Fans of the new SyFy drama The Magicians got some good news last week. After airing just three episodes, the network decided to renew the series for a second season. Fans weren't the only ones who were happy to hear the news.
"It feels amazing," says Hale Appleman, the actor who plays Eliot Waugh on the show, in an interview with ComicBook.com "On one hand, I absolutely can't believe it, and on the other, it makes sense. I think that the books are incredible and I think that these characters and these stories have so much to offer and so much to say, so it only makes sense that we would continue.
"Mostly, I'm just really grateful and really overwhelmed," Appleman continues, explaining how deep the passion for the series goes. "From our crew, to our producers, to our writers and our showrunners, our transport guys. The guys bringing us to and from set, sometimes they read the scripts on the episodes and they're all the sweetest, most wonderful people. Our guy, Monte, who drives us to sets, I remember one day, he was like, 'Oh, wow. Episode Eight, eh? That's a pretty big one for you, huh?' They read the scripts. Everyone is invested on this show. It's really unusual and really such a blessing."
While Appleman's passion is evident just in the way to talks about The Magicians, he was unfamiliar with the source material, Lev Grossman's novel of the same name, before he auditioned. A friend quickly remedied that.
"I got to audition and I hadn't read the books, but as soon as I read the script, strangely enough, my friend Anthony Carrigan, who you might know from Gotham - he plays Victor Zsaz, he's an awesome actor - he was like, 'This is my favorite book series. They're making a TV show? That's so awesome. Here take the first book. Read it. You'll love it.' I did."
While on screen, Appleman seems like a natural fit for the role of Eliot, but that wasn't the first role he tried out for on the series.
"I was initially auditioning for Penny," Appleman says, "but that didn't feel right, and in reading the books I found Eliot and I thought, 'Oh, man. I really I hope I can audition for this guy,' because he's just so exciting and complex and juicy and layered and dynamic. I just thought I'd love to be able to take a stab at this character and, luckily, a few weeks later, they called me back for him.
"Eliot is someone who is constructing an image of himself," Appleman explains when asked to describe the character in his own words. "He's very consciously collaging together influences that appear attractive to him, or sophisticated to him, or put together, or stylish, or enigmatic. He is putting together all of these pieces into a sort of image that he'd like to project to everyone he meets, which is all kind of a mask and all a construct and all in an effort to not necessarily look at what he's really feeling on the inside. He is masking a lot of pain and vulnerability and shame.
"He has come from a place that rejected him and he has reimagined his identity at Brakebills, which is kind of what you see when you meet him. It's all very intentional. He is someone who loves the party and the laughs and all of the vices that he can find in order not to look at what is really haunting him."
While Eliot may be the life of the party, Appleman remembers his own college experience being a bit different.
"First of all, I dropped out a couple times to do acting work," Appleman recalls, laughing. "I was just fine as a student…I wasn't much of a partier to be honest, so I guess it compares in that I might've been in the room but I wasn't the one getting shit-faced or chain smoking. That definitely wasn't me. I was very serious about acting and not so serious about partying. There's no telling what happens at college parties and in the Physical Kids' house, I think it's no exception. You get a taste of that in a couple episodes."
While Eliot is the ringleader of the Physical Kids, he has struck a fresh and complex friendship with newcomer Quentin Coldwater.
"I think, weirdly enough, Eliot sees a lot of himself in Quentin and it seems that if you were to kind of pry Eliot open and look inside, he would look a lot more like Quentin," Appleman says. "There's kind of like an anxious, unsettled, vulnerable, broken little boy in Eliot. Eliot might even be more vulnerable than Quentin, weirdly enough. I think that what Eliot sees when Quentin comes through the bushes in that first episode is someone who he understands, weirdly, and someone who he sees a lot of himself in. There is a similarity between them that Eliot would never admit to or want to discuss ever, but it exists and there's an understanding between these two characters, and so there's an innate connection there."
One of the themes The Magicians explores is our relationships with fiction and fantasy, and it's done largely through Quentin's affection for the Fillory novels. This is a feeling that Appleman himself can relate to.
"I was a really adventurous, imaginative kid, and I grew up loving fantasy," Appleman says. "I loved C.S. Lewis, and I loved Tolkien, and I loved Madeline L'Engle, and I loved The Princess Bride and all kinds of swashbuckling adventures. The Knights of the Round Table, all of it, Greek mythology, I loved all of it.
