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Merlin star Alexander Vlahos speaks to Hypable about his role as Malcolm in the upcoming Kenneth Branagh/Rob Ashford production of Macbeth.

Alex Vlahos has been keeping busy since the series finale of Merlin in December 2012.

Since the series wrapped, the actor has been on screen in the BBC miniseries Privates, recorded new episodes of The Confessions of Dorian Gray, and launched several Kickstarter projects.

His current venture is a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which will be performed at the Manchester International Festival from July 5-20. The play is helmed by Shakespeare veteran Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford, with Branagh also playing the title role.

Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare’s most tragic and haunting plays. It depicts the rise and fall of a troubled Scottish nobleman and his power-hungry wife, who are slowly consumed by their own ambition.

Doctor Who actress Alex Kingston will be taking on the iconic role of Lady Macbeth, while Ray Fearon is playing Macduff. Vlahos will be playing King Duncan (John Shrapnel)’s son, Malcolm, the rightful heir to the throne of Scotland.

If you’re not one of the lucky few who has been able to secure tickets for this coveted performance, don’t worry: National Theatre Live has announced that the play will be screened in cinemas across the globe from July 20.

In this interview, Hypable speaks to Alexander Vlahos about his role in the production, and how Branagh and Ashford are working to put a unique spin on the tried classic.

Also read the first part of our interview with Vlahos, where he discusses Merlin, Dorian Gray and those intriguing Doctor Who rumours.

‘Macbeth’ is ‘exciting and a little bit daunting’

Hypable: Let’s begin by talking about Macbeth because that’s pretty huge and exciting! How did you get involved with it?

Alexander Vlahos: Through the normal way, auditioning and stuff. They got me in for the first round meeting, and it just sort of went from there. I only went in for Malcolm, and I found out within two weeks that I got it. And it’s incredibly exciting… and a little bit daunting.

Even though Malcolm isn’t one of the leads, I imagine you must have spent a lot of time preparing to take on Shakespeare…

Yeah, well, I’ve only ever done four plays since leaving drama school and two of them have been Shakespeare works, so I’ve had a bit of experience with it. I mean, you know, as much as you can, but everyone has a different way of approaching it. The text is so detailed and intrinsic, and Shakespeare gives you this gift on the page, and then it’s about your way of decoding and working your way through it.

Malcolm is an amazing part and he carries such a lot of weight towards the latter half of the play. He sort of goes into hiding for a bit after his dad gets killed, which is about halfway through the play, and then leaves the play and goes into hiding in England. So I get a little bit of a break, which is nice, I get a little hour off stage to sit in my dressing room and chill.

But no, in the last 45 minutes of the play, Malcolm obviously becomes quite integral, as he’s the rightful heir to the throne. So yeah, I’m having lots of fun playing with him, playing around with the character.

Alexander Vlahos in Macbeth

Can you talk about the setting of the play? It’s very unique.

Yeah, the way we’re setting the play is in a church, a deconsecrated church in Manchester. So if you’re doing quite a bloody and blasphemous play in a church, it already has weight behind it. This is an actual church, that – even though it’s deconsecrated – has had countless years, hundreds of years of prayer, in that building. Any time you walk into a godly place or a holy place the walls, you know, you get a sense of history.

And we’re doing Macbeth in this place, so the idea of toying with that, toying with good and evil… And then for me, what’s really interesting is how actually good Malcolm is. How godly he is, what he represents in this play. Cause once Macbeth turns into that evilness, Malcolm is the only hope for Scotland.

So I’m enjoying the idea of him being quite godly and Christian-like in the play, and we’re exploring all that sort of stuff. But no, it’s fun, it’s really fun.

Working with Branagh and Ashford: ‘Intriguing and incredibly rewarding’

What is it like working with Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford as the directing team?

[Laughs] It is… very intriguing, and also incredibly rewarding. I’ve never worked in a play where two people are at the helm, where two people are controlling the work. It’s always only been one person, a male or a female director, so to have two people at the helm is… intriguing, yeah.

When I initially got the part, I was very intrigued by the idea of how that would work in a rehearsal room, having two figureheads in a room and how the balance and the relationship between them two would work… and how that would help us inform us as actors, you know, to collaborate together. But so far it’s been incredibly rewarding, and like I said, very intriguing.

