After two years in limbo, Marcus Rutherford’s life might be about to change.
“Some of season one started filming in 2019. It’s been a whirlwind,” the 26-year-old actor tells me. “With COVID, we had two shutdowns that lasted roughly about five months each. It really felt like that first season took forever to get out. I think there’s some shots in the first episode where we look about 10.”
So far, so standard for the world of COVID drama production – but Rutherford’s new project The Wheel of Time is a little different from your average TV show. Based on a 14-book series of fantasy novels that began over 30 years ago and sold over 90 million copies worldwide, it’s a huge undertaking for the new cast, and a potentially big commitment – season two is already filming.
And after two years of working in the shadows, Rutherford and his co-stars now have to stand in the light as the world finally sees what they’ve been working on. If it’s a hit, they could be in for a Game of Thrones-length engagement, forced to move their lives permanently to the series’ production base in the Czech Republic and potentially play the same characters for years.
Or…it could flop, and they’ll just go back to normal life. No pressure, then.
“Finally having this reception that will come in the next week or so, it will be really, really amazing,” Rutherford tells me over Zoom, around a week before Wheel of Time’s release date (three episodes dropped on Amazon on Friday 19th November, with five more coming week to week).
“It’s something you think about, but I think until we see how people respond to it, you can’t assume that we’ll be doing it forever,”
“We’ve not relied on the idea that we’re going to be doing these characters for 10 years or whatever, but I think we’ve definitely thought about where our characters end up, and where they’re going to go.”
Helpfully, they have a guide in the mighty book series written by the late Robert Jordan, which painstakingly details the lives of Rutherford’s and the other characters as they battle the forces of evil, the darkness within themselves and even each other over the course of the massive, sprawling series.
Before all that, though, the story starts smaller. Specifically, it starts with five young people from a backwater village, one of whom is the reincarnation of a legendary figure who died thousands of years ago but has been called back to face a supernatural being called The Dark One.
The problem? Whoever is the Dragon Reborn will probably go mad with the tainted magic he or she wields – and they have no idea which one of the five kids it is.
“I play Perrin, who’s one of the kids,” Rutherford says. “Moiraine, who’s played by Rosamund Pike, goes on a quest to find the Dragon Reborn, which is sort of a prophecy that comes with each turn of the Wheel. She believes it’s one of these five kids from this village.
“Perrin is sort of the big, gentle giant of the group, the local blacksmith. And he’s a very introverted deep-thinker. Quite quiet. And I think on his journey, especially throughout season one, he has to really come to terms with how violent the world is around him. And I think it’s something that he really struggles with.
“If he is part of this prophecy, is there a way to do it where he releases a part of himself that he thinks can be quite destructive and quite dangerous?”
Soon forced to flee home and travel through strange lands, the so-called “Emond’s Field Five” are put through their paces in the dangerous fantasy world the show creates – and offscreen a similar bond was forged between Rutherford and the young cast, which includes Josha Stradowski, Zoë Robins and Madeleine Madden (another, Barney Harris, has been recast for season two).
“It’s funny, man, you really do feel as though you’ve gone on a journey with these people,” Rutherford laughs. “It was quite a daunting experience for all of us at the start. I’d only done some really indie films. Maddie and Zoe had maybe done a bit more, but they were coming from such a faraway place [specifically, Australia]. And then Josha [who’s Dutch] was mastering a different language at the same time.
“So seeing everyone grapple with their own kind of challenges at the start was amazing. It definitely does give us a sense of unity, and the idea that you’re starting a journey together. I think that having us all at the same level of experience at the start – a naivety in terms of actually making the show – probably permeates into the actual characters when we start as well.
“And then we’re getting more mature, and more experienced as we go through it. Which I think is adding to the maturity of the characters in two.”
In preparation, Rutherford has been reading the books – he’s currently on book three, the Dragon Reborn, noting he likes to be “one or two ahead” of where they’re shooting – and quickly noticed that there were a few changes in his character from the version Jordan wrote on the page.
“I kind of like to kind of keep ahead of where the character’s going, but also knowing that the scripts can divert from that a lot,” he explains.