"I've always wanted, as an actor, to exist in worlds that could be comparable that I read about as a boy. I think that that always has been a huge dream of mine and to get to play in these worlds that Lev Grossman has created is a complete dream come true, and I am so overwhelmed at the fact that I get to do that. It just seems ridiculous, but I'm really happy about it."
In last week's episode of The Magicians, "The World in the Walls," Appleman had the opportunity to play an almost entirely different version of Eliot, one constructed in Quentin's mind as an inmate at a sanitarium.
"It was crazy," Appleman says. "Actually, I was in a car accident on the way to work to the first time I had to be crazy Eliot, and it was crazy. I wasn't hurt, and no one was hurt, and it wasn't my fault, and the guy is taking care of it, and everything's fine, but it was kind of a crazy moment. It sort of gave me permission to be as crazy as I wanted and also, for a lot of that episode, you don't see a ton of it, but I was just sitting at the table making watercolor paintings as Crazy Eliot, so I got to shake that off, no pun intended."
The pun is in reference to arguably the episode's most memorable scene, which had almost the entire cast singing and dancing to Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off."
"It was so fun, and actually there's a lot more that didn't make the cut, and I would really love to see what that was. I think there was a whole other verse and a whole finishing tableau. It was so ridiculous. We had a lot of fun with it. I would love to see a complete edit of the entire song," Appleman said, adding that he "really hopes" such an edit is included as an bonus feature on the DVD set.
Fans of the source material will know that it's not all fun and games with The Magicians. The story goes to some dark places, and Appleman says he's pleased that the TV adaptation isn't shrinking from that.
"It definitely gets dark," he says. "It certainly gets risqué, to a point…As an actor, I love the dark. I love going to a really dark place with a character. That's something that I thrive on. That's something that I love.
"Weirdly enough, before this season, I would say that I was a lot less comfortable with comedy than I am with really intense drama. I would say that, yes, as an actor, and I've done a lot of work on stage, and usually what I end up doing is these gut-wrenching dramas. It's exciting for me to go to those places. I love it. I'll go there any day.
"Also, I get to play Eliot, so there's humor in the mix as well. Even the darkest moment also sometimes has a little bit of humor and that makes for a really compelling character."
In discussing Eliot's character arc and hurdles for the season, Appleman hinted that he'll be facing his own personal darkness.
"I think the big one is confronting his heart," Appleman says. "It has this cyclical pattern, which is someone who is trying to avoid, at all costs, what he feels, what he wants in his heart, or his relationship to his heart and to love and relationships in that way. He's trying to hide, and then he's constantly butted up against these circumstances that cause him to confront his own vulnerability and be vulnerable in a way that makes him really uncomfortable. In a moment, he'll be really vulnerable and then he'll try to cover it back up and then, once again, that thing will come back around, or something else will shock him into vulnerability. He'll have to try as well as he can to cover it back up.
"There's a really huge event that happens on Episode 8 that sort of takes that pattern to another place, and that denial to another place, and it sort of sparks this downward spiral that is really dark and sort of sad and sadly funny at times, but mostly just horrific. Eliot goes down a deep, dark spiral."
For now, Eliot has more immediate concerns. Tonight's episode of the series, "Mendings, Major and Minor," features one of the show's most stunning special effects sequences yet – a Welters tournament.
"The Welter's Tournament act is crazy," Appleman says. If you're not familiar with Welters from Grossman's novels, it's a magical sport that involves capturing squares on a life-sized chessboard. "That all happened. That's not CGI. Everyone watching, that's the real thing. We were standing there. It was so exciting. It was the day where we felt the intensity of what magic in these worlds could really be, and it just felt so real. It was so real. That's a moment that really sticks out."
You might be thinking that a game like Welters sounds comparable to quidditch from the Harry Potter books. The Magicians has been compared to J.K. Rowling's creation more than once, which is fair since Grossman's original concept for The Magicians was inspired by Rowling's work. But what would happen if the Physical Kids were to somehow meet up with their Hogwarts counterparts?
"We probably would pour them some drinks and roll them some magical joints and have a party," Appleman imagines of the highly hypothetical situation, "and be like, 'Hey, we didn't know you were real, but you are, so come hang out.' We'd probably want to hang out with them, I think.0comments
"I'm assuming this is adult Harry," he adds, laughing. "Harry that has been through Hogwarts. I'm not saying we'd administer drugs to minors or anything like that."
The Magicians airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on SyFy.