The Magicians: Stella Maeve on Julia’s Addiction to Power

Carole Segal/Syfy
Carole Segal/Syfy

The Magicians finally had its premiere on Showcase and Syfy last week, and viewers were finally introduced to Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), Julia Wicker (Stella Maeve) and the world of Brakebills University. By the end of the two-hour premiere, Quentin had inadvertently summoned an otherworldly creature called “The Beast” that killed a teacher, maimed the Dean and (as one Hermione Granger would put it), even worse, almost got him expelled. Julia didn’t fare much better; after her rejection from Brakebills, she was assaulted in a bathroom by an amateur magician, who introduced her to the magical underworld by locking her in a meat locker as a hazing ritual.

“Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting” finds Quentin once again straying from the garden path as he helps Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance, while struggling to figure out his magical specialty. Julia has some struggles of her own as she attempts to find a balance between her personal life and her magical training with Marina (Kacey Rohl) when her boyfriend James (Michael Cassidy) becomes suspicious.

We caught up with Maeve to talk about Julia’s fast-moving storyline, the cast’s love of the book series and the rough ride Julia’s in for during The Magicians Season 1.

The TV Junkies: What was it like filming in that meat locker in Episode 2?

Stella Maeve: Well, it was funny, because originally when we got the script it was supposed to be this small, one room, tiny little area–and this place was massive! What they had constructed was huge, and so I remember not understanding or knowing how to utilize all of that space, I was like, “this is a really big meat locker.”

But the way they made it look was a lot smaller than real life, and it was challenging, it was really hard, because having to maintain being cold and trying to do magic, and there’s a dead body. You’re like, “Ahh! What’s going on?” It was a lot.

TTVJ: A lot happens to Julia; in the first two episodes she goes from being a happy college girl to ripping fat out of a dead corpse and getting a tattoo. It’s a really fast transgression, how was that for you?

SM: I think that for TV purposes they’ve sped it up, which I understand. In the books it’s a lot slower of a progression, but I think it’s the same through line that this woman finds out that magic is real and she becomes consumed by and it obsessed with it, and wants to obtain it, understand it and master it. Julia’s never not been able to do something, and for the first time she’s told no without getting to talk her way into it or around it. I think it’s her trying to overcome that and figure it out for the first time in her life.

TTVJ: Olivia Taylor Dudley has previously said that Lev Grossman would encourage cast members to call him and talk about their characters. Did you have that same experience with him?

SM: Yeah. He’s great; he was there for everything, he approved everything and, when the writers veered away from the books or had moments that weren’t in the books, sped things up or changed certain things, he signed off on everything. He gave his stamp of approval and said that certain things were okay, and I find solace in that when there were times when I was like, “But this didn’t happen like that!”

We’re fans of the books as well, the actors, and I remember he was there every step of the way and approved everything that came out, and if we had any questions we would contact him and answer as best he could. It was great, it’s nice to know that he was a part of it and, I think, essential.

TTVJ: When did you first get a chance to read the books? Was it in the auditioning process?

SM: I had a little bit of a different auditioning process. I was currently on another show and also had worked with Sera [Gamble], the showrunner, previously, so I got thrown into it… it wasn’t a normal audition process. As soon as I found out that it was happening, the show was happening for me and I was going to play their Julia, I binge read everything immediately, before we shot the pilot. I think everybody had that sort of reaction.

None of us knew about the books before we had read the pilot or heard about the show, and then the minute that we did, we all read them. Everyone was reading them, I remember, and got through all of them [quickly].

Carole Segal/Syfy
Carole Segal/Syfy

TTVJ: When talking about the books, Lev Grossman has talked about Julia’s story being one of magic as a drug. In your previous role of Nadia in Chicago PD, she had issues with drugs. Were there any comparisons you drew from Nadia while playing Julia?

SM: Addiction. With Julia, it’s an addiction to power, and with Nadia it was an addiction to heroin. I think that there is that similarity. Other than that, not many.

Magic is like a drug, it’s comparable to that. I will give you this: Julia gets involved with a spell and casts a spell that’s really intense. There’s a scene, and I believe it’s in Episode 4, where they show her reaction going into the spell and coming out of the spell. I remember being there that day and asking, “I wonder, if this is like a high, is like a body high? What is she experiencing when she’s doing this particular spell?” We got to cultivate that and that was supposed to feel like a rush, really good and really mellow, and played with that.

TTVJ: And what can we expect from Julia’s story moving forward?

SM: I would say have no expectations, because they will probably be wrong. [The show] tricks you and fools you and when you think, “Finally! Yeah, Julia!” you’re totally disappointed. It would never cease to amaze me, I would get the scripts and be like, “Really? Wow, kick me when I’m down.” It was brutal, intense and crazy. I remember Sera said, “I’m so sorry, this season is awful for you, but I love you!”

TTVJ: Have you found that it’s more physically demanding or emotionally?

SM: Julia just has a rough ride. I think all of the above, but she just has it rough, it’s rough for her this season. We’ll see, maybe Season 2 it will be lighter and great. Who knows, right?

A lot of awful things will happen to Julia at the end of this season. She will be in Season 2, rest assured. She goes through some really, really awful things, and hopefully, I hope, that it’ll coincide with the books and whatever Sera and John [McNamara] have cooking in the writers room and hopefully Season 2 [Julia] comes back stronger, better, beautiful and more powerful having experienced the trauma that she does go through by the end of the season.

Will you be following Julia’s “rough ride” this season? Sound off in the comments below.

The Magicians airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on Showcase and Syfy.