Everyone has been through the ringer and back again on The Magicians, but perhaps none moreso than Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley). After sacrificing herself to destroy the Beast, becoming a niffin in the process, Alice is back on the other side of the looking glass of what was essentially phenomenal cosmic power. So where do you go from there? That’s the question Alice is trying to answer for herself this season, so far with mixed results and a couple near-death experiences.
We had the opportunity to speak with Dudley on Alice’s story this season and what it’s like to tread unexplored ground now that she’s moved beyond the source material. We also spoke about Alice’s female friendships this season and how the series pushes boundaries each episode.
This interview has been edited and condensed
The TV Junkies: This season you’ve had the chance to explore Alice’s life post-niffin. How did you approach playing Alice this time around with that in mind?
Olivia Taylor Dudley: This season, and the last two seasons, I felt like I’ve had so many different iterations of the same character. This year going into the season I asked John [McNamara] and Sera [Gamble], ‘What is her arc going to be for the season?’ And they didn’t really have a definitive arc to tell me. They were like, ‘You’re just going to go on a journey with her and kind of try to figure out who she is.’ I didn’t have an [arc] like in Season 2 when I knew she was going to die, I knew she was going to become a niffin. This year I just kind of went into it blindly and it worked out really well. They did that on purpose because they wanted me to feel a little off because Alice was completely lost. So this whole season is just her having a complete quarter-life crisis. I mean, I know all of our characters are constantly going through that, but I think she had an experience that no one else has had and dealing with the aftermath that has been what this whole season is about. As we’re getting to the later half of the season it’s all kind of piecing together for her, how she is reconciling with what she did as a niffin and how she wants to move forward. I enjoyed this season. Playing Niffin Alice will always be my favorite, but I enjoyed this season because I felt very close to this character.
TTVJ: It’s interesting since you don’t have the books to really lean on. Alice’s resurrection was at the end of the last book, so for both you as an actor, and for the writers, it’s exploring this new territory and figuring out where everything lands.
OTD: Yeah, and I like that. I mean, we’re going through books at a different pace than the books were written and it’s kind of the only way we could have translated this to TV. So for all the different characters on the show, it has been a different experience. Some of us can lean on the books, but sometimes some of the characters in the show aren’t in the book at all; there isn’t a sentence. It’s been fascinating for me because I had so much book material in the last few seasons. I kind of like it now. I mean, I love the books and I use them daily while working, but now not knowing what’s going to happen is kind of exciting for me.
TTVJ: It always feels like Alice is stuck in this Quentin (Jason Ralph) bubble, but we’ve seen her branch out a bit this season. I know I’ve really enjoyed seeing her scenes with Julia (Stella Maeve) this year. Is that something we’ll get to see more of as the season wraps up?
OTD: It was really exciting to get work with somebody other than just Jason this year [laughs]. I worked with different people throughout the cast this whole season and working with the Julia character was really fun. Stella and I never get to work together. We never see each other because we’re on totally different storylines, but it was nice to tell a story about a female relationship and not just always about the male and female relationship, and ‘will they, won’t they’ and all that kind of drama. Alice is so much more complex than her and Quentin’s relationship, same with Quentin, so it was really fun to explore that relationship between Julie and Alice. I find it to be complicated. Maybe just in my own head, but for Alice it’s complicated. She’s got all kinds of feelings about this person and through their friendship this season they gain a mutual respect for each other as powerful women and magicians. So that was really fun. I don’t want to give away too much for the whole season, but yeah, you get to see everybody together at some point, which is fun. I miss working with Summer [Bishil], I got to work with Summer as Margo in the first season quite a bit and that was really fun. I find their relationship really funny. I really like when any of the women are in scenes together.
TTVJ: I feel the same. I love seeing women interact with each other and it’s sad to say we don’t get to see that very often on TV.
OTD: No, no, we don’t. You know, I love the books so much, but it is centered around Quentin and he’s got these two females weaving in and out of his life. There’s so much more to that story than just his perspective, so on the show we get to tell that from the female perspective, which is really nice.
TTVJ: It also helps you have to amazing Sera Gamble showrunning to help bring that female perspective.
OTD: She’s such a badass feminist and really stands up for what she believes in and what we believe in. Things like that are always a conversation, which is really nice. I feel like we’re lucky to be on a show like this right now, that displays female power in such an honest way. Sometimes it’s absurd, people are in the world of magic, but I feel like she does a good job because women are so powerful in the real world. It’s nice to not have to downplay what it’s like to be a woman on our show.
TTVJ: The Magicians has really become known for pushing boundaries and not being afraid to try something different, like with that deaf sequence a few episodes ago. As members of the cast, what do you think when you read those scripts?
OTD: I mean, on our show, every script confuses and blows our minds every time we first read it because they twist and turn at every episode and we literally have no idea where the story is ever going. We’re getting the scripts as we’re filming and it’s always a big shock, but now moving into the fourth season we all kind of have a grasp on our characters and how we react to things.
I’m glad that they take risks. I’m glad that they’re brave enough to put everything that is in their mind on the page and on the screen and they fight for it. I’m really proud of the show. Also, when a character dies, we always reassure them that there’s a chance they’ll come back. I mean, Alice is somebody who died and came back. You just never know with this show.
TTVJ: The possibilities are endless. Speaking of which, we just saw this season’s big musical episode. How did you prepare to film those music sequences?
OTD: That was, by far, the most difficult episode yet that I have worked on. Filming a musical for television is extremely time-consuming and difficult because you have to do the same thing 100 times over, but instead of just talking, you’re singing and dancing and there’s all these things going on and it’s way more complex. It was really fun, it’s such an honor to get to cover such an amazing song and everybody just poured their heart into it. John McNamara, who wrote the episode, he loves musicals so much and I think that’s why the episode works because he’s very in tune with it and very smart about how we weaved it in the show. I don’t know, that episode is bonkers. I think about that week and a half that we filmed and it’s a big blur to me [laughs].
TTVJ: Without giving away too many spoilers about how this season ends up, where would you like to see Alice’s story go in Season 4?
OTD: That’s tough, because I have no idea where they’re going to take it. I don’t want to give away what happens at the end of the season, but I always want Alice to find some kind of peace. She’s wound so tight at all times, and for a good reason. That’s kind of how she operates, but I don’t know, I wouldn’t mind her having some joy in her life. I feel like she had a lot of really rough things happen to her. Her father passing away, dying, coming back. I miss the Quentin and Alice relationship a little bit, how it was in the beginning, and it will never be like that again, but I wouldn’t mind some relief.
TTVJ: This week’s coming episode is a big one for Alice. Can you preview a bit of what to expect?
OTD: Not much, other than I don’t think people are expecting where Alice turns this season. I think we’re getting to see characters like Julia become somebody completely different and Alice is going to become somebody that we haven’t yet seen before. I think fans will be very surprised by what path she took down.
What do you think about Alice’s story this season? Sound off in the comments below.
The Magicians airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Syfy and Showcase.
Associate Editor Kelly Townsend always had strong opinions on TV growing up, so it was only natural to evolve from couch musings to online journalism. She can't ever choose a favorite series, so please don't ask. Her writing has also appeared on IndieWire and Tribute.ca. You can find her on Twitter at @kellybtownsend.