The HBO network, having earned a reputation of consistently making stellar content, have another new giant series in the works. This one is based on (and shares the name with) author Philip Pullman’s trilogy of novels, His Dark Materials. Passionate fans may remember that one attempt was made back in 2007 to begin adapting the stories under the name, The Golden Compass. Planned sequels never materialized and now Executive Producer Jane Tranter has brought a new and faithful telling to the small screen after almost two years of set up with HBO. In this adaptation Dafne Keen (who some folks might know as X-23 from the stellar final Wolverine movie Logan) plays Lyra Belacqua, Ruth Wilson (known for her haunting part on the show Luther) plays the villainous Marisa Coulter, James McAvoy (Split, the recent crop of X-Men movies) plays Lord Asriel and breakout musical sensation Lin-Manuel Miranda plays balloonist/fighter Lee Scoresby. An impressive array for a new TV series, but such is the power of HBO and their known clout in creating solid television. Today at Comic Con HBO brought Tranter, writer Jack Thorne and the cast for a panel at San Diego Comic Con’s famed Hall H room.
In His Dark Materials one of the key mechanics of the story is how each person has a manifestation of their inner self that is literally embodied in the physical world by what is called a “demon.” This demon (in common terms most people might think of it as a familiar) takes on the shape of an animal and is a Jungian depiction in the vein of his concept of the shadow. Numerous actors make reference to the efforts to film these creatures which instead of pure imagination featured a puppeteer playing the animal alongside the actor which was then digitally replaced with CGI. Keen explained of her demon and how she saw the usage of it in the story, “The demon is the more sensible, more responsible part of you.” Wilson explained the effort to find balance with these demons saying, “We spent a lot of time just navigating around a room.” She added of her character’s relationship with her demon, “Unlike everyone else, my demon does not speak and I’m very cruel to it.” She seemed to revel in the darkness of the Marisa Coulter character. “The character is described as she’s the cesspit of moral filth and the mother of all evil. And I thought, ‘Okay, I have to play this character.'”
Lin-Manuel Miranda took almost no convincing to be a part of this show. When first pitched it he instantly said yes. “I’m a huge fan of the books. When my wife and I started dating I started reading the books. They said ‘Lee Scoresby’ and I said ‘Yes.'” He joyfully described this job playing this character as a delight. “One day was pulling ballasts on my air balloon and then the next was a three-day bar fight,” he said. When asked if he was excited to be finished with work he replied happily, “This was the holiday. This was the vacation.” Veteran actor James McAvoy described his character in more serious terms, delving into the true mission of his character Lord Asriel. “The whole thing is about freedom,” he said. “Lord Asriel is all about freedom and attaining that freedom for everyone. There’s no love he wouldn’t sacrifice for that freedom.”
Writer Jack Thorne interestingly explained the voluminous and incisive effort to perfectly understand the source material. He referred to it as a doing a “PhD on the author” and imperative to “know everything and then have it all inside your head.” He pointed out of this effort later how much time was spent trying to get it right. “We did forty six draft of episode one,” he proclaimed. What was shown of the upcoming show looks impressive and much will come down to the rendering, especially for a series known for taking a stance that is critical of religion. Tranter summed it up as Pullman’s work not being an indictment of a particular religion, but on any ideology that requires lying to the subjects or withholding information. “He’s not attacking religion or the church per se,” she said. “It’s about a form of control where information is withheld.”
Photo by Raymond Flotat