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You’d imagine the cast and crew of Amazon Prime Video’s long-awaited The Wheel of Time adaptation would be biting their nails as its first season begins to roll out, but they’re in the midst of filming season two, “shooting the fifth and sixth episodes”, as creator Rafe Judkins reveals to Supanova.
“Even though [season one] is just about to come out, we did it a long time ago, it feels like, ‘Okay, we’re ready for people to start catching up with where we are in production, too,’” he says.
Judkins had his work cut out for him in bringing Robert Jordan’s epic 14-book series to life on the small screen, but he set out with a clear vision in mind.
“We really tried to approach it as an adaptation of the whole [book] series and try to get across the feeling that you have when you read the whole series into this first season of the show,” he tells.
“I think one thing that I love about the book series is that it just always builds on itself… the world is just constantly expanding, and you are sort of sucked in more and more the whole way through. I’m really excited about the potential of people being able to hopefully watch this for a long time, because I do think that it just keeps getting better and better.
“There’s a lot of fantasy coming out on television now, and I think the thing that you can see that’s slightly different in The Wheel of Time is, we really do have the focus on those core characters.
You’ll meet this group of people in the Two Rivers, the small mountain village at the beginning, and then when Rosamund Pike [as Moiraine Damodred] comes in and tells them, ‘You’re coming with me,’ and they race out into the wide world beyond, you really get to experience it with each of them.
“We treat the show like a real ensemble piece, so you go with each of these characters and spend time with each of them and understand how each of them is on a slightly different journey.
“The thing that I think keeps people coming back for 14 books that are a thousand pages each, some of them, is that they just care intimately about these characters, and they want to see what happens to them next. One of the great things Robert Jordan does is that you really go out and see this incredible world that he’s created through these characters’ eyes.
“As they go into new places, you feel like you’re experiencing the new place, too. I think that’s the core, honestly, of why people have stuck with it for so long and read all of the books, is they want to know what happens to these people next, and they’re invested in their lives.”
In speaking with others involved in the project, it’s clear that Judkins’ knowledge, passion and talent are unrivalled in this realm (“That’s very nice of them, and I keep them all on the payroll for just that reason”), and he’s enlisted a brilliant ensemble to help bring the world to life, including Josha Stradowski as Rand al’Thor, Marcus Rutherford as Perrin Aybara and Australia’s own Madeleine Madden as Egwene Al’Vere alongside New Zealand talent Zoë Robins as Nynaeve al’Meara, all of whom Supanova had the pleasure of speaking with.
“You could study The Wheel of Time for a very, very long time, but I guess as an actor, that’s something you want, so you have something to sink your teeth in,” Stradowski says, noting that while he tried to read as much source material as possible, it was ultimately the scripts that he used to bring Rand to life.
Rutherford emphasises that, as actors, they’re “very fortunate” to have the books there to help guide them when they need them and that they help in deciphering what it is about each character that so many people have connected with.
“I think once you kind of gauge those things, then you can sort of start to make the character your own, whilst kind of paying homage and really honouring what was on the page initially,” he says.
Stradowski adds: “Because there have been so many copies sold of The Wheel of Time books, there is an image out there, and that’s pressure, but I just try to stay away from that pressure. Because, for me at least, it kills creativity. I just run away from that image, and really have my own interpretation of what the essence of Rand is.”
While they all spent a lot of time and effort in bringing their respective characters to life, Robins notes that, due to COVID, “there were various moments throughout the two years of us shooting that it felt like maybe we wouldn’t make it to the finish line.”
“I mean, we shut down for a while and things felt like they were up in the air, but we’re here now,” she tells. “And we just had the premiere, which was really special. It was just a wonderful celebration of all the hard work that everyone’s put into the show over the last few years… it’s a really wonderful, surreal moment.”
Madden reveals that finally seeing the finished product was “very overwhelming”.
“There are places that we went to, such as Slovenia, where that was the beginning of our journey, and that’s where a lot of the exteriors for the Two Rivers was set. So you go to these places and it’s honestly like going on a gap year or traveling with your mates,” Madden explains.
“You travel around and have fun. But you get very sentimental and I get quite nostalgic, because you can reflect on these important and precious moments for your characters but then also the moments that we shared together off set.
“I think it’s also wonderful seeing what your other co-stars have been up to. We get to a point where our characters split off and go on their own journeys separately, so it’s also really nice to see what everyone else has been working on. But just the grand scale of the worlds and how expansive they are, you really lose yourself in them.”
Robins adds: “Yeah, you do. I mean, we watched the first two episodes quite recently, and you can see, we look very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and very green. I mean, there’s a lot more wrinkles and a lot more gray hairs now after this.”
The Wheel of Time has been a long time coming, something executive producers Marigo Kehoe and Mike Weber can both attest to.
“We’ve been the only ones that have been able to see this whole series up until this point and just can’t wait to get the reaction from the world,” Weber says.
The anticipation speaks to the community the franchise has already built and Weber attributes that to its “great, universally relatable coming of age journey”.
“It’s sort of people from a small town getting introduced to a world that’s larger than they ever imagined and then getting the opportunity to go on an adventure with a very steep learning curve about relationships and danger, and their aspirations in life. I think it’s got sort of all those things wrapped into one.”
“There’s universal themes,” Kehoe adds, “a sense of balance behind it all and in this strange world that we’re living in now, I think it’s something that we can all relate to. It’s just got very powerful, underlying themes to it all with characters that you love.”
And fans can expect a lot more characters to be introduced throughout the show’s run, as Rutherford reveals.
“I mean, we’re shooting season two at the moment, and the new characters and new people who are coming in, it’s still so exciting seeing these incredibly thought out, three-dimensional characters, coming in from completely different areas, completely different cultures,” he says.
“And I just think that wealth of a world, and how expansive it is, it just allows for people to connect with so many different things. I think anyone who watches this, whether they’re a fantasy fan or not, there’ll be a character that they really, really fall in love with.”
Stradowski highlights another point of difference: In The Wheel of Time, “women are in control”; they’re the only ones able to wield magic.
“The world of The Wheel of Time is very diverse, with many different cultures, beliefs, people, places,” Stradowski emphasises. “And also, the cast is very diverse. So, I think those are really strengths, but I think for me, what connects me with The Wheel of Time is really the characters. And especially those Two Rivers fork, the Two Rivers gang, because their relationships feel real.
“Although it’s fantasy, it probably feels like the most realistic character I’ve ever portrayed. And the relationships also feel that way; it’s very genuine, and that’s what connects me with The Wheel of Time.”
That diversity of characters is something “you don’t often see” in fantasy, says Robins.
“I hope that people feel like they are represented somehow,” she notes. “We’ve got a really beautiful opportunity here to showcase the world in which we live in. I think we’re representing a lot of diverse communities and people of colour in particular, but also different genders.
“So, I hope people feel like they can see themselves reflected back on them, because it’s time. And what’s also wonderful about Wheel of Time is that it just presents the world like this, as it is. It’s not forced. It’s just how the world is, which is how our real-life society is as well. So, I hope people feel seen.”