Thirty years ago, Terry Brooks wrote The Elfstones of Shannara the sequel to his hit novel, The Sword of Shannara. It critically acclaimed and took the fantasy world by storm. However, back then, book adaptations weren’t the norm that they are today. Even Lord of the Rings was only partially adapted into an animated series. Today, fantasy has become almost mainstream. Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have become instantaneous classics. Now, fantasy is making its next stop on MTV! In January, MTV will begin airing The Shannara Chronicles based on Elfstones with the support of author Terry Brooks. Last week, the Motion Picture Club was granted the opportunity to speak with the cast of The Shannara Chronicles.
First, we spoke with Poppy Drayton, who plays one of the heroines of the show, the Elven princess Amberle Elessedil. She had never read the books before she auditioned, but quickly became a fan once she got the part. Drayton said that she loved that she could play a strong female character and that the show treats her accordingly. In a genre where female characters tend to have skimpy armor, she said that while her armor could be a bit uncomfortable, it was very sensible. The props and armor were made by Weta Workshop, one of the most well known effects companies, best known for their work on Lord of the Rings. She loved the jewelry that they created so much that she wore some of it to the convention. Drayton said that the most uncomfortable armor belonged to the Elven Home Guard, who wore full plate armor and sometimes collapsed on hot days. Drayton talked about how the cast became a family as the show progressed. The show was filmed sequentially for 6 months in New Zealand and Drayton said that by the time they reached the later episodes the cast had really bonded. Those episodes were her favorites to film and she was excited for fans to see them. Drayton also said that the production values of the show were “like a movie.” She talked about how she and co-star Austin Butler would film some scenes in front of an enormous green screen where they would compare how each of them imagined the monster they were fighting. She laughed and said they were both usually “completely wrong.”
Next, we spoke to Austin Butler, who plays the young hero of the show, the half-elf Healer Wil Ohmsford. He said that he was “excited for people to see [the show],” especially fans of the books. Although he had never read the books, he said that his dentist told him about them. He loved The Neverending Story as a child and likes that the sci-fi/fantasy genre is a “metaphor for real life.” Butler said that he used his personal experiences to build upon his character which he feels “makes a difference.” He lost his mother only a few months before shooting began, much like how his character loses his family in the beginning of the show. Butler also said that MTV has been wonderful in it’s support of the show. His “biggest fear” was that they would pressure the show to become more like the teen drama shows that populate the network. However, the network was “super open-minded” and let the show adopt its own identity. Butler said that his favorite moment of the season was one that he filmed with Manu Bennett. He and Bennett were riding horses on a beach and were supposed to keep their horses to a trot. Instead, Bennett encouraged Butler to race with him at full gallop, even though he had barely ridden a horse before.
We sat next with Manu Bennett, who plays Allanon the immortal Druid guide. Bennett is well known for his recent roles as Crixus in Spartacus and Slade Wilson in Arrow. We actually began the session with Austin’s horse riding story. He said that Allanon, who has lived through previous wars, is there to help Butler’s character, Wil, cope with the loss of his family. By encouraging him to gallop at that moment, he was telling him that it was still okay to take some risks and enjoy life. Bennett also spent a great deal of time discussing what drives him as an actor, both in general and in this role, and what shapes his life.
Finally, we talked with the producers of the show Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Jonathan Liebesman. Gough and Millar are well known for creating the hit show, Smallville. Like with Smallville, they had never read the source material when they decided to create a show for it. They acknowledged that MTV seemed an odd choice for this type of show, but they were the only network that was willing to give them the budget and creative freedom needed for the show. They were able to produce a television show on the level of a feature film. They hope that fans of the book series will greatly enjoy the show. Having Terry Brooks assist with the creation of the show helped them preserve the original spirit of the show. They do regret having to cut some fan favorite side characters, but they felt that it did not hurt the overall integrity of the story. They laughed and said that was the benefit of dealing with a completed series. No one will be surprised that a side character that was excluded ends up being of the utmost importance later in the story. They stated that this season will encompass the entirety of Elfstones. There will be a definitive start and end to the story. However, the universe is rich enough that they could expand the story beyond the books if they are lucky enough to have a second season.
Before you go, check out the amazing trailer that premiered during New York Comic Con!
The Shannara Chronicles will premiere on MTV on Tuesday, January 5th.