“Evil is greed without boundaries,” The Magicians showrunner John McNamara says, but the Monster of Season 4 is “greed without awareness.”
In the Season 3 finale of the Syfy series, Quentin and the gang successfully restored magic, but it came with unforeseen consequences. The Order of the Librarians, per some shady deal with Dean Fogg, wiped the group’s memories by glamouring them into leading mortal lives without any knowledge of their magic or past. Now the Library, taking credit for the efforts of the Brakebills gang, controls the flow of magic and relegates it as they see fit. If that weren’t bad enough, the Monster — once trapped inside the prison of Castle Blackspire — is loose and walking around in the body of Eliot.
For Hale Appleman, this change came with the “exciting” opportunity to play a supervillain, but there’s a “childlike innocence” to the Monster that makes him nuanced and more dangerous. When you’re a child with immortal-level abilities and no sense of boundaries, blowing up bodies can seem like a fun game.
From the set of The Magicians Season 4, Appleman dives deeper into his new role, what it means for Eliot, and just how powerful the Monster really is. Word to the wise, this interview has been heavily redacted to maintain spoilers.
QUESTION: How does this compare to wrapping last season?
APPLEMAN: Last season was riding along with a character that I had already established over Seasons 1 and 2 and letting him be second nature. That was the fun of Season 3. And this season was all about finding new modes of expression with a completely different character, and from episode to episode I didn’t really have a lot of information. I was kind of going on instinct and intuition [based on] what little conversations I had with the showrunners before we started. It has more of a Season 1 flavor but on a Season 4 show. So hopefully you like. If you don’t, don’t blame me.
What was your reaction when you found out you were going to be the Monster?
APPLEMAN: I was really excited. I’ve always wanted to play a supervillain and this character is not necessarily what you would expect. He has a childlike innocence to his emotional life, or even a lack of human empathy. Even though he doesn’t have the tools to communicate or connect with people, he wants to. And that’s what I discovered over the course of working this year was he actually really just want to see what this human thing is about in the real world and find someone to share his experiences with. That being said, he has no idea how to play off of anyone else’s needs or desires or feelings. He’s a child in the sense that he can’t fathom anyone else’s internal experiences or emotions or the expression of that. The dark shadow of the inner child feels neglected and doesn’t really know how to be social or communicate with people, and that is attempting in all the worst ways to make connections and impress people. He’s that sad inner baby.
How much, if anything, did you take from Eliot in your portrayal?
APPLEMAN: Not really anything. I think of these characters as being diametrically opposite. There’s an internal childhood to Eliot that’s very desperately alone and hasn’t been loved or supported, but that’s not really the expression of Eliot in the world around him. So maybe in some abstract metaphor, the Monster is the parts of Eliot that haven’t been shown love that he buries deep within himself. But that definitely wasn’t an overt choice by the showrunners or me.
Almost every other character on the show has been able to experience alternate versions of themselves. Eliot never really had that chance. What has it been like as an actor to play something completely different on the same show?
APPLEMAN: I guess we cloned Eliot in Season 2 but it was just for an episode or two, but it wasn’t a different character. It was just him.
This season you get the Monster, you get flavors of Eliot as he’s trying to fight his way back through his own body and to tell his friends that he’s still alive, and you also get an acid trip of Eliot… Like Jim Morrison by way of Burning Man and Coachella, and having a nice trip himself while showing which way to go. It’s sort of like this pipe dream version of Eliot. That isn’t like anything you’ve seen before either. That was fun for me to turn Eliot in on himself and give him another flavor of her fantasy version of him.
What do you do to get into the character?
APPLEMAN: At the beginning of the season, for some reason I had some fun revisiting Psycho and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, but this monster would be way more Joan Crawford than Betty Davis. He doesn’t throw overt tantrums. For some reason, the Golden era of Hollywood was comforting for me in finding a weird speech affectation that the Monster has, which you might not necessarily pick up on and you certainly wouldn’t be like, “Ooo! He’s doing Audrey Hepburn at Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” But there’s a way that he lands on his consonants when he speaks that is not quite naturalistic. There was a moment in Episode 4 where I was like, “Huh, maybe the Monster just talks like Audrey Hepburn.” I’m not doing Audrey Hepburn, but there is a little influence of the way old movie stars used to talk… I always love a Norman Bates inspiration, too, which isn’t to say I was doing a Norman Bates impression, either.
What’s the dynamic between the Monster and Margo this season?
APPLEMAN: We don’t have that much interaction. I wish we had more, but it’s brief. Episode 3 is really the meat of it. She’s just realizing that Eliot is gone and that this body is not her friend anymore and he recognizes through some sixth sense and I guess the smell of her that she must’ve been important to Eliot. The Monster’s constant goal is to get close to someone who will be his partner. He needs a ride-or-die codependent – mother, father, older sibling – in order to feel safe and grounded. He needs the safety net of one other person to take care of him after these thousands of years of being stuck in this castle. Without that, he doesn’t know what to do, and lets loose on the world around him. Margo, to him, is an opportunity to find that connection, and she rejects him quickly.
What about his introductory scenes? We saw in the Season 3 finale that he can see right through the glamour.
APPLEMAN: He’s not so subtly going along with the game. He’s calling Bryan “Quentin” and going, “Oops! I mean Bryan. Oopsies!” I love the Bryan game. Yeah, he’s a weirdo, but he’s so sweet.
What games does he like to play?
APPLEMAN: Like, “let’s kill that waiter at the restaurant” and “let’s eat all the snack food in the kitchen.” He’s used to being distracted so he can be somewhat easily misguided. There’s a naivety to him and an innocence. So he thinks if someone is misdirecting him that it’s part of the larger game until he smells the truth and then threatens lives and breaks body parts.
Do you think he could be a force for good with the right guidance?
APPLEMAN: I think that there’s something broken in him that can’t necessarily be repaired. I suppose with the right wrangling. He’s a threat because he doesn’t necessarily recognize his own potential for destruction or that being destructive is even bad in this scenario. It’s what he is, it’s what he does, and he’s not even fully caught up on who he is or was or who he was born to be. This whole season he’s looking for clues at who he actually is. There’s this amnesiac quality to him, like he hit his head and he doesn’t know who he is or what happened but he knows there are certain things.
If you were to fight the Beast, who would win?
APPLEMAN: The Monster can literally go like this [softly blows into the air] and someone will blow and crash into a tree. He’s pretty powerful. He doesn’t have to spend time doing intricate hand tuts. There’s a minor effort that he needs to expel in order for limbs to break or bodies to explode. The Beast was a human who became a monster through his own darkness, through the pain and suppression of his own childhood. The Monster is the darkness of all childhoods that have been neglected and left to rot. The Monster is more of an immortal situation. There’s more innate power. He’s harder to get rid of.
The Magicians returns Wednesday, January 23rd at 9 p.m. on Syfy.