Forget everything you thought you knew about Camelot — the hulking round table, the wizened Merlin, the Lerner and Loewe book and score. This “Camelot,” the latest historical epic from Starz, skews young and sexy with a “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” alumnus (Jamie Campbell Bower, as King Arthur), a Bond girl (Eva Green, as Morgan) and an MTV Movie Award winner for best kiss (Joseph Fiennes, as Merlin).
“What if you took the guys from ‘Friday Night Lights’ and put them in the middle of the Dark Ages, how would they respond?” Chris Chibnall, the show runner, as well as an executive producer and writer, said of his concept for the series, which has a sneak peek on Friday night at 11. (The series begins officially April 1.) “It’s a stripping away of the dressing of the legend and trying to look at the emotional truths that lie behind the myth.”
And that cast? “We went for all of the best actors, a lot of whom are hot, which is fortunate for us,” Mr. Chibnall added.
In a recent phone interview from his home in Dorset, England, Mr. Chibnall spoke with Kathryn Shattuck about strong women among warring men, leaders bearing promises of hope, and why the idea of building an idyllic society from the ground up resonates today. Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q. Why another “Camelot” now?
A. Every generation needs its “Camelot,” and I think nobody has told this sort of full myth, including all the iconic characters, in its extended form before. We’re taking it back to the roots of the myth as imagined by Malory in the 15th century in “Le Morte d’Arthur.” For me what was interesting was: How do you bring an emotional life to those characters that a modern audience can relate to?
Q. What makes your version different?
A. In these first 10 episodes you’re only looking at the foundation of “Camelot”: how Merlin brings Arthur to Camelot, pulling in the people and the resources they might need for the building of this idea. There’s something very interesting about world leaders promising hope and then carrying through on that. Because Arthur becomes that legendary figure in later years, we wanted to explore the beginning of that and see how a young guy faces that problem and begins to conquer it.
Q. Joseph Fiennes plays Merlin, who is described in press materials as middle-aged. Really? I guess maybe he is when compared to the rest of the cast.
A. As I’m the same age as Joe — 40 — I find that deeply offensive. [Laughs.] But historically a lot of the rulers we’re talking about had young, short, bloody lives. And to examine an Arthur who might be thrown into this predicament when he was 20 years old was interesting to me. We also didn’t want to hit that standard archetype of Merlin where he’s the old wise man with the cloak and the scarf. We wanted to find him earlier in his existence, when he’s a man bringing someone to the throne, a political operator. We talk about Merlin as a warrior monk who has that duality within him of both a soldier and a spiritual being.
Q. How about Arthur?
A. With Arthur we knew we would have to find the next star-to-be. Jamie has done great work in the movies — in “Sweeney Todd” and in a beautiful, small Dutch film called “Oorlogswinter.” I’d followed him and thought he was perfect because he has a heroism that feels vulnerable, a modernism that is also timeless. We didn’t want “Camelot” to become a period drama. We wanted an immediacy.
Q. What about Morgan?
A. She’s Arthur’s half sister and a fantastically significant character in the myth, and in this version of “Camelot,” what’s interesting for me is exploring the parallels between Arthur and Morgan. It’s the story of two houses, both of whom believe they have a claim to the crown. Morgan is denied it in the first few minutes of Episode 1, primarily because she’s a woman. She is often portrayed as a scheming woman, but we didn’t want to go down that route.
Q. So this “Camelot” has as much action for women as it does men?
A. Oh, God, yes, I think that was one of things straight off. It’s not only about fighting. It’s really the notion of the role of women back then. It’s about the key relationships with Morgan, Guinevere and Igraine, Arthur’s mother. The women have really strong arcs. They have lives of their own. What I didn’t want to come in with is “Camelot” in all its pomp and glory. Instead we’re looking at how you build a society, how you build a world that people believe in, and how hard it is. Everything they build has to be earned. Literally, there’s no furniture when they arrive, it’s all completely overgrown. That’s the journey.
Q. You’ve written for the sci-fi series “Life on Mars” and “Torchwood.” This is a pretty big jump in terms of writing, isn’t it?
A. I think the jumps are the joy of being a writer, aren’t they? The fantastic thing about working in television at the moment is that it’s such a great canvas on which to tell these big, epic stories, but there’s also an intimate scale.