His Dark Materials Star Dafne Keen on Bringing an Iconic Literary Character to Life
Last winter, HBO and BBC debuted His Dark Materials, the latest adaptation of Phillip Pullman's iconic book series. With a star-studded cast including Ruth Wilson as Marisa Coulter, James McAvoy as Lord Asriel, Clarke Peters as Dr. Carne, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby, the series was a huge hit for HBO, winning over not just fans of the beloved book series, but newcomers to the story as well. A key part of that success was Dafne Keen. The Logan star brought to life the series' central figure, Lyra Belacqua, an orphan from an alternate world whose search for her kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving kidnapped children and sets her on an adventurous journey.
With the series already renewed for a second season and the first season set to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on August 4, ComicBook.com recently sat down with Keen to talk about her role as Lyra in His Dark Materials, the challenges of adapting such a beloved book series -- and character -- to live action, what it was like working with the series' impressive cast, and the importance of the realistic portrayal of female characters. We also spoke a bit about the challenges of making the first season of His Dark Materials as well as what lessons she learned from Hugh Jackman while making Logan.
Read on for our chat with Keen but note there may be some spoilers for the first season of His Dark Materials below.
ComicBook.com: His Dark Materials is such a beloved book series and Lyra, in turn, is an iconic and beloved character. What was it like for you taking on a role considering how beloved and iconic Lyra is?
Dafne Keen: Well, there was pressure, obviously, because as you said, she is such a role model to many girls and just people who've read the books in general, around the world. She's a proper hero, so it was quite nerve wracking, taking on this massive role, this massive hero of literature.
But, what I said to myself before I did it was, "I'm just going to try to do my best job. Talk to Philip, talk to Jack, talk to Jane, make sure we're doing the best we can. And beyond that, I can't do much more."
Were you familiar with the books before the series?
I hadn't read them, but I'd heard of them. My godmother loved them and obviously they're really popular so I'd heard about them, but I actually hadn't. Then as soon as I got the part, I read them all in two weeks back to back and I'm a massive fan now.prevnext
Considering it's such an important character role, I imagine the audition process for that was probably pretty intense. What was your audition process like?
Oh, it was crazy. At first, I auditioned right after I did Logan, so when I was 11, so I didn't learn the role until I was 13.
Yes, so I did a lot of auditions and then I didn't get called again and I thought, "Oh, well, they've probably given it to another girl." But that was just the because production was frozen. Then they called me back a year later, and I was filming at the time in Puerto Rico. And I'd actually gotten stung by a jellyfish the day I was asked to self-tape. So if you see my self-tape I'm completely... I've got an allergic reaction on my face, and I thought, "Well, I'm definitely not going to get to it." Then I somehow got an email saying they wanted me to meet Ruth Wilson. So I went in and I met Ruth and the rest is history.prevnext
Speaking of Ruth Wilson, one of the things that I particularly watching the series really enjoyed almost... I enjoyed the whole season, but one of the things I enjoyed the most was Lyra's interaction with Marisa Coulter, Ruth's character. What was it like working with her?
Oh, it was mad, I love Ruth. And we work really well together. We have tons of chemistry, and we just go a bit crazy if I'm honest. We rehearse a lot, and then we do the scene and we just add in every take. She's taught me so much.
You also get to work with Lin-Manuel Miranda. He seems like he would just be so delightful to work with. What was it like working with him?
He's one of my favorite people ever, he's amazing. He's so funny. Also, we're both Latin, so we speak in Spanish a lot of the time, and we both love musicals, and like rap and hip hop and stuff. So we just sing and just enjoy music a lot together. I know his kids and his wife, so I go over to lunch at his house and he comes over with me, and we just meet up a lot. And we just have a great time, he's so fun. He's amazing.
It sounds like you've had some really good experiences working with the people in the cast and crew for the series.
Thinking more about the Lyra character, what about Lyra did you most love or most connect with?
I love how real she is. I don't know, I feel like many characters girls see nowadays are unobtainable. They're too put on altars. What I love about Lyra is that she's human. You're not looking up at her ... You think, "Oh, I can be like her, it's in my human capabilities." She's not doing anything that you go, "Well, that's impossible to do." She's just very relatable. And she's amazing because she starts off as a not particularly good child and ends up by the end of the books being this amazing person, but still flawed. Because everyone has flaws.prevnext
There's a bit of a coming of age journey in there for her as well, which is really important to see, especially on a realistic level, like we see with Lyra. What do you think motivates Lyra?
