Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Interview with Merlin director Alice Troughton by Merlin Locations

Merlin creatives | an interview with Alice Troughton

An interview with Alice Troughton
As I’m writing this (on 7 October), we’re all eagerly awaiting the second episode of The Darkest HourMerlin’s fourth season two–part opener. These episodes were, of course, directed by the awesome Alice Troughton. Over the past week, while working on the last days of filming for the fourth season’s finale episodes, Alice very kindly allowed me to interview her.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with her work already. Alice directed five Merlin episodes in seasons two and three, including some of my favourites: 210 Sweet Dreams, 305 The Crystal Cave, and 308 The Eye of the Phoenix. Alice also directed the wonderful Dr Whoepisode 410 Midnight, featuring our own Colin Morgan. I know how well received The Darkest Hour, Part One has been, and I’m sure we’re all looking forward to watching the rest of the five episodes that Alice has directed for the current season.

Having been lucky enough to watch Alice working at Pierrefonds, and occasionally chat with her in between times, I soon found that Alice is as delightful as she is talented. She seems to be having a lot of fun with her work, and also to be really happy to be making a show that we fans love so much. So, with no further ado, let’s hear from the woman herself!

Julie: So, the obvious question to start with… What is your favourite filming location, and why?

Alice: It’s got to be Pierrefonds, for obvious reasons – you get to play with a real castle! And it’s very bonding for the crew to have time together and great to bring families out to also.

Alice Troughton and Dale McCready at Pierrefonds
Alice Troughton and Dale McCready (Director of Photography) at the Chateau de
Pierrefonds in May 2011.

How does the location affect your work? What differences are there in filming on a set as opposed to on location?

Well, we got rained on for three days solid in a forest last week, so that made us go slower and it certainly shows up on screen. It was kind of fun, though, the trench spirit kicked in and we laughed a lot. Studio makes days feel longer (not least because we have to wrap earlier on location too). It’s really what material you are shooting and what time of day it is, that makes it difficult or hard, not where you are.

Johnny Capps has said there’s more use of green screen this year, in order to create more ‘epic’ locations. How has that been? Does it make your work harder?

Not harder, just more precise as all green screen scenes need to be storyboarded and stuck to. It was really exciting to do the first scenes there (the Isle of the Blessed) and I love how it looks. It really lets the imagination run wild as you are filling in the blank spaces whilst shooting.

When you travel about, whether in Wales or France, do you get to see anything of the country, or are you too busy working?

Too busy! Occasionally a weekend is spent in France but I don’t tend to move far from the hotel. Everyone goes home at the weekends when we are shooting in Cardiff.

Why the decision to move to the new film format? What implications or effects has it had for you?

We all love the look of 35mm and it’s exciting to film on – more an ethos than anything else. We need to rehearse more and shoot less takes, to keep our stock ratio down, but then I like that way of working anyhow, so it suits me.

What was your biggest challenge this season?

Biggest challenge is just keeping fresh – I did 5 episodes and have had three days holiday since February so just trying not to exhaust myself. And hoping we can shoot something really great for the fans.

Alice Troughton and Dale McCready at Pierrefonds
Alice giving direction, with Dale at the Chateau de Pierrefonds in May 2011.

[A few days pass…]

Sorry for the delay, no wifi in forest!

No problems!

What do you love most about directing?

Working with actors, having a great team around me, the creativity and the fun. It’s as far away from a 9-5 office job as you get. Also it has different stages – prep, production and post – which means it doesn’t get stale. It’s playing, basically.

What do you enjoy least?

Being away from home, missing my family, the fact your social life outside the crew shuts down, getting tired after a long shoot, eating badly.

You seem quite young to me, but then I have always assumed you needed to work your way up through the ranks to become a director. How did you get started? Was it what you were always aiming for, or did you want to be something else first?

Oh it took me ages, and lots of different roles – all of which inform on my day to day work. I was a PA to important men for quite a while, an agent for a bit and a writer. Did a lot of theatre work when I was starting off, in stage management and assistant directing. I’m not that young!

Are you particularly interested in an aspect of the work (lighting, composition, acting, costumes, locations, writing)?


Are you interested in moving into producing at some stage?

Nope. Never.

What work or project are you proudest of so far? (Whether or not it’s Merlin!)

Think it is probably Dr Who MIDNIGHT, closely followed by THE FISHER KING.

I love that you’re so proud of Midnight! And so you should be, I reckon!

Do you have a dream project that you’d like to work on?

