Ride the darker wave: NI actor Colin Morgan on his latest spooky role
As he takes on another eerie and mysterious series, Armagh-born star Colin Morgan tells Gemma Dunn why he is drawn to dark, challenging acting roles
HE'S played more than his fair share of mystifying roles, but Colin Morgan admits that while he's "drawn to the darkness", he's certainly not confined to it.
"I never choose a genre over quality," quips the 30-year-old Royal Conservatoire of Scotland-trained actor, a former pupil at Integrated College Dungannon who graduated in Performing Arts from Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education.
"I never think, 'I want to do that', and sacrifice the fact it might not be very good.
"I always look for the character that gets into your guts and tells you, 'You have to play this'. You have to be brave enough to let everything else go and let the character guide you.
"When I read a script, I look for that kind of pull."
To be fair, mull over the Co Armagh man's current CV and it seems his pledge to "try new things all the time" is paying off.
Since causing a stir as a boy wizard in BBC fantasy series Merlin eight years ago, Morgan has gone on to impress on stage, TV, film and radio – most recently in psychological thriller The Fall, opposite Gillian Anderson; Kray brothers' biopic Legend alongside Tom Hardy; sci-fi drama Humans; short film The Laughing King and Hollywood epic The Huntsman: Winter's War.
However, point out that he's garnered a lot of praise and the actor comes over surprisingly coy.
"Generally people are very nice," he says, blushing.
"If anyone has anything to say, there's never anything that's – well, I haven't had anyone throw eggs in my face yet!" he adds.
Judging by his upcoming lead in BBC One's latest original drama, The Living And The Dead, he's not likely to get pelted any time soon.
Morgan describes the 1894-set series as "a blend of horror, love, supernatural, relationships, life, death, losses, grievances, joy".
At its heart is the love story of Nathan (Morgan) and Charlotte Appleby (Charlotte Spencer of Glue fame) who, after inheriting a farm and leaving London to start a new life in the Somerset countryside, are enraptured by supernatural goings-on.
The couple are put under extraordinary pressure to save their marriage and home.
Created by Life On Mars co-creator and writer Ashley Pharoah, the edgy six-parter plays on the eeriness of the rural world at the point when the industrial revolution came crashing in, disrupting all the old certainties.
"It's a time of change and moving forward; of traditions not being completely lost but being smothered a bit, which is unsettling for the people whose livelihood is the land," says Morgan.
"You get the impression that the land holds trauma, pain and memories. Digging it up, unearthing the land itself, gives a feeling of something else being unsettled. That is a catalyst for things that happen."
At the forefront of the unexplainable is Nathan, who Morgan claims possesses that "damaged character" element he enjoys tackling.
"First and foremost, he's a healer. He sees hurt in people, he sees the pain and there's something about him that wants to take that away from people. He's fiercely passionate, so there's a lot of love, especially for his wife.
"He's determined to have a good future, but a big theme of the show is what lies beneath, and his reasons for doing things are unresolved, unhealed."
The ominous West Country setting plays an important role in the mood of the piece too. "It was a very unsettling house," reflects the actor of the set, before reeling off strange happenings that surfaced during filming.
Does that mean he believes in the supernatural?
"It gets under your skin," admits Morgan.
"Ghost stories, the paranormal and the supernatural hasn't really ever gone away. It's got a fierce tradition about it."
One thing that's certainly convincing, however, is Morgan's London accent – so convincing, in fact, that he had his colleagues fooled.
"Every role dictates a different way, but for some reason on this project, I stayed in an accent the whole time.
"A lot of people didn't know I was from Northern Ireland until we finished shooting," he adds, chuckling.
"The only time I didn't stay in accent was when I was talking to my family back home, because they would have been saying, 'What are you doing?!'"
It won't be long until they can hear Morgan's accent, however; the show has already been released as a box set on BBC iPlayer two weeks before starting 'traditionally' on telly.
Despite being labelled a bit of a 'technophobe' – "I think there are pros and cons to social networking, but on a social, personal level, it's just not for me," he offers – Morgan admits to being excited by the move.
"It's how people are watching now," he reasons. "What's good is it's still being broadcast on TV, so while the BBC is moving with the times, allowing people to watch it on their own terms, it's still looking after the past too and how people like to watch TV week-by-week, episode-by-episode."
With The Fall's third series in the pipeline, a return to the critically acclaimed Humans and a central role in biopic film The Rising: 1916 on the table, the rest of the year is looking busy for Morgan - not that he's complaining.
"You have to strike while the iron is hot," he enthuses.
"You have to take downtime to see friends and family but my passion is acting, pursuing those scary, challenging characters and working with passionate people.
"It doesn't have to happen for anybody at all, this acting game, so you have to count your blessings.
"If I am lucky that the right things have come along at the right time, I'm just going to ride that wave."
:: The Living And The Dead is available as a box set on BBC iPlayer now and starts on BBC One on Tuesday, June 28.