THE MAGICIANS Season 2 Scoop: Interview With Jason Ralph

How far the characters of Syfy’s THE MAGICIANS have come. They began their long, arduous journey of self-discovery and acquiring the magical skills and tools they would need to not only navigate life, but also to potentially save an entire magical realm of Fillory from extinction.  In Season 2, things do not get any easier or less conflicted, in fact, the heightened danger only exacerbates and expands.  To find out a bit more about Quentin’s personal journey and struggles he confronts, we had the opportunity to talk with star Jason Ralph, who revealed what is happening in Season 2.

When you got the Season 1 finale script, did you have a moment of terror?
JASON:  A lot of this stuff is plotted out because it’s from the books, so we all read the books and we were all really big fans of those and knew of the fun surprises.  It was more of: how are we going to get to these big events? So like that moment coming up in the Season 1 finale script was exciting because the realization that we were going to spread out the final battle from book one. It’s like the end of a book, and we got to stretch it out over several episodes over at least half a season, which was kind of exciting to know that we have the time to really excavate all of that juicy meat.

We know starting up in Season 2 that of course they cannot be dead, and things are going to get kind of chaotic in  Fillory — that there’s going to be the kings’ and queens’ crowning and the things like that. So their lives are changing quite considerably.  They’re no longer just students in school; they’re suddenly having to rule a nation, so to speak.
JASON:  Kind of. I mean they become kings and queens, but at that point, Quentin’s kind of over the idea of it — the enchantment of the experience, or of what he thought it would be, has begun to fade because this thing that he loves and has been hoping for forever has kind of turned against him. And because, for me, the reason that he wants those things is and why he’s fleeing the reality of real life is because reality gives you no black and white. There’s no right and wrong, and there’s no good and evil. Everything is gray, and that, I think for someone with a personality like his, that is frustrating and overwhelming, and why he is drawn to fantasy — and this particular fantasy novel “Fillory and Further” because it is so simple. And the principals are rooted in the land that there is good and there is bad, and there are heroes and there are villains. And he gets there and finds out that the land of fantasy is just, if not more, gray than reality. Even to the extant that this villain, our big bad, we find out isn’t just operating from a place of just mustache twirling. He is a person who had a really traumatic childhood experience, and fled to a land where he felt safe, and the reason he became the person he did is because he was being pushed out of his safe place, and all he’s trying to do is hold on for dear life so that he doesn’t have to face his fears. And that is like, well then how is that man the bad guy? So there’s a real moral dilemma, and even trying to take down the bad guy, the ramifications of his actions are real and are bad for a lot of people around him, but still it’s complicated and that’s frustrating. So the journey is about having to let go of what he hoped these places would be, and accept the reality of them.

We also find out fairly quickly that Fillory doesn’t really have the magic that they’re looking for either, they were hoping it would be the answer to perfect magic and, unfortunately, it has some issues with it’s magic.
JASON:  Well, and that’s because of the Beast (Charles Mesure).  He is kind of draining the magic on Fillory, which turns out is the source of magic everywhere. So if magic died from Fillory, it dies on Earth and it dies everywhere. It’s like, what does that mean? Like, are airplanes magic? Boeing, is he a wizard? We talk about all these famous inventors who were actually using magic to further humanity along. So if magic disappears, are airplanes just going to start dropping out of the sky? Like what’s going to happen? All these that things we kind of take for granted that we, as Muggles, have no idea what’s holding all of it together. So there’s real consequence there.

When you were preparing for the role, did you study sign language or play musical instruments to get some idea of how to do the hand gestures?
JASON:  We weren’t sure what it was going to be. Lev Grossman describes the magic being done by intricate finger positions. For the characters in the book series, the learning of that was like learning to play the piano. At first, you can’t reach that key, but it’s about stretching and the constant practice. So eventually people just have crazy weird hands, and you’d be able to walk down the street and you’d know a magician because you could see his hands. They’re just strong and dexterous. So we didn’t know in shooting the pilot, as the actors, we really didn’t have an idea of how that was going to be represented, and it just turned out that there was this really kind of exciting break dance hitting around the same time, called finger tutting, which is like break-dancing with your fingers.  Tutting. So we took that idea and took the lyricism out of it, and made it a little bit more practical.  So that’s where the tutting came from. We have a choreographer, who is a break dancer, who choreographs all these intricate movements, and then puts them online, and we watch videos and practice them, and then he’ll come to set, and he’ll in tailor it slightly to what we’re good at. And we all have different fingers: I have these big sausage fingers, so they don’t do the things that I often hope they would.  So the camera is there to help. So much of the magic on this show, as opposed to being about how it’s done, it’s about it’s intention. So it’s easier to get away with not being the best tutter.

