Interview with Sera Gamble and Jason Ralph from "The Magicians" on Syfy - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Sera Gamble and Jason Ralph

Interview with Sera Gamble and Jason Ralph of "The Magicians" on Syfy 1/19/16

Moderator: Maureen Granados
January 19, 2016 4:30 p.m. ET

Operator: Good afternoon. My name is (Erin) and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to ďThe MagiciansĒ conference call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakerís remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question during this time, simply press star then the number one on your telephone keypad. If you would like to withdraw your question, press the pound key. Thank you.

(Maxine), you may begin your conference.

Maxine: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the conference call for ďThe MagiciansĒ which premieres on January 25th at 9/8 central on Syfy. Today, weíre joined by executive producer, Sera Gamble and Jason Ralph who plays Quentin Coldwater. We only have half an hour for this call, so letís go straight to the questions. Erin?

Operator: At this time, if you would like to ask a question, please press star then the number one on your telephone keypad. Weíll pause for just a moment to compile the Q&A roster. Your first question comes from the line of (Jamie Ruby) at (Sci Fi Vision). Your line is open.

Jamie Ruby: Hello?

Female: Hi.

Jason Ralph: Hello.

(Multiple Speakers)

Jamie Ruby: OK. (I didnít know if) you could hear me. Thanks for this call. Iím really loving the show so far.

Sera Gamble: Thank you.

Jamie Ruby: I was wondering -- well, first part for Jason, did you read the book before you auditioned, or after you auditioned, at some point?

Jason Ralph: I read them during the audition process and before it ended, I had become like a very quick and very rabid fan.

Jamie Ruby: OK. Great. And can you both talk about how the story is going to kind of be similar and yet differ from the book series story-wise? Things like that.

Sera Gamble: Well, I think the first most obvious difference that the fans will notice when they tune in is that weíve aged the characters up a little bit. Quentin is 17 when you meet him in the book, and he is more like 22 in our television show. They are headed into graduate school. And we did that for a number of creative and practical reasons.

But when we realized that this is a choice we might have to make, John McNamara, my writing partner and I, took it very seriously. We didnít want to change anything from the books that we didnít have to, so we sat down with Lev Grossman, the author, and hashed out what that change would mean and we all realized we really loved it. So, I think thatís been for the best.

And I think throughout the season, weíll be hitting a lot of the greatest hits of book one. We sometimes come at them a little bit differently. We say we have the same general roadmap but we sometimes take slightly different roads than Lev did in the books.

Jamie Ruby: OK. Great. Thank you so much. Like I said, I really love the first two episodes.

Sera Gamble: Thank you.

Jason Ralph: Thanks very much.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Jill Pantozzi) of (The Nerdy Bird). Your line is open.

Jill Pantozz: Thanks, guys. I was wonderingÖIím a fan of the book and I think I didnít notice this much when Iím reading, but when you see the characters come to life on screen, it was really great to see how many women there were versus men, where on TV these days, itís usually shows dominated by men. Do you think you could speak a bit about the women? Both the actors of the show and the characters?

Sera Gamble: Should I take this one, Jason? I mean, we inherited these great female characters from Lev and one of the great things about making this as a TV show is we get to deep dive into more of the characters. I think when you read the books, you first and foremost are kind of inside the experience of Quentin Coldwater. But because we spend many, many hours in this world, we get to spend a lot of time in Juliaís point of view and a lot of time in Aliceís point of view.

And itís not something I think about when Iím writing. Itís just sort of -- we break the story in the room and we do what makes instinctual sense to us. But I do have to say that in the editing room, there are times when there are scenes that are three female characters talking about these important things that are happening in their lives and all the conflict thatís going on. And as a viewer in that moment, I get a little charge. I get excited to see all of these interesting three-dimensional female characters kind of figuring their shit out together.

Jill Pantozz: Very cool. And I would just ask, are there any stories that either of you read growing up that grabbed you the way that this series has grabbed so many fans?

Jason Ralph: I grew up with the Harry Potter series and had had a very similar experience with that. But I say strangely enough, like the strongest experience Iíve had to a story is this made-up oneĖ called Fillory. And I donít know what it is. But the time when I, as Quentin Coldwater, get to talk about Fillory, like my body, all the nerves in my body just spark and my brain goes crazy and I canít think and I canít make words because Iím so in love this like make-believe world. And itís very strange and I canít explain it.

Jill Pantozz: Awesome. Sera, any for you?

Sera Gamble: I loved the Chronicles of Narnia. When I was a little kid, I read those many, many times. And I also gravitated strongly towards just classic fairy tales. I just -- I wore holes in my books as Grimmsí Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen and I remember being a little kid and trying to write my own version of those classic fairy tales. So, I was kind of born ready to do the show.

