It all comes down to Lyra (Dafne Keen) and Will (Amir Wilson) in the final season of HBO’s His Dark Materials. Based on the bestselling trilogy by Philip Pullman, the upcoming third season tackles The Amber Spyglass, the heart-wrenching final chapter of Lyra and Will’s story. With the introduction of angels and several iconic moments from the novel being brought to life onscreen, His Dark Materials‘ final season will likely be its most memorable. As executive producer Jane Tranter told us in our roundtable discussion, “Philip wrote one of the most iconic and memorable and moving endings in literature. I think landing that ending properly was an extraordinary thing to witness, particularly from actors that young.”
As part of New York Comic Con, Nerds & Beyond was able to chat with James McAvoy (Lord Asriel), Wilson, and executive producers Tranter and Dan McCulloch about getting the right tone for the end of the series, the expansion of Asriel’s role from the novel, why fans will love the final installment, and more!
Note: Responses may be edited for clarity.
Nerds & Beyond: This season in particular is not just difficult to create from a logistical perspective, but also from an emotional one. Some of the most iconic scenes (and some of the saddest scenes) in the whole series are in this season, along with watching Amir and Dafne grow up on screen as well. From your perspective as producers, what was it like seeing those scenes come to life finally after so many years?
Dan McCulloch: It was, it was… [laughs] I guess we’ll probably … decompress in about six months or so. [laughs] We’re kind of still in the middle of just trying to get it right, every single shot. We’re still working with VFX, we’re still working in mixes, so I don’t know. In some ways it’s hard to answer. But I do know that we found it. I do know that we work very closely with what is an incredible cast, and that we found something interesting. With Ruth Wilson [Mrs. Coulter], she just always delivered something that was slightly left to center, slightly right of center, always surprised you. That was when you always knew you were kind of alive and making something that wasn’t just a fantasy retelling. It felt like so much more than that. It felt kind of urgent and it had an imperative and it had something to say. Working with the cast and working with the writers, it always felt very alive at the, at the center of it, which I think comes across. I hope it does.
Nerds & Beyond: Amir, as Will’s partner is Lyra in the story, your partner over the years has been Dafne. What has it been like building that relationship together, particularly with this season? It has so much emotional stuff for both of you, and particularly the way it ends…
Amir Wilson: Yeah, yeah!
Nerds & Beyond: There’s so much there.
Amir Wilson: Well, yeah, definitely. She’s been my partner in crime for the last few years and she’s brilliant. My job’s easy when you have a good script and a good actress to work alongside. She’s amazing. She’s so talented. Being able to work with her has been the best.
Nerds & Beyond: What was your process like getting into this season, knowing that there was a lot of heavier stuff ahead and knowing that you were trying to stick the landing of something that means a lot to so many people?
Amir Wilson: It’s always hard when you are portraying someone who’s already been portrayed in a book and then these fans have an attachment to this character. You always want to do it justice and make sure that the people are happy with what you do, and you can only hope that you do that. I touched on it earlier, but I’d grown up in between filming and got a sense of myself. I bettered myself as an actor and I knew more about what I was doing. And I only hope that that comes off in the show.
Nerds & Beyond: James, I know that you’re a huge fan of the books. Were there any moments in season three that you were excited to a) film or b) see being filmed? And do you feel like they’ve stuck the landing with this ending as a fan yourself?
James McAvoy: Yeah, I do. I’ve not watched the season so I don’t know. [laughs] I don’t enjoy watching my own work, so I hope they’ve stuck the landing and I’m sure they have. I was really pleased with what they did with Asriel in season one and how we treated him. I ultimately was really pleased with the journey that we charted in season three. Now, have they edited it all differently and edited out all the bits that I thought were great and kept all the bits that I thought were bad? [laughs] Maybe, I don’t know, we’ll soon find out! But I felt really proud of what we committed to digital film… to tape… I don’t what we say these days! [laughs] To hard drive!
And, I felt really proud of the gaps that we filled in on behalf of the fans in portraying Asriel [this season]. Because he’s not in the books that much. Not even season three, not even book three is he in the books that much. If we’re gonna add stuff of his, it has to add to the overall experience. It can’t be like, “Oh, we added this bit, but it was a bit meh because it wasn’t in the books.” We didn’t need to put it in at all. If we’re adding stuff, it needs to be something that augments and not detracts.
That was actually an anxiety for me because the stuff that’s in the books is great as it is. You could just keep me in it for five minutes and it would be brilliant! It would be fine. Can we invent stuff that’s as good as the bar set so high by Philip Pullman, which is a big task — way to bite off more than you can chew! But I think we riff off the relationship with Coulter really well. We riff off the ideals and the rhetoric that he uses to employ and recruit the coalition of nations and species and races that take this fight to the heavens. And then ultimately the challenge that Lyra represents to his ego as well. His megalomaniacal approach to rebellion is challenged by her, just this little girl who’s got more power than he’ll ever have.
The first two episodes of His Dark Materials season 3 will premiere on Monday, December 5 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max. Stay tuned for more of our NYCC coverage!