Sera Gamble read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy well before optioning the development rights for the show fans have grown to enjoy on Syfy, but she and fellow showrunner John McNamara have really put their own spin on this magical tale of grad students learning magic in a bleak world. Now that season 2 is around the corner, a brighter but just as sinister world has been added to the mix: the storybook world of Fillory.
The fact that the series has taken such a different path to get its characters to this point is a real creative feat. “We knew that, to capture the spirit that we felt when we read the books, we were going to have to make some plot departures,” Gamble admits. “We always say that there’s a map that gets you from, say, L.A. to New York; [Lev Grossman] got there using his roads, and we’re going to the same place, but we’re taking a slightly different roads than he did some of the time. It’s really fun to be creative partners with him.”
Vancouver has provided the natural mysticism that the series needed for Fillory, a land where magic is much stronger than on Earth and where mythical creatures co-exist with humans. “Vancouver is such an amazing place to shoot this,” says Gamble. “It kind of is Fillory! You leave the city, and you drive for a few minutes, and you’re in the middle of beautiful, old-growth forest.”
Great locations aren’t merely an artistic choice, though; it’s also quite practical. “We don’t have the same budget as Game of Thrones,” Gamble confesses, “and that’s okay! I really believe in the creative wisdom that comes from limitation, but we knew that were going to have to harness the natural beauty of Vancouver to bring Fillory to life.”
Adding Fillory to an already complex world fortunately adds richness rather than muddying the waters. “In season 2, even more than in season 1, we have a lot of worlds up and running at the same time,” Gamble explains. “We have the hedge witches of New York, and we have Brakebills University, and we also have Fillory. So it’s been really fun and interesting to make the stakes as real and difficult for our characters as possible but also see the fun, creative ways we can have them intersect into each others’ storylines.”
One of the storylines The Magicians fans are dying to know more about is that of Julia, whose trauma and subsequent betrayal will have lasting consequences. But is she just the ingredient needed to break the cycle Jane Chatwin put the students on to fight the Beast? “They are on a new path,” Gamble confirms. “Jane had tried a lot of things, and the big wild card was Julia this time. And they’re not all lying on the floor dead forever! So it was brutal for Julia but maybe the smartest move Jane could have made.”
Speaking of characters lying on the floor, fans may have noticed a quick turnaround for many characters in various promos, trailers, and publicity photos. Everyone’s wearing a crown! Except for Penny. “I can’t think of a character less likely to want to be a king,” argues Gamble. “He thinks the whole thing is complete bullshit. In the season premiere, there’s a big sequence where they get crowned… Penny doesn’t care. He’s got a hand problem that he’s trying to solve.” Yes, there is that.
So does that mean Brakebills and Earth are out of the picture for The Magicians season 2? Not exactly. “An interesting thing about Fillory is that it’s so inherently magical,” Gamble explains. “That’s not really the causes and conditions of brilliant magicians because if you just have [magic] you don’t have to learn to do much with it. You sort of take it for granted. So the really great, knowledgeable magicians are on Earth where magic is more sparse. Earth is like the rocky outcropping of magic.”
Because magicians like Dean Fogg and Mayakovsky have to struggle for their abilities, they might be instrumental consultants in the fight against the Beast. But don’t the students also have to graduate? “It’s not about getting the degree; it’s about getting the knowledge,” says Gamble. “I mean, they’re magicians, but they don’t know everything they need to know, and a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. They’re in very high level magical problems, so they realize pretty quickly that Brakebills is their best source of information.”
When all is said and done, Gamble is right at home on the set of The Magicians, both as a reader of the novels and as a genre fan. Being showrunner, producer, and writer is a challenge she tackles with gusto. “It’s kind of two dozen jobs in one,” she says. “If you have a little bit of ADD and you’re a super geeky, enthusiastic person the way that I am, it’s the right kind of environment.”