His Dark Materials star opens up about that surprise character debut
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Monday’s episode of His Dark Materials titled “The Lost Boy.”
Just as a certain somebody made his introduction to the world of HBO and BBC’s His Dark Materials, actor Amir Wilson got his own introduction to the world of international publicity.
For about a year, the 15-year-old had to keep a pretty major secret. People were already aware that he was to appear in the TV adaptation of Philip Pullman‘s book trilogy as Will Parry, a boy from another world whose fate becomes intertwined with that of Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen). Given the one-season-per-book mantra, it was assumed that arrival wouldn’t come until season 2; Will isn’t referenced at all until the second novel, The Subtle Knife, which serves as the basis for season 2’s story. For Monday’s episode of the show, however, executive producer Jane Tranter and teleplay scribe Jack Thorne changed things up — and Wilson is doing a heck of lot more publicity because of it.
In “The Lost Boy,” we see Lyra going off with Iorek Byrnison to investigate a mysterious town seemingly haunted by a “ghost.” That ghost ends up being Billy Costa, the young Gyptian boy kidnapped and forcibly severed from his daemon by the Gobblers. With the exception of Billy being the child Lyra discovers and not another captured kid, this all seemed on par with what Pullman wrote in The Golden Compass. Then, in the episode’s second story arc, another child is discovered.
In one of the biggest departures from the source material to date, we travel out of Lyra’s reality and into ours to meet Will in the flesh. The boy, who becomes a central character in Pullman’s second and third novels, was first glimpsed in a photograph on the show as Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) hires spies to keep an eye on Will and his mentally ailing mother. Boreal is looking for more information on Will’s crossworld-traveling father, John Parry (to be played by Fleabag‘s Andrew Scott in season 2), a.k.a. Stanislaus Grumman, whom Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) tried to pass off as a dead man in order to continue his Dust research. The Subtle Knife intros Will with a massive confrontation between the boy and these men, but His Dark Materials gives Will a backstory and sets the stage for a bigger arc in season 2.
On Monday, Wilson took a break from shooting a new marketing campaign for the show to talk (for the first time) about his secret season 1 role, entering the world of His Dark Materials, and what’s in store for Will. Though, he’s still under strict orders not to talk about season 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you under strict orders to keep your appearance in season 1 a secret?
AMIR WILSON: Yeah. Very, very, very strict orders. At the premiere, if people were to ask me if I was in season 1, I had to say straight “no.” I hadn’t talked about it with anyone. ‘Cause people knew that I was announced as Will previously, a couple months before I was shown. People thought that was just for season 2 and they timed it so we could film Will’s world just in time for the season 1 premiere. So, yeah, I had to keep it a secret, which was really hard because I wanted to tell people, “I’m in season 1! I’m in season 1!” Had to keep it hush.
How far in advance did you know you would be showing up this early on?
I pretty much found out as soon as I got the role, really. When I got it, I assumed it was just for season 2 and then they told me pretty much straight after that I was going to be in season 1, but not in the same process. I filmed it a month before season 2 started filming. I had a month break between filming Will’s world and starting season 2.
What’s your relationship to the Philip Pullman books? Were you a big fan beforehand?
I knew what the books were and The Golden Compass, I’d seen that. But I hadn’t read the books until I got the part.
What struck you about the books?
There’s always so much going on. You have the start, the plot twist, and then you have the end. There’s just so much going on in different worlds. There’s nothing like it.
Is there anything specific about the character of Will that really helped you understand who this character is?
I knew from the beginning through talks with producers, etc. that Will is a very moral guy. He always does the right thing. He’s just a good character, really. He’s fun to play. He cares for the people who are close to him. I was happy to take on that part.
What was the audition process like for this? I imagine it was all very hush-hush.
Yeah. The audition process for me started over a year ago, actually. I first auditioned for Will at the beginning of 2018, I think it was. Then they said I was too young and then later on – about a year later, so beginning of this year – I got called back again to audition. I never actually met Dafne. I hadn’t met Dafne at all during this process. Dafne had met all the other Wills, but I hadn’t met her because I was away filming another job. During the two-month period I had, which was in January-February, I was auditioning, and I had about five or six auditions before I got the role.
