The Magicians' Olivia Taylor Dudley on growing up with witchcraft and exploring Alice's story arc

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Jan 5, 2016, 12:53 PM EST

Olivia Taylor Dudley, a magnetic young actress exuding an Old Hollywood glamor melded with modern moxie, was last seen in the indie features Chernobyl Diaries and The Vatican Tapes.  Now she's scored the coveted role of the introverted Alice Quinn, an awkward, deceivingly innocent wizarding student at Brakebills College who conjures up a prancing glass pony from a solid glass orb before her fellow classmates in the recently aired pilot of Syfy's (Blastr's corporate parent - Ed.The Magicians.  Without spoiling too much, her dark backstory includes heralding from a magical parentage before enrolling in the elite institution to hopefully uncover the truth behind her brother's mysterious disappearance (or death) at this prestigious university of magic.  

In the fourth installment of our set visit to the Vancouver, B.C., production headquarters of Syfy's new fantasy series, premiering on Jan. 25, I sat down with the talented actress to talk about her mercurial character's journey, growing up on a horse farm in Northern California and how her odd annual birthday celebrations partially prepared her for the supernatural happenings on The Magicians.

This Magicians cast that executive producers John McNamara and Sera Gamble assembled seem very much at ease with each other.  How did that develop?

Yes!  It’s been amazing working with a cast that gets along so well.  We’ve been family since the moment we all met, and it’s stayed that way and only gotten stronger.  We call each other family.  We’re so lucky.

What was the audition process, and how did you first become aware of the Lev Grossman books?

I auditioned last year, and the script came across my desk just called The Magicians, and I wasn’t familiar with the books, but I’m a huge sci-fi and fantasy fan. I love that genre, so I right away called my agent and said, “Yeah, just tell them I’ll go in.”   I read for Julia, actually, originally. and I was in the room and they said you need to read for Alice.  And I said, “Great, Alice is who I relate to.”  Then I read the books and I just fell in love with Alice.  And the auditioning process was one of the easier ones for me because we all clicked and got along right off the bat, Sera and I.  Alice made sense to me from the beginning.

What aspect of the Alice Quinn character do you own, yourself, and what components did you struggle with in her depiction?

I feel so much like Alice.  She’s a very shy and introverted person and is interested in her own things, not really interested in what anyone else is up to or meeting new people.  I get that.  I grew up in Northern California on a ranch, and I was home-schooled, and I was very introverted and wasn’t interested in making friends.  So I definitely relate to her on that level.  I don’t get to do magic in real life, but if I had the opportunity I’d certainly do a lot of magic like her.

From her story arc in the first book and watching the pilot, Alice has the potential to really resonate with fans.  Are you ready for that?

She’s my favorite character on the show!  (Laughs)  She’s the most buttoned up one.  There’s a lot going on with Alice that you’re not going to see until the season unfolds.  They did such an amazing job exploring the backstory of her character.  There’s episodes specifically built around where she came from and why she’s as f***** up as she is.  There is an element to her where she’s pretty messed up in the head.  And getting to explore that is pretty fun.  She’s the most powerful of all the magicians and she hides it, which is fun to play, but it comes out!

Besides reading the books, what supplemental research did you do once you got the role?  Did you watch movies or read comics or go out and buy magic tricks?

Magic is something I’ve been interested in my whole life and I was kind of raised in a household that dealt with that.  My grandmother who I lived with always held séances for my birthday every year.  She was a hypnotherapist and I grew up believing in witchcraft and all the supernatural stuff so, for me, it was already all there.  I didn’t have to do any research.  It came very easily. The source material, having the books, that’s all I used.

Before The Magicians, what were some of your nerdier activities and interests?

I used to play World of Warcraft. (Grins) I don’t know, I’ve always been a nerd.  I’ve gone to Comic-Con every year for many years as a fan.  I’m not really a big reader anymore because I have to spend a lot of my time reading scripts.  But if I hadn’t been reading scripts I would have read The Magicians sooner.  I’m real bummed I didn’t find them sooner, but I have them now.

Were you a fan of the Harry Potter books growing up?

I read the first few and then I just watched all the movies, I didn’t watch the whole series but I was definitely a fan.

So far in the first season's production schedule, what have been some of the highlights for you?

We’re so lucky here, our cast and crew is so phenomenal.  It’s been the most amazing experience I’ve had yet on a show.  The sets have been the biggest thing.  Our sets and locations are so stunning and the places we get to go.  Even the landscapes of Canada where we get to shoot, some of the exterior stuff is so mindblowing that acting isn’t even a part it it.  It’s like being in magical lands for real, is what it feels like.

What can viewers expect from Alice as the season progresses and she becomes more entrenched and seduced by Brakebills and her exploration of herself?

She definitely grows up a little bit and becomes the woman she is very much afraid to be in the beginning, especially in her interactions with Quentin and the other characters.  And in the battles they face on the show, her character progresses in an exciting way and she becomes more powerful than she probably ever thought she was.

The Magicians airs January 25th on Syfy.