It’s been over a decade since the film adaptation of the first installment in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy was visited like a scourge upon fans of the books, and now the landmark young adult fantasy series is finally getting the adaptation it deserves.
It’s about time.
“I thought it was time for the books to be liberated in a space that could do them justice,” executive producer Jane Tranter said during the Comic-Con panel for HBO’s upcoming “His Dark Materials” television iteration. Tranter, a former BBC executive who oversaw the resurrection of “Doctor Who”, said that the real estate of contemporary television meant that the books would be allowed the space to sound each note that Pullman sounded in the novels.
It was music to the ears of a crowded Hall H audience who was treated to a brand new trailer for the series, which is scheduled to debut on HBO in the fall. Nearly three minutes long, fans got a further glimpse into a world not so dislike our own, save for the animal companions, the multitudes of air ships, and the armored bears.
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The panel also allowed for insights from several prominent cast members, including Dafne Keen, who plays series protagonist Lyra, Ruth Wilson (Marisa Coulter), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Lee Scoresby), and James McAvoy (Lord Asriel).
The Scottish actor is pulling double duty at SDCC, appearing Wednesday night at a panel promoting his upcoming film “It Chapter Two,” and shared that he was actually a last-minute addition to the cast of “His Dark Materials,” and recounted his (literal) casting call as someone ringing him up, saying “You want to come play Lord Asriel starting on Friday?”
McAvoy said that he agreed to the role, in part due to his familiarity with the books, which he said he’d previously read “like three times.” But Miranda had an even more impressive attachment to the series of novels.
“When my wife and I started dating, we read these books together,” Miranda said, much to the delight of the audience, who responded with a collective “Aww!”
And while Keen said she’d never before read the books, pointing out that they’d been written before she was born, after getting the part she immediately read them, and in describing the experience she was temporarily rendered speechless.
“I did not close the books,” she said when she found the words, “They’re so fun. They’re so entertaining. They’re so good. I don’t know how [Philip] gets these ideas.”
All of the actors also delighted in talking about their animal counterparts in the series, called daemons, which serve as the outward representation of a person’s soul.
“One of the really cool things about this world is when you’re a child, before puberty, your daemon is changeable, when you start to settle on who you actually are, your daemon also settles,” McAvoy summarized, before explaining that since Lord Asriel’s daemon settled as a snow leopard, he was obviously a badass.
Miranda, whose character Lee Scoresby has an arctic hare for a companion, found himself totally taken with his daemon, represented on-set by a puppet and likening it to seeing children visit the set of “Sesame Street,” where they completely ignore the puppeteer and speak straight to Elmo.
The “Hamilton” genius also shared with audiences that his first appearance in the series features he and his daemon Hester singing a duet. “We’re like our own little buddy cop movie in the middle of the show,” he said.
“It really helps you as an actor because you really see the interior life of the character,” Keen explained of her relationship to her daemon Pantalaimon (or Pan), who often takes the form of a snow-white ermine, “because it’s talking to yourself but not, because it’s outside of you.”
“That really show’s Lyra’s love towards herself,” she continued, “and so you can see the different relationships all the characters have with themselves.”