American-Australian actor Devon Terrell may not be a household name yet, but he’s well on his way. Not only has he played former President Barack Obama in the 2016 film Barry, but he’s now tackling one of the most legendary figures in medieval history, King Arthur. In Frank Miller & Theo Wheeler’s Netflix fantasy series CURSED, based on the novel of the same name by Miller & Wheeler, this re-imagination of the Arthurian legend is told through the eyes of Nimue (Katherine Langford), a young woman with a mysterious gift who is destined to become the powerful (and tragic) Lady of the Lake. After her mother’s death, she finds an unexpected partner in Arthur (Devon Terrell), a humble mercenary, in a quest to find Merlin and deliver an ancient sword.
Prior to the release of the series, I had the opportunity to attend a round-table interview with Devon Terrell. During our chat, we discussed everything from fully exploring who Arthur is, the importance of a diverse cast in the world of fantasy, and working alongside his friend Katherine Langford.
Thank you for speaking with me today, Devon! When we have seen Arthur in past depictions he doesn’t necessarily feel fully formed. Part of that may have to do with Arthurian legends pushing him to be sidelined in order to explore other character’s stories. What was it like for you to fully explore all the possibilities of Arthur while he grows into his honor?
Devon Terrell: For me, it was one of those things of I always wanted to step away from the idea of King Arthur because I think that’s just a label. It’s one of those things where I wanted to discover within himself the vulnerabilities of who he is as a human being and an everyday person. Every kind of journey and every conversation I had with [creators] Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller or anyone involved in the production it was always about who is this person and how can I bring him to life and how can I find myself through Nimue’s journey. A lot of the characters are discovering themselves through Nimue and her taking them on this wild journey. It was more about wanting to play vulnerability and honesty and trying to… every battle, every scene it’s creating the myth of this person so that the audience can be like: Oh, that’s Arthur who’s going to be [King] and I can see the elements of what is going to make him become this great leader.
This might be the most diverse Arthurian cast since BBC’s Merlin. What pressure, if any, did you feel taking on the character of Arthur as a Black actor?
Devon Terrell: As a young black man playing any role you have to think about what this role means in your community and also in a world sense. For this role specifically, I loved Harry Potter, I loved Lord of the Rings, I loved Merlin, I loved Game of Thrones, but every, maybe not so much Merlin, but people of color within those stories you could cut out of the story and it wasn’t going to change in any way. They weren’t integral to the movement of the story. I was excited for this opportunity to be a part of this and to see other actors around that are of a different color. That’s what the world looks like and fantasy, I feel like, it just hasn’t been inclusive to everyone. To bring in a new audience into this world is so exciting because the more people we bring in, the more we get to share, the more excited we can all be about being a part of this world. I love comic books, I love everything fantasy, and I think the more inclusive we are, the better the industry will be.
What were some of the challenges you faced while filming and was there a particularly difficult scene that you had to do?
Devon Terrell: One of the challenges is working for 10-month and the grueling nature of trying not to get… you have to stay at a certain fitness level so you don’t get injured a lot of the time through doing these stunts. There’s a battle scene in the last episode which I’ll try not to spoil but we shot it in Cornwall which the weather goes from raining and storming to sunshine in a few seconds, it’s a really weird place on the planet (laughs). I actually had gastro and the flu on that day and so I was all over the shop and we were doing this giant battle scene that I’d been looking forward to for 10-months. It went so well, in terms of what it looks like, but I always relive the grueling pain of going through that daily but it will be okay (laughs).
How was it working alongside Katherine Langford, who plays Nimue?
Devon Terrell: Awesome! I love Katherine, she’s a good friend of mine. We’ve known each other for like three years prior and we always wanted to work together. I was doing a premiere of a movie called Barry at Toronto and she was doing 13 Reasons Why, the first season. Never thought it was going to be the biggest show in the world at that time. We always wanted to work together and to do something like this is super cool. For us to be so young and to be in this fantasy world and for her to be the face of this is kind of amazing. Seeing billboards around LA right now of her face and holding the sword, that’s a super cool image for people to see of this fantasy world. The amazing thing with fantasy, and Katherine and I talked about it, is anything’s possible. I think that’s what we love about fantasy – anything’s possible and you go for the journey. It’s just really exciting and I think she does such an amazing job. I’m excited for the world to watch it.
Why do you think Arthurian legend continues to inspire us?
Devon Terrell: I think it’s timeless. It’s one of those things where Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, you can see the influence of the Arthurian legend through all of that. I think as children we’ve all read those stories and we’ve taken to a character. It’s got everything, it’s got magic, it’s got dragons, it’s got a magical sword, it’s got a lady of the lake – any story you can create, you can create from that material. Every country has adapted the Arthurian legend in a different way to fit their culture. I think it’s a timeless piece.