Can you talk a little bit about the Quentin and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) relationship? It went though a lot of roller coaster motions in the first season, and it looks like they’re not quite back in a position where they’re together again in the second season. Where’s that relationship going?
JASON:  The Alice and Quentin relationship is complicated. They both hurt each other. The relationship is in a place of turmoil, and because of the circumstances, they’re really not allowed to confront that together. They don’t have the luxury to sit down and have the important conversation that they have to have, because they’re stuck in a life or death scenario, where they must plan and then attack. So the beginning of this season, it’s kind of about that, and in different moments each of them kind of wanting to reach out, and the other person isn’t quite ready or in the position to do that, or there’s just not the fucking time.  The relationship evolves through the season, and it becomes something entirely new, and they learn a tremendous amount about each other in a way that is entirely unexpected, and utterly fantastic.

Does Quentin still want to rescue Jules (Stella Maeve) or he so pissed at her that he doesn’t feel that way?
JASON:  It’s kind of the same kind of thing — this idea of black and white. You’re not allowed to just be mad anyone, because  there are these two warring nations: there’s Team Julia, and there’s Team Brakebills, who are after the same goal of killing Beast (Charles Mesure) and saving magic. The way they want to do that and the way that they have plotted the other things they need along the way to get that done are very different. And Quentin is kind of stuck in the middle, having fully understood why Julia made the choices that she made, and understands why she must do what she’s doing, but if he could just get the two parities to communicate with each other, so much more could be accomplished so much quicker. So that’s kind of the struggle there, but no, he can’t just be mad at her because he’s a human being.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far for Quentin this season as opposed to last season?
JASON:  Last season was about firsts. First time of so many things, so many experiences, everything was brand new, and a little bit glossy, and this season we take the time to really wallow and thoroughly explore grief and sacrifice and letting go. And so if last season was about Quentin adding things to his personality and saying, “This will make me more the person I think I am,” this season is about him seeing these things that he’s added and that they’ve actually not been of any help at all, and it’s about him stripping away to become – maybe not a better person, but a more clear version of him.

What do you think is the transformation for the rest of the characters? Obviously, everybody’s taking on a lot more responsibility than they probably ever assumed that they’d have at this point in their lives, they took on the king and queen roles, and they’re still taking on these roles where they’re trying to pursue a bad villain who wants to do something fairly devastating.  They had a party attitude last year and  everybody wanted to pretend they didn’t have responsibilities, but now they have a lot more.
JASON:  Yeah, that’s true. The characters are becoming the people that they said they wanted to be, and are coming to terms with that. And having to face the consequences of saying, “No, I don’t want to be the party person anymore, I want to be part of the team.” Well now, what does is mean to be a part of the team? And what are the sacrifices they have to make to uphold that promise? It’s a lot of growing up.

With there being the three books, and there being points that have been hit already last season and starting with this season, what’s one thing  that hasn’t been touched on but you wish it had, or hope it gets touched on?
JASON:  Well, one of my favorite moments will happen this season.  For people who are fans of the books, there’s a line that we didn’t get to say, but they’ll know where we’re going.  Alice wakes up and says, “Quentin, you’ve changed your hair.” That’s one of my favorite lines in the series. But it is because of its context.

You mentioned something very important: the hero’s journey. What do you think your character Quentin’s hero’s journey should be compared to what it is?
JASON:  The point is: there isn’t one.  And that’s the lesson to learn. Life is not about fate. Life is not about luck. Life is about the work you’re willing to put in to get what you want and the sacrifices you’re willing to make to get there — and that is the lesson he’s learning. I think it’s the lesson that rang true to me in reading the books, and its part of why I was interested in telling this story.

