Interview: Ruth Wilson On Asriel & Mrs Coulter’s Relationship In “His Dark Materials” Season 3

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Fans have patiently waited for 2 years since “His Dark Materials” season 2 finished in December 2020. The last time we saw Will and Lyra, things were looking grim. Will’s dad John Parry was murdered, while Lyra was found and kidnapped by her mother Mrs. Coulter.

With the third and final season currently underway, viewers will finally learn the fate of the multiverse. In this interview with Ruth Wilson, the 40-year-old English actress talks about Marisa Coulter aka Mrs. Coulter’s damaged relationship with Lyra. “She knew that there was no way they could actually exist together, both awake. They couldn’t find that dynamic. So it was only in the repression of the child could she be near her. It’s really brutal, it’s quite intense,” she shared. More on her character here:

Q: Where do we find Mrs Coulter at the beginning of the final season of “His Dark Materials”? 

Okay, so at the end of second series, Mrs Coulter had finally got hold of her child Lyra [Dafne Keen], she’d kidnapped her and she was on a boat. I think that’s the last time you saw her – sort of putting Lyra into some kind of chest. And then we find her at the beginning of season three, she’s found a cave in the middle of nowhere, she’s gone back to her world and she’s in a cave with her daughter. And the only way she can keep hold of her daughter is to drug her. So she’s keeping her daughter asleep and sort of waiting and hoping. I’m not sure she quite knows what her plan is, for the first time ever, Mrs Coulter. So she’s sort of out there with her child and just thinks that’s the best way of keeping Lyra safe, away from the Magisterium, away from the various powers that be that are looking for her. So she’s holding on to her.

Q: How much time does she spend with Asriel this season? 

I mean, Asriel kidnaps Mrs Coulter right at the beginning. And the whole thing is about can you trust her? That’s really what Asriel – and everyone – has to work out: is she gonna be part of his gang and, you know, fight this war, or is she kind of like a massive liability? She’s still as dodgy as hell, she won’t give him any clean answers. So the whole season is about them. Asriel hasn’t been seen on screen as much as Mrs Coulter in the first two seasons, so whereas with Mrs Coulter we’ve been able to see her development as a character throughout two seasons and you understand her a bit better – she’s come a long way; she’s someone else from where she started – we get to see that with Asriel this season. They don’t come in on the same page; they’re sort of slightly at odds with each other and don’t recognise each other in a way. This whole season is about them coming back together and understanding each other on different terms.

Q: Where do you think she’s at in psychological or motivational terms this season? 

For Mrs C perhaps it is a bit more domestic or a bit more personal than Asriel’s grand mission because she’s almost come through some of that stuff already. She’s not seeking world domination or even following a big, ideological grand plan. She’s let go of that in some respects and is now understanding the value of her child and what her child’s role in all this is. I think that’s what the conflict is between Mrs C and Asriel. There are grand ideas and themes at play and what they’re doing is massive, but they’ve got a personal story, too. And they’ve got this child at the heart of it. So it’s like parents warring over a child a bit.

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Q: Where did you film the cave scenes on the coast? 

It was amazing. It was all on the Pembrokeshire coast. It’s funny: the first few seasons we didn’t go outside of the studio that much and loads of it was created inside. This year we’ve been on locations a lot more and I think it’s really added to the whole season. It makes it more expansive, it’s beautiful and around there those locations are stunning: those places are amazing. They feel quite magical. The little cave I’m hiding in has a whole story behind it. Some monk built a cave into the rock face and there’s a sort of old myth that some sailor was rescued by the rock face – the rocks closed in on him as the storm was coming or something. We had a really lovely warm summer last year and there are loads of beaches along there on the Pembrokeshire Coast. So yeah, I swam, and lots of the crew were getting into having a swim after work. It makes filming really pleasant.

Q: Do you feel “His Dark Materials” is perhaps even more pertinent to the world in 2022 than it was when it was published 20 years ago? 

I sort of think at the moment, in the Western world, things are becoming more politically divided and extreme. The right and left are becoming stronger in their ideologies and more dogmatic in what they believe in. The middle ground seems to have disappeared, or certainly hasn’t got a voice at the moment. Often Philip [Pullman, author] talks about imagination, but also the joy of language, the joy of discussion, the joy of debate. I mean, that’s what the books are, in a way. They are challenging, but it’s a form of debate. You know, it’s like, let’s discuss: it’s saying, authoritarianism no, but spiritualism, yes, it’s amazing. So he’s encouraging people to think in a broad way.

But at the moment we seem to be very dogmatic, with everything black and white. And so perhaps these stories and their relevance are greater, and their importance is greater at the moment, certainly in the Western world. 

Then again everywhere in the world there are always religions that are dogmatic — you only have to look at what’s been happening in Afghanistan. So “His Dark Materials” will remain relevant forever, because it talks about such grand themes of things like that, but also the domestic and the human. Humans will always find ways to understand their world, and they won’t always be good. And humans will always manipulate those themes and those ideologies for their own greater good and greed. So I think these books will always remain relevant. It’s just that in our time now, in the West, it does feel a little bit more pertinent.

Catch “His Dark Materials’ Season 3 on HBO (Astro Ch 411) and HBO GO, with 2 new episodes premiering every Tuesday, and the finale episode on 27th December.

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