'His Dark Materials' Is Not an Attack on Religion, Stars Say as First Trailer Debuts

The cast of His Dark Materials, HBO's newest drama based on the trilogy of fantasy novels from author Philip Pullman, introduced their new show to a packed Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday afternoon with the first full trailer for the series, debuting this fall on HBO.

Stars James McAvoy (Lord Asriel), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Lee Scoresby), Ruth Wilson (Mrs. Coulter), Dafne Keen (Lyra), writer Jack Thorne and executive producer Jane Tranter greeted the enthusiastic crowd, whose biggest cheers came not for the stars but actually for the first look at fan favorite character Iorek Byrnison, an armored bear who plays a pivotal role in the story.

His Dark Materials stars Logan breakout Keen as the young Lyra, a girl living a sheltered life among the academics at Jordan College, Oxford. In this parallel universe, science, theology and magic are entwined. Per HBO's official description, Lyra's "search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children and becomes a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust."

The story is dark, but Tranter said it's a family show. "In my experience, children love dark, complicated themes and big questions about who we are and where we are. And I think that Pullman never underestimated children either. ... Pullman says what he wrote was adult books that children should read, and I hope that we ended up making an adult piece that children will watch and should watch. But essentially we just followed his lead."

Thorne said he wrote more than 40 drafts of the pilot in an attempt to get the tone of the project right and to include the small character parts of Pullman's novels that make them such full stories.

The series is incredibly timely, he said, because it's about the quest for goodness versus greatness.

"This is an anti-superhero story, in that if this was a superhero story you'd be following the Lord Asriel part," he said. "There's people that are seeking greatness in this story, and there are people that are following their own goodness. And the thing I love about Lyra is she is constantly following the path of the good. I really believe that we should be following our goodness right now and we aren't getting distracted by greatness. ...There's something very beautiful about the way that Philip sees the world and the way he communicates this world."

And while the books are seemingly critical of organized religion, Tranter said that is not the case.

"Philip Pullman in these books is not attacking belief, is not attacking faith. He's not attacking religion or the church, per se. He's attacking a particular form of control, where there is a very deliberate attempt to withhold information, keep people in the dark, and not allow ideas and thinking to be free. ... It doesn't equate to any particular church or form of religion in in our world. So we should be clear on that."

Miranda, who read the books with his wife when they first started dating, said his first few days on set included a complicated sequence with the levers in his character's hot air balloon, then a three-day long bar fight. A crew member suggested that the ever-busy Miranda would take a long holiday after filming, but Miranda told him the shoot was the vacation.

"Me getting to be a cowboy who flies a balloon and fights in bars was the holiday," he said.

Also fun to note: Miranda's first scene involves him singing a duet with his daemon (each character's inner self is physically manifested in the form of an animal "daemon").

Wilson, meanwhile, was drawn to her character after hearing her described as "the mother of all evil" and "a cesspit of moral filth."

"She's the master manipulator, so she's incredible but also deeply vulnerable when you want to get into her and see where and why and what makes her tick. It's kind of scary."

Tom Hopper directed the first two episodes of the BBC co-production, which filmed in Wales in the summer of 2018.

While the trilogy has been adapted for radio and the theater, the highest-profile project was the 2007 film The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards and Eva Green, and was based on Pullman's first novel, Northern Lights — which was released as The Golden Compass in North America.