Ahead of the second season premiere of "The Magicians," Syfy transformed the William Vale space in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn into an immersive Hall of Magic to allow fans to be transported into a fantastical world in which they can experience levitation, spell casting, and other interactive installations.
NBC Asian America sat down with "The Magicians" actors Arjun Gupta, Hale Appleman, Rick Worthy, and Summer Bishil to talk about their characters, what’s in store for the new season, and the continuing push for more diversity on TV.
NBC Asian America: Were you fans of the book series ["The Magicians" by Lev Grossman] before you joined the show?
I’m always a proponent of taking as many risks as you can. I think at this moment in time, it’s what’s necessary.
Arjun Gupta: I found out about the show first and I auditioned for it before. I had not heard of the books. Once I got invested in wanting the part of Penny, I made a very conscious decision not to read the books — I felt that it would mess up my auditions. So I waited until I was very fortunate to get the role. [The books] got really, and increasingly, better. It was beautiful to watch him find his voice. And each book, his voice got more specific and more poetic. I’m a huge fan of the books, not just as pieces of fantasy, but as pieces of literature.
Rick Worthy: I got cast on the pilot and I’m reading the script and I’m like, “This is a fantastic script.” I knew it was based on three books, but I didn’t read the books until I filmed the pilot. Then I started reading the books and I was like, “I’m glad I didn’t read the books because I wanted my own original take on Dean Fogg."
Dean Fogg in the books is very different than I look like what I do as a character. I think if I had read the books, I probably would have tried to incorporate some of the way that Lev wrote Dean Fogg into the way I interpret Dean Fogg. But I talked to Lev and I said, “Do you like what I’m doing?” and he said, “Yeah.” I love the character a lot and I think I’m really serving the way that I see he should be served.
Arjun Gupta: We are really blessed and grateful to have Lev. He’s really involved. When you’re working on an adaptation of something that’s so beloved, there’s a certain amount of pressure that you feel to honor it. To get his blessing, which I feel like everyone has gotten, is a huge gift as an actor. To feel freer to keep playing or what you’re doing.
Hale Appleman: My best friend was a huge fan of the book series and heard I was auditioning and gave me the first book. I started reading it and that was it. As I was auditioning, I think because they were so spaced out, I ended up reading all three books before I got the part. It’s a joy to have source material and the characters that Lev Grossman wrote.
Summer Bishil: I had never heard of the series before auditioning, but Sera Gamble [executive producer of "The Magicians'] had written lengthy and character revealing audition material, so I felt like through the dialogue that I had to audition with, I had a good insight into who [my character] Margo was and a pretty good grasp of the tone of the show.
When we did the pilot, I started reading the books and really found out what the story was. I got really excited after filming the pilot, like, “Oh my gosh!" I’m more excited than I thought I was.
NBC Asian America: What was the most surprising part of season 2 for each of your characters?
Summer Bishil: The experience of working on "The Magicians" and with the cast is not difficult. However, I’m constantly having to remind myself with Margo, and practice discipline with not falling into the trap of her being vapid or small, to keep continuously expanding her emotional scope and enriching and deepening this character so that it does it justice.
Hale Appleman: I think we’re [Appleman's character, Eliot, and Bishil's character, Margo] both tasked with being expected to be the comic relief of the show in a lot of ways, but we also have these incredible characters that have so much depth and meaning. I think that as the show continues through season 2, and hopefully beyond, that we just get to continue expanding their emotional vocabulary and deepening their relationship with each other and with other characters you might not have met yet.
Rick Worthy: The Dean [Worthy's character, Henry Fogg] does have a romantic life, which personally I’m very happy about. And it’s really cool. The way that it was filmed, I was concerned because I wasn’t sure how it would come across, but I really like it. I think it came out well. The romantic interest and I, we had a really nice chemistry. By about take three or four, we were really there. I can’t tell you who it is, but I think the audiences will be pleasantly surprised.
Arjun Gupta: It’s a fun thing though with season 2: we get to see more of all of these characters. We get to feel out who these people are. I think, surprisingly, for me was that Penny comes into this situation very reluctant to be a magician. Then this season a really fascinating choice is put in front of him: “Do I want to be a magician, or do I just walk away?” I think watching Penny grapple with that was really fun, and it was quite surprising.
NBC Asian America: How is "The Magicians" representing more accurate Hollywood casting, and how can we speak to more diverse audience as the conversation continues to be on the forefront?
Arjun Gupta: I feel that we’re a part of that process and we do a really fantastic job. We need to continue to do better. I think that it’s been exciting as a person of color that this conversation is happening. I think as we move away from tokenism as the way diversity gets put in place — as we move towards diversity at the inception of the project — rather than simply as casting as the solution, these are all things that are very exciting things for me.
With our show, we have diversity. I can only speak for me as an Indian male, but to be an Indian man, one that is powerful and sexualized and a badass and who speaks to and about racism and confronts stereotypes, is a huge departure. I feel honored to be a part of that.
Rick Worthy: I’ve definitely been the affirmative action sign on, the token cop or whatever it may be, and not given a lot to do in the episode. What I love about "The Magicians," and science fiction in general, is that it’s a platform for diversity. There are more actors of color working in science fiction than any other genre. It’s a blessing that we’re both able to be on the same show, when there was a time when it would just be him, or it would just be me.
Arjun Gupta: I think that we can all keep doing better. We’re not there yet. With all the things that are happening, I want to see people of color in studio executive positions, people of color in writers’ rooms, I want people of color as show runners. I want to see all of that because I think that’s the next step. But it’s exciting to be a part of that question.
NBC Asian America: What can audiences expect from season 2?
Hale Appleman: Just on a technical and visual scale, the show has increased its scope by tenfold. We’re not supporting another storyline; we have our own. I feel like we took as many opportunities as we could to deepen our characters’ relationship.
Summer Bishil: On a technical level, we used drones this year. That gave the scope.
Arjun Gupta: It’s bigger, it’s crazier, it’s more magic. It’s darker. We spend a lot more time in Fillory, which is exciting. More magical creatures. There’s just more. The beautiful thing about season 2 is people get to be a little less scared. Take the gutter lanes down a little bit. It’s exciting to do that. I’m always a proponent of taking as many risks as you can. I think at this moment in time, it’s what’s necessary.
Rick Worthy: I think it’s like when you have a football team the first season that’s new. They’re good, but the potential for greatness is right in front of them. I think season 1 went really, really good. I think we got off to a terrific start, but then by season 2, I think every episode is excellent. I’ve been on other series, but this one is really … everything works. And for an actor, that’s a blessing.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.