At the moment it’s GAME OF THRONES. But that might change after the 2nd series!

Do you try for something distinct about each episode, or is it only particular ones (e.g.The Crystal Cave) that you try to make look or feel a bit different from the rest?

Every episode has its own distinct feel – and that’s encouraged by the producers – so it’s really going with the tone of the writing. CRYSTAL CAVE always felt brooding and haunting and so I just tried to draw that out.

What do you love most about Merlin?

The cast. The crew. The genre.

What do you think its strengths are?

See above.

If there was an area you’d like to work on or improve, what would it be?

I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you.

How do you feel about the balance (or lack of it) between the male and female characters in Merlin?

See above answer.

Alice Troughton at Pierrefonds
Alice at the Chateau de Pierrefonds in September 2011.

Are you related to Patrick Troughton?

Unfortunately not. Although I love him and have worked with David and we pretended I was his second cousin on the Irish side.

What are your favourite films or books? Who inspires you? Who are your heroes?

I’m a huge reader so this is hard but I have always been in love with books of Diana Wynne Jones. So magical and clever and funny, so would urge anyone who hasn’t read her to start right now. Films: Princess Bride / Withnail and I / Life of Brian / In Bruges. Heroes: changes on a daily basis. Currently Lexi, our runner.

What is the one significant question that I’ve failed to ask you? And how would you answer it?

Ahh now that’s too circumspect for 4pm on set with two units running and an overwhelming sense of tiredness. Maybe “What are you doing next?” to which I would answer “Silk”. How’s that?

Oh so cool! Are you on the same ep of Silk as Dale [McCready, Director of Photography]…?

Dale has already started but will also be doing my eps.
That’s about it! hope you got what you wanted.

Thank you so much, Alice! This has been brilliant. I hope your last days of filming go smoothly!

Thank you!
  • Credits: Thanks are due to my friend Angie for helping me out with her mad graphics skills. She and Alice combined made the banner look beautiful!
  • Notes: And of course The Darkest Hour, Part 2 was so incredible that I am still bubbling over with the certain thought: Best episode ever!
Thanks to Merlin Locations for this interview: please visit their site to view comments on this article! 

Alice Troughton directs 5 episodes in Merlin Series 4:  

  • Episode 1 "The Darkest Hour (part 1)"  
  • Episode 2 "The Darkest Hour (part 2)"  
  • Episode 3 "The Wicked Day" 
  • Episode 12 "The Mystery of Time"  
  • Episode 13 [title unknown]

Alice Troughton Filmography from


  • Doctors
    • "Into the Shadows" (2002)
    • "Humble Pie" (2002)
    • "Prime Carer" (2002)
    • "Pain Barrier" (2003)
    • "Assumptions" (2003)
    • "The Drugs Don't Work" (2003)
    • "The Measure of a Man" (2003)
    • "Happy Pills" (2003)
    • "The Good Guys Club" (2004)
    • "Hidden Harm" (2004)
    • "Look Both Ways" (2004)
    • "A Late Flowering" (2004)
    • "Repeat Prescription" (2004)
  • Doris the Builder (2004)
  • Holby City
    • "Best Intentions" (2004)
    • "Damage Limitation" (2005)
    • "No Pain No Gain" (2005)
    • "Soft Centred" (2005)
    • "Dignity" (2005)
  • EastEnders
    • Episodes dated 5 to 9 January 2004
    • Episodes dated 31 May to 4 June 2004
    • Episodes dated 29 August to 2 September 2005
    • Episodes dated 6 to 9 June 2006
  • No Angels
    • Episode 3.1 (2006)
    • Episode 3.5 (2006)
    • Episode 3.6 (2006)
  • Torchwood
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures
  • Doctor Who
  • Merlin
    • 2.10 "Sweet Dreams" (2009)
    • 2.11 "The Witch's Quickening" (2009)
    • 3.05 "The Crystal Cave" (2010)
    • 3.08 "The Eye of the Phoenix" (2010)
    • 3.09 "Love in the Time of Dragons" (2010)
    • 4.01 "The Darkest Hour (Part 1)" (2011)
    • 4.02 "The Darkest Hour (Part 2)" (2011)
    • 4.03 "The Wicked Day" (2011)
    • 4.12 "Mystery of Time" (2011)
    • 4.13 "?" (2011)

      IMDB Alice Troughton
    • -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      @AliceTroughton on Twitter
      & now, my favorite photo of Alice Troughton [gratuitous] 

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