Showrunner Sera Gamble and actor Jason Ralph who plays Quentin on the series, Magicians joins me and my fellow reporters to preview the new SyFy series.
And can you both talk about how the story is going to kind of be similar and yet differ from the book series story-wise? Things like that.
Sera Gamble: Well, I think the first most obvious difference that the fans will notice when they tune in is that we’ve aged the characters up a little bit. Quentin is 17 when you meet him in the book, and he is more like 22 in our television show. They are headed into graduate school. And we did that for a number of creative and practical reasons.
But when we realized that this is a choice we might have to make, John McNamara, my writing partner and I, took it very seriously. We didn’t want to change anything from the books that we didn’t have to, so we sat down with Lev Grossman, the author, and hashed out what that change would mean and we all realized we really loved it. So, I think that’s been for the best.
And I think throughout the season, we’ll be hitting a lot of the greatest hits of book one. We sometimes come at them a little bit differently. We say we have the same general roadmap but we sometimes take slightly different roads than Lev did in the books.
I’m a fan of the book and I think I didn’t notice this much when I’m reading, but when you see the characters come to life on screen, it was really great to see how many women there were versus men, where on TV these days, it’s usually shows dominated by men. Do you think you could speak a bit about the women? Both the actors of the show and the characters?
Sera Gamble: I mean, we inherited these great female characters from Lev and one of the great things about making this as a TV show is we get to deep dive into more of the characters. I think when you read the books, you first and foremost are kind of inside the experience of Quentin Coldwater. But because we spend many, many hours in this world, we get to spend a lot of time in Julia’s point of view and a lot of time in Alice’s point of view.
And it’s not something I think about when I’m writing. It’s just sort of — we break the story in the room and we do what makes instinctual sense to us. But I do have to say that in the editing room, there are times when there are scenes that are three female characters talking about these important things that are happening in their lives and all the conflict that’s going on. And as a viewer in that moment, I get a little charge. I get excited to see all of these interesting three-dimensional female characters kind of figuring their shit out together.
I would just ask, are there any stories that either of you read growing up that grabbed you the way that this series has grabbed so many fans?
Jason Ralph: I grew up with the Harry Potter series and had had a very similar experience with that. But I say strangely enough, like the strongest experience I’ve had to a story is this made-up one– called Fillory. And I don’t know what it is. But the time when I, as Quentin Coldwater, get to talk about Fillory, like my body, all the nerves in my body just spark and my brain goes crazy and I can’t think and I can’t make words because I’m so in love this like make-believe world. And it’s very strange and I can’t explain it.
Sera Gamble: I loved the Chronicles of Narnia. When I was a little kid, I read those many, many times. And I also gravitated strongly towards just classic fairy tales. I just — I wore holes in my books as Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen and I remember being a little kid and trying to write my own version of those classic fairy tales. So, I was kind of born ready to do the show.
I have a couple of questions. One of them is that I know you talked a bit about the actual magic in the show and the practice of it — the physicality and the practice of it. So, I’m wondering if you could talk just a little bit more about how you created the — like the finger magic and kind of the spells that are in there.
And also, just because as somebody who’s curious in these kinds of things, how much – how much are you adhering to some actual magic in the sense of spells or items you might be using, like real people who kind of had that interest or that background? Will they recognize certain aspects of these stuff?
Sera Gamble: … when we were doing the pilot, we came across this –essentially, it’s a form of dance, called finger tutting, which is an offshoot of tutting which is (an) little corner of the world of hip-hop because we were searching for a way to kind of codify the language of magic which is very specific and arduous and difficult and intensive, and it’s done with the fingers, primarily, in Lev’s books.
So, it was actually John McNamara’s assistant. He recommended we go on YouTube and just search the term, Finger Tutting. And as soon as we saw that, it felt really fresh and good to us and we hired a choreographer to work with the actors. But Jason can speak more to that.
Jason Ralph: Yes. I mean, the experience, like learning these tutts, I found like very similar to the experience of learning the magic that I had to learn for the show, like the practical magic, the card tricks and the coin tricks and things. And that is – and that is like incredibly difficult. It requires like such a mind for detail and it takes like too many hours to practice and to get right.
And there is something about learning how to learn those kinds of things which was very useful in getting into the head of these kinds of people and into Quentin. There’s people who can like dive into material for hours and hours and hours and work on one tiny little specific thing without getting bored of it. Learning how to do that was like very useful.
Sera Gamble: And as for the Google-ability of the other spell elements, I would be curious to hear from an actual practicing which if any we’re getting anything right. We might. I don’t know. I do know that we Google the craziest shit all day long in the writer’s room and I had been reading about this sort of new age solution to the radiation that comes off of computers, if that in fact exists, which I’m not sure if it does. I don’t know.
But I was reading about this kind of crystal grid that someone had set up to kind of minimize the bad stuff that comes off your computer and that turned into a mind meld with our production designer, (Rachel O’Toole) about what they would have to do at Brakebills in order to use conventional electronics. Because essentially, Brakebills University is a place where people have been doing spell upon spell upon spell for many generations. And so, the air is very thick with enchantments and a lot of your “so to say” muggle hardware malfunctions at Brakebills.
They don’t use cellphones very much, and they don’t use computers very much because they’re just not reliable in that atmosphere. So, there are little rooms that the students have kind of jury-rigged in order to do things like play video games and use their cellphones and look things up on Google. And it’s one of my favorite sets, though it’s quite tiny. Alice and Quentin sneak into this little supply closet that students have jury-rigged with a bunch of crystals to be able to use computers in there. The visual, it’s really beautiful and it came from this random Google in the writer’s room.
