not just the cast but the crew as well. We consider ourselves part of the crew: we’re Team Merlin. There’s nobody who’s more important than anybody else and everybody likes to joke around and have a laugh. That’s really important because it’s such a long shoot; you need that comic relief.
If Merlin carried on for another five series, would you?
Who knows? I’d hate to think of it going on without me because I’ve been part of it for such a long time. Then again, I became an actor to do a variety of different things so I won’t stay forever and ever.
And the rumoured Merlin movie?
That has been mentioned. It hasn’t necessarily been mentioned to me but I have heard people talking about it! It works well on the big screen so you never know.
What can fans look forward to in this fifth series?
It’s a more grown-up show. As Merlin has continued, it has pushed boundaries in terms of getting darker, and this series is no different. Fans can expect more focus on the main characters; we don’t necessarily have a villain-of-the-week anymore. It’s Morgana taking that role as the main threat.
You’ve been in the show for a very long time – what are your personal highlights?
There are some scenes that are iconic images, such as the Roundtable and the group of knights. There was one particular shot where we were coming back from being away and I’m riding with all the knights; that was quite cool.
But the main highlight is working with the people in the show; the crew has been pretty much the same since the beginning and we’ve got a very tight team. We all consider ourselves to be one team and that’s what I’ll take away from the show the most – the relationships that I’ve made.
What was your worst filming experience on Merlin and why?
We work outside in the surrounding areas of Cardiff a lot. There’s one particular location where we work, which is a quarry. We have to be submerged in a lake which was in this quarry – it’s in a high place so no matter what the weather is like down below, it’s always freezing and raining in this particular area.
We had to climb into this lake – on this horrible day – and stay in there for… I don’t know how long it was – it felt like hours! We were freezing to death while the rest of the camera crew leisurely discussed what they were going to do next! I came out of there and I was freezing – I couldn’t feel my body! That was horrible.
How happy are you with the way your character has developed?
There’s been a few things that I’ve mentioned that have ended up in the show and I’m not sure if that’s necessarily my doing or just a coincidence. I’ve always enjoyed Gwen as a character; she’s a bit of a moral compass for the show because she always does the right thing and she’s always strong in that.
I’ve long thought she’d be a good queen with all her noble qualities; she really cares about the people. I’d like her to be a bit more of a warrior queen and get involved with the battles – that’d be cool.
Share one specific nugget about the fifth series that you’re looking forward to?
There’s some exciting twists to look out for in this particular series. Also, I get a bit more interaction with Morgana this year so that’s definitely something to look out for.
Q: Please describe where Guinevere is at the start of the fifth series
A: Having married Arthur, she’s now Queen and is taking the role very, very seriously. She’s become the Queen I always thought she would be. She has all the characteristics for the role. She is innocent, strong, humble but noble. She possesses that a great humanity, kindness and love, but at the same time she’s not afraid to stand up and say what she thinks. She’s very honest because she has realised that quality is very important in her new role. However, she can also be quite ruthless as she is fiercely protective of Arthur and the kingdom. She has to make decisions which are quite harsh, but they are all done in the name of defending the ones she loves.
Q: How would you characterise her relationship with Arthur now?
A: Arthur has changed and become much more responsible. He now takes much more notice of his heart – he’s not ashamed of his emotions anymore. Guinevere has deep respect for him. They work together very well and make a really good team. He confides in her and respects her opinion.
Q: How does Guinevere get on with Merlin?
A: They’re still very good friends. He knows that she is Queen and he must respect that, but they’re still good mates. She approves of Merlin’s influence on Arthur. All the same, she would never want to get in the way of Merlin’s relationship with Arthur. She appreciates that they have a “bromance” and she enjoys their bantering. Arthur and Merlin take care of each other, but they’re also quite happy to mock each other. She doesn’t want to put a stop to that.
Q: What is the jeopardy in this series?
A: It’s the ever-present threat of Morgana. People in Camelot always fear her because she is a grave danger to Arthur. Guinevere is less worried for her own safety and more concerned for Arthur and the kingdom. It’s painful having to live with that constant threat. You have to be always on your guard, aware that at any moment Morgana could just turn up and cause immense problems. Be afraid of Morgana, be very afraid!
Q: Why does the series appeal in more than 180 countries?
A: From the very first episode of the very first series, I remember thinking that I felt a lot of affection for these characters. I was not alone. Viewers immediately liked them. They have been very well drawn. Also, the Arthurian legend has been often retold in so many different ways down the centuries. It’s a story that has really stood the test of time. It’s full of intrigue, magic and fantasy. At its heart, the show has this great leader in Arthur. We would all like to be led by someone so brave and chivalrous and with such a good heart. In addition, the series looks tremendous. The CGI is absolutely fantastic.
Q: Why do you think the fantasy genre so popular right now?
A: People like to get lost in magic. In recent times, Harry Potter was one of the first big things that did that. You can lose yourself in a magical world because it’s so different from the world we normally live in. Also, as a writer, you can go anywhere and do anything. It’s exciting to be able to venture beyond the realms of everyday life. Immersing yourself in that is a very attractive prospect. Viewers love a bit of escapism.
Q: Do you get a kick out of Merlin’s legions of fans all over the world?
A: Absolutely. The fans are been with us from the very beginning. They’ve enjoyed watching it grow and have stayed with us. Their numbers have increased dramatically over the years. When we first went to the chateau in France, we were met by four German girls sitting on a wall – I don’t know how they knew we were coming! Now it’s really exciting because hundreds of fans turn up to watch the filming. When you’re going off to a studio in Cardiff, you can forget about the fans. But in France, you can’t avoid them. It can be a little overwhelming sometimes. But it’s a real compliment because they’re so excited to see us, so you always have to smile. It doesn’t pay to get annoyed. We only exist because of them. They’re very friendly and they always tell you how much they love the show.
Q: Finally, why do you think Merlin continues to be such a hit?
A: The show is a fundamentally fun watch – you can escape for an hour into this fantasy world and forget about all your daily worries. I’d certainly be a fan of it, if I wasn’t in it!