His Dark Materials, the new fantasy series from HBO (Game of Thrones), is now streaming first on Showmax. Based on Philip Pullman’s award-winning novel trilogy of the same name, the series has an 83% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes. Just one episode in, it’s at number 39 on the list of Most Popular TV right now over on IMDB, where it’s rated at 8.7/10. It has also already been renewed for a second season.
The series follows Lyra, whose search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children and sets off a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust. The fantasy’s cast includes child stars Dafne Keen (Logan) and Amir Wilson as Lyra and Will, supported by Golden Globe winner Ruth Wilson (The Affair, Luther), Golden Globe nominee James McAvoy (X-Men), Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated actor Lin-Manuel Miranda (Fosse/ Verdon, Mary Poppins Returns), and Bafta winner Helen McCrory (Harry Potter, The Queen).
Oscar winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) is one of the directors. In a chat with Miranda, an Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actor, Oscar-nominated songwriter (Moana) and Broadway hit musical creator (Hamilton), he discloses more about his role as Lee Scoresby.
Who is Lee Scoresby?
Lee Scoresby is a Texan aeronaut, which means he flies in a hot air balloon in Lyra’s world. 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 Iorek 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.
Is he a good guy or a bad guy?
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 mould.
Why did you want to be a part of this adaptation of His Dark Materials?
I was working on Mary Poppins Returns in London when Jane Tranter and Jack Thorne invited me to dinner. I am a huge fan of each of their work, independent of each other, from Doctor Who to the Harry Potter play, which I thought was incredible. So I said yes to that dinner. Then I was gobsmacked when they told me 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 there are certain shared things that 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.
What is it about the novels that speaks to both young and old alike?
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. It affords you a view of not only the size of the universe, but many 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 demons. 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 in to the regular world.
What impressed you about the plans for this adaptation?
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. It was like, ‘they’re really trying to do right by these stories’.
Of all the characters, Lee Scoresby must be the most fun to play.
Let me put it this way: my first day of filming, I did a musical number on a hot air balloon with a rabbit. 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 barroom brawl. 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 the way in which we interact with our demons 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), to James McAvoy to Ruth Wilson, all the way down the line.
What would your demon be if you had one in real life?
It’s funny. I always used to joke that my demon was my own pet dog, Toby, who 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 demon is probably an introvert. I think my demon is very quiet and shy because I’m not very quiet and I’m not very shy.
I think my demon is something like a bookworm, wearing a sweater and reading in bed, saying to me: “What are you doing on that stage? Get off.”