The Wheel of Time's Daniel Henney on His Intense Scenes and Departures from the Books

The Wheel of Time continues to intrigue with more fascinating character-building scenes and a few radical departures from the books. Although the popular Amazon Prime series is mostly staying true to the Robert Jordan books it's adapting, the show has made a few interesting departures that have amped up the drama and intrigue. This week, had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Henney about recent episodes and how the show is both staying true to the spirit of the books and the characters, while revealing new depths to his character. We also learn that playing the stoic warder Lan is a dangerous job, as Henney explains how even emotional scenes can leave lingering physical injuries.

(Photo: Amazon Studios) I want to start by talking about Episode 5, which was really Lan-centric and provided some additional insight into the relationship between the Warders and the Aes Sedai. The episode also added some real depth to Lan's personality in how he mourned Stepin's death in this really powerful scene. How did you prepare for those scenes? And what do you think that sequence – from Lan discovering Stepin's body to then publically mourning him – how does that reflect on Lan's character and personality?

Daniel Henney: Well, it was a tricky scene because we know that it's a departure from Lan of the books When I first saw the scripts for that, I was a little bit trepidatious. Because as an actor, I thought, first of all, "How the hell am I going to do this?" Because it was written that he's wailing on his knees in front of his dead friend, in front of all this procession. And it was just a very scary notion. Not to mention the emotional ramifications, and also how it differs from Lan in the books. 

But when I started to realize how much that helps reinforce the depth of the relationship between a Warder and Aes Sedai, and in a visual medium, how important that is, how impactful that can be, I think it turned out quite well. With Rosamund [Pike] in the scene with me, it was very helpful to sort of draw on her energy. And she's so fantastic that everything kind of happened naturally. So I think it's really special.

I think that Lan, to a lot of people, represents this sort of incredibly strong, stoic warrior, this masculine figure. And I honestly don't feel like any of that is lost with a scene like that because, in our show, he's human. And if you lose someone to you that is a brother, or even possibly a father figure, because Stepin's older than Lan... And Lan was an orphan. And he was mostly likely looking for that connection his whole life. And I think that's a really profound moment for a man to confront.

I had friends of mine who'd watched that scene, and they were just really affected by it from an interesting "guy's" standpoint. They said that, "It really hit me in ways that, from a guy's standpoint, I hadn't even felt before." And I thought that meant we were hitting something right. 

And so, it was really tricky. I just created a playlist of songs that helped get me there emotionally. And I had that date marked on the calendar. I knew when that scene was coming. And it was a tough day, man. It was eight hours of beating my chest. And afterwards, I didn't realize that I'd beat my chest too hard, but I had a black and blue chest and shoulder for about two weeks afterwards.

Oh man.

Henney: Yeah, it was intense.

I loved that scene. I was really surprised to see how the fan reaction was so...diverse, let's put it that way. But the thing that really struck me about the scene was that Lan was very vulnerable in front of Nynaeve. The two of them have this relationship, and this bond that's growing. So what  I took away from it was Lan really opening himself up in front of this person who he has a growing affection towards. And that was just really powerful and striking to me. And watching Zoë Robins' reactions to your acting, it really just brought that entire scene together.

Henney: Well, thank you. Yeah. I think a lot was revealed when they had that conversation in Episode Four, where he's praying, and she walks up to him. Nyaneve talks about her parents and the Old Tongue, and he gets a better idea of what she's went through. And I think that Lan has a profound moment with her there, because I think he can relate to her immediately, knowing what she's went through. Even though he was an infant when all this happened to him. But growing up as a boy with no home, a king with no kingdom, I mean, imagine what that does to one growing up. 

And so, I think there's comfort in knowing that someone has been through something similar or shares similar emotion to you. And I think he feels a safety with her immediately. And he's also really curious and impressed by her strength. He sees so much in her, and I think that's why there's this interest. But it's interesting you notice that, because most people have highlighted the connection with Moiraine and Lan in that scene. But I always thought that Nynaeve being present was very powerful as well.

