The Magicians by Lev Grossman features some incredibly adult material and some seriously dark events, along with a somewhat unlikable main character. How much of this can they actually include on the TV show? All of it, insist the show’s producers and cast. We talked to them at New York Comic-Con, and here’s what they told us.
Minor spoilers ahead, if you haven’t read the books...
For example, main character Quentin Coldwater (played by Jason Ralph) is, well, a selfish jerk. We asked him how much of this will come across on TV, and Ralph said, “We’re exploring a little bit of his unlikability and his selfishness, certainly—especially in relation to Julia,” the girl who doesn’t get to go to the magical school Brakebills with Quentin.
Quentin “suffers from perpetual disappointment about everything,” Ralph said. Unlike Hogwarts, Brakebills Academy could be a soul-crushing letdown for our characters, where learning magic is tedious and extremely difficult.
And meanwhile, a certain horrific act that happens to Julia in the second book will absolutely be shown on screen in the TV show, said actor Stella Maeve. “We’re going for it,” she said. “I had that talk last week [with the producers.] It’s crazy, but I guess that’s one of the things that I can relate with Julia, is the darkness. It’s dark, it’s crazy, it’s intense.”
Two of the Executive Producers, John MacNamara and Sera Gamble, also told us that Syfy was very supportive in including all the heavy content, including serious violence, to stay true to the at-times intense content of the books. “Syfy has been tremendously supportive,” said Gamble. When they bought the show, they said they didn’t want the edge taken off it.
But one way the show will depart from the books is in Julia’s storyline. We’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the show than in the first book, where she vanishes for huge stretches of time. “They’ve added their own storyline,” said Maeve. “The writers have come up with these ideas of what they think might have been happening... with the hedge witches.” We’ll get to watch Julia’s progress as a non-Brakebills magic user, at the same time that we see Quentin’s progress at Brakebills. And that means more and more hours in the makeup chair for Maeve, as she gets more and more tattoos added on her arms.
And Ralph said they’ve been working on creating a coherent language for the gestural magic, so that it’s like the equivalent of the spoken spells in Harry Potter. You know when Harry says “lumos,” a light is going to appear—and they want a similar feeling with the hand gestures.
Arjun Gupta describes his character, Penny, a lone wolf from the streets, as “Basquiat on the outside, Wolverine on the inside.” Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), meanwhile, is the smartest, most powerful magician in the bunch. They both think that The Magicians, which follows people in the early-to-mid 20s, deals with more “realistic, real-life” problems than Harry Potter, which it’s often compared to.
Rounding out the main cast is Summer Bishil are Margo (known as Janet in the books—Gamble said at the NYCC Panel they changed it because the book had too many “J” names, with Grossman’s blessing) and Hale Appleman as Eliot.
Eliot is gay in the books, and Appleman confirmed the show would explore Eliot’s sexuality. He described Eliot as someone who “doesn’t identify [his sexuality] in any particular way. It’s that he’s insatiably hungry for vices to fill a void he cannot fill.” That ranges from sex to drugs—for him and many other characters.
As for when the characters will actually visit the magical land of Fillory, Gamble says that Quentin starts to have dreams about the place in the show’s pilot. But she wouldn’t say when we’ll actually go there.
The Magicians premieres on Syfy in January.