The Magicians' Hale Appleman on carrying a tune and sword in musical episode

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Mar 22, 2017

SPOILER ALERT: The following discusses plot points from "Lesser Evils," the ninth episode of Season 2 of The Magicians, which aired on March 22.

It looks as if King Eliot will indeed survive one day more thanks to the power of music. Well, music, and an enchanted sword, a deal struck with the fairies for his first-born, and an engagement with King Idri of Loria (Leonard Roberts).

While there were a lot of goings-on in the episode (Reynard's son is a likable good guy Senator, played by Chris Gorham! Julia threw Q to the fox as bait! Niffin Alice is free! Fairies! Josh has sexually transmitted lycanthropy!), it was the Les Miserables musical number that stands out. It came out of nowhere, saved Eliot from puking in fear, and set up a rousing, rallying march to battle.

Played by Hale Appleman, Eliot has evolved quite a bit this season and is settling into his role as king, husband, and father-to-be. But El is still El, and the boy has needs, is impulsive, and makes bad choices in the interest of wanting to be loved and adored by his Fillorian subjects.

And in my interview below with Appleman, we cover all that, as well as how Eliot may react when he learns of Margo making a deal with the fairies.

We also talk about the technical challenges of filming the episode, which required Appleman to learn fight choreography as well as plan the musical number. Finally, he shares what other music he’d want to sing as Eliot in future episodes of The Magicians, and teases Eliot's arc for the remainder of the season.

At the end of the episode, is your character thinking everything is coming up Eliot? Like he's got a hubby, averted war, and will get the love of his people?

Hale Appleman: These situations are more complex than they seem. Eliot is finally going to get laid, and have a man in his life, potentially – we don't really know yet – but this is someone he doesn't know. He has married himself off to another person he doesn't know. His reasons for doing it are primal, on some level, and human, and he's making a politically strategic move. He reveals to Margo he might be able to get an inside scoop on the Lorians. It is a multi-faceted moment, not just that everything is all good and tied up in a bow.

When the series first began, I was entertained by Eliot, but had a hard time liking him. He wasn't always the most sympathetic, but he has evolved …

I think it is easy to take the witty queen sidekick character as that, and only that. As simply a punchline. Eliot doesn't betray any feelings of genuine warmth for several episodes, but I think a character like Eliot is layered and complex from the beginning. Often reasons for people's behaviors are safeguards against a much deeper and complex story. That's part of what drew me to Eliot to begin with … He has always been a character who has fascinated me because what plays on the surface isn't necessarily what's going on underneath. I always saw that potential, and happy I get to explore the different facets slowly as we progress.

Let's talk about the musical number. Is it true you were in a high school production of Les Miserables?

I was Javert. I grew up doing a lot of theatre, plays, dramas, musicals. And I happened to play Javert in my high school production of Les Mis. That was so many years ago. It was a funny full-circle moment that [showrunner John McNamara] decided on that song before he knew I had a history with the show. It was a nice synchronicity that some aspect of my long-forgotten past came back and said, "Hey, what’s up? You're going to do this." I had a great time with it … The fact of my own adolescence, having done a production in my teenage years is like looking through a kaleidoscope.

I like that the number comes out of nowhere, leaving the audience asking, what just happened?

The musical number overall is the biggest "What the f--k?" moment that we've seen on this show. Ever. If you're not sitting next to your friend, going, "What the f--k is happening," then something is wrong. But I also think there is a lot meta-layers going on. Margo putting on a spell so Eliot will find the confidence to see this battle through. But it is also Eliot playing Valjean in an impromptu cover. The layers are too many to keep track of at some point.

In addition to the musical choreography, you were also learning fight choreography with the sword, so was this an especially difficult episode to film, technically?

No pun, it was a double-edged challenge. I was looking forward to doing the sword fighting, and knew it was an element of the episode even before we got the script. The musical number was thrown in at the last moment. They didn't even get the rights until a few days before we shot it. The challenge for both of them was making sure I was as prepared as I could be. I really wanted to do both justice, and felt a little pressure to carry both the duel and the song.

Since you'd already had musical experience, did you have to calm any concerns from Summer Bishil (who plays Margo) or Brittany Curran (Fen) for this episode?

I definitely was a little bit of an in-person coach, or helping hand, and tried to help guide the recording session when people were asking for help. [Laughs] Yes. I laugh because, yes. That song has so many different parts, and harmonies. There was no rehearsal going into the recording session. So we really were flying by the seat of our pants. And we did as well as we could, and I am proud of what we came up with. We definitely needed to take our time with it and break it up into doable sections.

This engagement to King Idri of Loria will allow Eliot to get some sexual healing …

And he's in dire need of some sexual healing. A lot of fans are ready to see him get some; hopefully their wishes will be granted.

What kind of groom-to-be is he? Will he be actively involved in the planning of the wedding?

Yes, he is. Eliot is constantly trying to woo and impress the people of Fillory. That has become his new mission: to make the people love him so he can cement his place on the throne. He is really starting to want to be there, and this is a new feeling for him. So the wedding preparations, in large part, have to do with his need to win the hearts of the people. That is a huge priority. On the other side, the need to impress someone on your second date, which is kind of what it is with Idri. They haven't spent much time together by the time they get married. And there are some twists I can't reveal for you, but things don't always go according to plan.

When Eliot finds out about Margo's deal with the fairies, what will his reaction be? And is there a breaking point between them?

I think Eliot and Margo have a lot of work to do with regard to their disparate ruling styles. They are quite different in the way they see the world. That's part of what makes them great friends and true comrades, and also what I think has the potential to break them apart. We'll have to see, but it doesn't bode well. Her decisions are often out of left field. While Eliot is completely mercurial and makes decisions on a whim (i.e. throwing himself to a fight to the death!), Margo is betting the entire kingdom. They both have a lot of work to do on themselves. You have these people ill-equipped to handle things running the show. That is part of the fun, and the danger, of people in power who don't necessarily have the tools.

If you were to do another musical number on this show, with more time to plan it, what song would you do as Eliot?

I always kind of picture Eliot having a jazzy rendition of some classic. Walking down the stairs of Castel Whitespire, I can see him in his Fillorian best, or hat and tails, doing a song in that tradition. Or something a little more rock n' roll, a little more Lou Reed or Bowie. Something with more of a 'give no f---s' edge. I could see Eliot doing a fun cover of some great classic rock thing.

Will you tease out Eliot's arc for the rest of the season?

I guess you could say Eliot is becoming more comfortable in a position of leadership, which is something that he always innately had, but he's rising to his new position. In some quite admirable ways, he is taking the charge and trying to save his kingdom and unite his friends at the same time. I think that sort of puts him in the hero category. I am proud of that, and Eliot is an unlikely hero.

What did you think of The Magicians' musical number, and do you think Eliot is on his way to becoming a great king -- or a royal disappointment? Sound off in the comments below.