What do you remember when you first met Dafne?
My first meeting with her was in Madrid. I was filming in the Czech Republic at the time, I was filming a Netflix series. I found out I got the role in Prague because that’s where I was filming. They had to do a lot of negotiations and stuff. As soon as I got the role, they said, “We want to set up a meeting between you and Dafne.” So, about two weeks later, they flew me out to Madrid and I met Dafne and her family. We went out for dinner with the producers Dan McCulloch and Roopesh [Parekh] and it was really nice to meet her. She was really lovely from the start. I was quite nervous meeting her, but, no, we got along instantly.
What conversations did you have with Jane and Jack about introducing this character to the world? Did they give you any direction that you found most helpful?
I never really talked to Jane or Jack about Will. I actually worked with Jack before on The Secret Garden last year [for release in 2020], so I knew Jack before this. I think Jack’s great. I love him, he’s so lovely. But, no, we didn’t actually talk much about playing Will. Through reading the scripts, I knew instantly that I loved this character. I liked how he always cared for his mother, that he’ll stand up to anyone. He doesn’t like bullies. That’s what I like about him. He protects the people he cares about.
In terms of the scenes you filmed in season 1 that aren’t chronicled in Pullman’s books, was there anything that surprised you or you found most interesting?
I found it interesting that I was boxing instead of playing piano, but I was quite happy about that. It was really fun. Yeah, I’d rather be boxing… I hadn’t done any boxing lessons before this and then they gave me boxing lessons. Actually, in my audition, they would film me doing works on the [boxing] pads and I was really confused [at the time]. I learned the basics of boxing from doing this.
I noticed Will makes an omelet for his mother, which is the first meal he makes for Lyra when they meet in the books. Were there any fun hidden call-outs like that to the books you found while filming?
The omelet is one of them. The cat. The books and the scripts are very similar. Nothing has really changed for Will in particular. I ate way too many omelets that day. [A publicist mentions the presence of an omelet chef on the show’s set who made endless omelets for this scene.] That scene that you watched, I probably ate 20 omelets.
For a lot of the other actors, it was challenging to work with the puppets on set, but Will, obviously, doesn’t have a daemon in season 1. So, what was the biggest challenge for you in taking on a role like that?
Season 1, nothing was too challenging. The scenes when my mother is very paranoid and she has an illness and I have to care for her and being really frustrated at her but try not to get angry at her, I found that quite hard to play, that level of anger and tentativeness.
Do you ever think about how you can personalize a character like this that’s based on a book or put your own stamp on the character?
Yeah, all the time. Every role I’ve played has been based on a character in a book. I think it’s great. It helps me discover my character more, but I don’t just follow by the books or by the scripts. I like to add myself to the character.
What about Will would you say is you adding yourself to the character?
Good question. I mean, I don’t really think about that. I don’t think about putting myself into Will. I think it comes naturally. I couldn’t actually state one thing or a couple things to make Will my own, but I do it just by reading the scripts, really… It’s quite hard because in the books you don’t get much of Will’s backstory and obviously you get to see Will’s backstory, so there wasn’t much I could relate to in terms of season 1.
A lot of the actors explained how they had a hand in shaping and evolving their characters for the show. Do you feel like you helped evolve this character?
Yeah. Working with Will McGregor, who directed [the scenes in] Will’s world, he helped me discover Will a lot and it was fun. Coming into it, I knew a bit about my character, but coming out, I feel like I knew a lot more.
What was it like just being on set with these practical effects?
We didn’t have many sets for Will’s world in season 1 because it was mainly filmed on location. But, for example, they found the exterior for my house that they liked, but inside the house the staircase, there was a spiral and I don’t think they liked that. So, they rebuilt the house in front of the studio and just changed the stairs… It’s funny because, when I was filming Will’s world, it was a month before season 2 so they were preparing and building all the sets we would come across in season 2. So, looking at all these amazing sets and then it’s just my little house on the corner.
His Dark Materials