(Photo: Amazon Studios)

In the most recent episode, we see Moiraine's subterfuge and manipulation come forward in a way that we really haven't seen before in the show. And Lan is one of the few people who, not only does he understand Moiraine, but he's also probably one of the few people who understands her true goals. But at the same time, we've seen Lan build these relationships with people like Nynaeve, or being tasked to protect people like Rand and Egwene. So how do you think Lan feels about all the manipulation that we see in this episode? Because she's compartmentalizing and withholding information from just about everybody.

Henney:  The simple answer for that, I think, is that he knows that it's for the greater good. He has ultimate trust in her. And they've been on this journey for over 20 years together, searching for the Dragon Reborn. So they've had plenty of time to discuss situations that may come up like this. He would probably expect nothing more than for her to find a way to make this work. And that's what she's doing, ultimately, is trying to find a way to make this work. 

She is sort of playing a red herring, here and there. Obviously, you see the relationship between the Amyrlin Seat and her, with Siuan. I think that Lan is well aware of this relationship, obviously, because you see that scene where he says, "Give her my love."

The only thing that I think he is taken aback by, is when she masks the bond, the way she does there. And you see him come in, and he says, "You masked the bond, and we're in a place where I need to protect you. I can't protect you if I can't feel you." And so, these are things he takes issue with, because he is duty-oriented. So he has ultimate trust in her when she's doing what she has to do to, ultimately, get to their goal. Which in this episode is getting these kids to the Waygate. But the only thing he takes exception at is when she masks the bond. But you see that he understands why.

One of the other really big scenes in this episode, is when Moiraine cleanses Mat of some of the corruption from the dagger from Shadar Logath, and I saw that as a turning point in the relationship between Moiraine, Lan and Rand. Because Rand and Lan have this pretty big bond in the books.

Henney: Sure.

While it was Mat's decision to pick up the dagger, Lan was the one who led him to that point. Could you talk a little bit about that scene and watching Mat kind of get cleansed? Because there's a lot of, once again, misdirection in that scene. And I was hoping you could kind of walk us through it a little bit.

Henney: That's very perceptive, because I think that most people would not pick up on that. And I play that as much as I can, as I think, Lan does feel some guilt for having taken them to Shadar Logoth. So when he sees what's happened to Mat, especially in that scene, he does feel some responsibility there. A little backstory on that scene was that Barney Harris was doing such a fantastic job acting that day, that he actually kneed me in the head and I went down for an hour.

Henney: It was so intense. But, to answer your question, Lan has a bond with these boys, and especially with Rand here. And he sees Rand torn between what's happening with his friend, and potentially what's happening within himself. And I think Lan is slowly going to feel this connection with Rand and sort of start finding himself going more toward Rand. 

I can't give way too much. You know what happens in the books. But you're going to see that start to unfold. And that scene was very powerful, and that moment was powerful for Lan as well. You see, there's a couple looks there, especially when he first walks in, that I tried to sell that. But yeah, you'll see more as we move forward.

So my last question, and it takes us to the very end of the episode, is where the party has been gathered once again. There's another big departure from the books, in which Mat doesn't enter the Ways with the rest of the party. Obviously, I don't want you to spoil what's going to happen in the rest of the season, but what do you think are the repercussions of that decision? Especially given what we saw with Mat, earlier in the episode. How do you think that's going to play out? Was Lan surprised at all by Mat's decision not to continue on this journey?

Henney: It's funny. You asked me how I think it's going to play out, and I know exactly how it's going to play out.

At this point, anything that Mat does, you're not surprised by it. So what I think that scene did do, and it is a departure from the books, it did up the stakes for the younger cast. By them going into the Waygate and Mat not coming with them, not only are they dealing with what's lying ahead inside of the Ways...Which the Ways are incredible. They built this set the size of a football field, and they essentially built the Ways. And everything that they are confronted with there, where if you've read the books, all these things that exist in a Ways. And they're dealing with their friend not coming with them.

So, that really helps up the stakes for actors, because they're dealing with multiple different emotions and questions within their heads. And we know that there's other things that arise in the Ways that make them question their own thoughts. And so, that's one of their thoughts that we were able to play with. That's why it was kind of helpful for him to stay out. But I think that we'll see more of that.

New episodes of The Wheel of Time debut every Friday on Amazon Prime.