After an exciting first season full of twists and turns, His Dark Materials is set to return to our screens for a second season this year. The cast got together for Comic-Con at Home for a panel to discuss what we would be able to look forward to. Alongside chatting about their characters and the adaptation, the His Dark Materials panel revealed the additions of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the voice of John Parry’s (Andrew Scott) daemon (Fleabag fans rejoice!!), an original standalone episode for Asriel, and actor quirks from behind-the-scenes.
One of the best decisions in this HBO and BBC adaptation was the decision to include Will and Will’s world right near the beginning of the story. In the panel moderated by Stacey Wilson Hunt, executive producer Jane Tranter talked about the positive reactions to this massive change in the narrative.
In discussing seeing the live reactions from fans she said, “That was probably, I mean one of the most interactive and exciting audience experiences we could have hoped for. And we’re just very proud that the fans responded. I’m pleased and relieved the fans responded in the way they did. You’re all very wonderful.” This includes author Philip Pullman‘s reactions to the series: “That was a very gratifying thing was to actually watch Sir Philip Pullman’s reaction to our adaptation, along with all of his fans. He was very appreciative.”
When deciding on how to introduce Will’s story into the mix, it was actually Ariyon Bakare‘s performance as Lord Boreal that gave executive producer Jack Thorne the inspiration he needed. “So, Jack had had a chance to see all of the eight episodes,” Tranter explained. “And it was the power of what Ariyon was doing as Boreal, [and Jack said] ‘Actually, what we need and Will’s world is a little bit of Boreal,’ and [we] used him as the way in.”
For Bakare, who counts Boreal as one of his first major villains, it was hard to hide his excitement at the chance at his role. He laughed saying he had been given advice on his potential to play a villain; “Don’t put any emotion on [your face]. Just be still and you’ll make an amazing villain. And so when I came into this, I was thinking well that’s what I’m gonna try and I’m not gonna give anything away.” Of course, just because you’re playing the villain doesn’t mean you can’t have a bit of fun. The cast joked about Bakare asking multiple people to say to him, “Boreal, because you’re worth it,” which is a pun we can deeply appreciate.
On top of playing a villain, Ruth Wilson also has to battle with the complexities of playing Lyra’s mother, Mrs. Coulter. Wilson discussed the joys of getting to dive deeper into the complexities and circumstances of her character, confronting “What [Mrs. Coulter] had to deal with as a woman in a very male world, and the sacrifices she’s had to make, and at what cost, which is really the cost of losing a daughter or choosing something over her daughter.”
Mrs. Coulter is a character that changes quite dramatically from the first book to the third and both Wilson and Thorne felt like it was important to investigate that change and take a look at Mrs. Coulter from a different angle. “You need to find the journey through the three seasons to discover how she gets to where she is at by the end of the books. So that was really glorious for us to kind of dig into this season, and it’s much more about self-discovery. She’s on her own a lot of season two, and so it’s more about her own relationship to herself and her monkey.”
While Mrs. Coulter journeys alone, Lyra is set to meet Will this season. Dafne Keen discussed how the end of season one affected Lyra. “I feel like when you first meet Lyra she’s a very outgoing person she trusts very easily,” Keen explained. However, after suffering the devastating loss of Roger and the shocking betrayal from her father, Lyra is poised to have a very different mindset this season. “I can trust no one I can trust nothing, which is what’s so beautiful about season two. It’s seeing how she starts off being closed and in her own shell, and Will brings her out and back into the world and back into Lyra.”
Amir Wilson‘s Will Parry has been a revelation and he explained the balance of taking on such a popular character from the books: “When you’re bringing any character to life that’s based on someone in a book, there’s a pressure to make sure you present him how they are in the book, but also you know adding a bit of yourself to that character, making it your own. But I yeah I felt I felt the freedom to just do my thing, and I hope I did a good job.”
Thorne added also that he pulled from the theme of trust for the second season. He said, “I think that what Philip’s written in The Subtle Knife is a beautiful poem about trust, about the way that characters have to learn to trust again. You know Will, his life has taught him to trust nothing, and Lyra had learned through series one that she can’t trust anything. And then slowly this sort of beautiful flower emerges of them.” We know that Lyra and Will grow very close through the events of the book and it will be exciting to see Amir Wilson and Dafne Keen in scenes together.
Joining the cast this season is Andrew Scott playing John Parry, Will’s father, a character we’ve only seen in picture form so far. Much of his story this season will be alongside Lee Scoresby, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda joked about being stuck in a balloon with Scott during the height of the Hot Priest craze after the U.S. release of Fleabag. The two also talked about bonding over Percy Pig snacks and watching Judge Judy.
On the casting of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the voice of his daemon, Scott said, “It’s all about companionship and friendship and loyalty, and that’s what I feel about Phoebe in my real life so it’s wonderful that’s happening.”
Miranda, who has been a big fan of Pullman’s library of works, talked about the joys of getting cast and reading the series initially with his wife. He said, “I fell in love with these books around 2005, and most couples when they start dating they have their like first date night or they have their first song, and this was one of the first series we read together. We’re both big fantasy and sci-fi fans and so I remember reading this series, I think Vanessa [Nadal] was a book ahead of me. So, we kind of fell in love with the world as we were falling in love with each other.”
And while Covid-19 has severely affected the production and release schedules of films and television shows, His Dark Materials seems to have just gotten lucky. They managed to continue with post-production during the lockdown and are currently on course for the fall premiere of season two.
Tranter explained that the main film unit wrapped at the end of the year in 2019 with seven episodes in the bag. The last episode yet to be completed is a standalone episode written by Jack Thorne (with the blessing and input from Philip Pullman) that looks into what Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) has been doing since the end of season one because Asriel is missing for the whole of The Subtle Knife. So while this standalone episode has been put on hold, the main seven episodes that encompass the story of The Subtle Knife have thankfully been completed.
For the full panel, check out the video on Comic-Con International’s YouTube page.
His Dark Materials is available on HBO and to stream on HBO Max.