Rob, coming from a choreographer background – also a very good director, but coming from a choreographer background – is working through the blocking and the schematics of the play. Then you’ve got Ken there, who’s a Shakespeare god within himself, and he’s working on the text. And it’s the marriage of the two that seems to be working wonders for all of us, especially for me. Having two people to go to when you’re looking for advice is better than one, you know.

As a ‘Doctor Who’ fan, I imagine you must be excited to work with Alex Kingston as Lady Macbeth?

Yeah, working with Alex is a joy, actually. She’s amazing. And from the get-go, seeing Ken and Alex together, the chemistry between them is electric. I remember the first week of rehearsals, the pair of them were completely off book. They’d completely known their lines. No, not even the first week, about the second day, they knew everything!

So the pair of them together, grabbing this play like a bull by the horns and dragging it through to Manchester, are setting the bar extremely high. And expecting everyone to come and meet them, you know, go with them to that level. So it’s amazing to watch.

Unfortunately I don’t have any scenes with her, and I barely have any scenes with Ken. Malcolm seems to be the person that seems to avoid all this. [Laughs] But it’s fascinating to watch, and I try and grab every moment I can in the rehearsal room to watch them together.

The legacy of ‘Macbeth’: It ‘comes with so much baggage’

Lady Macbeth is such an iconic character, too, it’s a great role.

Yeah, definitely. But that’s the thing with Macbeth I guess, and Lady Macbeth… they come with so much baggage, so many preconceived ideas from the audience. People who haven’t even seen Macbeth know about Lady Macbeth, and they know the moment, all the moments in the play.

My mum’s never seen it, but she was like, “Oh god, Lady Macbeth, that’s a good part isn’t it?” It’s that weird thing that comes with doing well-known Shakespeare works is that, like I said, it comes with a preconceived idea.

That’s true! We actually put on ‘Macbeth’ on once at school…

Awesome! And again, it’s funny because Macbeth seems to be one of the plays that get performed at schools a lot, or is a textbook for English Literature or for Drama. Especially over here in England, some school will be doing it for GCSEs or A-Levels, so again people come at it with a textual view of the play, with that baggage thing I was talking to you about, what they think it should be.

It’s such a good play though, it’s one of my favourites.

Is it really? Why?

Well… mainly just because I did it.

Hahaha because you did it, you have no reasons? “No it’s my favourite play because I did it, I was Macduff, deal with it.” [Laughs.] But it’s strange though, to be fair I hadn’t really looked at Macbeth in a joyful way before, I never thought ‘Oh, this is a great play…’

It’s not one of the fun ones, like ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’

Yeah. And my favourite plays are Hamlet and Henry V, sort of being the history plays, rather than this. But obviously then doing the work you end up becoming engrossed in what you’re doing and end up caring for all the characters and stuff like that.

Doing musicals ‘would be more work than joy’

So has doing this play whetted your appetite for theatre, or do you see yourself drifting more towards TV and film?

Hmm that’s a tricky one, I don’t know. I think basically my desire for the back of Merlin was to take things slow, I’ve done 10 months of TV work, you know… I think I’ve told you this story before, where I had just finished Privates and started Merlin the weekend after – I had a two-day turnaround after doing two months in Ireland filming Privates, and I literally started Merlin the week after.

And having that from January up until November when we finished Merlin, doing 10 months of television work, I think my head was a bit fried. And people kept asking me, and I did go up for auditions, for big things and things I didn’t particularly like or fancied … but then for this to come around, it seemed right.

But whether to go on from this now and continue to do more theatre, or to go back into telly… I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. It all depends on what becomes available, you know? Whatever medium you’re working in you sort of get the bite for that particular one, so if you’re working in television you sort of go oh yeah, I’d like to continue working in television, and then if you get a job in theatre you go oh yeah, I’d love to do another play. Does that make any sense?

Yeah, absolutely. Would you ever do musicals?

[Laughs] Ummm… you know what, that was literally the first thing I said to my agent, the agent that’d just signed me when I graduated from drama school, and she said, “Just let me know now if there’s anything you do not want to do,” and I immediately went, “Musicals!” before she’d even finished her sentence. “Musicals, do not put me up for them!”

I mean I enjoy singing, I can sing, it’s just something that… for some reason in my head the filter between doing a musical and acting are massively apart, whereas for some people they’re very close together. Does that make sense? For me, it would be more work than joy, and I do acting because it’s something that I love, it’s something that I enjoy thoroughly. And the thought of doing a musical would be that it’s a lot of work. [Laughs] A lot of extra work.

