With the end of Game of Thrones, His Dark Materials is HBO's new fantasy series bet. The production, which debuted in early November, is based on the eponymous book trilogy written by Briton Philip Pullman in the 1990s.
Last week, actors Ruth Wilson and Clarke Peters were in Brazil for the 2019 edition of CCXP, a pop culture festival that took place from December 4th to 8th in São Paulo. In the series, Ruth and Clarke, play respectively Marisa Coulter (or Mrs. Coulter) and the dean of Jordan College, where part of the story takes place.
Young Dafne Keen (Logan's child) would also come to Brazil. She plays the protagonist Lyra Belacqua, but did not attend. On Sunday (8), SUPER was at an interview table with the cast and the panel held by HBO on CCXP. In them, the actors talked about their characters and behind the scenes of the production – and helped explain some concepts in the series.
What is His Dark Materials about?
Does the name Philip Pullman sound familiar? His Dark Materials was published in Brazil under the title Frontiers of the Universe, whose first book is “The Golden Compass”, which became a movie in 2007. But make no mistake: the series does not follow the story of the film, which at the time did not please the critic.
HBO production has plans to adapt each volume of the trilogy in a different season. The plot revolves around Lyra, an orphan girl who is raised within Jordan College, in a universe parallel to ours where humans are always accompanied by their daemons – physical representations of the soul manifesting in the form of animals.
Clarke Peters says he met Pullman at a book fair in Cardiff, Wales, while filming the series. "Pullman was giving a talk there, and I thought it would be a great chance to talk to him," he said. “In the conversation, you can tell he writes something to really make us reflect on the world's dilemmas, whether you are an adult or a child.”
Much of the background of His Dark Materials is full of criticism and reflection on some aspects of our society. The Magisterium, for example, is a religious entity and the most powerful institution in this universe, and dictates what should or should not be taught to people.
Another feature of the story is the characters who are still children, such as Lyra. Pullman can talk about complex issues even if his protagonist is young. “Maybe children see the world better than ours,” says Peters, reflecting on the author's choices. On the panel, she even mentioned Greta Thunberg, the teenage girl who moved the world in 2019 talking about the climate crisis. “They can often see more clearly than adults.”
How was the series filmed?
The series was announced in late 2015, and filming took place in 2018 – and both the first and second season have already been recorded.
Much of the footage was shot inside a studio in Cardiff City. Oxford University in the United Kingdom was used as a setting to bring Jordan College to life, where Lyra's adventure begins.
The movie sets, by the way, were one of Ruth's favorite things during the shoot. “It was amazing. Every day I would go in there, talk to Joel Collins (one of the series' executive producers) and play inside that submarine. I felt 12 years old again, and I could spend days there just touching all the buttons and levers, ”he jokes.
What are your characters like?
Both Ruth and Clarke describe their characters as complex and whose acts are questionable – antagonists in some ways.
“Mrs. Coulter is in a big internal conflict that gets worse when Lyra comes into her life,” explains the actress. According to her, the arrival of the girl makes the character question everything she did on the way to get where she is – a position of high prestige within the Magisterium. “But despite that, I like that she's a strong female presence, and commands all the men around her,” he adds. During the CCXP panel, Ruth said she was inspired by Hedy Lamarr, a former Hollywood actress who created the base technology for GPS. "She is very powerful."
For Ruth, trying to find humanity within the villain was her biggest challenge – and also what drew her most to the role. "It makes us think about being an adult, and why we end up believing certain things and not others," he says. She talks about how interesting it is to see how Coulter and Lord Asrael (James McAvoy's role) follow different paths despite the same upbringing. “Things around us shape the way we are and think.”
For Clarke, what fascinates him most about his character is the Dean's relationship with Lyra. "Despite the tough decisions he has to make, he has never failed to welcome and raise Lyra since she was just a baby," he says. “There's a lot of love in this relationship, and it's interesting to see how it gives her the confidence to go out and explore the world.”
How were daemons made?
Creatures are one of the highlights of Pullman's universe, and they work like this: Everyone is born with a daemon, and while they're kids, they can take on whatever shape they want. When it reaches adulthood, the daemon needs to choose which animal it will be for the rest of its life.
It is noteworthy: as they are representations of the character's soul, they share their longings, desires – and pains. If a daemon gets hurt, the human gets hurt too, and vice versa. If one of them dies … Well, you can understand.
Bringing daemons to life was not a simple process. The series spent more than a year in post production to set the CGI for the animations (which became really convincing), but it also took into account how the actors would interact with them. "I was very afraid of having to play with those tennis balls attached to a stick," Ruth said before a few laughs.
The solution was to create realistic puppets. Each actor paired up with a doll handler and together built the relationship between daemon and character. "That way we could think down to the smallest detail, such as imagining the way my monkey would move inside a room," Ruth recalls.
Actors reported that doll manipulators brought emotion to daemons, even in dialogues in which they did not actively participate. This contributed to the construction of the scenes. "You looked into those dolls' eyes and you almost see life there," Clarke said. The daemon / human relationship is important as it can reveal nuances about the personality of each character. “When they are alone, Mrs. Coulter is not near her monkey. This is unusual, but it's because she can't handle herself, ”reflects Ruth.
The production also used some real animals, such as lizards and snakes, but most daemons had a doll to use on stage. But of course some adaptations have been made. "In the books, Mrs. Coulter is always holding the monkey, but that would be impossible because she is so heavy," Ruth explains. "In real life, it would be very uncomfortable for the monkey to jump on your shoulder, so we opted to leave that out in the series."
What is dust?
A quick comparison: Dust is to His Dark Materials universe just as Force is to Star Wars. “Dust is something we all share,” explains Clarke. “You may not be able to see or touch, but it's there, and it's what gives us the energy to do things.”
Dust is an important element in the series. The mystery surrounding him is what motivates explorer Lord Asriel's departure north, leaving Lyra alone in Jordan. This is also what motivates the actions of the Magisterium, which struggles to cover this secret.
Jordan's dean plays a big role in this regard. Clarke says he finds himself in an ethical dilemma: hiding knowledge by following the wishes of the Magisterium, or increasingly encouraging discoveries about Dust and other universes. He says that it is possible to draw a parallel with our reality. “Everyone should have access to knowledge. You may not want to, but the chance to access it should exist anyway. ”He concludes:“ There has to be freedom to explore history. ”