EXCLUSIVE: Interview With the Cast and Showrunners of “The Magicians” at NYCC 2015
It’s still two months until the first season of The Magicians premieres on Syfy, but the cast and crew are already making the press rounds, meeting fans, and promoting the sure-to-be-awesome pilot. MuggleNet was lucky enough to catch up with executive producers and writers of the pilot Sera Gamble and John McNamara at New York Comic Con, along with cast members Jason Ralph (Quentin), Stella Maeve (Julia), Olivia Taylor Dudley (Alice), Hale Appleman (Eliot), Arjun Gupta (Penny), and Summer Bishil (Margot – that’s Janet for those of you who have read the book!).
If you, like us, love Lev Grossman’s books and can barely contain your excitement until The Magicians comes on the air, here are the tidbits we learned that are probably most interesting to you:
- None of the actors were familiar with the books prior to auditioning for the roles, but everyone read them after being cast – and now they’re all big fans!
- If you still haven’t gotten over Lev’s trilogy ending last summer with the publication of The Magician’s Land, don’t despair – there are six seasons planned of The Magicians!
- Those of you who have read the books will be shocked to hear that Julia’s story line is, if anything, even darker than it was in the books. (I literally gasped when I heard this at the panel.)
- In the world of The Magicians, magic is extremely intricate and arduous to learn. To depict this visually, the cast has been learning finger tutting to cast spells. If you’re not familiar with finger tutting, you’ll want to check out this video. IT’S GOING TO LOOK AMAZING.
But that’s just what we learned at the panel. When we were actually given the chance to sit down with the cast and showrunners, we learned a lot more!
As with any beloved book adaptation, it’s nerve-wracking for readers to think of a story they love in the wrong hands – which is why it’s so reassuring that The Magicians is in the right ones. For writer and executive producer Sera Gamble, the chance to adapt The Magicians was a dream come true.
I had been a fan of the books for years. […] I had been a huge fan of the books and had wanted to do a TV version, but the rights were not actually available when I looked. A couple of years later, John [McNamara] and I sat down with our partner Michael London, and he mentioned he had this book called ‘The Magicans’ and asked if we’d heard of it. I completely flipped out. So John went home and read it, then called me immediately – he hadn’t even read the whole thing – and said, ‘Let’s do it.’
And as fans of the books themselves, Sera and John are hoping readers will understand why certain changes had to be made, such as aging Quentin and his classmates from college-age to graduate students. Sera spoke about the decision from a fan’s perspective, admitting that she resisted the change at first.
Now, instead of entering their undergraduate studies, they are entering grad school. So that gave us a little more flexibility with the timeline and what happens when in Brakebills, and it was a big decision. We actually resisted it at first because we’re big fans of the books. We sat down with Lev Grossman, we talked with him about it, about how are we going to do an adaptation that ultimately takes place over about 10 years, maybe longer, and cast actors that start at maybe 17 or 18 and end up in their mid 30s. So we realized the stories we wanted to tell would best be served by starting them in their early 20s.
John chimed in that he hoped fans would understand since the decision was made purely to help the show remain in the spirit of the original trilogy.
I hope that [fans] understand we did it in a way to be more faithful to the books because I don’t know who the 18-year-old actor is who[m] we would cast as Quentin, who could then be 35 in Season 5. But with Jason Ralph as an example, and the other actors cast as [22-24-year-olds], I believe they’re going to be 35 when you get them there in six years. So it was really to respect the entire arc of the trilogy. And they’re just good actors.
But it’s not just people behind the camera who are passionate about creating a faithful adaptation of the series – all of the actors are committed to making the best version of The Magicians possible. We next sat down with Summer Bishil and Hale Appleman, who play Margot and Eliot, upperclassmen at Brakebills Academy when Quentin, Alice, and Penny arrive. Though Summer had never read the series before auditioning, she – like the rest of the cast – absolutely loves it now.
Initially it was an audition just like any other breakdown that comes down the wire through your agent, but I immediately responded to the writing and was excited about it. And I did my audition, and then a couple of days later I went back, [and] after I got the job, I started reading the books and getting more immersed in the world. Personally, as a reader, I enjoyed the characters’ stories and evolution and how it all took shape. But I wasn’t aware of ‘The Magicians’ until after I auditioned.
