With His Dark Materials, HBO has come with yet another fantasy drama TV show which is keeping the fans wanting for more. The show is based on Philip Pullman's acclaimed work and follows the lives of Lord Asriel and Marisa Coulter, and the show's protagonist, Lyra (Dafne Keen).
With only three episodes released, His Dark Materials has already become a fan-favourite TV show and today we have with us, Lin-Manuel Miranda – the American actor who plays the role of Lee Scoresby in the show.
International Business Times: The tone of His Dark Materials is a perfect reflection of Pullman's work. Would you please tell us more about your character in the show?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Lee Scoresby is a Texan aeronaut, which means he flies in a hot air balloon in Lyra's world. It's interesting. When we first meet Lee he's a bit of a non-sequitur. We are suddenly in an air balloon flying above these mountains but we soon learn that he is a close friend of Lorek Byrnison, the armoured bear who is without his armour. He joins Lyra in her quest up north to find the missing children and to see Dust.
IBT: In the book, the readers have got to learn all the sides of Lee but as per your understanding, how would you categories him? Is he a good guy or a bad guy?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: I would say he's a good guy and a rascal at the same time. He's not above picking a pocket, he's not above doing bad things to achieve good ends: he's a cowboy. But a cowboy very much in the Gary Cooper High Noon mold. He's got this incredibly decent heart even though he drinks and he gambles and he fights and he's got a gun... but he also uses all those powers for good.
IBT: His Dark Materials is a well-recognised book. We already seen a movie based on the characters. Would you please share your views on why did you decide to be a part of this adaptation?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: I was working on Mary Poppins Returns in London when Jane Tranter (Executive Producer of His Dark Material) and Jack Thorne (Show's writer) invited me to dinner. I am huge fans of each of their works, independent of each other, from Doctor Who to the Harry Potter play, which I thought was an incredible piece of work.
So I said yes to that dinner. Then, I was gobsmacked when they told me, one, what they were doing and the scale of the ambition behind adapting this project. It's what – as any Philip Pullman fan will tell you - this material deserves. The worlds are so rich. Then, when they told me they had me in mind for Lee Scoresby I said, "Yes," at dinner. There was no thinking about it.
I first read those books when my wife and I started dating. It was within that courtship period where you start reading things together, and certain shared things stay with you. This is a very beloved series that my wife and I have re-read many times. I got home from dinner barely able to believe what we had just talked about. "I'm going to be him," I thought. It was a real thrill.
IBT: As you just mentioned, Pullman's novel has very rich content in it. We have seen several fantasy novels coming and inspiring to the young-adult audience but what is it about the novels that speak to both young and old alike?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: You read those books and you get the same feeling you do when you are looking up at the night sky and there's no light around you. You see how giant the universe is. It affords you a view of not only the size of the universe but many universes stacked on top of each other. The starting premise of the books is also dazzling.
Not even the plot of the books, but the premise that there's a world in which we have souls that are outward manifestations that are animals, that are opposite in gender, that are our better halves, that are our consciousness. It makes us feel less alone in this universe where we don't have dæmons. There's something beautiful about the metaphor of that. It's like when you see an amazing movie or an amazing show, and then you kind of blink bleary-eyed back into the regular world. That's how I felt after reading these books.
IBT: A television adaptation of something of this granger is not an easy task as it requires a lot of research and several man-hours are invested in the pre-production stage. At the same time, when it comes to books, the content already has a fan following. So, what impressed you about the plans for this adaptation?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: I was impressed by several things. One, a season per book. Which is what this deserves. Because the worlds are so rich. Two, Jack [Thorne] writing all of them. The authorial intent of it, not being broken in the writers' room by lots of different writers, but by one writer.
The same way Philip Pullman created this universe, Jack Thorne is adapting it. There's something really exciting about that even though you want to bring Jack Thorne cookies and tea and give him hugs like all the time. Every time I see him, he looks knackered! Those are the two things that were so exciting to me about it. It was like, "They're really trying to do right by these stories."
IBT: All the characters from His Dark Materials are pretty amazing. The story seems surreal but at the same time, your character Lee Scoresby must be the most fun to play...
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Let me put it this way, my first day of filming, I did a musical number on a hot air balloon with a rabbit. On my second day of filming, I got into a bar fight and had a stool broken over my back while I picked pockets and got thrown out of the bar like the classic western bar-room brawl. On my third day, I talked to an armoured bear.
Those were the first three days of work. It's like every day has been an actor's dream - from how we interact with our dæmons and the incredible puppet work and CGI work that is going to be happening with this production to the incredible dream team cast of actors we have. From Dafne [Keen], who is so preternaturally grounded as a young actor, to James McAvoy to Ruth Wilson, all the way down the line.
IBT: In the story, a lot of emphases are given to dæmons, what has it been like acting with a dæmon or with a giant bear?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: We had these incredible puppeteers on-set. They're basically a stand-in. I have a lovely young actress named Ruby who's been voicing Hester [Lee's dæmon] and does the dialogue with me, so I've got two people playing Hester. Basically, in every take, we'll do a couple of puppet passes so we understand where the dæmon is within the space and how we do or don't interact with them.
You do a puppet pass and then you'll do a version where it's the same deal but you know where your eye line is and you know whom you're talking to and so you get the muscle memory of where they'd be before you do a take without them in it. It's important to get it right: Lee Scoresby spends so much time alone in his hot air balloon. He talks to his dæmon like crazy lonely people who are by themselves talk to themselves. It's totally Han Solo and Chewy. He just keeps his own counsel.
IBT: But was that a challenge?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: I don't know an actor alive who didn't spend most of their childhoods talking to themselves. It's really just playing pretend in the true sense. The reason we got into this is it's calling on your imagination to do the rest of the work.
IBT: What would your dæmon be if you had one in real life?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: It's funny. I always used to joke that my dæmon was my own pet dog, Toby, whom I love very much. But now I actually think that's not true. I think that's just me loving my dog. I think my dæmon is probably an introvert. I think my dæmon is very quiet and shy because I'm not very quiet and I'm not very shy. I think my dæmon is something like a bookworm, wearing a sweater and reading in bed saying to me, "What are you doing on that stage? Get off."
His Dark Materials season 1 is currently airing on HBO and Indian fans can tune-in to Star World to watch the very next episode.