In its first episode, the BBC’s take on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is more or less faithful to the books, making a few tweaks and minor rearrangements here and there and adding a scene or two – but in the second episode, things start to change more drastically.
In surprising scenes, this week’s instalment of the epic fantasy drama saw villain Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) step through a door into another universe – our universe, in fact, introducing a multiple worlds storyline that doesn’t begin until much later in Pullman’s text (second book The Subtle Knife, specifically).
“He wants to know more than anyone else. And he keeps secrets continuously. So that makes him move from one world to another quite easily,” Ariyon Bakare said of his character, who has an expanded role in the TV adaptation. “I love playing him.”
But originally, Bakare had reservations about taking on the character, who only appears briefly in the background of Pullman’s first novel Northern Lights before taking a larger role in the sequel.
“I didn’t read the books until I actually got the job,” Bakare told RadioTimes.com from the His Dark Materials set earlier this year.
“And then I read it, and I was like, ‘He’s not in the book. Who is he?’ But then I met [director] Tom Hooper. And we had a great chat.”
As with other characters like the Gyptians, Hooper explained to Bakare that the aim with the expansion of Boreal’s story wasn’t necessarily to change anything, but to fill in the blanks of what he was up to “offstage” during Northern Lights. After all, when he’s reintroduced in The Subtle Knife in our own world, he’s been living between two universes for some time – so why not show that onscreen?
“We see more of Lord Boreal,” Bakare said. “You see his journey and you see the beginnings of what he wants in book one.
“With the book, you don’t understand the relationship between him and Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson), so what they’ve done this time is decided ‘Why don’t we explore that relationship? Why don’t we see the beginnings of that relationship?’ Which is great. You have to do that for film and TV, otherwise you won’t be invested. So I think they invested a lot into Boreal.
“I think people are going to be excited by the revelations, and the explosions of revelations that happen with Boreal.”
Ariyon Bakare in His Dark Materials (BBC)
The one scene where Boreal does appear in the Northern Lights book is present and correct, of course – he drops into Mrs Coulter’s party shortly before Lyra’s (Dafne Keen) escape – but in another new extension we also see the character’s full ruthlessness, with Boreal murdering journalist Adele Starminster (Georgina Campbell) by crushing her butterfly-dæmon in his hand.
“The scene with Georgina Campbell, that was an amazing scene,” Bakare told us. “That was one of the best scenes I’ve done. I think the scenes when Boreal can be as mean, and as evil as he can be, then it really works. You just want to do an evil laugh at the end of it!
“What I try and do is play different versions of him. So, I try to make him very mercurial. Sometimes he’s the nicest person, who smiles through everything, and other times he’s ‘steely dan’. He’s so cold-hearted, murderous. And he’s a detective as well.
“Hmm – also I get the best costumes,” he added, with a thought.
“He has the best houses, the best costumes; he looks really cool. [In our world] he drives a Tesla. I mean, come on! You don’t even have to drive it. The car drove up to me, I was like ‘I am Boreal. Yes, I am Boreal. Car, come!’”
In future weeks, fans can presumably expect more shady dealings from Boreal, his unknown accomplice in our world (Robert Emms) and his ties to the Magisterium – and based on how Bakare describes him, we’d bet Lyra and her allies would be wise to keep an eye out for him…
“He’s power-hungry, a megalomaniac, and wants everything,” Bakare said. “He’s agnostic. Doesn’t really believe in religion. He’s more into gaining power in everything. He’s a collector of items, and things, and people.
“He’s basically the villain of the piece. He’s as dark as Mrs Coulter. He’s a male version of her. Any time you think how bad she is, just think I’m 10 times worse.
“He crosses between every single world, and he knows everything. He keeps secrets from everyone. He’s a maverick of villainy. I love him.”
His Dark Materials continues on BBC One on Sundays at 8pm