Interviewing Olivia Taylor Dudley of The Magicians ended up becoming the third part in our Magicians trilogy (following some really powerful interviews with Summer Bishil and Hale Appleman). It was in many ways a sort of a culmination and a strange kind of magic as each interview came about independently, and yet they all felt sort of otherworldly. In essence, Olivia Taylor Dudley was tremendous, and despite being ‘Brief Take’, we did a very deep dive into Alice Quinn, Some of Our Stallions, and much much more and she could not have been more generous with her answers.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our conversation with self-identifying introvert Olivia Taylor Dudley.
Brief Take: I really liked the “eight hearts beating as one” idea and the entire ensemble must be on a similar wavelength.
Olivia Taylor Dudley: It’s so funny, that’s what happened. What drew me to the material in the books and in the pilot is that they were all very human to me, and it’s a fantastic show, but at the heart of it it’s about the human condition. They cast a bunch of actors who are very connected to art and…very human! We all just clicked as family and friends immediately and we’re super close, as close as you can be. You don’t always see each other in the offseason because we live in different places, but we really do feel like a family when we’re shooting. Everybody takes their roles very seriously and their characters mean a lot to them. It’s not always like that when you are working on stuff and it’s nice to know that after 4 years of working on it, we care even more than we did in the beginning about our characters and each other, so the “eight hearts beating as one”, that’s a great way of putting it. That’s kind of how it feels.
BT: How do you feel that this season everyone except for you gets a new character?
OTD: Yeah! [laughs] I mean I understand why I didn’t get a new character, and I think it’s great! I think what’s going to happen in season 4 is very exciting. Everyone gets to play, which is something because they get to play different characters than they start out, and as Alice, I’ve gotten to play twenty different versions of her. My showrunners, John (McNamara) and Sera (Gamble) have been very trusting of me. When I wanted to explore a different version of her, they let me go for it and they write it, and it’s been really fun to micromanage her performance in those ways. So I feel like I’ve gotten to really stretch Alice in many different directions. It’s fun to see everybody else switch it up and find different facets of their characters. The idea of taking characters that you know forget who they are and switching it up is hilarious to me.
BT: What is something that you have learned about yourself by playing Alice Quinn?
OTD: Alice and I are very similar. Season 1 Alice and I are very similar in the way that we are both introverted and I’ve never been very concerned with joining a crowd. So I understand her on a lot of levels there. But the physicality of Alice is very different than me because I’m a pretty sloppy mover and dresser and I’m a tomboy, I don’t brush my hair for weeks on end, and Alice couldn’t be more opposite. She’s very A-type, so my best way into her was to find the little physical things that I had to do before every take just to get into her body–she walks very different, she talks differently than me, her voice is lower. Her hair is very straight, mine is wavy and messy. I do this thing before every take, all four seasons, in which I take my hair and tuck it behind my ear, I pull down the sides to make sure that they are straight and then I go. That just reminds me in which of the specific ways that she moves through the world. Yeah, I don’t know, she talks so different than me, and something like when I read the books that I imagined her talking like. She’s a higher register in her voice and talks very fast. And it’s easy for me the second that I get back to work and I’m playing Alice again, the second I started doing that, it just clicks.
BT: What’s a day on set of The Magicians that stuck with you?
OTD: One of my biggest fears is singing in front of people and that was one thing from when I was younger, I have really bad stage fright, but singing is like the ultimate scary thing. But on our show, we have musical episodes and they’re terrifying to me and John McNamara, our showrunner, who’s a huge musical fan and always liked those episodes. He’s just become my champion when it comes to singing and he’s really made me feel incredible when it comes to it. If I’m good or not, it doesn’t matter, he’s given me the confidence to add singing to my performance and it’s been amazing! There’s an episode in season 4 in which I get to sing songs in front of everybody and I don’t know, there was this moment in which I was completely a part of Alice and I was singing this song and I was crying and everybody was moved by it in that moment, and I was like “wow—this is everything”. My fear is also my dream, and it’s all happening in this place with the people I love. You haven’t seen it yet, so it wouldn’t make sense to you! But those kinds of moments in which you get challenged on a project and you break through are always the best.
BT: What is something that you enjoy about being a part of such a meta-aware show?
OTD: Well it was really scary in season 1 because we have this book series that is beloved and has this fanbase, and you want to do it justice. I was sent the pilot before I read the books. I loved the pilot and I immediately started reading the books before I even got the call that I booked it, and fell in love with it, and I’m like “oh no, this is going to be difficult, that we’re going to have to nail this or people are going to hate us for it”, and that’s always the rub of doing an adaptation. I think John and Sera, our showrunners, and the writers have done an incredible job of saying “okay, we’re going to take the things that we love about the books, but we’re going to give it its own voice as a TV show, and that way we don’t get stuck”. Lev Grossman, the writer of the books, has been on board the entire time and loves seeing the changes. To him, it’s fascinating to see his characters say lines that he never would have gotten to write in the book, storylines unfold on TV, so I think for them and for us, the books are always the most important thing. For the actors, I know we are always going back to the books, and I think that having such quick and intelligent writing as they do leaves a lot of room for being self-aware. I don’t know, it amazes me every time I receive a script from that show. It’s so dense and somehow you come out the other side and you’re not confused or mad, you’re like “whoa, what just happened?”. [laughs]
BT: What is important to you as a filmmaker and as a person who appreciates film?
