The Craftsman

How actor Colin Morgan mastered his craft

Craftsmanship is different these days. It's no longer about just making things with your hands but about committing yourself to your field of work with a passion, and working to improve your craft – whatever that may be

First in our new series exploring craftsmanship for the 21st century is actor Colin Morgan. Born and brought up in Northern Ireland, he got his first taste of mainstream success playing the titular role in the BBC series Merlin back in 2008. Over the past decade he has played title roles in The Fall and Humans, and is currently starring in Arthur Miller‘s All My Sons at the Old Vic alongside Sally Field, Bill Pullman and Jenna Coleman.

We sat down with the actor in between scene-readings to talk to him about why a bit of adversity can be a good thing for committing to your chosen career, how the auditions that don’t go his way helped him and why no matter how experienced he gets, he’ll always want to learn more about his craft.

Basic instinct

Acting wasn’t a conscious choice. It sort of chose me. There were no outside influences, like a film I watched or an actor that made me want to be one, too. I’d describe it as a natural instinct.

Embrace adversity 

Wanting to act will always raise concerns for families and friends. But if it’s the only thing in your head, and is truly your passion, no one will be able to talk you out of it. Having a bit of resistance is a good measure of how much you want something, too.

School’s out

I grew up in Northern Ireland where there are no drama schools, so I always knew I’d have to leave the country if I wanted to act. I went to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and it was brilliant: developing the craft, working with fellow actors and learning from great tutors in all areas of the business. You can have a real instinct to act, but you can also whittle away at the wood and make it smoother, more detailed. You can never know enough.

Seeking a challenge

I look for demanding roles, so every new one I take on is a challenge, something I haven’t done before, either the action or the character or the setting. When I first read a script I do it as an audience member – am I entertained by it? And then I read it again from an acting point of view – what would I bring to it?

You’re never too old to learn

You don’t just become an actor and that’s it. You’ve got to keep growing, and to keep being curious. Curiosity is a good friend of an actor.

There’s always ones that get away

With auditions, you’ve got to put your heart on the line for something you want badly, and hope it shouts loud enough for people to hear. But the roles you get are always fewer in number than the ones that get away.

Method acting

I’ve no set formula for prepping. Sometimes it can be a lot of reading, or a lot of observing. Sometimes it’s hands-on research, being in a situation as close to the reality of the character as I can get. Ultimately I think it’s about clearing the noise out the way so the script, the words and the character can do the work on you. You’ve got to trust you’re open and free enough for that to happen.

Coming full circle

Ten years have passed since I walked on the stage at The Old Vic, where I had my second ever job. I read Arthur Miller’s All My Sons in drama school, but now I’m closer to Chris Keller’s age, I’ve connected with it a lot more. I thought it’d be an amazing challenge.

Colin Morgan stars in All My Sons at The Old Vic until 8 June