[T]he last time we featured Colin Morgan on Hunger TV, our social media channels went crazy. The Northern Irish actor, probably best known up to this point for his leading role in Merlin, has a rather dedicated fan base. To say the least. But does the attention bother him? Not in the slightest. The unassuming actor takes it all in his stride, smiling bashfully when mentioning times that people have asked him for a picture, and agreeing that his newfound fame is all part and parcel of the job.
‘The job’ is what Colin is all about, and if his career trajectory continues in the way it has in the last few years chances are he won’t be short of one for a long time. His critically acclaimed performances on stage lead to widespread recognition and helped land him the role of Merlin in the BBC series of the same name, as well as film parts in the likes of World War I drama Testament of Youth and opposite Tom Hardy in the upcoming Legend.
First up though is Humans, the hugely anticipated Channel 4 sci-fi series centred around a futuristic life where the must have product is a household robot known as a Synth. As is often the case with technology versus humans, all is not what it seems and Humans looks set to be an edge of your seat series that will keep us glued to the box. The plot is still rather hush hush, but before the show airs early next month we sit down with Colin to see if we can squeeze a few secrets out of him…
What drew you to Humans, why did you want to be involved?
First and foremost, it was the quality of the script. Whenever you read something that draws you in, a page turner, you want to know what’s happening next and that was the case with this. I always read first as an audience member to make sure that it draws me in, and second time around I read from a character point of view, how I approach it as an actor, and this presented a lot of challenges and intrigue. The main thing for me is a challenge in a role – is it going to scare me a bit? If I feel that then I think it’s a great project to be involved in. There’s a lot of passion in Humans.
Humans originally is a Swedish series. Did you watch that when you got the part?
No I didn’t, I went at it for what it was, how it was written. I wasn’t really interested in seeing another version that had been done before. It’s not like a Shakespeare play, where countless actors have played the part. I wanted to put my own stamp on it, that was really important. For me, it’s about playing the character from instincts instead of already having an idea in your head.
Your character is a human in the show as opposed to a Synth, what can you tell us about him?
The big thing about Leo is that there is a lot of mystery surrounding him, and why he’s on the run. Where he’s come from and what he’s doing is going to provide a lot of mystery for the audience. There are also a tonne of questions for Leo, there’s a lot he doesn’t know and is trying to find. In terms of his relationships with the Synths, he’s really trying to reconcile what it means to have these in the world, and this version of them that he knows. He’s trying to make sense of the human and synthetic coalition in the world, so he faces a lot of confusion. He’s also trying to battle a lot of demons, and throughout the series you’ll see him try to understand who he is and his place in the world.
Robotics is one of the central themes of Humans, did you have an interest in it before you got the part?
I didn’t have an active interest in it, but I think like anyone, I was aware of it. There have been a lot of films dealing with the issues – when you give someone the ability to think for itself and be on a par with a human do you then afford it the rights of humans? Where do you draw the line? It’s a comment of technology but also a comment on ourselves and our arrogance. Do we programme it with our way, which we deem the right way, or let it think for itself. All those issues are always prevalent but researching robotics since starting the programme I’ve realised that what we’re doing in the show is very much the goal of a lot of scientists and technology driven processes now. It’s what people are aiming towards developing. It makes you question whether you agree or not. I’m on the fence but certainly since being involved in the show has made me realise that the science fiction we deal in is actually not that far from reality.
Are you into technology yourself?
I’ve described myself before as a bit anti social media. I’m not into Twitter or Facebook. When I socialise I like to do it face to face. I think a lot of people prefer to look at their screen than someone’s face and that’s happening more and more. I’ve got my phone and laptop but I don’t rely on them so much, or substitute them for reality. I do see that social media is great for people that benefit from it in positive ways, but I just wonder how long it takes before it has a negative effect.
How do you think that social media is affecting the film industry – a help or hindrance?
I think it’s good as it provides a platform for fans to talk about shows and actors; it creates a great buzz. The downside is privacy – where did that go? It seems that it’s okay to take a picture of anyone at any time and put it up online without their permission. I see that happening to people, even on the tube. When respect goes out the window it’s not good.
Humans delves into some real social issues. Is it important to you to be involved in projects with a message?
I never actively think of a role like that. I don’t really think about the message that I’m sending out unless it’s from an emotional point of view, or a character point of view – what the character believes in. Even if what a character believes is unethical, if I can see their justification in it then that’s the type of role I want to play. I never judge the characters I play. But sometimes people find it hard to distinguish you who are and who a character is.
What were some of the challenges when filming Humans?
A big thing was getting into Leo’s head. He has a lot going on in there all the time so it was important for me to be able to define what had happened to him and how it affected him. He has a constant tug of war going on inside his head. The writers really challenged all of us in the show and I think the drama and psychology of Leo was the biggest challenge for me.
Do you ever find it hard to shake off a character?
It depends. I find it more in theatre, it’s harder to get rid of those characters as you’re playing them every night. For filming it’s slightly different as you move on from scenes. But it does depend, some characters affect you more than others. I wasn’t in the happiest of moods while filming Humans because of the mind space I had to occupy!
Let’s speak about your fans for a moment – you’ve got a lot of them! How do you deal with the craze that comes with your name?
I suppose I don’t really deal with it. I feel like I’m able to go about my life normally except for the odd occasion when someone recognises you. It’s obviously strange when it happens but the other side of it is that’s nobody’s coming up and throwing an egg in your face, people are always very nice! It’s part and parcel with what being in the public eye is. When I just did theatre I’d go there, do my job and go home but as soon as I did some TV work the next theatre job was completely different! A little part of me was gutted that suddenly it wasn’t just about being on stage and performing, I was a part of celebrity culture that I wasn’t used to. It’s strange, I don’t know if anyone ever becomes used to it.
Do you ever think that celebrity culture can become dangerous?
I wouldn’t like to forecast on what I don’t know too much about. But I think that as long as nobody becomes solely about social media and cut themselves off then I think it’s reasonably safe.
So final questions then Colin, what are the best and worst things about your job?
The best thing is that you’re living your dream. It doesn’t feel like a job. It’s not 9-5, and it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I get to put on the clothes – metaphorically speaking – of all these different people and live another life. That’s what it’s all about to me, inhabiting this space that’s constantly different. The worst things? Hmm, that’s hard! I guess it’s the unpredictability. When you finish a job there’s the inevitable comedown when you’re like, what now! Also I never feel completely satisfied with a job I’ve just done which can be frustrating. But there’s not that many negatives!
Humans airs on Channel 4 in June. Find out more here.