When Stella Maeve auditioned for a role in Syfy’s “The Magicians,” she didn’t bring up her previous work experience as a magician’s assistant.
Even after she began filming the adaptation of Lev Grossman’s book series, she didn’t break out sleights of hand or card tricks to impress her costars.
“Absolutely not. Nope. Not even a little bit. Not at all. Not even close,” she told me, adding the job was above a Sbarro restaurant near Madison Square Garden in New York City when she was 17. “We made these instructional videos. I helped the guy with his cards and other things. It was cool.”
Maeve may not be able to do magic, but her character, Julia Wicker, has found her own path to magic in the series. She’s on a darker journey than her friend, Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), is while learning magic at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy.
After being rejected by Brakebills, Julia’s learning street magic on her own and from some shady mentors. Maeve, however, says viewers shouldn’t give up on Julia just yet.
At the January meeting of the TV Critics Association in Pasadena, Calif., the former “Chicago P.D.” actress and I talked about Julia’s journey. Here’s an edited transcript.
“The Magicians” airs at 9/8c Mondays on Syfy.
Julia (Stella Maeve) talks with her former bestie, Quentin (Jason Ralph) in “The Magicians.” (Carole Segal/Syfy)
Julia (Stella Maeve) passes a street magic test in “The Magicians.” (Carole Segal/Syfy)
Marina (Kacey Rohl) teaches Julia (Stella Maeve) some street magic in “The Magicians.” (Carole Segal/Syfy)
Is Julia in more danger from outside forces or from what’s going on within?
Within, but I think it’s a combination of both. … We all ultimately get in our own way, I think. It’s kind of up to the viewer to decide how it conspires for Julia. Do you will these things or do they happen as the result of outside forces?
Do you think that she’s coming to her better self eventually now that she knows magic is real and she can believe again?
Absolutely. I think it’s clouds followed by clarity. … She and Clinton both shared the same dream. Magic is what brought them together as friends. That was their childhood thing. When she finds out that it is real, that world definitely opens up to her and there is that childlike curiosity.
In the beginning it’s about wanting to succeed for Julia. It’s about having failed [her Brakebills entrance exam] and wanting to win and it’s ego. Toward the end it becomes about something much more and she becomes a higher self and a different person and wanting magic for different reasons, not necessarily the wrong reasons. So we do get to see that evolution, which is nice. I think after all the darkness and after all the crazy, it does bring her to a higher self.
Whether she means to or not, she does betray Quentin a bit. Is there anything that can break the bond between her and Quentin?
Honestly I think that the bond is unbreakable. I think what’s there is an unconditional love. I know that it will be tested in many different ways throughout the season, but I think in life there are some friendships and relationships that you have with people that are everlasting regardless of what happens. … Julia and Quentin do have that; I know they do.
Is it fun imagining your character’s magic and doing the movements?
The tetting, the finger tets? Super cool. I think it’s so fun. I love anything that incorporates physicality. Being able to dance through your fingers, added with the special effects, is so cool.
Why should viewers stand behind Julia?
Why should we stand by Julia? Because she’s fascinating and she’s intense and she’s so cool to watch and see what happens to her because it’s relatable and it’s real.
Magic aside, would this still be an intriguing story?
Yes, because you’ve got these complicated characters. Too much in entertainment we make characters out to be these brilliant, wonderful, perfect humans, which isn’t true. That’s why “Chicago P.D.” is so cool, because you look at Voight, [played by] Jason Beghe, who I love so much—he’s a vigilante of sorts. You’re rooting for someone who is a good person but they don’t maybe do all the right things.
I think that’s where viewers can relate to this. You love these characters but there are times when you hate them. Even playing her there were times where I was like, “God, why is she doing that?”
Julia’s flawed; these human beings are flawed. They’re not perfect and that’s the way life is.