Why were you attracted to this project?
ANSWER: Because when I'm playing Mab I can draw on lots of different things. She's multi-dimensional. She's not totally wicked. She actually starts off as quite a beneficent character, then she becomes much darker, and obsessed. In the end, she uses her power to achieve very negative ends, I'm afraid to say.
The challenge is to achieve a balance between exercising great restraint - which Mab does when she's saving her energy, for example - and pulling out all the stops, which is what happens when she's wrecking total havoc.
For an actor it's all quite liberating. You can let your imagination run riot!
How do you describe Mab's mission?
She's trying to preserve and protect the Old Ways, which is basically Paganism. That's what she sets out to do, by any means possible. And it just goes all wrong. For example, she creates this fabulous wizard, Merlin. But Merlin has his own ideas about how to do things. He doesn't want the powers that she's bestowed upon him. The human side of him wins out, in a way. He's developed a sense of what's right and what's wrong. He's emotional, as well as being a great warrior. He even falls in love, for Heaven's sake!
The ultimate tragedy, of course, is that toward the end she lays waste to everything and everybody around her - and yet she can still see that it's really not getting her anywhere, that ultimately it's self-destructive. The Old Ways can't win, won't win. No matter what she does, the old paganism is destined for defeat.
How would you describe your relationship with Frik, played by Martin Short?
He's her lackey, really - a complete sycophant. It's a master/slave relationship, and Mab's at her most playful - and her most sadistic - when she's with him. Frik's a marvelous character and Martin Short's having a ball playing him, in all his many incarnations.
This is an amazing sound thats coming out of your throat. How are you doing it?
What I'm trying to do is not so much make it a voice, as utter a kind of underground sound. Early on in the piece it is probably more vocal, but as her character gets darker and darker, Mab laspes into a whisper that gets darker and darker.
I wanted there to be a kind of magic quality to it, so that somebody two hundred yards away could hear it, as could somebody standing right next to Mab. It's a very inner voice. I didn't want my face to move much at all, I wanted the sound to appear to come from some other place, really - not necessarily from my mouth.
And what glorious costumes and hair you have!...
The costume says a lot, really. It's encrusted with gemstones - and Mab gets a lot of energy from rocks and gems. She literally unleashes the energy from rocks and gems. And you'll notice many of them are blood red - quite appropriate!
As for the hair, I think Mab just likes her hair like this - long, glamorous, piled on high. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason for its being like this. Somehow it just seems right. It's warrior-like, in a way, and it's good that it's long - it can trail behind you when you're flying through the air!
This whole this is so extreme, anything goes...
What's it like working with Sam Neill as Merlin?
Sam's great. It's like being with a laid-back captain of a jumbo jet. You know, just sit back and you're totally confident someone's going to serve you a great meal with lovely wine, and that everything's going to be just fine, thank you very much.
I love the way Sam's playing Merlin. He's very humane. He doesn't have an extreme look. This isn't the Merlin we're used to from films like Camelot.
We see Merlin grow up, and we see him develop into a rather Jesus-like character. Sam makes him vulnerable, too. Merlin makes mistakes. He goes through life and some things work out, and some things don't work out. He enjoys success, he experiences failure. He's believeable.
What's the appeal of this whole Merlin legend to you?
I'm sure we'd all like to believe that there's some secret hope for the country. In times of great strife - and God knows, it's happening all over the world - we'd like to believe that someone will rise up and say, 'This is what we have to do to make things better.'
I think the yearning for that saviour, if you will, is very deep-seated, very entrenched.
Also, the Merlin saga is peopled with fabulous heroes and dastardly villians, and it's set in a time which is mysterious. Not for nothing is it called the Dark Ages!