[Comic-Con@Home Panel Recap] HIS DARK MATERIALS
Season 2 of HIS DARK MATERIALS has some exciting developments for fans, including a “Fleabag” reunion and Will bringing Lyra “back into the world and back into Lyra,” according to Lyra Belacqua herself, Dafne Keen. Joining her on Thursday to discuss the HBO/BBC series were castmates Ruth Wilson (Mrs. Coulter), Ariyon Bakare (Lord Boreal), Amir Wilson (Will Parry), Andrew Scott (John Parry), and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Lee Scoresby), as well as executive producers Jane Tranter and Jack Thorne. The respect for the source material, appreciation for the fans, and excitement for the new season were all palpable during the virtual panel, which covered everything from how the pandemic affected this season’s production to Andrew Scott’s dashing quarantine hair.

During the introductions, the cast cheered for Scott, the newest addition to the ensemble, and playfully booed Bakare, who later shared a fascinating anecdote about how he approaches playing a chilling villain as a naturally happy-go-lucky person. First, however, we were treated to a trailer for the upcoming season, which adapts The Subtle Knife, the second book in Sir Philip Pullman’s acclaimed fantasy trilogy. The trailer shows Will and Lyra meeting in Cittàgaze, a dangerous city familiar to fans of the books, and ends with Mrs. Coulter intoning, “These are strange new times.”

Strange new times indeed—moderator Stacey Wilson Hunt asked Tranter and Thorne how the global pandemic had affected filming the new season of HIS DARK MATERIALS, and Tranter had good news for fans: the main season wrapped filming prior to Christmas 2019, so “our adaptation of The Subtle Knife had been completed” prior to the lockdown. She says they got quite lucky with the timing, and credits their post-production team for helping to make sure that the season remained on schedule and ready for audiences later this year.

They were working on an eighth episode when the pandemic hit, but it’s a standalone story that can be rescheduled without affecting this season. It sounds intriguing, though, and I’m sure fans will be eager for it as soon as production can resume. According to Tranter, “It was a standalone episode that Jack had written—with the blessing and with input from Philip Pullman—which looked at what Asriel had been doing between going through the anomaly at the end of season 1 and when we see Lord Asriel at the beginning of book 3, The Amber Spyglass.”

Tranter and Thorne emphasized that Pullman has been “lovely,” offering feedback and encouragement every step of the way during their adaptation of his widely beloved series. In discussing the challenges of adapting such a dense and challenging story for television, Thorne said, “Philip is a wonder, and trying to do justice to him was the hardest job of my life, but it was also a wonderful job.” Both Thorne and Tranter also spoke about how gratifying it is that the books’ fans—whom Tranter described as “really, really passionate and clever”—have embraced the show. “We’re just very proud…and pleased and relieved that the fans responded in the way that they did.”

Courtesy of HBO

Ruth Wilson, who plays the villainous Mrs. Coulter in HIS DARK MATERIALS, showed up to the Zoom panel with props (including a stuffed monkey to represent her dæmon on the show) and a fabulous wardrobe—which she jokingly played off as her everyday clothes, saying “These are my pajamas!”—along with some fascinating insights into her view of her character. “The best characters in fiction…are ones you never truly understand.” She went on to say that she enjoyed digging into the character’s past and motivations: “She is constantly challenging me and confusing me…you need to find the journey through the 3 seasons to discover how she gets to where she is by the end of the books.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda had some of the best stories on the panel, talking about how he and Andrew Scott bonded over a mutual love of Judge Judy and saying that he got texts from people he hadn’t heard from in years asking, “You’re in a balloon with Hot Priest?!” Miranda had been a fan of Pullman’s books for years—it was something he and his wife had in common when they began dating, and he said, “We kind of fell in love with the world as we were falling in love with each other.” He went on to say that being able to enter a world he’s such a fan of “is like space camp for me.”

Ariyon Bakare, who described his Lord Boreal as a megalomaniac with “a lot of dead bodies behind him,” explained how he approached his audition based on a bit of advice he received. A director once told him, “You would make an amazing villain…just don’t do anything with your face…don’t put any emotion on it, just be still and you’ll make an amazing villain.” Though Bakare was a huge fan of the books and very excited by the prospect of playing Lord Boreal, he was very calm and cold in his approach to the role, and the rest is history.

Scott was also excited about joining the fantastical world of the show, though he admitted to some trepidation as well: “Everybody just went ballistic about the first season, so it was a little bit intimidating to come in, and you don’t want to mess it up.” He praised the cast and said that “so much of the stuff that’s so beautiful to me about the books and the series is the relationship with the dæmons.” On that note, he shared some very exciting news for fans of Fleabag…his dæmon will be played by someone he has a very close relationship with in real life: his former co-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge!

The whole cast and crew showed a great deal of affection for one another and for the story they’re telling. Thorne stated near the end of the panel, “As Dafne said, I think this series is all about trust. I think that what Philip’s written in The Subtle Knife is a beautiful poem about trust.” This fall, audiences will get to see that poem play across their screens. HIS DARK MATERIALS season 2 will air later this year on BBC and HBO Max. If you still need to catch up on the first season, it will be available on digital and physical media next month.

Jessica Scott
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