Dafne Keen and award-winning screenwriter Jack Thorne get together for a candid debrief and one last goodbye to His Dark Materials.
PHOTOS: Otto Masters
TALENT: Dafne Keen
INTERVIEW: Jack Thorne
VIDEOGRAPHY: Rodney Rico
STYLING: Miranda Almond at ONE Represents
MAKEUP: Amanda Grossman at The Only Agency
HAIR: Narad Kutowaroo at Carol Hayes Management
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT: Connor Egan
LOCATION: Mill Mead Studio
PRODUCTION: Jasmine Perrier at Studio J•T•P
SPECIAL THANKS: Public Eye Communications & Ian Johnson
This standalone feature is taken from Grumpy Magazine’s IN CONVERSATION series and exclusively available as a solo story in digital and print worldwide
Click HERE to order your exclusive solo print booklet featuring one talent and 20+ pages of INTERVIEW and PHOTOS, or head over to ISSUU to flip through this story digitally
A sweet ending to a new beginning
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Check out some extracts below.
JACK THORNE: Hello! Are you outside?
DAFNE KEEN: I’m at the British Museum at the moment [laughs].
JT: Why are you at the British Museum?
DK: That’s a conversation for another day.
JT: So, I’ve got to ask you questions, which I’m not very good at.
DK: Don’t worry, you’ve got it.
JT: My first question is, why did you want to do His Dark Materials? Because you didn’t read the books.
DK: I think I wanted to do it because playing a character like Lyra is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. The world that Philip [Pullman] created and the world that you later on developed was so amazing. It was a no-brainer. You can’t really say no to that.
JT: But you didn’t know much about it when you said yes, right?
DK: My parents knew about it. And then, I was reading up on it and [Lyra] seemed like a cool character from what I had read. And the whole concept of Lyra’s world and the dæmons seemed really interesting.
JT: Who read scripts and made the decisions [when you had to choose projects] then?
DK: My agents would be the first ones to read the script. If they thought I’d like it, they would send it over. And then, both me and my parents would read it.
JT: [For His Dark Materials] was it like, “Am I ready to spend five years in Wales?” How did all those conversations work?
DK: I just really love acting. So, having a secure job for five years where I get to play a really cool character seemed like, “Why would I say no to that?” [But] I didn’t know the people who were working on it. I remember there were specific conversations in my house where they were like, “It’s a Jack Thorne project, you have to say yes.”
JT: [Laughs] Who knew who I was?
DK: Both of my parents knew who you were.
JT: Did they? That is shocking in the extreme. Say thank you to them for me. Do you remember a time you were also auditioning for The Secret Garden?
DK: I remember.
JT: It was really weird because I had these two projects going, and you were everyone’s favorite.
DK: I didn’t know I was The Secret Garden’s favorite. I know that Amir [Wilson] was on it, and I remember talking about it with Dixie Egerickx, who plays Mary in The Secret Garden. It was like, “Wait, I auditioned for your part,” and she was like, “I auditioned for Lyra.” It was so funny!
JT: It was like both of you were the top two. Do you think you understood Lyra when you first started playing her?
DK: I did because what’s so amazing about Lyra is that she has grown at the same time as me, so I understood her 12-year-old, 13-year-old mind. And then, as she became more aware of the world, so did I. We viewed everything in very similar ways.
JT: How do you think Lyra changed you?
DK: Working on something for five years is a long time anyways. Apart from getting to play Lyra, just the people that I got to work with became family. And everyone has taught me something on this job. We went through so much filming this — it was impossible not to learn from the worlds, Lyra, all the characters, and all the people working on it.
JT: Did the books change how you felt about the world? I think Philip’s brain infected me in a beautiful way and I became a slightly different person as a result of doing these books. Do you know what I mean?
DK: Definitely. It completely changed my view on love in all its forms — in parental form, in friendship form, in romantic form — because I think [Philip] is very good at writing about that. I think he captures the human essence really well. And the spiritual sides of his books have made me think. To be forced to think about that when I was younger was positive.
JT: Are you Catholic?
DK: My family is Catholic.
JT: Was that ever strange to you? Because I don’t think he is attacking Catholicism.
DK: No, I don’t think so either.
JT: But there is a formality and a structure to the religion, which does sometimes feel similar to the Magisterium. Was that ever something that played in your head?
DK: I think he is attacking the institution of religion, not the religion itself. That’s always the way that I viewed it — the point he is trying to make is about the institution and the system put into place around faith, as opposed to questioning faith itself.
JT: I completely agree. I tried to work out what I feel about religion, what Philip feels about religion, and what the show feels about religion.
DK: That’s another thing that the show made me think about — where I want to put my faith and what I want to do with it.
JT: And how did you change Lyra?
DK: I think we modernized her a bit. I don’t want to say me, it was both you and me, Jack. We are a team. She is still very talkative, but one of the most substantial things was the fact that she spoke so much in the books, and we took some of that out because audiovisual is different. To me, she feels more modern and from now. But at the same time, she still feels older because Lyra’s world in some aspects is older.
JT: The biggest moment for me, the moment where I felt like we definitely had a show that could work, was the filming of episode two. Do you remember how beautiful Mrs. Coulter’s apartment was?
DK: I remember. It was so amazing.
JT: Everyone wanted to move in there. And there was a dynamic between you and Ruth [Wilson]. We knew it was going to be central to the whole thing because your last audition was you and Ruth together. Apart from Will [Amir Wilson], that is a defining relationship through the show. It was exciting seeing you two play against each other. Were you aware of all those sorts of things?
DK: Speaking of change, I think that’s another thing that really changed, Lyra and Mrs. Coulter’s relationship. All of my scenes with Ruth always felt thrilling and important because of that whole mother-daughter bond which was so complex. Even when Lyra doesn’t know that she is her mother, she still has this yearning for a mother because she hasn’t had one. For me, the complexities of all of that [relationship] cemented who Lyra was as a person. Just because of the way she interacts with someone that she hates to love, but she does love her — that’s my definition of her relationship with Mrs. Coulter.
JT: I love that. I’ve never heard you say that. When did anxiety start to play a role in your acting? Do you remember on Logan being anxious? Or does it become more of a thing when you become older?
DK: I think it becomes more of a thing when people make it a thing. I remember filming Logan and I just went on set. — obviously, I’ve done a lot of work for it, I’ve been in stunt training for months, and every day I’d go home, I’d rehearse for hours and do all of my work. I think the moment that makes me most stressed is when it says on paper that she cries or something. I overthink and I go, “Now it’s written, I have to do it. What if I can’t do it?” I have to think about what’s happening right now, how I’m filming it, and just enjoy feeling it. Stressing out as an actor or as a creative person is such a common thing, and it’s the most heartbreaking thing to happen to you. It has happened to me and it’s a crisis of self-confidence. So, I’ve always tried to keep in mind that if I panic, it’s not gonna go well. There is no point in me panicking.
JT: Did that anxious moment happen on His Dark Materials?
DK: I think it happened on each season once. I had that moment in the Roger [death] scene where I was like, “I’m not gonna be able to cry, this is gonna be terrible.”
FULL CONVERSATION AND STORY APPEAR IN THE PRINT or DIGITAL ISSUE. SOLO EDITION AVAILABLE NOW!
His Dark Materials is now streaming on HBO Max & BBC iPlayer
This feature is exclusively available as a solo issue featuring one talent and 20+ pages of interview and photos