Colin Morgan Parks Up In Belfast

The Armagh-born actor on wizards, welfare and taking up smoking for his role in the Irish feature, Parked

Colin Morgan, star of BBC’s hit series Merlin, is set to bring a touch of magic to Belfast during the Takeover Film Festival at Queen's Film Theatre, part of the Cinemagic International Film Festival for Young People. His latest leading role is in Irish feature film Parked, the Northern Irish premiere of which will open the Takeover Festival.

What is Parked about and who do you play?

Parked tells the story of a character called Fred, played by Colm Meaney, who has nowhere to live and no job. He ends up living out of his car in a car park (hence the name of the film) and he can’t get welfare due to having no fixed abode. Things aren’t looking great for him, and my character, Cathal, is pretty much in the same boat, living out of a car in the same park, but for very different reasons.

Cathal is a bit of a junkie waster who has had something of a dark past. They strike up a friendship and Cathal tries to bring Fred back to the light, despite being in so much darkness, and together they find the importance of being at home.

The subject matter sounds quite dark and gritty, but is the overriding message an uplifting one?

The film tackles some big subjects, dealing with homelessness and drug addiction and the economic state of Ireland at the moment, and it does highlight all of those issues very well. However, there is also a really uplifting note to it, about hope and about finding happiness in the darkest of situations. My character Cathal, who is a very happy go lucky guy, tries to lift Fred up despite his own situation, and he does end up suffering as a result.

Do you have any favourite Irish films? What, for you, is the defining quality of Irish cinema?

I grew up with films like The Snapper, so it was a great pleasure to work with the brilliant Colm Meaney. More recently I thought Hunger was an amazing achievement.

A lot of Irish films can be quite dark and bleak, but directors and writers often find humour in these situations, and I think that is a great quality – one which is hopefully present in Parked. Personally, having worked on Merlin for the BBC for the past few years, it means a lot to me to do a film in Ireland, which I genuinely love, with some of the greatest writing, acting and directing talent.

As well as starring in Merlin, you have also appeared in another BBC spectacular, Doctor Who. There is a vast difference between the fantasy aspect of these roles and the realism of your character in Parked? Do you have different methods of preparing for each part?

I have always liked escapism and films with heightened reality, but I also equally enjoy gritty dramas as well. The key is variety, and I mean that both as an audience member and as an actor – nobody wants to be typecast. I look at each character as an individual and do a lot of research into making it believable for both the audience and myself. For that reason I never compare two roles.

For Parked, I spent a good few weeks in Dublin in various locations to research before starting the film, and I took up smoking for a month! These are things I do for myself, so that when it comes to shooting the movie or the scene, I’m on the ball from the beginning.

Regarding the issue of being typecast – on Merlin you worked with the great Richard Wilson. Having played the endearing role of Victor Meldrew for so long, it is often hard to imagine him being anything but that grumpy man. How was he to work with?

Richard is the nicest fellow you could ever meet in your life. There’s this weird thing where people attach a personality of a character to the actor, and it is something I worry about myself, but he’s a big cuddly guy and a terrific actor.

The Northern Irish premiere of Parked launches the Takeover Festival. A Queen's Film Theatre Learning Project, the festival is designed, programmed and run by young people from different cultural backgrounds in association with Cinemagic. With its themes of hope, friendship and inspiration Parked seems like an apt choice for the opening film. Who, or what, has inspired you as an actor?

I find this a really difficult question to answer, as I feel like being an actor is a natural instinct. It was something naturally in me from when I was young – right from when I could first talk, I wanted puppets and theatres and I have always been interested in performing arts. So I find it hard to talk about inspiration as I think it was already in me. Of course, there are many great actors who I really admire, particularly Sean Penn and Daniel Day Lewis. I think they’re fantastic at what they do.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career to date?

It was very difficult to keep up the energy for Merlin, shooting for eight months at a time. It is very easy to lose momentum if you expel all your energy at the beginning of the shoot – you work 14 hour days, and you have to carry about nine episodes in your head at any one time, with possibly a few different directors. I think the biggest challenge has been learning to manage my time and trying to stay sane!

With Parked complete and shooting for the fifth series of Merlin kicking off in March 2012, what will you be doing until then?

Right now we’re on the publicity trail for Parked – it has been going right round the world for the past year, and finally now I’m getting a chance to come home. It really means a lot to me to be back here with this film, so that’s at the forefront of my mind for the minute.