Rupert Young unofficially started his acting career playing a donkey at age 4, but on "Merlin" he's been able to live the dream of a lot of youngsters.
"Every boy kind of grows up at some point in time having a sword fight or wanting to do it. So when you actually do it with real swords having these huge battles, it never ceases to be exciting," said Young, who plays Sir Leon in the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. "It's very rare that you grow up and you can actually take a picture of sword fights and watch them back and they actually look really cool. So we always loved doing that and then tried to make them more and more exciting as we went along."
Last week, American fans were treated to the start of the biggest battle ever staged for the British series when Syfy aired the opening of the two-part series finale. The show's five-year run, and that epic battle, conclude at 9 p.m. CT May 31 with "The Diamond of the Day, Part 2."
For Young and his co-stars, filming the battle pitting Merlin (Colin Morgan), King Arthur (Bradley James) and the Knights of the Roundtable against Morgana (Katie McGrath), Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) and their forces of evil was especially taxing, with a lot of green-screen work and full-on physical exertion.
But, he told me during a recent phone call from London, they all felt it was worth giving fans a fantastic ending to the series. "I think it's full of very exciting, edge-of-your-seat moments."
Young not only enjoyed going out with a huge final battle, but also how series creators Johnny Capps, Julian Murphy, Julian Jones and director Justin Molotnikov ended the finale with something unexpected and, for some fans, controversial.
"There's a little button at the very end that some people either love or hate," Young said of the scene that I won't spoil. "I think it's quite a good thing to have something that is a bit random that makes people go, 'Oh, is that genius or is that terrible? I can't quite decide.'"
The entire cast and crew, too, appreciated being able to "end on a high," with the show still so popular and at the top of its game. That fact helped to ease mixed emotions during the final days of filming in France.
"We finished on a Friday and that was a huge, really exciting and sad day," Young said, "but it was a really nice day and we had a little party."
The partying started on Thursday night, when Richard Wilson, who plays Gaius, had a get-together. It continued after filming ended in France on Friday, and then the production had another celebration back in London on Sunday. "We saw the show out in style, I have to say," Young chuckled.
Young and the other cast members, especially those who played the knights, still get together. Read more about that in the photo gallery captions above, and found out more about Young's donkey role in the interview excerpts below. (If you can't see the gallery above, please click here.)
You guys have been done filming for a while. Do you still have your hair long?
It is still pretty long, yeah.
Is that how you wore it before or did you grow it for the show?
It kind of grew in the show. When I first auditioned it was kind of longish and it kind of got longer. And then I think before Season 4 I had it cut because I was in a play. I was hoping to keep it short and they said, "No, you've got to grow it. You've got to grow it long." I got it cut just before Christmas and then I kind of haven't had it done since then. ... I can cut it at any point but I think I'm afraid I'll lose my strength if it comes off.
Are you missing your friends from the cast?
I am, yeah. The good thing about it is you do catch up a lot after the show. I've done a few jobs where you get very close to people and you say you must keep in touch and you never see them again. But with this it's different because we've spent so many years with each other. We kind of have this bond that, you know, a lot of people have gone off and done work and done other things since we finished. But we always come back and see each other.
I'm seeing Tom [Hopper] tomorrow. I'm gonna see Eoin [Macken] today. Bradley [James] I saw when I was out in L.A in February. So we all see a lot of each other and all the directors and the crew. It's a very odd job in that you feel that you've kind of made friends for life. You do very much feel like a family. When we're filming we have to say that but actually, you can go six months without seeing each other but ... when you see people you slip say back into relationships that you had before, making people laugh and getting annoyed by each other and really like each other at the same time.
So, yeah, we're very lucky like that. I don't think there's anyone that I would be very pleased to not to have to see every day. Probably just me.