THE MAGICIANS: Sera Gamble Talks Book Changes and Quentin & Julia’s Diverging Paths

the magicians

Sera Gamble and John McNamara are bringing the world of Brakebills University to life in the new Syfy series THE MAGICIANS. Based on the Lev Grossman book trilogy, THE MAGICIANS revolves around two friends who learn about the existence of magic as young adults. Only one of them gets in to the prestigious university (Quentin) and one of them doesn’t (Julia). This sets the pair on very different paths as each falls deeper into this strange and supernatural world.

During a conference call with journalists, executive producer Sera Gamble discussed the changes from the book series, going beyond just telling Quentin’s story, and a confrontation that is coming up between Quentin and Julia.

Aging Up and Other Book Changes. “I think the first most obvious difference that the fans will notice when they tune in is that we’ve aged the characters up a little bit. Quentin is 17 when you meet him in the book, and he is more like 22 in our television show. They are headed into graduate school. And we did that for a number of creative and practical reasons. But when we realized that this is a choice we might have to make, John McNamara, my writing partner and I, took it very seriously. We didn’t want to change anything from the books that we didn’t have to, so we sat down with Lev Grossman, the author, and hashed out what that change would mean and we all realized we really loved it. So, I think that’s been for the best. And I think throughout the season, we’ll be hitting a lot of the greatest hits of book one. We sometimes come at them a little bit differently. We say we have the same general roadmap but we sometimes take slightly different roads than Lev did in the books.”

Going Beyond Quentin’s Story. “One of the great things about making this as a TV show is we get to deep dive into more of the characters. I think when you read the books, you first and foremost are kind of inside the experience of Quentin Coldwater. But because we spend many, many hours in this world, we get to spend a lot of time in Julia’s point of view and a lot of time in Alice’s point of view.”

Quentin and Julia’s Divergent Paths. “You’re with Quentin and he’s very much our way into Brakebills and we’re deep into his story. But at the same time, we’re seeing a very parallel story unfold for Julia. She’s the one who didn’t get into Brakebills, she has to either give up magic or figure out some way to get it on her own and it turns out to be a much more dangerous and unreliable way of getting magic. It also, I think, really heightens the relationship between Quentin and Julia. [In the pilot it’s made clear] they’re life-long best friends and there’s a lot of layers to that friendship. And it became really clear as we were writing these two stories at the same time that she doesn’t just sort of fade away from his life in that, ‘oh, well. I’ve outgrown my friend,’ kind of way. There’s an active hurt and an active antagonism that grows from the way each of them handled the fact that one of them got into the school and one of them didn’t.”

Related: Meet the characters of THE MAGICIANS

A Confrontation is Coming. Gamble dropped one spoiler for us, saying that there’s a “confrontation coming between [Quentin and Julia]. I mean, after what you see in the pilot, it’s clear they have some issues to hash out. The confrontation – magic is the subject. The confrontation is totally human. There’s a scene that I really enjoy between the two of them in an early episode in the season that would not be out of place on a show with no magic. And there’s a ton of magic in that episode and they do a ton of magic in that episode. And magic is the reason that they’re having a conversation that they’re having ostensibly, but they’re having the talk that two former best friends need to have because both of them have tripped up and they have damaged the relationship. So, we really try to make sure that the character journeys on the show would make just as much sense if you tuned in a show in a world where magic weren’t real.”

Technology at Brakebills. An interesting tidbit that Gamble shared in terms of worldbuilding is that she was “reading about this kind of crystal grid that someone had set up to kind of minimize the bad stuff that comes off your computer and that turned into a mind meld with our production designer, (Rachel O’Toole) about what they would have to do at Brakebills in order to use conventional electronics. Because essentially, Brakebills University is a place where people have been doing spell upon spell upon spell for many generations. And so, the air is very thick with enchantments and a lot of your “so to say” muggle hardware malfunctions at Brakebills. They don’t use cellphones very much, and they don’t use computers very much because they’re just not reliable in that atmosphere. So, there are little rooms that the students have kind of jury-rigged in order to do things like play video games and use their cellphones and look things up on Google. And it’s one of my favorite sets, though it’s quite tiny. Alice and Quentin sneak into this little supply closet that students have jury-rigged with a bunch of crystals to be able to use computers in there. The visual, it’s really beautiful and it came from this random Google in the writer’s room.”

How Involved is Lev Grossman? “Lev is an active part of the making of the show. He reads the scripts before our bosses do and he sees the cuts before our bosses do. So, we’re very transparent with him about the process and we ask for his advice at times and he sends us really thoughtful interesting good notes.” Gamble also said that he “certainly hasn’t agreed with 100 percent of everything we ever pitched, so he’s always very gracious about it. My perception of it is that it doesn’t come from the feeling that we’re diverging from the books. He really does take the ideas of the show on their own merits and understands that we’re making a version of the story and that we’re making kind of an iteration and adaptation and that it will be the same in some ways and it will by necessity and also because it’s sort of an organic growing thing, it will be different in certain ways. He certainly doesn’t stress out about that to us.”

Don’t miss the two-hour premiere of THE MAGICIANS on January 25 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy.

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