The Cast and Crew Describe the ‘Anti-Superhero’ World of His Dark Materials
By Marissa Blanchard
Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda joined executive producers Jane Tranter and Jack Thorne for a thrilling panel at San Diego Comic-Con.
“If this was a superhero story, we would be following Lord Asriel, not Lyra,” executive producer Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) stated to a room of thousands of superhero-loving fans at San Diego Comic-Con.
In a panel hosted by JD Heyman, editor-in-chief of Entertainment Weekly, the His Dark Materials cast and creators spoke to both fans of Philip Pullman’s beloved series, as well as those new to the fantasy novels about how this adaptation stays true to the heart and action of the story.
Book fans will not be disappointed.
“Philip Pullman was our guide,” explained executive producer Jane Tranter. “He never underestimated children as his hero, heroine or readers.” Tranter and Thorne — along with James McAvoy (who plays Lord Asriel) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (who plays Lee Scoresby) — are superfans of Pullman’s books and went through 46 versions of the first script to get it right.
McAvoy, who plays the stoic, adventurous Lord Asriel, recalled immediately wanting to accept the offer to join the series. “Philip Pullman celebrates humanity,” he explained. “Part of what he sees as a prime characteristic of humanity is rational, creative, imaginative thought.”
Though fantasy, this world is rooted in reality.
The books are a subject of social commentary, and the show stays true to that. “I really believe that we should be following our goodness right now, and we are getting distracted by greatness,” said Thorne. “There’s something very beautiful about the way Philip [Pullman] sees the world, and I think it has lessons for all of us.”
And Tranter set the record straight about this adaptation, clarifying that the Magisterium “doesn’t equate to any particular church or religion in our world.” Instead, she elaborated, “Pullman is attacking a particular form of control where there is an attempt to withhold information, keep people in the dark and not allow ideas and thought to be free.”
Thorne offered that the world is made up of two types of characters: “There are people seeking greatness and there are people following their own goodness. Lyra [played by Dafne Keen] is that she is constantly following the path of the good; Asriel and Mrs. Coulter [Ruth Wilson] are set on great big missions and creating great changes in the world.”
So what are daemons?
For those new to the series, the panel described one of its most interesting fantasy elements — daemons, an animal companion that represents a person’s soul. Daemons interact with their humans and almost serve as their conscience.
Keen explained that daemons are “a more sensible, responsible part of you. Lyra’s relationship with Pan [her daemon] shows how much Lyra loves herself; and you can see other character’s relationships with themselves through their daemon.”
“It’s fun to play bad characters,” shared Wilson who plays “the mother of all evil” Mrs. Coulter. “She’s so complicated, and frightening for that reason.” Wilson alluded to the fact that the complex relationship her character has with her daemon is explored more in the show than in the novels.
Miranda excitedly recalled acting with the puppet of his character’s arctic hare daemon, Hester. “I love my daemon,” exclaimed Miranda. “We are our own little buddy cop movie in the middle of this show — we talk to each other constantly.”
McAvoy proudly described Lord Asriel’s daemon as a “badass” snow leopard. “It’s a different type of relationship with yourself,” he described. “You have a reflection of yourself right in front of you; you can’t hide from it or lie, and everyone else can see what your soul is like. It makes for interesting relationship dynamics.”
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His Dark Materials premieres this fall on HBO.
Image at Top of Page: Photograph taken by Jeff Kravitz via Getty Entertainment