'His Dark Materials' on HBO Cast and Crew on How They Brought Their Daemons to Life

One crucial part of the His Dark Materials universe is the existence of daemons, the animal manifestations of the souls of the parallel world's residents. As such, when HBO and the BBC started making their adaptation of the book series, how to bring these daemons to the big-screen became all important.

Speaking of these daemons, Mrs. Coulter actress Ruth Wilson told Newsweek: "They're such an important dimension to this show, which you need to explore and get right, because they're not pets, they're part of your soul."

As such, the makers of the show decided that just adding CGI creatures, or what Wilson called "a ball on a stick," would not be enough to convey the link between a character and their daemon. They instead decided on a new process that would help the actors feel a physical link between them and their on-screen soul.

Lyra actress Dafne Keen explained: "We had puppets. We did a take with the puppet and then they pulled the puppet out and we remember what the puppet did. But we always had the voice of the actor, which really, really helps and the puppeteers really, really helped because that way you see what your soul is doing in a scene."

Those daemon voices include some high profile names like Peaky Blinders actress Helen McCrory, who provides the voice of Lord Asriel's (James McAvoy) daemon Stelmaria. McAvoy joked: "So in my head always had Helen's voice for Stelmaria and Jane [Tranter, His Dark Materials producer] said to me 'is there anybody you've got in mind?' I said Helen, and she said, 'mmm, she'll be expensive.' But we got her!"

his dark materials daemons
Lyra (Dafne Keen) and her daemon Pantalaimon in "His Dark Materials." HBO

Cost was something that was very much on the crew's mind as they tried to bring this huge epic story to screen on a BBC and HBO budget, and this led to actors having to think in new ways. "You'd have to think about what you'd do as an actor if the other half of your soul was also a physically manifested being, McAvoy said.

"If it was just you, usually it's fine. You do something and then maybe simplify a bit so you don't have to finish shooting too late. But, with the daemon, sometimes you'd make an acting choice but it would be an expensive acting choice that's going to cost a lot of CGI man hours. So you think to yourself, 'can I make another acting choice that's equally true?'"

Speaking about why the His Dark Materials crew could not just rely on CGI, Tranter said: "Normally when you do something which is CGI-heavy the actors just have to get on with it. But because it's 50 percent of the performance to some extent, when the daemons are on screen with them, we didn't think that we could have found that genuine sort of credibility and authenticity to what a demon was. They could have ended up just being animals or pets, which they most definitely are not."

Asked what he thinks his daemon would be in real life, McAvoy said: "A lot of people in Phillip [Pullman's] world want to be a snow leopard but they end up being a beagle or a marmoset. I think I'd be a sea otter."

His Dark Materials airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

'His Dark Materials' on HBO Cast and Crew on How They Brought Their Daemons to Life | Culture