OTB Interviews: Alex Vlahos

Alex Vlahos

Best known for his role as Mordred in the hit BBC fantasy show, ‘Merlin.’ Vlahos trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama with classmates including Kimberley Nixon & Aneurin Barnard and has appeared in The Indian Doctor and Doctors. He stars in the new BBC series Privates about one of the last group of conscripts to enter National Service in a breakthrough lead role as Private Keenan.

With the series being broadcast at a time specifically aimed at people who have experienced conscription, did you do anything special to prepare?

We had a week long intensive training regime before we started filming, where we all got put through our paces by a real life drill Sergeant. Obviously with the time it’s going out, we know that there’s going to be quite a lot of people watching who have family involved or have been involved themselves, so that level of detail was important and I really hope it shows.

And this was your first leading role?

I suppose Mordred is the role I’m best known for, but the funny thing is that I did Privates before I did Merlin – the filming was back to front. So Privates was my first lead part, and I felt a great duty to do it justice.

But you don’t realise how much pressure…You’re number one on the call sheet, and people look to you to set an example, to be on form, friendly, knowledgeable and all that sort of stuff. And it was a sort of baptism of fire for me, and I really revelled in that.

That necessary leadership came naturally to you?

Yes, I suppose it did. I’ve always seen myself as someone who is very ambitious and takes great pride in my work. I think there’s nothing worse than someone who doesn’t care and I felt like Privates was my opportunity to show everyone how much I was willing to put into this role.

How did you cope with the loss of your hair for the show?

That was always part of the plan, we got told that during the auditioning process that if we got the part that it would be in the contract in BIG BOLD LETTERS. Then every day all eight of us would come in with shaved heads and put on the same sixties army clothes and boots and we became incredibly tight knit because of it.

Suffering through nine weeks of wearing that much wool must inevitably bring you closer together…

We became incredibly resentful towards the crew actually, it was bizarre. We stuck up for each other and when things went wrong we didn’t shy away from backing each other up. There was a big sort of divide between the crew and the cast. We didn’t even sit or eat with them, although it wasn’t out of a hatred, it was more that we were just happier as a unit.

Off camera we were calling each other by our character’s surname – it became that level of intensity. We even started creating nicknames for each other that weren’t part of the show but became part of it. The line between what was real and what was acting was very blurred.

You’ve been quite busy creating personalised hashtags such as #VlaLove and #CookingwithVla – what inspired that?

That’s just fun. I’m overwhelmed by the response on Twitter and I think that’s due to the love that people have for Mordred and Merlin. Twitter I find is a curse and a blessing – obviously the responses do vary and you have to not take it too seriously, otherwise you’ll cry yourself to sleep.

Beyond the Twitter reactions, what has surprised you most about the fame you’ve acquired?

I suppose getting noticed, its always going to be strange. You know – when someone looks over at you and points and you think “Oh, have I got something on my face?â€? and then they walk over and say “I saw you on Saturday and thought you were greatâ€? and it takes you a second before you go “Of course, I’m on telly!â€? That baffles me.

That and the small smiles you get walking down the street when people think they know you but they don’t quite remember how they know you. Or once I was on the tube coming back from Waterloo and this forty-five year old woman came across the aisle and sat next to me, leant over and said “I’m really looking forward to Saturday. I hope you don’t go over to the dark side.â€? That was lovely.

The clich̩ is that every actor has a script ready Рhave you composed anything yet?

I’m a great believer in remaining proactive, I hate the idea of an actor resting on his laurels and waiting for his agent to get him a job. I’ve got some ideas, and I do write, but I’m more interested in books than scripts. I’m currently writing a novel but I don’t want it to be published and I’m not looking for it to be picked up – it’s more of a way of keeping busy when work is slow.

You did The Picture of Dorian Gray recently, would you describe your style as Wildean?

I suppose it is. The person that did it with me, Scott Hancock (the producer), said that I was always his Dorian Gray. There was no audition process, I got offered the part and I took it. He said that there was no one else, it was the way I walked and I held myself. I didn’t quite know whether to take that as a compliment given its Dorian Gray.

But I suppose my acting is quite centred towards that creative flair that Wilde has, I can’t ever imagine myself being in Kidulthood. No one looks at my face and goes: “Cast him in that Hackney Towers slasher film.â€?

Privates is on BBC 1 all this week at 1415

Interview by Nick Arthur