Jill Pantozz: Awesome. Thank you.

Sera Gamble: Thanks.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Shana OíNeil) from (Hit Fix). Your line is open.

Shana OíNeil: Hi, Sera and Jason.

Sera Gamble: Hi.

Jason Ralph: Hi.

Shana OíNeil: Hi. So, first of all, just wanted to say that love the show and had a blast at the (TCA) panel. You guys had a lot of cool stuff to talk about.

Sera Gamble: Thank you.

Shana OíNeil: I have a couple of questions. One of them is that I know you talked a bit about the actual magic in the show and the practice of it -- the physicality and the practice of it. So, Iím wondering if you could talk just a little bit more about how you created the -- like the finger magic and kind of the spells that are in there.

And also, just because as somebody whoís curious in these kinds of things, how much Ė how much are you adhering to some actual magic in the sense of spells or items you might be using, like real people who kind of had that interest or that background? Will they recognize certain aspects of these stuff?

Sera Gamble: Well, (do you think) -- go ahead.

Jason Ralph: No. You win.

Sera Gamble: Are you sure? I was going to say you can speak to the experience of learning those finger (tutting) spells. Iíll just say that Ö

Jason Ralph: Ö oh, yes.

Sera Gamble: Ö when we were doing the pilot, we came across this --essentially, itís a form of dance, called finger tutting, which is an offshoot of tutting which is (an) little corner of the world of hip-hop because we were searching for a way to kind of codify the language of magic which is very specific and arduous and difficult and intensive, and itís done with the fingers, primarily, in Levís books.

So, it was actually John McNamaraís assistant. He recommended we go on YouTube and just search the term, Finger Tutting. And as soon as we saw that, it felt really fresh and good to us and we hired a choreographer to work with the actors. But Jason can speak more to that.

Jason Ralph: Yes. I mean, the experience, like learning these tutts, I found like very similar to the experience of learning the magic that I had to learn for the show, like the practical magic, the card tricks and the coin tricks and things. And that is Ė and that is like incredibly difficult. It requires like such a mind for detail and it takes like too many hours to practice and to get right.

And there is something about learning how to learn those kinds of things which was very useful in getting into the head of these kinds of people and into Quentin. Thereís people who can like dive into material for hours and hours and hours and work on one tiny little specific thing without getting bored of it. Learning how to do that was like very useful.

Sera Gamble: And as for the Google-ability of the other spell elements, I would be curious to hear from an actual practicing which if any weíre getting anything right. We might. I donít know. I do know that we Google the craziest shit all day long in the writerís room and I had been reading about this sort of new age solution to the radiation that comes off of computers, if that in fact exists, which Iím not sure if it does. I donít know.

But I was reading about this kind of crystal grid that someone had set up to kind of minimize the bad stuff that comes off your computer and that turned into a mind meld with our production designer, (Rachel O'Toole) about what they would have to do at Brakebills in order to use conventional electronics. Because essentially, Brakebills University is a place where people have been doing spell upon spell upon spell for many generations. And so, the air is very thick with enchantments and a lot of your ďso to sayĒ muggle hardware malfunctions at Brakebills.

They donít use cellphones very much, and they donít use computers very much because theyíre just not reliable in that atmosphere. So, there are little rooms that the students have kind of jury-rigged in order to do things like play video games and use their cellphones and look things up on Google. And itís one of my favorite sets, though itís quite tiny. Alice and Quentin sneak into this little supply closet that students have jury-rigged with a bunch of crystals to be able to use computers in there. The visual, itís really beautiful and it came from this random Google in the writerís room.

Shana OíNeil: Cool. Well, thatís awesome. And then I just have one other kind of more playful question. In the show there are different magical cliques basically, and groups. So, which group would you both say youíre in as (a person)? Where would you put yourself or where would you want to be?

Sera Gamble: Where would you want to be, Jason?

Jason Ralph: Everyone wants to be a physical (character), right?

Female: Yes. For sure.

Jason Ralph: Itís like being a Gryffindor.

Shana OíNeil: OK. Cool. Well, thank you.

Sera Gamble: Thank you.

Jason Ralph: Yes. Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Michael Ahr) from (Den of Geek). Your line is open.

Michael Ahr: Hi. I was wondering, Jason, whether or not your sleight of hand that we saw in the premiere episode, is for real and like you had to learn that sort of thing and whether or not, Sera, if you could tell us, there are any other talents among the cast?

