SAN DIEGO – HBO is trading dragons for demons for its big, new fantasy show – but not the demons that might immediately come to mind.
It’s a post-“Game of Thrones” world out there and the cable giant is hitting the books again for “His Dark Materials,” an adaptation of the popular Philip Pullman children’s series. And after a failed big-screen take – 2007’s “The Golden Compass” – “it was time for the books to be liberated in a space that would do them justice,” executive producer.Jane Tranter said at the Comic-Con presentation Thursday.
“His Dark Materials,” which premieres this fall with an eight-episode first season, is definitely a shift away from the likes of medieval Westeros. The sprawling landscape features a heroic young orphan named Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen), themes of religion, philosophy and coming-of-age, the presence of parallel universes, and demons, which are animal manifestations of a person’s inner soul.
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Dafne Keen stars as Lyra in "His Dark Materials." (Photo: HBO)
“The demon is the more sensible, responsible part of you,” said Keen, whose character has “amazing scenes” talking with her demon, the mouse Pan.The demons of children can change form but “settle” into a permanent one during puberty. “You see the interior life of a character, because it’s like talking to yourself, but not.”
Lyra is initially quite the liar, but innocent. Her parental figures are her uncle Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) and the enigmatic Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson). But once she’s gifted with an alethiometer, which allows her to see the truth about things, and discovers a heinous plot involving stolen children, “life smacks (her) in the face,” Keen said. “All this pain, smack after smack, makes her a better person.”
Mrs. Coulter is one of the most iconic antagonist in kid’s fiction, and Wilson was all in when she read a description of her: “She’s the cesspit of moral filth and the mother of all evil.”
Ruth Wilson stars as Marisa Coulter in "His Dark Materials." (Photo: HBO)
“I was like, ‘I can’t turn this down,” Wilson said. “She’s so complicated and unknowable, and she’s frightening because of that.”
Coulter’s demon is a monkey who’s nasty “but misunderstood,” the actress added. “I’m cruel to my demon and in turn my demon’s cruel to other people.”
McAvoy’s Asriel is also not the greatest guy, a high-profile dude who will go to extreme lengths to achieve his goals and has a solitary demon, the snow leopard Stelmara, who reflects his personality. “Nothing will stop me from making the world a paradise.”
Miranda, though, is definitely a good guy: The “Hamilton” creator’s Lee Scoresby is a Texan cowboy balloonist (“Typecast again,” he quipped) who gets in bar fights, teams up with the armored bear named lorek Byrnison, and hangs with his Arctic hare Hester.
Lin-Manuel Miranda goes fantasy as Lee Scoresby in HBO's "His Dark Materials." (Photo: HBO)
“We’re our own little buddy-cop movie in this show,” said Miranda, making his Comic-Con debut. Pullman’s books have “a special place in my heart” because he and his wife started reading them when they were dating, so he was immediately onboard when approached to be in the series while filming “Mary Poppins Returns” in London. “I didn’t even know what the part was. I would have sharpened pencils for this.”
So far, “His Dark Materials” (which starts filming soon on the second season) has been a “really wild ride” for Miranda and “a checklist of things I’ve always wanted to do.”
He gleefully described his first scene, a fitting one for the Tony- and Grammy-winning performer: “I literally come into this singing a duet with my demon on a big hot-air balloon, which is a pretty fun way to enter the world.”
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