The full interview first appeared at ScreenSpy on Jan. 20, 2016. For the video portion, please click here.
Are you in the mood to see “some goddamn magic?” Well then you’re in luck. The official premiere of Syfy’s The Magicians is coming this Monday with an intensely satisfying two-hour episode.
The series, based on Lev Grossman’s novels of the same name, follows Quentin Cadwell, a young man who series star Jason Ralph describes as “Existentially depressed and perpetually disappointed.” Most of Quentin’s life can be summed up by those two things, on top of an oddly obsessive love for a children’s book called “Fillory and Further.”
In the midst of Quentin floating his way through life, socially distant from his peers and emotionally invested in a world that isn’t real, his reality is suddenly turned upside down when he’s offered a spot in a secret school for people “inclined” to master the very real art of magic.
While the revelation provides Quentin with a sense of belonging and purpose, it doesn’t have the same effect for Julia — a smart, intensely driven young woman bound for Yale’s graduate school. She too is asked to take a Brakebills University entrance exam, but when she fails to pass the test, she gets left behind by her best friend and an exciting future. Upon her return to the “real world,” Julia sets out on a different path to become a master of magic and live beyond the veil.
Grossman’s world is a fantastical adventure with a good dose of edgy, dark undertones and sex appeal. Its greatest allure, however, lies with its treatment of magic and the characters that wield it. In The Magicians, the acquisition and mastery of power is an expertly cast metaphor for the challenges of growing into the person–and future–we most desire. There are no bunny rabbits in hats here, folks. Our magicians are fighting demons, both figuratively and literally, in the heart of Brooklyn.
ScreenSpy had the chance to chat with The Magicians cast, and we wasted no time asking about the challenges of playing with the intangible and what makes Grossman’s story so damn magical.
Obviously, magic as our Brakebills magicians know it doesn’t quite exist in our world. So you’d figure there’d be some hurdles to bringing a story like Lev Grossman’s to the small screen. For Summer Bishil, the actress behind The Magician‘s sexy, but damaged Margo (Janet to book fans), it’s all about realizing how magic functions within the universe and applying that to how your character interacts with it.
“Magic in this story is a relationship,” Bishil told ScreenSpy. “You have relationships in life and they all have different dimensions and things that are hard to accept as reality. So that’s how I approach it. What is my relationship with magic? What do I want to achieve with it? How do I relate to the world knowing that I have this gift. I try to relate it to that in order to make it more tangible and meaningful.”
It’s an interesting technique for handling the more whimsical elements of the fantasy genre. Especially when you consider the aspects of The Magicians story that are so grounded in reality. For Bishil, most of her character’s “human moments” grow out of Margo’s relationship with Eliot, another student at Brakebills who shares in her propensity for physically-based magic.
According to Bishil, “Margo suffers from a lot of loneliness and desperation to belong. Her family life was not very wholesome or inclusive, so her relationship with Eliot is incredibly important to her. She’s somewhat co-dependent on Eliot, so when other people enter Eliot’s life it’s a threat to her. It challenges her sense of reality and her place in reality.”
Hale Appleman, the actor who plays the book fan favorite Eliot, confirms that the feelings between the two characters are pretty mutual.
“They are each other’s primary attachment. They have a kind of dynamic, a kind of friendship and also a kind of co-dependency that they need and have been longing for based on where they come from and where they’ve ended up,” Appleman said. “There are experiences at school that have gotten them very close together and they are inseparable in a lot of ways.”
It is perhaps the most important relationship to Eliot, who Appleman says hides “a much deeper level of loneliness and sadness–a wish to bury a past that he’d rather not discuss,” underneath a sophisticated demeanor.
“We have a lot of fun together and we have a lot of revelry,” Appleman shared. “There are also a lot of voids being filled in reaction to what we don’t want to talk about. I think that for Eliot magic is his identity on some level. He’s escaped from a reality that was hard to bare and he’s found a place where he belongs.”
“He’s such a proficient magician–it comes very easily to him–that he’s able to rise in the ranks at school in a way that gives him a sense of purpose, and power and control that he never had before,” Appleman continued. “He seizes that with all of his might, with all that he can to maintain that sense of control.”
Eliot wouldn’t be the only one using magic to fill a void or find a sense of purpose. Jason Ralph, the face of Quentin, believes his character also relies on it for his sense of identity, after feeling socially and emotionally aloof from people for most of his life. Ralph notes that Julia, the character who seemingly has everything going for her at the start of the series, will not be immune to magic’s effect on one’s sense of self either.
“It’s a great duel journey,” Ralph said of the series’ two main (and simultaneously) running plot lines. “[Julia]’s stripping away her humanity to find her core, and he’s adding humanity on to find his, and they kinda meet at the same place.”