How do you give a new spin to the legend of King Arthur and his sorcerer mentor, Merlin? It's been done so many times in movies, books, musicals and on TV.

If your Merlin is being played by Joseph Fiennes in "Camelot" (8 p.m. April 1, Starz), you ditch all the trite, traditonal trappings of a medieval magician.

"I just wanted to have fun and get away from the cloak and the staff and long, long beard and the pointy hat," Fiennes told me this week, talking about his take on Merlin, the puppetmaster who sets into motion an epic tale of murder, betrayal and magic.

In the series premiere, Merlin blocks the rise to power of dead King Uther's evil daughter, Morgan (Eva Green), by crowning as king Uther's son, Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower). Few people even knew that Arthur existed, including his power-hungry half sister. She is not happy about it, and sets about to destroy Arthur and Merlin.

But Fiennes Merlin is a wily wizard.

"I felt Merlin kind of has this Machiavellian, bipolar way that he's not to be trusted, yet he is fighting for this great seat of power and is the master to some degree in orchestrating Camelot and King Arthur," the actor said. "He's a strange, dark devious character."