I was wondering, Jason, whether or not your sleight of hand that we saw in the premiere episode, is for real and like you had to learn that sort of thing and whether or not, Sera, if you could tell us, there are any other talents among the cast?
Jason Ralph: Yes. All of the sleight of hand magic you see is totally 100 percent real. And I have been practicing that with Mike Cahill. I sent him the video of me doing it. And he was like, “Oh, man. You just saved us like $70,000.” And I was like, “All right. You owe me like a really nice bottle of wine.” Which I’ve yet to get, actually.
Sera Gamble: Maybe you can help me answer the question about other talents. I can say that there are some tremendous singers in our cast and you’ll be treated to a little bit of that in season one.
One of the things that most struck me about the show is that we’re getting to see Julia’s story parallel to Quentin as opposed to kind of catching up with her halfway through the novel. I was wondering what kind of effect that’s had on the approach to the (overlooking) story at the show.
Sera Gamble: It definitely makes the story of season one a bit more of a two-hander. You’re with Quentin and you’re very much – he’s very much our way into Brakebills and we’re deep into his story. But at the same time, we’re seeing a very parallel story unfold for Julia. She’s the one who didn’t get into Brakebills, she has to either give up magic or figure out some way to get it on her own and it turns out to be a much more dangerous and unreliable way of getting magic.
It also, I think, really heightens the relationship between Quentin and Julia. And if you saw the pilot, they’re life-long best friends and there’s a lot of layers to that friendship. And it became really clear as we were writing these two stories at the same time that she doesn’t just sort of fade away from his life in that, “oh, well. I’ve outgrown my friend,” kind of way.
There’s an active hurt and an active antagonism that grows from the way each of them handled the fact that one of them got into the school and one of them didn’t.
Tony Tellado: Hi, guys. What a pleasure. Loved the pilot. Really cool.
Sera Gamble: Thank you.
Tony Tellado: I want to ask you both from – in acting and also from a conceptual approach to developing Quentin — what was that like? You aged him a little more and then to age him but yet be faithful to the books. And talk about that challenge in developing him and then playing him?
Sera Gamble: Once we wrapped our head around it, actually, it wasn’t hard at all. The Quentin story is a coming of age story. It’s a story about someone who is young and walking into the problems and the wonders and the challenges of the adult world and becoming the man that he is going to be. And that story is perfect to tell about someone in their early 20s.
I think that kind of matches up with where we are as a culture right now. I think we do a lot of our maturing in our early 20s. And I don’t know. I think it ended up working out really organically.
Jason Ralph: Yes. I mean, I had a very similar organic experience with it — of getting to read the books and falling in love. And then filtering through that, that through me then through the lines of the show, I don’t know. There’s — something just sort of like spewed out that is my Quentin Coldwater. And it came very naturally, and it was very fun to do.
And at the same time, from an academic perspective of really going back to the books as much as possible and re-reading the sections from the books that we happen to be shooting that day to bring the spirit of him through me. Or at least the spirit of him that I experienced, like through the filter of me. Yes.
Tony Tellado: And I have to agree also that with (Fillory) as soon as I saw the first few moments of (Fillory) I go, “hey, that’s more interesting than the party was.”
Jason Ralph: Yes, right?
Tony Tellado: So, I want to see more and I’m glad it’s going to be it’s going to be like – it’s not just a story he’s reading. He’s very much wrapped up, which is cool.
Jason Ralph: Yes. It’s a part of their (life), it’s a part of his DNA.
Jason, I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the fan interaction you’ve had so far with people being able to see some of the episodes early. What kind of response have you been getting?
Jason Ralph: It’s been like so wonderfully supportive and people seem really excited about the project and about our interpretation of the characters and of the show. Especially at Comic-Con, we had such a wonderful time, a lot of people came. [They were] a little skeptical as they should be.
And I think after what they saw from the show and from us on the panel, came away really excited and very supportive. Like I had like a post-panel discussion in the men’s room after the panel. Like one-on-one interactions with all the fans.
And I tell you what, it was the best. I’m so glad that I happened to have to go into that bathroom because they had such great questions and were very honest about being skeptical at first and that they’re like – but like we change their minds or left them with some confidence which is was really cool.
Was there anything you added to Quentin that may not have (originally been) scripted (for you)?
Jason Ralph: I — not intentionally, I don’t think. It’s all through like my filter and experience of the world, I suppose, but I tried to be as faithful to the books and to the scripts as possible.e line of (RC Samo) with (Fanboy Jason Ralph: Hello.
Has there been any reaction thus far from the author and if they’ve liked the show so far or not?
Sera Gamble: Yes. Lev (Grossman) is an active part of the making of the show. He reads the scripts before our bosses do and he sees the cuts before our bosses do. So, we’re very transparent with him about the process and we ask for his advice at times and he sends us really thoughtful interesting good notes.
No one knows the DNA of the world better than he does. He lived in it for 10 years. So, he has a lot of really good smart things to say about the magic so, he’s been really helpful in making this TV show.
Special Thanks To The SyFy Channel
PODCAST: Christophe Beck
“DC in D.C.,” a pop culture event open to the public in Washington, D.C. during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend that brings together the worlds of entertainment and public service to illuminate the story of America and discuss topical current issues through the lens of comics and Super Heroes. .....