Finally, tell me about the live streaming of ‘Macbeth’ which was just announced.

Well, we open July 5 with Macbeth, and then we run up until the end of the month. And then it’s gonna be recorded live as part of the National Theatre Live scheme, and it’s going to be shown to a whole load of cinemas around the world. LA, South Africa, France and Germany and the UK and all that sort of stuff, so that’s exciting. A bonus, you know?

Good luck with that!

Thank you!

Read part 1 of our Alexander Vlahos interview for the actor’s thoughts on the Merlin fan base, the next Doctor Who and much more.

The first two cast members for Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Lion King have been announced by director Jon Favreau.

James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the animated movie in the ’90s, is returning as the character in the live-action adaptation. Interesting!

Meanwhile, Donald Glover — who will co-star in this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming for Disney and Marvel — will play Adult Simba.

Read full article

The first two cast members for Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Lion King have been announced by director Jon Favreau.

James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in the animated movie in the ’90s, is returning as the character in the live-action adaptation. Interesting!

Meanwhile, Donald Glover — who will co-star in this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming for Disney and Marvel — will play Adult Simba.

Favreau tweeted the news Friday evening:

According to a statement from Disney, The Lion King “will build on the groundbreaking technology used in The Jungle Book to bring the story of Simba to photorealistic life.”

A release date for the film hasn’t been set. Favreau also helmed the live-action Jungle Book for the studio.

So far casting is off to a great start!

What Disney can learn from the 2009 Chinese live-action ‘Mulan’

Here's what 'Hua Mulan' got right

4:30 pm EST, February 17, 2017

Disney seems to have a long-term plan to churn out live-action versions of its most popular animations, and Mulan is the latest of its projects. The live-action version of the Chinese legend is already getting us excited, but many people don’t know that an excellent live-action Mulan movie already exists, made by a Chinese studio.

Hua Mulan (sometimes translated as Mulan: Rise of a Warrior) is a 2009 film by director Jingle Ma. It tells the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who goes to war instead of her aging father, and rises in the army’s ranks. It won many awards in China, and stars Wei Zhao as Mulan.

Disney’s Mulan wasn’t favorably received in China when it was released, with audiences saying it was too different from the original legend, and too Westernized. Now would be a good time for the studio to make the film as globally appealing as it can be — and Hua Mulan is a perfect example of how to do our favorite female warrior justice.

Read full article

Disney seems to have a long-term plan to churn out live-action versions of its most popular animations, and Mulan is the latest of its projects. The live-action version of the Chinese legend is already getting us excited, but many people don’t know that an excellent live-action Mulan movie already exists, made by a Chinese studio.

Hua Mulan (sometimes translated as Mulan: Rise of a Warrior) is a 2009 film by director Jingle Ma. It tells the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who goes to war instead of her aging father, and rises in the army’s ranks. It won many awards in China, and stars Wei Zhao as Mulan.

Disney’s Mulan wasn’t favorably received in China when it was released, with audiences saying it was too different from the original legend, and too Westernized. Now would be a good time for the studio to make the film as globally appealing as it can be — and Hua Mulan is a perfect example of how to do our favorite female warrior justice.

Here are some things Hua Mulan got right that Disney would do well to learn from.

hua mulan decision

Bringing more realism to the legend

Hua Mulan follows a plot that is more loyal to the original legend of Mulan, which states that she was a warrior for the Chinese army for over a decade. In the film, she even becomes a General, and retires with the nation’s respect, even after her identity as a woman is revealed.

Seeing Mulan lead thousands of men in Hua Mulan is a rare and empowering experience. Her struggles as a woman in a position of power, and the various dilemmas that come with commanding such a large number of people, are what bring intensity and meaning to the story. Mulan itself explored the concept of honor and femininity as well, but we only got a very small glimpse at the power that the legendary Mulan is said to have actually wielded.

