Hale Appleman plays Eliot on SyFy’s The Magicians, and we got the chance to talk with him about his character, how he’s developed and what we could expect for the quirky upperclassman of Brakebills for the next couple episodes.
The Magicians is quickly becoming one of 2016’s hottest new shows, being billed by some fans as a sort of Harry Potter/Chronicles of Narnia for adults. The magic comes alive in a truly unique and twisted way on the show, and we definitely recommend checking it out!
Without a doubt one of the most intriguing characters on the show is Eliot Waugh. The actor’s performance is one of the reasons Eliot is one of our favorite (if not our most favorite) characters on the show.
In our interview, Appleman explains Eliot’s psyche and hints at what might be ahead for his character after the crazy events of tonight’s episode.
Tell us the story of how you got the part! Did you audition, or were you offered the role? What was it like?
It was definitely an audition. I got the script from my agent and I immediately responded to it, I felt like there was something incredibly special about it. I mentioned, offhand, to my best friend that I was auditioning for a show called The Magicians and he happened to be a huge fan of the book series and said “Oh my god, you’ve got to read these books they’re amazing!” And he handed me the first one.
So through-out the audition process I was reading the books as well and I originally auditioned for Penny, and Arjun Gupta originally auditioned for Eliot, so there’s a bit of a story there. I think we both ultimately found our parts, obviously.
It didn’t feel right in the room with the casting director, I just remember she gave me this look and I thought ‘It’s just not the best fit, me as Penny.’ I was really upset, in a way that I haven’t been for a really long time just because I felt like there was something really special about this show. And once I kind of got into the books a little more and really got to know Eliot I felt like there was so much to explore there, as an incredibly dynamic character — someone that I felt if I just got a chance to read for I might be able to take a solid stab at playing him.
A few weeks later they did call me back, I think they were finding a director and whatever else (there’s a lot of pieces that come together before a show starts filming) and so I finally went back in, and I was so excited and so relieved. I felt like the experience of reading the first book gave me so much context for who the character was and what my take on him would be and how I really responded to him and all his layers. It really helped me formulate the character that I brought into the room with me when I met [executive producer] Sera Gamble in my callback.
When you read the books and you started to learn more about Eliot, what about him intrigued you the most in terms of wanting to play him? What made it click?
I think it’s an incredible counter-balance that I found in him. What immediately hits you about Eliot is how witty and how off the cuff he is in the way that he’s presenting himself. And then shortly thereafter you learn about his past and the darkness that he’s come from, and there’s a real context to the whimsy.
I felt like because there were these two very polar opposite things happening with him it made for a really intriguing person to explore as an actor. I always look for opposites in my character. There are ways which Eliot is a combination of so many polar opposites, and he keeps you guessing. You never know what he’s going to do, or what he’s going to say and I just found that to be incredibly intriguing.
I’ve noticed that Eliot isn’t the most cuddly of characters — when he is nice he always has a joke or insult to follow.
Yeah, well I think he’s very uncomfortable with showing affection. At least, perhaps, in the way he truly feels affectionate. Maybe with Margo that’s perhaps the only exception, but overall I think Eliot’s relationships to his feelings and underlying warmth and affection, [whilst] they come to easily for other people to express, is really physical for him. He keeps a really tight lid on his emotions, he can’t look at them directly.
So humor is his way through life, and his way of navigating that as a way of sort of subverting what he really feels, sweeping it under the rug and keeping his persona in tact. He’s created a very deliberate system of ignoring his emotions and returning to his persona.
So when fans look at him, instead of just seeing this guy who makes jokes and is very guarded what is one thing you hope they get from the character?
I would hope they feel he’s multifaceted. I hope they don’t feel he’s just kind of a one-note, one-liner, zinger spewing dandy. I hope they feel a complexity within him and a desire to both be seen and remain hidden. I think that’s very human, people really want to be seen and understood but Eliot wants to control the way that he’s scene — he’s putting on a performance, the performance of Eliot, and the darker truths that lie beneath that is something he doesn’t really want to share. Ever.
So I hope people see that and sense that, and really give him an opportunity to evolve. And I really hope over the course of the series, however long we have, I think it’s such an incredible opportunity for a character like Eliot to exist on TV and to watch him and see the layers peeled back.
[To] take a harder look at a queer character on a fantasy genre series, it’s not an everyday thing. I think that’s a really incredible opportunity, and for me I feel a tremendous responsibility to shade him with as many layers and colors as I possibly can. He’s endlessly fascinating to me, and I hope that we continue to watch him unfold and go down the weird rabbit hole that is Eliot’s psyche.