After weeks absent from the story, one of His Dark Materials’ biggest stars is about to make his debut, with musical theatre and movie star Lin-Manuel Miranda finally appearing as fan favourite character Lee Scoresby in the fourth episode of the BBC’s Philip Pullman adaptation.
A Texan aeronaut (he has his own balloon) and gunfighter with an Arctic Hare dæmon named Hester and a close relationship with heroine Lyra (Dafne Keen), it’s not hard to see why the eccentric, warm-hearted Scoresby appealed to so many readers of Pullman’s books – or indeed, to Miranda himself.
“I love that character,” Miranda told RadioTimes.com. “And I find that the filming of this has been a checklist of things I’ve always wanted to do in a movie or a TV show.
“My first two days of rehearsal last summer were: Day one, here’s your rehearsal singing in a hot air balloon as you learn to adjust the pulleys and straps and weights and gases.
“And your second day is a bar fight. I was like ‘Those are like my two favourite bucket list things I’ve not gotten to do on-screen before!’”
Notably, Miranda was by far the earliest casting in the series, with executive producer Jane Tranter and screenwriter Jack Thorne having him in mind for Scoresby from the early stages and instructing him to keep his involvement a secret for over a year.
“Lee Scoresby was really straightforward – I decided in 2016, quite early in 2016 that I really wanted Lin-Manuel to play Lee Scoresby,” Tranter revealed on the His Dark Materials set in late 2018. “And that was the first piece of casting we did.”
— His Dark Materials (@darkmaterials) November 20, 2019
In fact, Miranda’s casting was planned so early on that even the very first concept art for the series depicts Lee Scoresby in his image, while other characters remained more generic in the sketches and paintings.
“I felt that he had all of the spirit and the charm, the humanity, the kindness of Lee Scoresby,” Tranter explained.
“But I knew he would find the fun of it too, and the charisma. The sort of everyday charisma that Lin has got and then some, and then some!”
Miranda, meanwhile, was slightly less sure at first, noting that he wasn’t exactly a physical match for the older, moustachioed and wiry Texan described in Pullman’s novels – a concern that some fans have made known since his casting was first announced.
“Of course if I’m reading His Dark Materials, I wouldn’t cast me first!” Miranda agreed.
“When you think about what’s on the page, you can’t get better than Sam Eliot [in 2007 movie The Golden Compass]. He’s like Texan, he’s already got the moustache. He’s got it all already!”
— BBC One (@BBCOne) November 23, 2019
Still, he was willing to go along with Thorne and Tranter’s vision – “I said ‘Well maybe they see something I don’t, and I’m gonna trust them!’” – and so came onboard for the ride.
“It was a very clear declaration of intent, having him,” Tranter said. “But we had to keep him secret for so long. I first met him on December 13th 2016, and we didn’t announce him until 2018. I mean it leaked out earlier in 2018, but it was the best-kept secret.
“It was a very long period of time. I would literally wake up every day thinking ‘Is this the day that Lin pulls out and breaks my heart?’ But he just didn’t.”
Filming meant Miranda moving his family to Wales, which he enjoyed, visiting local musical theatre karaoke nights and exploring the countryside when he had time off from filming at Bad Wolf’s studio complex in Cardiff.
And while shooting he quickly stuck up a friendship with young lead Dafne Keen, in a mirror of their characters’ onscreen relationship.
“Developing Lyra and Lee’s relationship onscreen was easy because it was like mine and Lin’s real relationship – but with less joking around or singing,” Keen told Radio Times magazine in a recent interview, explaining that a mutual love of musical theatre formed a bond between the pair.
“The biggest thing that Dafne had worked on prior to this was Logan, where she sat around and sang show-tunes with Hugh Jackman,” Miranda recalled.
“And I was like ‘Oh I can sing show0tunes with you all day! That’s something I can also do.’ So we fell into a rapport very easily, and it’s a delight to play with her.”
But as Miranda prepared to shoot his character’s first scene, the music didn’t just stay behind the camera. After all, given Miranda’s musical background as the creator and star of smash hit musical Hamilton, it’s no surprise that Thorne found a way to slip in a musical number for Lee as an introduction..
“You’d have to ask them if that was a Hamilton reference, I don’t know,” Miranda told us.
“When I got the script it was me doing a duet with my dæmon. And I love that, I love the notion… well, just the conceit of the dæmon being a way for you to express internal monologues externally.
“Obviously Lee’s a guy who spends a lot of time alone, so of course he’s humming a tune and his dæmon is singing harmony,” Miranda concluded.
“It’s really just such a beautiful way to meet him.”
And after weeks waiting for Miranda and Scoresby to appear, here’s hoping the fans agree.
His Dark Materials continues on BBC One at 8pm on Sundays