Merlin the Return: Rik Mayall’s Wizard Adventure

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog, 2001

Rik Mayall, the star of the new family movie “Merlin The Return,” talks to MyMovies about the challenges of his latest role, which sees him bringing a legendary hero bang up to date. The new movie, shot on location near Johannesburg, it brings the wizard from King Arthur’s court into the 21st century in a rattling adventure that sees him battle his ancient enemies once more. For comic actor Mayall, it meant the realisation of three dreams: going to Africa; playing Merlin; and being able to cast spells.

MyMovies: You look like you had a lot of fun making this film so what was the appeal of the role?

Rik Mayall: I’ve never played Merlin and I always wanted to do something from Arthur’s time. It’s one of the things I always really wanted to do but I never thought I was a sort of Merlin scale bloke. Then it gets offered and I thought ‘What! Are you taking the mickey?’ Then I find out they are going to shoot it in South Africa. Merlin was 500 AD and I don’t remember any elephants and giraffes in the story! But for some reason it was shot next to Johannesburg. I loved the script anyway but it was such a surreal thing to go all that way, that I said yes.

MyMovies: Did you shoot on particularly dull days as the sky looks gloomy and right for England?

Rik Mayall:
Yes, it was autumn when we were there so it wasn’t blazing sun but on camera it just looks like England. And you’ve got much more space there as well. If you were galloping around southern or middle England, you are just going to have telegraph poles, aeroplanes going overhead, lorries and all sorts of things It was just a perfect idea to shoot it in South Africa.

MyMovies: How did you feel about Merlin’s look, the robes and hairstyle?

Rik Mayall: I thought I looked incredibly glamorous which is new for me! Merlin is straight, he’s not normal, he’s a little strange. He’s possessor of incredibly strange knowledge and things. He’s a bit of a loner and my parts have always been loners, even in comedy. Merlin was a gift for me, I was very well suited to it. Wearing your own beard is very good as well because wearing a false beard in Africa doesn’t work, it gets a bit sweaty.

MyMovies: Paul Matthews script is hugely imaginative, what makes it such a rattling good yarn?

Rik Mayall:
Well the great hook of the film is the fact that it’s set now. Historians think Arthur lived around 500 AD but here we are now, when Merlin and Arthur wake from their sleep and come back because there is something that needs to be done to protect this land. The main baddie is a 21st century scientist played by the gorgeous Tia Carrere so that is the battle that is done. It’s 21st century abused science versus timeless magic. That is Merlin’s job — to ensure that order is maintained.

MyMovies: What about casting spells?

Rik Mayall: It was fantastic. The special effects were good and we had lots of space. All I had to do was point my finger and something would explode. Sometimes four or five armed soldiers would charge towards me and they would blow up. It’s a job and someone’s got to do and I did it.

MyMovies: What appeal does the film hold for children?

Rik Mayall: The idea that adventure from past times can happen now in the twenty-first century. It’s the Arthurian story and there have been many films about Arthur but none that are set now. It’s goes back in time and forward in time and into other worlds. I suppose it has a Harry Potter feel about it, except that you know the characters in this. I think it’s very rare for a British film to be accepted by all the film people but if you can get past all the critics, it’s one for the kids.

MyMovies: Were you a fan of Arthurian legend when you were a ‘young one’?

Rik Mayall: Oh, yeah. I always wanted to be Lancelot and hang around with Guinevere but I never got the chance, never had the looks, but now I have the equipment!