Ever since it premiered on 8 November, His Dark Materials has lured in audiences with its fantastical tale of mystery and intrigue. Adapted from Philip Pullman’s award-winning trilogy of the same name, the series is one of the top five most watched series on HBO Asia’s streaming platform HBO GO since its debut last month.
The HBO Original drama however will come to an epic conclusion on Tuesday, December 24, at 10am exclusively on HBO GO and HBO (Astro Ch 411 / 431 HD). Ahead of the series’ finale executive producer, Jack Thorne lifts the veil behind the making of the series.
you a fan of the books before you became involved with the show?
I was a fan, I was a big fan. I had just finished doing ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’, the stage play, and I was talking to Jane’s [Tranter] partner, Julie [Gardner] on email about various different things. I said, “I hear you’re doing His Dark Materials,” and she said, “Do you want to meet Jane and talk to her about it?” I’ve got to say my first response was, “No, I don’t want to go anywhere near those worlds ever again. They’re scary and terrifying, and I’m going to mess it up and I don’t want to do it,” and everything else, but then I just went back to the books and went, “I just desperately want to delve into this world.” The opportunity was too great to not go through the inevitable pain and heartbreak, which is how the process turned out.
about the books drew you in?
I read them when they first came out. It’s interesting, all the fantastical elements, but I think the thing that first drew me in was that of the strange relationship between Lyra and her parents, and the joy of that, and these incredibly well written characters that had so much life and depth to them. Andrew Davies said this thing about adaptation that really it’s always all about the characters and it’s about choosing whose story you’re telling. Obviously, Philip is very clear on whose story this is. This is Lyra’s story. But the more that you read the books, the more these other characters just leap at you and start shouting and they’re incredible for that. He weaves incredible fantasy worlds, but the characters he fills these worlds with are so dense and interesting and I think that’s pretty rare in a fantasy.
its simplest level what is His Dark Materials about?
The thing I love most about these stories is that it’s a story of a girl, Lyra, going into the most incredible places and making the simplest moral choices. In so many of these Marvel comics and what’s popular in fantasy at the moment, it’s all about greatness, it’s all about saving the world. Lyra is very simple: she always wants to do the good thing. Sometimes she doesn’t know what the good thing is, sometimes she gets a bit lost morally, but she always has that drive within her and following her journey through these incredible landscapes, that’s the story of His Dark Materials.
are the deeper themes it touches on?
I think it’s that question of what we are at our essence, and what should drive us, and who we should be. I think it’s that deep. That’s the great advantage of fantasy: that you can ask those sorts of big questions and he does it effortlessly. If you follow the story of Will, Lyra, Asriel, Mrs Coulter and so on throughout the books, you see people all of whom have a very different relationship with that question of who we should be. They’re all challenged in different ways.
Ultimately, the victor in the stories is Lyra because she’s followed that path of goodness and she hasn’t wavered from it. I think that’s what’s special about the books and it’s really difficult to do that. He’s such a beautiful and humane writer to find those truths. I think it was a massive success because it’s a phenomenal piece of literature. I hope one of the things that the TV show will do is bring it to an even wider audience and allow new people to discover this. I really hope that we’ve celebrated these books and that we encourage people to turn back to these books and see the magnificence for themselves.
world is it set in?
I think for Philip, that it’s from the Lutheran Church onwards, so it’s a 17th century world but Lyra’s world is a parallel world to our own. It’s a world where the Magisterium, a religious order who seek to control thought, have enormous power. It’s a world where your dæmons are out and about with you. It’s a world where certain things have been developed in different ways, but they still exist. The electricity is there, but the majority of travel is done by airship. If you’re traveling large distances, you don’t get on a stagecoach, you get on an airship. It has similarities to ours but it’s different.
It must have been a challenge even to get the first book in to eight hours of television…
The process of writing these scripts, it’s been the most difficult thing I’ve ever been a part of. We went through over 40 drafts of episode one of this show. The reason why we went through 40 drafts is because there is so much information that you had to establish in setting up this world. What you realise is that the questions that Philip leaves hanging are really important questions to leave hanging. I’ve adapted quite a few things now and the task I always set myself is to follow a truth of the books – you can’t always follow the facts, you can’t always put everything in the same order but you’re trying to please a reality, a televisual reality of the books rather than necessarily the factual reality of these books.
Novels have got the great ability to go inside someone’s head, and when you go inside someone’s head, you can elevate things, and we don’t have that. But we’ve got an advantage that novels don’t have, which is we’ve got the actors’ faces. In this story that we tell, a huge amount is told through Ruth Wilson’s face for instance. An incredible actress: I wrote a scene, which is just her sitting beside a bath on her own, and I wrote what she might be feeling in that moment, and then you see her do it, and you just see something magnificent occur. The amazing thing we’ve got in this show is the most ridiculous cast. The process of writing the scripts, particularly once we started filming, was a process of just trusting their faces to do a lot of the telling.
Philip Pullman involved in the process?
Phillip was involved. We met Phillip a few times and talked. There’s a lot of information we found out from him and it was always about “So-and-so is doing this here and so-and-so is doing that here, so what was the bit they were doing in between?” and trying to plot journeys and trying to understand things. But also, I was trying to get a sense of him, and trying to get a sense of who he is, and why he tells stories the way he tells them. That helps you find the truth in the story.