Exclusive: Hale Appleman on Spiritual Animals, Becoming Eliot, & More

Hale ApplemanTonight, Syfy airs the season two finale of The Magicians. Ember (Dominic Burgess) has been wreaking havoc on Fillory, and it's up to Quentin (Jason Ralph), Julia (Stella Maeve), Margo (Summer Bishil), and Eliot, played by Hale Appleman, to save it before he destroys it for good.

Appleman talked to SciFi Vision earlier in the week for an exclusive interview about who Eliot really is, how he's had to grow up, if he can forgive Margo, and more.

Hale ApplemanSCIFI VISION: Was there anywhere other than the books or scripts that you took inspiration from when you were creating the character?

HALE APPLEMAN: Lev Grossman's books are the ultimate blueprint for the character. My number one concern was bringing that character to life first and foremost. [In the show] they had aged up the character, which gave me some license to imagine what might have happened to him.

I also have an incredible collaboration with our costume designer, Magali Guidasci, who opened my eyes to some wardrobe choices and fashion inspirations that really inspired me and felt connected to the books as well as connected to dandies of great literature, from Brideshead Revisited, which I know is an influence of Lev's, to Oscar Wilde.

And I seem to feel that Eliot has a splash of David Bowie in there.

So there were moments in preparations for the first season that I picked up some biographies of Wilde and Bowie to take myself on a little tour of their childhoods.

Eliot's background is hinted at in the first book, though not explicitly discussed, so I felt like there was a little bit of room to take inspiration from men who became icons, because, you know, Eliot wants to be one. And I think that he takes inspiration from men who shatter the sort of darkness of their past through the creation of an alter ego or a larger than life character.

It was important for me that Eliot feel like he was someone who was wearing a mask, especially in the first season, someone who is very decidedly collaging together a persona that he's playing. And that's reflected in what he wears and how he behaves, the way that he kind of safeguards his emotions in service of perhaps humor, style, an event, running the show, or hazing the first years.

Hale ApplemanIt's all about control, power, sophistication, aesthetic awareness, and the image of who he wants to be perceived as, to really bury the person in his past.

And I really felt that those great men that I mentioned earlier really had elements of that in their own life stories that I felt were interesting for me to look at. Not that I would say that Eliot is either of those people, but I felt that there might be a link there that could help me understand the background of someone who wants to really be someone else. I think that there is something universal in growing up and sort of living in someone else's clothes in order to be perceived a different way. We're all putting on a show for each other one way or another.

Could you talk a bit about Eliot's growth this season? He really has had to grow up in order to be a leader, even though he still struggles with that at times.

In the first season he's at the top of his rank, and he is sort of untouchable in the first half of the first season and throughout this course of unfortunate murders [laughs] and drug addiction.

He's taken on a wild ride and forced to confront his own emotions that he doesn't want to look at, so much that he's willing to die for his friends or sacrifice himself, or just leave and be done with it for good.

But he has an opportunity to take one for the team, and he does. And he doesn't know what he's getting into.

So at the beginning of season two, he's in over his head in a way that he didn't expect. He kind of just put himself out there. You could say that he acts on a whim once in a while and doesn't think things through thoroughly. He's an incredibly skilled magician, but he's not prepared to be a king or to rule. This whole season is an obstacle course for Eliot to start to begin to take responsibility and take the reins of his own leadership and learn how to care about more than just the cover of his past.

I wanted to talk about Eliot and Margo and their relationship, but also, the two of you, especially you, are the funniest part of the show. I'm just curious if it's hard to not crack up in the middle of the scenes.

Hale ApplemanThank you for that. Yeah, it's really hard. It's hard especially with Summer. She's one of the funniest people I've ever met, just innately in who she is. She's completely idiosyncratic in her way through the world and how she sees things. So I find myself just belly laughing all the time with her. [laughs] But, you know, we really are there to work, so we can hold it together for the most part.

When we're in groups, it becomes especially difficult to keep a straight face, especially scenes in which there might be four to six of us standing in a room and we each have one line. There's just something about the group dynamic that boils over into laughter a lot. So that's really fun.

And we have a really fun set and an incredible crew, and they really carry us and make it all possible. They work incredibly quick and efficient.

I find myself just belly laughing all the time with [Summer].

And I'm so excited that we get to go back and work with them again. They also hold that space for us to be able to really play. So that's the beauty of a really efficiently run set, and I'm so happy that I get the privilege to work there with everyone.

Obviously, Margo did a very bad thing, but Eliot kind of has to put it aside to deal with Ember and everything. I think obviously at some point they are going to have to talk about what she did. He may forgive her in the end, I don't know, but how do you think that will play out?

You know, [laughs] I think there's a pretty wide chasm between them where they stand. They're not agreeing on their proposed leadership. I think they're recognizing that they see the world quite differently, and this is something that wasn't so clear when they were in school together. And I think that's true to life, too. Sometimes your best friend in school is someone that you can identify with in every way, until you get out into the real world and recognize that it's quite different than the bubble and the safeguard of the institution that structures your time for you.

Hale ApplemanSo Eliot and Margo have a completely different relationship to how they operate as people and how they rule, and that's particularly difficult for them. And then, you know, there's the small issue of her selling his baby to the fairies, which is a whole can of worms that I can't imagine how it will unfold.

I have a fan question. Someone asked me to ask you if you what the origin is of why Eliot started calling Margo "Bambi."

[laughs] Yeah, I sure do. That's so funny that you should ask. [laughs]. I'm going to try to make this succinct and understandable. It's a little bit of an inside joke with the crew, with our costume designer Magali, who assigns a kind of psycho spiritual animal that represents each person in the cast or on the crew. And she said that Summer is an owl. She is an owl; that is her soul animal. But Summer said, [laughs] "I ain't no freaking owl! I'm freaking Bambi!" And so forever we just called her "Bambi."

Of course, now I have to ask, what animal did she give you?

Oh yeah, I'm a kangaroo apparently, which seems to make sense. Or maybe Eliot's a kangaroo. Sometimes they're connected to characters, and sometimes they're connected to who we are, but I think kangaroo is pretty all encompassing.

I would also like you to talk about the musical episode, "Lesser Evils." That seemed like a lot of fun and was a great episode.

Yeah, it was. We shot really quickly in hardly any time, and we have an incredible DP, Elie Smolkin, who does wonders with how he shoots our show and how he designs the aesthetic of the light in every different world. And that's why the show has such a vast feeling, and different [feelings]. You really do feel you're in a different place when you're watching a scene in New York, versus Brakebills, versus the hedge witches' den, versus Fillory, versus the castle. You know, it's a lot of very particular work that he does, and I think that he made it really possible for us to pull that off at all, if we did. It was a triumph of a lot of work in a really short amount of time, and I think without him we would have been really lost. So I give him a ton of credit.

Hale ApplemanAnd, you know, on my end it was all about preparing and making sure that I knew the song well enough to deliver it, and that I had practiced enough in the sword skills that I could really do it. It was important for me that Eliot feels like he really does become pretty competent with a sword, just with the spell alone, and that meant that I had to work a little bit harder to really master those moves. And, you know, in the brief window we had, I think I did pretty well. And hopefully in the future I would be able to do more and do it better. So it was really fun, but it was also really fast paced and a lot of work, and I hope I get to do more.

Can you describe Eliot in three words?

[laughs] No, I don't think so. There aren't enough words. [laughs]

Fair enough.

Do you have a favorite line of his?

[laughs] I bond fast. Time's an illusion.

**UPDATE: Be sure to check out what Appleman had to say about the finale in the new interview with four members of the cast.**

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