The Shannara Chronicles panel at New York Comic Con kicked off with a first look at the upcoming television adaptation of Terry Brook’s best-selling fantasy novels. The clip offers up a sneak peek at Earth thousands of years in the future as the fate of the world rests upon the protection of a magical tree — the Ellcrys. But when the tree begins to die, it’s up to a trio of heroes to save humanity against an army of demons. The first season is based off of Brooks’ The Elfstones of Shannara.
Panelists Poppy Drayton, Austin Butler, Manu Bennett, John Rhys-Davies, along with Brooks, Al Gough, Miles Millar, and director Jonathan Liebesman joined TV Guide’s Damian Holbrook onstage to dish all about the upcoming adaptation, slated to hit MTV on Jan. 5.
The process to bring the epic tale to the small screen began some 10 years previous, according to Brooks, when Dan Farah approached him about a possible adaptation. And as more began to join their team – including executive producer Jon Favreau – the project seemed like a better fit for a television series, given that there was a great deal of material to cover.
“A lot of the very smart writing was being done on television, we had noticed,” Brooks said, “and some of the best acting was being done on television, and it seemed to me that it was just the right time.”
Smallville creators and Shannara Chronicles’ executive producers Gough and Millar were sent the book two and a half years ago in anticipation of bringing the project to life, and Gough explained his surprise that no one had attempted it before.
“People compare it to other fantasy stuff in the genre but to us it’s closer to Star Wars, because I think what’s interesting about Shannara is, again, for us, Shannara isn’t a place, it’s a family, like the Skywalkers. And they’re the only ones with magic. I think there’s just so much in the book because it’s our world in the future — so somehow it’s much more relatable.”
Finding the right actors was essential for getting the project up and running, with the trio of Eretria, Amberle, and Wil as well as the powerful Druid, Allanon played by Bennett — though, he isn’t 7 feet tall. And, of course, Rhys-Davies takes the screen not as a dwarf like in Lord of the Rings, but as an Elven King.
“The casting is brilliant. I mean,” Rhys-Davies said, “just the chance to see Poppy wearing tight leather kicking ass is worth the entrance fee.”
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Millar assured fans Shannara will be a “full-throttle” ride from start to finish: “This show never stops. We have a strict no-boring rule.”
Other takeaways from the panel:
- Gough knew Butler from his days on The CW’s Carrie Diaries, describing the young actor’s role in the series as “basically the James Spader in every 80s movie.” For this part, he would have the opportunity to ride horses and use a sword – basically everything he hoped to do as a kid.
- Along with Amberle, Wil acts as the “emotional core” of the show, and they needed someone with both empathy and the physicality to pull off the role.
- Drayton explained her role was nothing like her part on Downton Abbey, and each day was like an “adventure.” And while she’s a princess and was taught to be diplomatic, she has a fierce side, “like a killer inside of her that’s just dying to get out.”
- Filming for the adaptation took place in New Zealand, and expect the visual effects to be kicked up a notch.
- Shannara has not one, but two female leads: “With the show, to Terry’s credit because this is way ahead of the curve, it was a story with two incredible female protagonists, not only Amberle but Eretria as well. And Wil is sometimes the guy who knows the least in the situation and then he sort of grows to become the hero.”
- Drayton almost lost an eye while filming a scene with Butler: “I’m looking in her eyes and her eyeball is bleeding and I didn’t know that could happen, so I thought she was forcing blood out of her eye. I thought ‘This is impressive, this English actress is so incredible.’ Little did I know she actually got impaled in her cornea.” Ouch.
- Rhy-Davies assured fans this will be one to watch: “Everything is right, I will lay my shirt but this is going to be one of the big hits of all time. The Shannara Chronicles are going to be amazing.”