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Joseph Fiennes returns to period drama with his new series, Camelot.

Best known for his smoldering turns in period fare like Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth, Joseph Fiennes was briefly allowed to don contemporary duds on last year’s underappreciated ABC series FlashForward. But it’s back to the dark ages for Fiennes, who plays a gleefully ambiguous Merlin on Camelot, Starz’s visceral, revisionary reboot of the King Arthur legend that debuts this month.

American Way: They’ve got you back in the tights, haven’t they?
Joseph Fiennes: Tights and horses, yes. But it’s not a bad thing. In many ways, I feel the true contemporary essence is within the character and the drama, not the clothes and the cars. It’s all the human condition. Clothes do not make this man.

AW: Arthurian legend has been around for centuries, but it gathers cultural momentum every few decades. Why is now the right time to visit Camelot again?
JF: Thanks to technology, we live in a time that is being invented and reinvented constantly even as we’re living it. So I think there is not only room for but possibly a need for the time-tested myths, like this one, that reveal truths that transcend opinion or agenda. Also, it’s pretty wonderful escapism.

AW: How is your Merlin different from others?
JF: I’ve tackled the character with a fresh point of view. I’ve wanted joy to be my guide. I see Merlin as a joyous character. He is inexhaustible in range. He’s not to be trusted. He is an angel. He is a devil. Is there a better role for an actor to play or for an audience to enjoy?

AW: Just to be clear: There is no singing in your Camelot.
JF: No singing. To be really fair, this is not a musical, and that is why you should watch it.

AW: What’s your beef with musicals?
JF: It’s because I can’t sing. In drama school, we had to get up every third term or so and sing in front of everyone. It scarred me for life.