Rifling through a thesaurus is no help. Perhaps enchanting? Yes, and if not then what other word possibly comes closer to describing Katie McGrath’s presence? Her jet-black hair, flawless complexion and those green eyes, all incredibly intense and capable of making even Snow White a jealous bitch. Yes, enchanting, that’s the word. And aptly so, given it’s majestic connotations and the royal background of Morgana, the role for which Katie is arguably best known. But that’s all over now, Merlin, that is. Now, Katie is on to pastures new and No Cigar has seized the opportunity to find out what’s next…
“I have finally started to feel like I know what I’m doing and possibly that what I’m doing isn’t shit,” gushes Katie as she comments on her career progression thus far. “It wasn’t until I got Merlin that I went: ‘shit, this is now my life and now I know how lucky I was, how far I’ve come and that I won the fucking lottery.” If you aren’t familiar with her story, Katie became an actress quite by accident after working as crew on the set of The Tudors. Originally intending to become a fashion journalist (“I wasn’t good at the 9-to-5 structure!”) it wasn’t until Katie was encouraged to try working on the other side of the camera that acting became a realistic possibility. “I think the way I got into acting was the right way for me, I had no concept of what it was or how difficult it was going to be.” So, no young-dreams of acting and becoming a star? Nope. In fact Katie was a rather unlikely acting candidate: “When I started Merlin I very much felt like: ‘shit I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Everybody else had been to drama school and I was sitting there going: ‘I don’t know what the f**k I am.’”
Having now closed the book once and for all on the magical-fantasy-drama that was Merlin, Katie is already set to return to our screens later this year in a tantalizing new production based on the myth of Dracula: “you’ve got the scale and the vastness of an American show but with the class and the intelligence of a British show; it looks fantastic, you rock up and there’s like 400 people in period costume!” Yes NBC, one of America’s network giants, is backing the BBC’s next big show: a vampy (no pun intended) period drama with an easy-on-the-eye cast, headed up by Jonathan Rhys Myers. “It’s got an amazing cast, it looks astonishing and the scripts are wonderful. Everybody’s familiar with the Dracula myth but I think they’re going to be shocked by this – especially in America.” So the sheer scale of this production doesn’t deter the once lacking-in-confidence Katie? “I’m much more confident now. I could never have done this before, I couldn’t have stood in a scene with Johnny [Jonathan Rhys Meyers] and felt equal with him. Doing this now, six years after I started, I feel capable.”
With the filming of the inaugural series wrapping as we speak and the show set to air later this year, we’re keen to know what acting venture is on Katie’s mind next: “I want to do a film that scares me, one that I read and think: ‘oh my god, I don’t know how the f*ck I’m going to do this!” How good would a McGrath Hollywood take over be? Heading off to Cali any time soon Katie? “I just want to be good at what I do so whether it’s a Michael Bay movie, or a Gus van Sant movie or a BBC drama, to me it doesn’t really matter because all I want to do is get better at what I’m doing.” A testament to her refreshing professionalism, albeit by way of perfectionist inclinations: “I have a fear of not being good at something.”
Despite this fear, Katie is still hungry for roles that throw her in the deep end and she maintains a love for ‘black sheep’ characters. What’s more, having outwardly expressed her proclivity toward portraying the bad girl, Katie readily pours over her ultimate rebellious chick role: “I like all the girls in the Fast and Furious movies, I’m like: ‘you look hot, you can drive and you’ve got sass! And I love a bit of Tomb Raider or Gone In Sixty Seconds… If Darth Vader was a girl I think I could do it!” Oh yes, she went there; she descended into Star Wars territory. But she hastily retracts her statement: “don’t put that, I’d get killed by the Star Wars community!” And yet, despite the admittedly fanatical edge some Star Wars fans possess, it’s practically impossible to imagine Katie being reprimanded for any such geeky utterance – Star Wars sacrilege or not. More likely, fans would weaken at the knees and nod in salivating agreement as her beguiling Irish charm innocently captivates. And the best part of it all is that Katie is completely and by her own admission one of them: “going to Comic-Con was the best fun ever! It’s the closest feeling to being a Rock Star! For me, who’s such a geek, I was like: ‘okay, there’s a giant statue of Optimus Prime: I’m happy.” So she’s beautiful, talented and one of the geeks (side note, she is nicknamed Short Circuit because of the speed with which her eyes move when she reads), an envious mix of perfection.
But her eclectic mix is apparently not a niche that translates well into adolescent surroundings: “I think I was kind of a non-entity in school, I was very quiet and shy and most people probably just passed me.” Having made quite the transition, it was largely Katie’s adamancy to be remembered that encouraged her to embrace acting: “by the time I left school I was definite that I wanted to make myself something different and I think that’s why I became an actress: so I wouldn’t get passed by again.” Talking so boldly and with such confidence, it’s difficult to picture Katie as a scuffling schoolgirl.
It’s even more unimaginable when you remember the conviction with which Katie played hard-as-nails Kate in Channel 4’s recent drama, Dates. “It was one of the hardest things I had done up until that point, which is why I wanted to do it. It was ones of those times where you read the script and I go: ‘I don’t know how to do this.’” Katie was selected to play a guarded, abrasive character who happened to be a lesbian: I was really lucky to play something like that opposite Gemma Chan, she walked in and I was like: ‘if I was ever going to be a lesbian, you would totally be the one!’”
So, between the rock star life of Comic-Con, her experience depicting a good-princess-gone-bad and slightly dabbling in lesbianism, what’s been Katie’s best year as an actress so far? Naturally with a resume like that, there can’t be just one: “There’s been two. The best year was the first year I worked in film, when I worked as crew on The Tudors. It’s where I met my best friend and we worked four days of the week and drank three days; it was wonderful.” Having worked for both sides of the camera, Katie’s perspective is quite unique and a point which she feels makes her a nicer actor to work with, as she is much more sympathetic to the crew. And the second best year goes to… “This year, doing Dracula. For the first time I feel like I’m capable of the job I’ve been given. I’m working on something that inspires and scares me at the same time with the most wonderful cast.”
So all’s well that ends well? “I get asked a lot: ‘if you could go back what would you tell your younger self?’ and 100% every time I’d say: ‘don’t worry it’s all going to be okay, no matter how hard it is, you’re going to have an amazing life in a few years.’” And while, granted, we won’t all grow up to be wonderful actresses, telling ourselves everything is going to be fine does seem like a nice bit of advice… at least for now, anyway!
Dracula starts on Sky Living, from 31st October.
Text: Jodie Jones
Photography: Yoshimichi Saiki
Hair and Makeup: Jaimee Thomas
Location: W Hotel (London)