Jason Ralph: Yes. All of the sleight of hand magic you see is totally 100 percent real. And I have been practicing that with Mike Cahill. I sent him the video of me doing it. And he was like, ďOh, man. You just saved us like $70,000.Ē And I was like, ďAll right. You owe me like a really nice bottle of wine.Ē Which Iíve yet to get, actually.

Sera Gamble: Maybe you can help me answer the question about other talents. I can say that there are some tremendous singers in our cast and youíll be treated to a little bit of that in season one.

Michael Ahr: Looking forward to it.

Jason Ralph: Yes.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Jamie Lovett) from ( Your line is open.

Jamie Lovett: Hi. One of the things that most struck me about the show is that weíre getting to see Juliaís story parallel to Quentin as opposed to kind of catching up with her halfway through the novel. I was wondering what kind of effect thatís had on the approach to the (overlooking) story at the show.

Sera Gamble: It definitely makes the story of season one a bit more of a two-hander. Youíre with Quentin and youíre very much Ė heís very much our way into Brakebills and weíre deep into his story. But at the same time, weíre seeing a very parallel story unfold for Julia. Sheís the one who didnít get into Brakebills, she has to either give up magic or figure out some way to get it on her own and it turns out to be a much more dangerous and unreliable way of getting magic.

It also, I think, really heightens the relationship between Quentin and Julia. And if you saw the pilot, theyíre life-long best friends and thereís a lot of layers to that friendship. And it became really clear as we were writing these two stories at the same time that she doesnít just sort of fade away from his life in that, ďoh, well. Iíve outgrown my friend,Ē kind of way.

Thereís an active hurt and an active antagonism that grows from the way each of them handled the fact that one of them got into the school and one of them didnít.

Jamie Lovett: Cool. Thank you.

Sera Gamble: Thanks.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Suzanne Lanoue) from (The TV Megasite). Your line is open.

Suzanne Lanoue: Good morning.

Jason Ralph: Good morning.

Suzanne Lanoue: Hi. Jason, did you and the other cast do anything special to sort of bond together as a group for the show?

Jason Ralph: Yes. Well, I mean, we got to shoot the pilot in New Orleans, like a really amazing city and thereís a lot to do at night in New Orleans. So like we got to go see like a bunch of music and drink a lot and as a cast, a lot of us went to the magic castle in L.A. and got to see the magic firsthand which was really wonderful.

Suzanne Lanoue: Cool. And Sera, were there any special challenges for you in just working on the show, putting it together, and everything?

Sera Gamble: Well, weíre trying to Ė weíre trying to do justice to the spirit of the books. Thatís probably the thing that wakes us up in cold sweat the most. But the good news is that we have this amazing cast. And I think we, across the board, lucked out.

And thatís the first most important piece of the puzzle I think for a TV show. Every challenge is the challenge of making the show on the schedule and the budget of a television program. But Iím not even Ė Iím not being facetious when I say that -- this. I really believe that those constraints also make the work better in that we have to pick our moments really carefully. We have to make sure we really know what (these beats) are about. We donít have any room to waste time or money on the show.

So, we put every line and every page through boot camp before we go shoot it. And hopefully that makes the end product better and more exciting.

Suzanne Lanoue: Great. I enjoyed the first episode; Iím looking forward to more.

Sera Gamble: Thank you.

Jason Ralph: Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Tony Tellado) from (Sci-Fi Talk). Your line is open.

Tony Tellado: Hi, guys. What a pleasure. Loved the pilot. Really cool.

Sera Gamble: Thank you.

Tony Tellado: I want to ask you both from Ė in acting and also from a conceptual approach to developing Quentin -- what was that like? You aged him a little more and then to age him but yet be faithful to the books. And talk about that challenge in developing him and then playing him?

Sera Gamble: Developing first then playing, is that order weíre doing, Jason?

Jason Ralph: Yes.

Sera Gamble: OK.

Jason Ralph: Letís do that.

Sera Gamble: Once we wrapped our head around it, actually, it wasnít hard at all. The Quentin story is a coming of age story. Itís a story about someone who is young and walking into the problems and the wonders and the challenges of the adult world and becoming the man that he is going to be. And that story is perfect to tell about someone in their early 20s.

I think that kind of matches up with where we are as a culture right now. I think we do a lot of our maturing in our early 20s. And I donít know. I think it ended up working out really organically.

Tony Tellado: And Jason playing him?

Jason Ralph: Yes. I mean, I had a very similar organic experience with it -- of getting to read the books and falling in love. And then filtering through that, that through me then through the lines of the show, I donít know. Thereís -- something just sort of like spewed out that is my Quentin Coldwater. And it came very naturally, and it was very fun to do.