Chief among those diversions is that (spoiler alert!) in the first episode Perrin has a wife who never existed in the books, and he accidentally causes her death during the attack on the Two Rivers. He’s tortured with guilt from thereon out.
“Once I got cast I was reading the first book, The Eye of the World and I realised, Oh, there are some changes here for this character.’” Rutherford says.
“I talked to [showrunner Rafe Judkins} and he explained. In the books, you can have a whole chapter of what’s going on in Perrin’s head, and how he processes things.
“I think that translating that to screen, sometimes having different relationships or different events, kind of assists the audience and also the actor in terms of giving a reason for why they’re behaving, or why he’s so quiet, or why he’s so reluctant to be violent, and stuff like that.”
At time of writing, it’s unclear whether the die-hard fans who’ve been waiting for decades to see a live-action Wheel of Time will appreciate or hate the changes. Dealing with that level of interest and expectation, does he feel any pressure?
“I think it was quite an interesting experience when we were getting announced, and I really realised how precious this character, and these characters and this world, was to so many people, and that community,” Rutherford says diplomatically. “People have been reading this since before I was born, and have been in love with these characters a lot longer than I have.
Loved this Big RT Interview? Check out these:
- Jodie Whittaker and Mandip Gill on Doctor Who series 13 – and what it’s like to leave the TARDIS behind
- John Bishop reveals why he originally turned down Doctor Who
“I think that kind of protective nature, I saw it as a fanbase who are extremely passionate. As an actor, you just want people to see your work. The fact that there’s a whole community surrounding these books already – you just sort of galvanise it to do the best that you can do, and connect with the character.
“Any pressure like that, it kind of gives everyone a wakeup call to kind of have higher expectations with what we’re doing – because there’s already a bar set so high by the world that Robert Jordan has created.”
Still, he does drop one hint for concerned fans that plenty of “missing” material hasn’t been cut entirely, and will be introduced later on.
“There’s definitely characters and elements that will be featuring in season two. I think there’s just so much to get into that first season,” he says. “There’s characters and cultures and stuff that are being brought on a lot more in season two.”
Ah, season two – the Trolloc in the room when it comes to the success of The Wheel of Time. Arguably, all this discussion about how people will like the show is moot, with filming already underway for a new batch of episodes. Clearly, Amazon have liked what they’ve seen so far, and Rutherford says it’s been a boost of confidence for the cast.
“It’s amazing that we’re doing season two off the back of the stuff they saw us doing in season one. And then, yeah, it’s kind of: you see where it goes, really,” he says.
“I know my character roughly kind of goes back to his village, where he grew up. So I think I’ll be based out of Prague for a while! But I think other characters go to hotter, more tropical kinds of places in the book. Yeah, I’ll probably stay here for a while.”
After season two, exactly how long he stays might depend on the viewers – and how well its success matches up to that other epic fantasy series, rumoured to be the main reason both The Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings were commissioned by Amazon.
“I mean, Game of Thrones, it did so well. It kind of set a bar,” Rutherford tells me. “It’s a credit to them that any show that enters that space is compared against it.
“I think there’s similar elements. The scale of it, and the magnitude, I think will sit well with people who like Game of Thrones. But I think there are elements of it that are quite refreshing. I think having a real international cast is something that I really loved from working on The Wheel of Time.
“And not to hone in on diversity and all this stuff, but working with a range of just different people, from all different backgrounds, within this fantasy space, is something that I, as a big fan of Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings and stuff, I just didn’t really see when I was growing up.
“Yeah, I think there’s elements of it that will definitely resonate with fans of Game of Thrones and fantasy genres, but there’s new elements – or particularly refreshing elements – in there as well,” he concludes.
Whether it’s a Westeros-size hit or just a fan-favourite, it seems clear that The Wheel of Time has made a big impact on Marcus Rutherford. Only time will tell just how big that impact is.
The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills…
The Wheel of Time episodes 1-3 are streaming on Amazon Prime Video now, with new episodes released on Fridays.