What is a Dæmon? The Cast of HBO’s HIS DARK MATERIALS Explain the Significance of These Mystical Manifestations
— November 29, 2019
Dæmons play an important part in the storyline of HBO’s HIS DARK MATERIALS, and are best described by Dafne Keen (Lyra Belacqua) as “an expression of your soul…” Below, cast members explain the role of dæmons in the series and offer insight into how these “animals” were brought to life through the magic of puppeteering and CGI.
New episodes of HIS DARK MATERIALS are available for streaming Mondays at 9 p.m. ET, only on Crave.
Dafne Keen (Lyra Belacqua) on what a dæmon is:
“A dæmon is your soul. It's an expression of your soul and when you're a child, it changes because you’re still changing. It then fixes when you're an adult into what most represents your personality. Lyra is a kid so her dæmon still changes, but it's mostly an ermine and his name is Pantalaimon.”
Clark Peters (The Master) on what dæmons represent:
“I think that the demons are our sixth sense. The only way we function in the world or imagine our world and move through this plane is using our five senses. Vibrations that move really fast that we call light can only be perceived by your eyes. Your ears can't catch that vibration, but when it slows down, your ears catch that vibration. When it gets really slow, your body catches that vibration. If I would look at the dæmons and see how they function in the story, I think they're our sixth sense. Where it can get a bird's-eye view of the landscape. It can feel someone else's dæmon and what their intentions are, as humans do. Every human being has this sense, and Phillip (Pullman) has very cleverly turned it into an animal.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda (Lee Scoresby) on what it’s like acting with a dæmon:
“We had these incredible puppeteers on-set. They're basically a stand-in. I have a lovely young actress named Ruby who's been voicing Hester [Lee’s dæmon] and does the dialogue with me, so I've got two people playing Hester. Basically, in every take we'll do a couple of puppet passes so we understand where the dæmon is within the space and how we do or don't interact with them. You do a puppet pass and then you'll do a version where it's the same deal but you know where your eyeline is and you know who you're talking to and so you get the muscle memory of where they'd be before you do a take without them in it. It’s important to get it right…”
Anne-Marie Duff (Ma Costa) on mastering the green screen:
“…I have this gorgeous goshawk called Jal and that’s brilliant. Jal is sort of her CCTV, because Ma Costa is on the water and the bird is up patrolling. Doing the green screen you've got to make sure you sell the weight of it. So that when they take the puppet away it looks believable. The relationship to a bird is very different in terms of your dæmon, than it would be if it was a dog. It's very interesting that, there's a cooler energy, but you still have to have the energy of the bird inside you. I know it's funny, it's a funny old thing.”
James McAvoy (Lord Asriel) on working with puppeteers to bring dæmons to life:
“In 20 years in the business I've done a lot of acting with imaginary things that aren’t there at all. Here it was just really nice to be able to go, “All right, we've actually got physical evidence, in the form of amazing puppeteers under puppets doing the things that we've rehearsed.” Stelmaria (Lord Asriel’s dæmon) is over here and there’s an actor in the scene with whom I can work with. It's not just me imagining something and then the editor imagining a different thing, and then the guys that create the CGI in the computers doing whatever they want to do, and finally the directors just come in and go, "Nah, cut the whole thing." I love the fact that in this we can work symbiotically as a duo.”
Ruth Wilson (Mrs. Coulter) on CGI and creating the dæmons:
“…We would do a puppet pass, which are purely for the puppet. If the puppet was at my feet, the camera would just be on that space by my feet, where they could then paint in later what that dæmon is doing. There are very specific moments where the dæmons come into play and they represent the inner feelings of the character. They're vital to the piece. Without that, it wouldn't be the show it is. It's a massive process – after we’d finished filming they had another six months of painting on all these incredible animals and giving them personality and character.”