His Dark Materials held a much-anticipated panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 on Thursday, with cast members Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda appearing on stage alongside writer Jack Thorne and executive producer Jane Tranter. They talked about their characters, their approach to the show that’s based on Sir Philip Pullman’s series of books, what the show is trying to say, and what it was like to film the show amongst other topics during an hour-long panel.
Miranda noted that his entrance on the show is on a giant hot air balloon, while he sings a duet with his daemon — a rabbit. In His Dark Materials, daemons are animal companions that are a manifestation of the human soul. Miranda said that his first few days of filming were very complicated, as they involved the aforementioned hot air balloon and a bar fight, and termed it as “the holiday”.
McAvoy said his character, Lord Asriel, is mostly under wraps in His Dark Materials season 1. (The show has already been renewed for season 2.) Asriel is on a mission, McAvoy added, which is to bring “freedom on a grand scale.”
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For Keen, who plays Lyra, talking to the daemon was like talking to her inner self. “What I love about Lyra is how much she changes throughout the show,” Keen added. As you can tell, His Dark Materials is a coming-of-age story for Lyra, and Thorne said that it was important to focus on her, rather than Asriel as you would in “a superhero story”. He added: “It’s about goodness not greatness.”
Wilson remarked that she was drawn to her character Mrs. Coulter because “she’s the cesspit of all evil”. Lyra is her weakness in His Dark Materials, and we will see more of Mrs. C without Lyra as well, all of which is “endlessly frightening”, said Wilson. And because her daemon is a monkey, she tried to bring “a bit of the monkey” into Mrs. C too.
“Out of context this sounds so wild,” Miranda chimed in, sitting beside her at Comic-Con.
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The makers said they had a tough time breaking the show and its themes. Throne noted that he wrote 46 drafts of episode 1 and that he did “a PhD in the books” because he wanted to “sound every note”. Tranter, on the other hand, wanted to “liberate” the books and expand them on the canvas that television offers.
The novels are seen as a critique of Western religion, but Tranter differed on the matter: “There are many conversations to have about it and it’s better to have a conversation with facts.” She thinks Pullman isn’t attacking faith in his books, but rather a form of control.
Pullman’s trilogy is also often described as children books that adults should read. Tranter said she hopes they have made “an adult TV show children should watch”. Thorne’s favourite scenes are the one-on-ones rather than the big set-pieces.