Being good, I think because she sees that being bad just... Firstly, it creates more evil. Evil creates evil. And just by living all of these tragedies that she lives throughout the three books, she discovers that the world is bad enough as it is. So you have to try to make it a better place, or at least try to not make it a worse one. That's, I think, what drives Lyra. Seeing all of these deaths that she's not supposed to see and all of these horrible things which shouldn't be happening.prevnext
When it comes to adaptations of books to any live action, there's always some changes that come just in the translation. It's just the way it is. The written word is different than the visual art form. Given that you've read the books and that you clearly have a wonderful understanding of the character, was there anything specific that you pulled from the books to help inform your portrayal of Lyra? And what was that process like, developing her for screen?
I try not to change what's in the book, but obviously as you said, the written word and the audio visual world is completely different. So obviously you're going to have to change, but I just try to stay as loyal as possible to Philip's portrayal of Lyra. I talked a lot about Lyra with Philip and I read the book a few times now. It's just finding out as much as I can and making her journey as interesting, as different as possible. Meaning that she starts being one way and she finishes being a completely different person.prevnext
Did you see anything of yourself in Lyra and on the other side of that, do you think playing Lyra has taught you anything about yourself?
Yes, I guess Lyra is a really inspirational character. I think she teaches everyone something, but I think what you said about me seeing something of mine in Lyra, well firstly obviously I'm very physical and she's very physical. But beyond that, I think every girl or woman who sees Lyra knows both of those parts in herself. That vulnerable young girl and that strong woman who wants to have the world in her fist. So I guess I can see both of those parts that Lyra has, obviously toned down, because I'm not as you know, as Lyra. But yes, I guess she's a very good portrayal of women without sexualizing them. And I really feel... I don't know, I relate a lot to that and I guess she has taught me to just go after what I want, I guess.prevnext
What would you say was the biggest challenge in filming the first season of His Dark Materials?
I think acting wise, it was just so easy because I had such a great team behind me and my mom's my coach and the crew is amazing and stuff. They were always there supporting me, everyone. I guess the hardest thing was moving away from my country, because I live in Spain and I had to go to Wales and I was basically alone on set for most of the time. So that was... It wasn't hard because the crew was amazing. And I went out with the people from the crew, but I did miss my friends.
Did you have a favorite scene or a favorite part of the series thus far?
I loved filming the finale episode. And a scene I had with Ruth in episode six.prevnext
One of the really cool things about His Dark Materials are the daemons, that extension of the person's soul. I know so much of that is via effects. What was it like performing with something that's so tied to the character, but isn't really there until it's all finished and made pretty?
It's really weird because as you said, they're not actually there. But we had puppets, which is really great. So we had a little puppet animal, which we could act with, and then they pulled the puppet animal out and we had to remember what the puppet had done. But there were some animals, which we actually had. We had a snake called Shaun , who is Ariyon Bakare's [Lord Boreal] snake, which is very cool. We had a gecko, It was the librarian's gecko and we had a few dogs. So a few of them were actually real.
Most of them were the effects and it was just amazing working with it. At the beginning it was really hard because obviously I wasn't used to it, and I didn't know what to do, and it was confusing. But when I was at two weeks in I really enjoyed it. I also got on really well with the puppeteers and I learned so much from the CFX team.prevnext
You've had the opportunity to work with quite a few really incredible actors in your career. I think a lot of audiences are going to recognize you most readily as Laura from Logan, which of course also starred the amazing Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart. What was it like working with both of them? And did you learn anything from them when working on Logan that helped you prepare for His Dark Materials?
Yes, definitely. I guess that Hugh and Patrick really formed me as an actress. Just watching them on camera was amazing. They made me feel really comfortable on set. I had an amazing time, it never felt like working. I never wanted to leave set. They taught me so much, honestly, just... I don't even know what they taught me. It was so intensive that just watching them, I soaked everything they did up like a sponge. This doesn't have to do with acting, but I remember seeing how humble Hugh was with everyone really made me think, "If I ever become famous or whatever I don't want it to get to my head and I want to be as humble and as grounded as Hugh."
Would you ever want to play Laura again if you had the opportunity to do so and bring her into the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Yes, definitely. 100%.prev