“We’re both very determined,” suggests Dafne Keen of the similarities between herself and her role Lyra Belacqua. She brings the beloved character to life in the BBC One and HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials.” Though Keen may share traits with Lyra, the actress also notes that the experience of leading this epic series has taught her immensely. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
Though Keen hadn’t read Pullman’s trilogy before being cast, the young actress quickly consumed all three novels in two weeks to become “a massive fan.” “It really helped me knowing where Lyra begins and where Lyra ends,” she explains, “so I can time the character’s arc.” Plus, Pullman’s writing gives greater insight into Lyra’s “inner life,” which Keen could incorporate into her performance.
“I loved that it’s a young female lead,” says Keen excitedly. She was most struck by what Lyra would mean to young girls who watch the show. “She is a character that is a young woman with no sort of sexual power whatsoever,” details Keen. Though there have been many strides in gender equality, Keen believes “we still live in a very sexist world,” so there is power in having a show lead that doesn’t rely on sexuality. “She is literally relying on who she is, her determination, her strength,” says Keen. “It would have helped me when I was growing up to see a girl who is genuinely a force of nature.”
Lyra’s “force” is certainly felt when Keen deftly navigates intense scenes with co-stars Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda like a seasoned pro. But filming scenes with the many “daemon” characters proved quite complicated. In Pullman’s fantasy world, every human has an animal daemon by their side at all times, a sort of embodiment of each person’s soul. Keen reveals that she she worked closely with on set puppeteers to choreograph the movement of her daemon Pan in each scene. “Nothing you see on camera is random,” she notes. Once the blocking is memorized through a “puppet pass” of the scene, the puppeteer leaves and Keen is left to work off memory and imagination.
Lyra’s journey to take down a corrupt establishment resonated deeply with Keen. As she puts it, the show deals in the important themes of trust and truth. “She’s looking for people to love her and for her to trust,” the actress suggests. Performing that quest for truth has taught her that “no matter who you are or what you are, even if you think you can’t do it, there’s no point in saying ‘no I can’t do it.’” There are plenty of times the universe will tell you “no” in life, and Keen believes Lyra is here to teach us that “your job is to see if the universe’s ‘no’ is correct or not.”
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