While Disney may not want to make a movie that ventures too far from a family friendly atmosphere by portraying a Mulan who goes to war too realistically (as in, showing her killing enemies), it would be great to see her rise in the ranks and revolutionize such a male-dominated space the way she is said to have done.

hua mulan warrior

Not shying away from the grit — but not making it too grim, either

Hua Mulan does an excellent job of skirting the line between grim tragedy and friendly comedy. With thousands of extras, the battle scenes are as breathtaking and inspiring as they are horrifying. There’s a scene where Mulan counts the dog tags of all the fallen soldiers, and a considerable amount of time is spent exploring her despair and responsibility as the army’s struggle becomes more desperate. The emotional rawness of the story creates a very real, very flawed, yet very lovable Mulan — and takes audiences on an exploration of heroism, perseverance, and honor.

Of course, we can’t expect Disney to go all out with blood and grit — they’re bound to bring out Mushu, after all — but Disney prides itself on epic battles and fantastic special effects, and they’ll want to serve us war scenes as breathtaking and realistic as possible.

However, we’re all tired of grittiness for grittiness’ sake. Despite the heaviness of the more emotional scenes of Hua Mulan, there is sweetness and humor. The friendships in the army, much like those of Disney’s version, can be laugh-out-loud funny, and the scenes of Mulan’s struggle to preserve her male appearance are equally fun to watch.

Related: Disney’s live action Mulan lands female director

After all, audiences won’t be going to see Mulan to see war and sadness — the animated version was fun and adventurous, and although it had somber moments, it still managed to keep things just lighthearted enough for us to not get too sad. With animation, that lightheartedness is an easier task; portraying war with real actors could prove a more difficult challenge.

Establishing more depth in the main relationship

In Hua Mulan, Mulan and Wentai’s relationship is beautiful, but it builds over a long period of time, and strengthens through their mutual respect as they both struggle to lead an army. Their love is based on that combination of trust built over time, and shared responsibility.

Shang and Mulan have what is possibly one of the best relationships Disney has ever come up with. Among the Disney ‘princesses,’ Mulan and Shang probably have the greatest chemistry and story of all, and scenes from the animated film continue to be shipping fuel. Presumably, they’ll want to replicate this relationship in the new live-action version.

However, the animated film was sadly limited to only a few glimpses of the developing relationship. It would be amazing if we could see more of the friendship between Shang and Mulan (as Ping) and how it becomes something more. It’s rare in a ‘princess’ movie to see romance begin with sincere friendship, and it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the confusion regarding Mulan’s gender in both a funny and profound way.

Giving it a more realistic conclusion

There are some scenes that could do with a makeover, especially at the very end. Mulan’s final trick to kill Shan Yu — by dressing three soldiers in drag and having them attempt to distract him — is hilarious in the animation, but would come off as strange and unrealistic in a live-action movie, and perhaps even a little offensive.

Hua Mulan’s approach to defeating the enemy is a much more powerful one. Although it equals Mulan in stealth and cleverness, it involves realistic strategy and power dynamics, and finally involves her making a deal that saves China through negotiation, rather than war — and making a terribly painful personal sacrifice.

Disney has a penchant for epic final battle scenes, but that isn’t what happens in either Mulan or Hua Mulan. In both cases, it’s Mulan’s cleverness that saves the day. It would be great to see that cleverness translated into a realistic solution, in the same way it does in Hua Mulan.

It’s not like Disney hasn’t subverted its own canon, after all. In Maleficient, it isn’t the prince’s kiss that lifts the spell. Disney could certainly benefit from giving Mulan a more epic finale, and perhaps one that does her legendary character justice.

Immersing us in historically-accurate China

Besides perhaps The Jungle Book, we’ve yet to see a live-action adaptation that takes place in a non-European culture. In fact, this would be the first film to employ solely actors of color. What Disney decides to do here will be particularly interesting; since Aladdin will be getting its own adaptation soon, and Pocahontas could also follow in the live-action trend, the decisions taken here will likely set a precedent for what will be done with those films.

There were rumors earlier of Mulan having a white love interest, which now seem to be crushed, thankfully. We want to see a film with an entirely Asian cast — hopefully at least mostly Chinese — and get a chance to explore the scenery, sets and props of ancient China.

Although, it’s only fair to say that Hua Mulan also has its own white character — a Russian singer called Vitas, who inexplicably pops up now and again. That’s another tip for Disney: don’t just insert white guys into the story for no reason.

Hua Mulan’s shots of rural China are beautiful and unique, and it would be amazing to see what Disney can do if they choose to show much of what they did in animation, with real sets and locations. Hopefully, Disney gets a chance to actually film in China itself.