And at the same time, from an academic perspective of really going back to the books as much as possible and re-reading the sections from the books that we happen to be shooting that day to bring the spirit of him through me. Or at least the spirit of him that I experienced, like through the filter of me. Yes.

Tony Tellado: And I have to agree also that with (Fillory) as soon as I saw the first few moments of (Fillory) I go, ďhey, thatís more interesting than the party was.Ē

Jason Ralph: Yes, right?

Tony Tellado: So, I want to see more and Iím glad itís going to be itís going to be like Ė itís not just a story heís reading. Heís very much wrapped up, which is cool.

Jason Ralph: Yes. Itís a part of their (life), itís a part of his DNA.

Tony Tellado: Cool. Thank you.

Sera Gamble: Thanks.

Jason Ralph: Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Jamie Steinberg) with (Starry Constellations). Your line is now open.

Jamie Steinberg: Hi. Thanks for taking some time to talk with us this afternoon.

Sera Gamble: Sure.

Jason Ralph: Yes. Thank you.

Jamie Steinberg: Jason, I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the fan interaction youíve had so far with people being able to see some of the episodes early. What kind of response have you been getting?

Jason Ralph: Itís been like so wonderfully supportive and people seem really excited about the project and about our interpretation of the characters and of the show. Especially at Comic-Con, we had such a wonderful time, a lot of people came. [They were] a little skeptical as they should be.

And I think after what they saw from the show and from us on the panel, came away really excited and very supportive. Like I had like a post-panel discussion in the menís room after the panel. Like one-on-one interactions with all the fans.

And I tell you what, it was the best. Iím so glad that I happened to have to go into that bathroom because they had such great questions and were very honest about being skeptical at first and that theyíre like Ė but like we change their minds or left them with some confidence which is was really cool.

Jamie Steinberg: So (a show) (inaudible) the episode to your bladder, right?

Jason Ralph: Yes.

Jamie Steinberg: Was there anything you added to Quentin that may not have (originally been) scripted (for you)?

Jason Ralph: I -- not intentionally, I donít think. Itís all through like my filter and experience of the world, I suppose, but I tried to be as faithful to the books and to the scripts as possible.

Jamie Steinberg: (Well, you did) an incredible job and so many people are looking forward to see the first episode, so thank you, guys.

Jason Ralph: Yes. Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (RC Samo) with (Fanboy Nation). Your line is open.

RC Samo: Good afternoon.

Sera Gamble: Hi.

Jason Ralph: Hello.

RC Samo: Hi. I just wanted to find out what Ė has there been any reaction thus far from the author and if theyíve liked the show so far or not?

Sera Gamble: Yes. Lev is an active part of the making of the show. He reads the scripts before our bosses do and he sees the cuts before our bosses do. So, weíre very transparent with him about the process and we ask for his advice at times and he sends us really thoughtful interesting good notes.

No one knows the DNA of the world better than he does. He lived in it for 10 years. So, he has a lot of really good smart things to say about the magic Ö

Jason Ralph: Ö yes.

Sera Gamble: Ö so, heís been really helpful in making this TV show.

RC Samo: Now, has there been Ė has there been any wincing on his part from some of the ideas that youíve come up with that have veered away from the book? And heís like, ďno, Iím not feeling that right now.Ē

Sera Gamble: Well, he hasnít Ė he certainly hasnít agreed with 100 percent of everything we ever pitched, so heís always very gracious about it. But I donít Ė my perception of it is that it doesnít come from the feeling that weíre diverging from the books. He really does take the ideas of the show on their own merits and understands that weíre making a version of the story and that weíre making kind of an iteration and adaptation and that it will be the same in some ways and it will by necessity and also because itís sort of an organic growing thing, it will be different in certain ways.

So, I donít think Ė I donít think Ė he certainly doesnít stress out about that to us. He really takes each script and each story as it comes and talks about what makes sense to him and what doesnít or what appeals to him emotionally and as a fan of fantasy and what heís having trouble wrapping his head around. And so, we just kind of have a writer to writer conversation about it.

RC Samo: Fantastic. Thank you very much.

Sera Gamble: Thanks.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Mike Simpson) with (Sci-Fi Now). Your line is now open.

Mike Simpson: Thank you. Thanks, guys. Itís a real pleasure talking to you.

Jason Ralph: Thank you.

Sera Gamble: Thank you.

Mike Simpson: I watched the first episode last night. And as someone who comes to this whoís not familiar with the books, I must admit, for people who are like that, who arenít familiar with the background story and who have maybe only seen the synopsis of the first episode, they might think that this is kind of like a mature version of Harry Potter in a way, with the university setting and so on and obviously magic being a big part of it.