Has Quentin really grasped the danger of Reynard (Mackenzie Astin)?
JASON:  He’s mostly the main threat for Julia and the main antagonist. Reynard’s Earth-bound. The Beast can follow you anywhere. The Beast has apparently been targeting Quentin for a long time. That is the immediate danger. I think the challenge for Quentin early on in this season is balancing two different ways of attacking the same problem. We want to get rid of the Beast. That also means we want to get rid of Reynard. Julia has one way of doing it and the rest of the group has a different way. I think Quentin is in the middle understanding both sides of the story and trying to force them to communicate.

In Season 1, there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered like: Who was the Beast? What is Fillory? Who is the Chatwins and Plumber and everything. Are there as many questions in Season 2 and what are some of the big ones that you are pursuing?
JASON:  A lot of the questions, and especially for Quentin, are bigger, but also more existential. They’re more inward-facing. What’s cool is in Season 1 we got a little snippet of a lot of these different worlds. We were looking through a peephole.  They’re looking through the chink in the wall. So Quentin’s looking through the chink at these different worlds. This season we really get to see the expansiveness of all of them and in seeing a lot of the dangers and complications — and the good things about those worlds are allowed to shine through even brighter.

My favorite scene from the first season was Quentin’s fantasy with Julia and with Alice where we see him as Indiana Jones and they’re Princess Leia.  What is some of the humor and the fun of this season for you? Are there those other moments of irreverence and lightness amidst all the darkness and depression?
JASON:  There is some. I feel like there is less for Quentin in this season, slightly. It’s hard for me inside of it to really talk about the things that are funny because they’re rarely funny to the characters. My experience inside a lot of those moments –like when I’m wracking my brain for, “Oh, what were the fun things?” Nothing comes to mind.  They’re all just wrought with turmoil.  I think it’s really interesting to me reading “The Magicians” — I read the book after I saw the first season and obviously right up front in the pilot they’re open about Quentin’s depression, whereas in the book it’s very clear if you’re reading it you see it. He keeps facing these bouts of depression and expectations versus reality of like, “Oh, if only magic was real then I’d be happy.” Well, magic’s real. Or “Well, if only Fillory was real, I’d be happy.” Well, I go to Fillory and I’m still not happy. Why do you think that that was important to lay bare and call it what it is in the show? Does that give you any more freedom with that darker depiction of Quentin as someone who’s constantly struggling with these feelings?  I’m hesitant to say that Quentin is clinically depressed. I prefer the phrase “existentially” depressed.  Like the way he feels about himself could be fixed by medication. I feel like despite medication and therefore despite getting magic and despite being able to go to Fillory and despite all of the positive things that happened to his life, that it’s still something that haunts him.  Depression is so tricky. In saying that I’m kind of like, “Well, that’s sort of his depression.”  I don’t think he has the luxury of being depressed right now. I don’t think it’s something you necessarily have the luxury for.  It was just something that struck me as an interesting and intentional difference that that was something that was introduced at the beginning of the series.  I think it’s important to set him up as someone who is in his own way. That’s why I guess I am hesitant about using the descriptor “depression” because I think it’s a really sensitive cultural issue and I think it’s something that we don’t understand as a society and I think it’s easy to say like, “Oh, that’s something that people are doing to themselves. If they just get over it.” That’s not how it works. I think whatever Quentin is going through that is how it works. I think a lot of his anxieties and neuroses and self-hatred and self-loathing and perpetual disappointment can and will be solved with inward reflection. Yeah, I think he keeps expecting external things to fix how he’s feeling and they aren’t and they don’t, and you certainly need to find peace within yourself.

What would you most like people to know about Season 2?
JASON:  If you liked Season 1, Season 2 is more exciting, and will also give you an opportunity to experience more of all three of these worlds that we’re a part of: Brakebills’ and New York and Fillory, and to understand how they interact with each other, and how they bump into each other, and how they influence each other’s survival.

To see if Quentin and Team Brakebills can successfully stop both the Beast and Reynard from their hell-bent paths of terror and destruction, be sure to tune in for the premiere of THE MAGICIANS on Wednesday, January 25th on Syfy.