All this doesn’t go to say that we want a copy of Hua Mulan. Not at all. Hua Mulan is an excellent film in its own right, but it’s considerably more adult than Disney would ever dare make an adaptation. The realism of its wars and of the toll duty takes on Mulan and her companions is nothing like the fun, if occasionally emotional, adventure Disney took us on with Mulan.

Disney’s version is a movie to be excited about, and the additions the animated film made to the legend are what makes it a classic. It would be amazing to see Mushu, Shang, the ancestors, and maybe even the cricket, on screen, as well as the songs, of course! “Make a Man Out of You” with real actors will definitely be one of the biggest highlights.

So far, we know that Mulan’s director will be Niki Caro. Although she isn’t Chinese, a matter that raises a lot of questions about representation, it’s still encouraging to see a female director chosen — and if Caro’s powerful film Whale Rider is any indication, she’s rather good at telling empowering stories with female leads. Hopefully, the rest of the team can be filled with talented Chinese filmmakers that deserve to have a hand in rendering such a culturally significant story properly.

After all, Mulan is primarily a Chinese legend, and her story spans a history much longer than the 18 years since Disney’s animation came out.

In the meantime, go check out Hua Mulan, which is a fascinating film (although a considerably more adult one; you’ve been warned)!

What are you expecting from ‘Mulan’?

There’s a new drama coming to HBO this Sunday and you can’t miss it. Big Little Lies is a delicious trip through the small, rich, and scandalous town of Monterey, California.

Featuring an all-star cast — Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley — HBO’s book to TV adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s wildly popular novel should please both book readers and newbies (I’m the latter) thanks to the soapy drama and lack of censorship.

‘Big Little Lies’ review: Come for the cast, stay for the story

Big Little Lies takes elements of True Detective, Real Housewives, and Gone Girl, and mixes them into one lovely, hate-filled cocktail. Set in the beautiful coastal town of Monterey, the secrets and connections between characters run deep.

Read full article

There’s a new drama coming to HBO this Sunday and you can’t miss it. Big Little Lies is a delicious trip through the small, rich, and scandalous town of Monterey, California.

Featuring an all-star cast — Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley — HBO’s book to TV adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s wildly popular novel should please both book readers and newbies (I’m the latter) thanks to the soapy drama and lack of censorship.

‘Big Little Lies’ review: Come for the cast, stay for the story

Big Little Lies takes elements of True Detective, Real Housewives, and Gone Girl, and mixes them into one lovely, hate-filled cocktail. Set in the beautiful coastal town of Monterey, the secrets and connections between characters run deep.

Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline is the ringmaster. She’s the typical Helicopter Parent trying as best she can to keep Monterey’s relationships and extracurricular activities together. Bringing her down is her ego and never-ending animosity toward a couple of characters, including her ex-husband’s new bae Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz, below). Together, Bonnie and Madeline’s new hubby Ed (Adam Scott) want to keep the peace between their two partners, but they’re the only two who seem capable of keeping tempers in check.

Meanwhile, Perry (Skarsgård) and Celeste (Kidman) have serious marriage issues that seem impossible to resolve. Of the leading ladies, Celeste seems to be the most level-headed despite her shitty husband. Then there’s Laura Dern’s Renata (below), who hates Madeline with all of her heart. Some of the best scenes are between these two ladies.

Not helping the Renata/Madeline relationship is the latter’s new friend Jane (Woodley). She’s just moved to town with her son Ziggy, who might’ve caused serious trouble on his first day of school.

It’s this event that initiates the show’s biggest mystery: A murder. Who did it? Who’s dead? The answer is not revealed in the first four episodes despite flash forward sequences in which we see an investigation taking place. As you continue to watch, it becomes increasingly clear that any of the characters could be be the victim or murderer. (This writer hasn’t read the book, so please don’t spoil me.)

Big Little Lies is the perfect show to cuddle up with on Sunday evenings for the next two months. While some have called this show corny, I find it to be a delight. I just have one suggestion for every viewer: Bring a glass of alcohol to the party. While screening the episodes, I very much enjoyed watching the drama unfold with a drink in hand.

The only problem? It’s just seven episodes long. Here’s hoping for more seasons or more adaptations of Moriarty’s books at HBO.

Big Little Lies premieres Sunday, February 19 on HBO.