OTD: Oh man, movies are everything to me. I’ve been obsessed with film since I was like…three years old. It’s the only thing that I really understand and to which I relate, which is filmmaking. I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker, and in the last year I’ve gotten to produce several projects and edit them, and I wrote something and I’ve gotten to write and direct a short about which I’m excited and I hope that turns into more directing projects. Acting is always going to be my number one, I love it, but getting to be part of the whole process is very dear to me. I had a web series for a really long time with my friends, 5-Second Films, and we put out a 5 second film every day for 6 years, which was a massive feat. This was before YouTube blew up and we were at the forefront of that. It’s kind of like a crash course in filmmaking because we all wore every hat at all times and had to produce a film every single day and edit it, that sort of stuff, and direct it and write it and I don’t know, I just love the creative energy on set. If I can be a part of it, any way shape or form, I’m happy.
BT: What does your role as performer on The Magicians bring to your role as filmmaker?
OTD: Being a series regular for four years, you get to sharpen the tools of acting and how to shoot ten pages in a day, which is a lot, and try to be “on” the whole day and use the space of television is crazy. So you get to sharpen up your tools a lot in working in television, you have to be a part of the camera team, you have to be part of the family, because you’re all working together and it has to be done a certain way, or else we’re not going to make the day. So it’s important to watch the other actors over the years learn more about the camera stuff, and you just really learn a lot when you are working on a television show, I think. I think that I’ve learned a lot about intricate storytelling and I think that the most important thing for me is how to be in the story and how to tell it and how to actually pull it off is probably the most important thing for me. In all areas of filmmaking, you’re a storyteller, whether you are writing, directing, acting, filming it–you’re just trying to figure out the best way to tell a story. So I think that’s a very valuable thing for me is watching the writing unfold on the show.
BT: Do you have a song that reminds you of The Magicians?
OTD: I mean every time we sing a song on the show it is forever embedded in my brain, and is always stuck in my head. In season 3, we sang a Queen song and it’s never not going to be in my head. Every time I hear that song playing, I am always picturing the other actors and all of us working on it, going for it, being intimate, it’s like it makes the song have a different meaning. I like film scores and soundtracks and I’m a bit of a nerd, so I don’t know, I’m not listening to a lot of music when I’m playing Alice. I don’t think she’s necessarily a musical person. I always have Newsies on in my trailer, honestly. [laughs] Alice is probably more of a political podcast kind of gal.
BT: What can you say about your upcoming film Some of Our Stallions?
OTD: I really love the script. Al Di, who is also starring in it, is actually a good friend of mine and introduced me to Carson Mell, who is the writer and director and is the lead actor in Some of Our Stallions. It’s very different than what I have been doing lately, which is obviously The Magicians, because I came from the movie world, and that’s where my heart is. Playing very different characters on an indie budget is my favourite thing to do, and this script is fantastic because I get to play this woman who is dealing with a lot of demons. She’s fresh out of her mental hospital stay and she’s definitely on the edge and a little insane, and those are my favourite kinds of characters. I think I brought a lot of insanity to playing Alice, especially in season 2 when she was a Niffin. I like to be the live wire in the scene. And these characters in Some of Our Stallions, I don’t want to give away too much, but I get to go into that headspace, which is really fun for me, getting to play someone that is the opposite of Alice. It’s a nice thing to do over hiatus and it’s a hilarious script. Mike Judge is one of the producers and it’s a really fantastic project, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it. I’m going to shoot Some of Our Stallions, which I am very excited about, and then I fly back to L.A. immediately after that and I will be filming a movie called Canary, which I have been working for 6 years now. We do our final round of shooting, and it’s a project that I’ve been producing and acting in and working on for a very long time, and I’m excited for that film.
BT: I’ve heard about your love of the film Call Me By Your Name.
OTD: It’s beautiful. I love intimate movies and this movie’s about the human condition and is something that I am leaning towards as a filmmaker, so I think that movies like that really get me. Also, I’ll cry at anything. I’m so sensitive, it’s ridiculous.
BT: You’ve also been announced as one of the narrators of You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian.
OTD: Yeah! That was a fun project. I got to read one story in a series. I love to read books on tape, it’s such an interesting way to get into the character’s head. I’m so used to saying dialogue in the form of a script, so when it’s in a book, it’s the writer’s dialogue, in their head coming out of the character’s mouth. It’s a very different world and really fun, and I hope that I get to do more of those. It’s like a fun little side gig, and I love doing things like that.
BT: Do you want to pursue more comedic projects?
OTD: Yeah! I love comedy. I started out in the comedy world, I will always love comedy, and I got so lucky and gotten to be part of a lot of great comedy shows. From Curb Your Enthusiasm to Arrested Development, some really fantastic shows. I think comedy is one of the more difficult parts of acting because almost anybody can cry, but not everybody has good timing. Some of Our Stallions is a comedy, so I’m excited to get back into that form of dialogue. [laughs]
BT: What do you like to share about yourself and what do you keep private?
OTD: Yeah, it’s a crazy thing to balance, especially right now. Now, more than ever, everybody’s putting everything about themselves forward at all times. Nothing’s hidden any more—your whole life is on display and I think that makes me very uncomfortable. It’s finding a balance with the fans, because the fans are so loving and giving and give so much that I would hate to ignore them. I love communicating with them and I think that Instagram’s been the only form of doing so. I have a hard time with Twitter, it’s just not my thing. I’ll live tweet stuff, that’s it. But I think that Instagram’s been a good place for me to tell little pieces of who I am and support things that I want to support without giving everything away. I keep a lot of my personal life private. I have dogs and a horse and I find that I can show my personality through them. I mean I don’t think I’m putting their privacy at risk. [laughs] They like being famous so… [laughs] I mean, I don’t know, it’s a definite balancing act in terms of keeping some things private but also showing yourself, especially to communicate with this fanbase.
The Magicians airs on Wednesdays at 10pm E/P on Showcase and SYFY