So, are there ways in which you hope you can sort of leverage off of that and in other Ė how would you say this show differs distinctly from Harry Potter and sort of separates it from that?

Sera Gamble: I paused to wait to see if Jason was going to jump in. But I can start if you want, Jason.

Jason Ralph: Yes. You go ahead, start.

Sera Gamble: Yes. I mean, when Lev wrote the book Ė and by the way, you donít have to have read the books by any means to -- enjoy the show. I think the books can be enjoyed on their own and the show can be enjoyed on its own or you can do both.

But Lev, the idea for The Magicians came because he was waiting for that Harry Potter book that was taking too fucking long. And he kind of did this thought exercise that was instantly appealing to me when I read the books that I think itís something that a lot of people do, which is apply the tropes and the stories of a fantasy story to your own life.

And in the case of Harry Potter, itís like, ďOK. Here are these kids who have magic and they have the problems of heroic children.Ē And then the question is, what would this be like in actual current day New York City among older people who have the problems of everyday adult life? What does magic mean in that kind of circumstance. That was one the core ideas that The Magicians was borne out of.

So, the inspiration of Harry Potter is Ė was a knowing one and was one that I think those of us who really love Harry Potter enjoy because itís kind of an adult story. Itís a story for us now. It doesnít have the same kind of black and white ideas of good, evil, destiny, heroism. It kind of takes that through the blender of adult life when everything gets much, much more complicated and sort of less easy to chart.

And that I think is also maybe the answer to the question of how it differs from those stories, I think. I think the emotional life of the story is really complicated and the DNA is much more adult.

Operator: Your last question comes from the line of (Diane Selburg) with (Three If By Space). Your line is now open.

Diane Selburg: Hi, Sera. Hi, Jason. Thank you for taking the time.

Jason Ralph: Hi, (Diane). Yes.

Diane Selburg: My question, it kind of expands on what you already hinted on with the separation of Quentin and Julia -- how does that affect your friendship going forward and will there be a confrontation -- magical one -- down the road?

Jason Ralph: I mean, I feel like their lives are sort of like destined to keep running into each other Ė (what theyíre doing). What did you ask?

Diane Selburg: I said could it lead to like a magical confrontation between the two of you?

Jason Ralph: I -- spoiler, but Ö

Sera Gamble: Yes.

Diane Selburg: Itís a potential spoiler, Iím Ö

Sera Gamble: You know what? The -- well, I can give you kind of a (minorly spoilery) answer that (kind of goes) to what we do a lot on the show. Which is yes, thereís confrontation coming between the two of them. I mean, after what you see in the pilot, itís clear they have some issues to hash out.

The confront Ė magic is the subject. The confrontation is totally human. Itís Ė thereís a really Ė thereís a scene that I really enjoy between the two of them in an early episode in the season that is Ė that would not be out of place on a show with no magic. And thereís a ton of magic in that episode and they do a ton of magic in that episode.

And magic is the reason that theyíre having a conversation that theyíre having ostensibly, but theyíre having the talk that two former best friends need to have because both of them have tripped up and they have damaged the relationship. So, we really try to make sure that the Ė that the character journeys on the show would make just as much sense if you tuned in a show in a world where magic werenít real.

Diane Selburg: Right. That makes sense. And then one last question for Jason. What about Quentin Coldwater attracts you to the role and you see parts of yourself in him?

Jason Ralph: I like that heís not a classic hero and never will be. Heís not the chosen one but he is sort of thrust down this -- the throat of this heroís journey and is kind of coming to terms with that and coming to terms with that fact that something that heís always wanted and that Ė sort of ill-equipped for it. I like that heís like not Ė not always likeable. There are things about him that are despicable and like those are fun things to get to play.

But thereís something about him that keeps you rooting for him because I think itís the human Ė I think thatís what makes it relatable, that none of us are like perfect human beings. And I think the show really explores the flaws in humanity and in these characters. And that weíre forced to embrace them in order to move forward.

Diane Selburg: Thatís a good answer. And then I guess I just want to expand on the Ė I felt that Ė I thought of Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, too. So, I was thinking how do I describe this show without using Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia? So, how would you describe it? Both of you.

Jason Ralph: I feel like it explores like what it would be to have magic within the context of the real world, of this world of New York City right now with real people.

Diane Selburg: Thatís perfect. All right. Thank you, guys, for your time.

Jason Ralph: Thank you.

Sera Gamble: Thank you.

Diane Selburg: OK. Thank you so much. Have a good day.

Sera Gamble: Thank you.

Jason Ralph: You, too.

Diane Selburg: Bye.

Operator: This concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect.


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