As Margot’s partner-in-debauchery Eliot, Hale came to the books slightly earlier than his co-star, after a friend insisted Appleman read the books after hearing about his audition for the role.
My best friend heard I was auditioning, and he gave me the first book, so I started reading as I was auditioning. [It ended up being a] long while that I had to read the books [since] I was going through the audition process. I first auditioned for Penny [the role ultimately won by Arjun Gupta]. I knew it wasn’t right in the room, and I just crossed my fingers that there was something else for me. As I was reading the books and reading about Eliot, I felt really connected to him and was really hoping that I would get called back for him. I did, finally, after about three weeks, and I guess the rest is history. Reading the books along with the audition process really helped me to find layers and to understand the character in the depth that Lev brings to him in the books[…], so it was really lucky that my friend said, ‘Here, take this book; you’ll love it.’ And I did.
Stars Jason Ralph and Stella Maeve, who star as Quentin and Julia, the two whose arrival at the entrance exam to Brakebills launches Grossman’s narrative, also spoke about the unique appeal of The Magicians. For Stella, it was the appeal of recapturing the magic we all believe in as children and then somehow lose as we get older.
What I think is so beautiful about is that it’s like a theme for life. As we get older and more jaded we believe in [magic] less. [‘The Magicians’] is something that’s a metaphor for if we all held onto that. That’s why when you look at children, they’re so manic and so curious and so beautiful because they have all this wonder [about the world], and as we get older we lose that. So what ‘The Magicians’ does is brings that with you into the adult world. It becomes real. I think that’s beautiful. I think that’s a good theme for life. We should all believe in magic.
Similarly, Jason commented on the fascinating way in which Grossman’s series combines fantastic worlds we all loved as children (or, erm, adults) and combines it with gritty reality.
I think the strength of the show is how it’s different from everything else. It’s the first fantasy book that I’ve ever read, and TV show we’re creating, where I feel like it’s really truly grounded in reality and the consequences of these extraordinary events. I think it really thoroughly explores what it would be like to have magic in the real world and how that affects you as a person, how it affects a magical community, and how it affects your world, the Muggle world.
Olivia Taylor Dudley and Arjun Gupta, who play Alice and Penny, two magicians who enter Brakebills alongside of Quentin, felt much the same when speaking about the power of Lev’s trilogy and Quentin’s journey. Though Olivia hadn’t read the books before seeing the script for the show, she immediately identified with Quentin’s longing to be a part of Fillory – a fictional world he’d read about as a kid.
I love magic as a genre. It’s something I’ve been so passionate about since I was little, nerdy as that sounds. So when I got the script for the pilot, I read it, and I loved it, and then I got the books, and I loved them, and it’s just been… I’ve just felt really lucky through the entire process. Magic, for me, drew me in.
Arjun chimed in that Quentin’s enthusiasm didn’t hold for all of the other characters, some of whom would have perhaps been perfectly happy to leave magic in books and live slightly more normal lives.
There’s, like, an interesting reluctance for everyone except Quentin. Quentin and Julia are very much seeking it, but I think for the rest of them it’s something that happened to them, almost, and there’s this interesting reluctance, where it’s not like in other shows where it’s this huge amazing like, “Oh, yay, I found the wardrobe [to get into Narnia]. Or you know in ‘Harry Potter’, it’s like. ‘Oh, yay, I get to leave these crazy Muggles.’ You know in ‘The Magicians’, it’s like – pardon my french -‘Aw f—, how do I deal with this now?’ Which is interesting; it’s a nice spin on it.
Though we would have loved to spend more time talking to the cast about the upcoming season of the show, the frenzy of New York Comic Con waits for no one – but we do have one final treat for you! Fans lucky enough to be in the panel room at NYCC were not only treated to a first glimpse of the show (the scene where Quentin and Julia both first stumble onto Brakebills) but also a BRAND NEW TRAILER. While you’ll have to wait until January to see the clip (although you can hear the audio if you watch the video of the panel here), you can watch the new trailer right now!
What scenes from the book are you most excited to see adapted on screen? Do you think the series will capture the magic?