Over two seasons and 39 episodes to date, DreamWorks’ Trollhunters has grown from a stellar standalone series shaped by the imagination of Guillermo del Toro to a foundational story for the greater animated world of “Tales of Arcadia.” Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim has been along for the ride through Arcadia and Trollmarket since the award-winning series’ earliest days, experiencing the highs of the Netflix production and weathering the devastating low of losing lead voice-actor Anton Yelchin before the first episode ever aired. It’s to both the bittersweet ending of Trollhunters proper and the addition of Emile Hirsch in the lead role that Guggenheim spoke during a recent interview.
What follows is but the first part of my chat with Guggenheim and it’s spoiler-free if you’re caught up on the Trollhunters story so far. I’ll be back with part two once Season 3 airs on Netflix this Friday, May 25th so you have a chance to process all the insane action and emotionally charged decisions made in this final season. As a warm-up to Season 3’s arrival tomorrow, see what Guggenheim had to say about seeing Trollhunters come to a conclusion and the process of finding the right person to carry on Yelchin’s legacy.
For viewers who are new to Trollhunters or those who are going back to watch the first two seasons, what are some major character relationships and plot elements to focus their attention on before going into Season 3?
Marc Guggenheim: I would say that it’s a fun family adventure about Jim Lake and his friends who help protect the world from evil trolls and other creatures and forms of dark magic. In terms of what you need to know, it’s pretty simple: Going into Season 3, the critical pieces of information are that there’s a world underneath the town of Arcadia called Trollmarket, and Gunmar, the leader of the bad group of trolls called the Gumm-Gumms, has taken over, so Jim and his friends have to, ultimately, free Trollmarket from the clutches of the evil trolls.
What are some of your favorite setups from the first two seasons that you get to see pay off in season three?
Guggenheim: For me, probably one of the most exciting things is to see Claire and Toby come into their own. In the beginning of the series, Toby’s sort of this sidekick and Claire doesn’t even know about trolls until a little less than halfway through the first season. By the end of the second season, they have their own magical weapons, they have their own suits of armor–like Jim has weapons and a suit of armor–so watching the show evolve from Jim Lake and his friends to a full-on group of Trollhunters, that I think is very cool and very exciting and it was fun to watch that happen.
Then there’s the little things like the relationship between Blinky and Jim, because Jim’s dad is out of the picture and Blinky basically becomes this surrogate father-figure. Or the relationship between AAARRRGGHH!!! and Toby where these two guys kind of look out for each other and really have each other’s backs. Barbara, Jim’s mother, develops a romantic relationship with Strickler, who’s a troll I would describe as Jim’s frenemy-mentor. That’s a fun relationship.
Very early on, we made the important creative decision that this show would be serialized. Unlike a lot of family entertainment or children’s animation where the episodes are closed-ended, we wanted to tell a serialized, continuous story. From my way of thinking, the only reason to do that is if you can track a change in your characters over time. It’s not about serializing plot, it’s about serializing the lives of these characters and seeing how their personalities change, and how their relationships change and evolve and grow. That to me is the most rewarding thing about this show, that we get a chance to do that, and it is so unusual.
Emile Hirsch does a fantastic job of stepping in as Jim. What was the process like of deciding that he was right for the role and then bringing him up to speed?
Guggenheim: For the longest time, we just didn’t deal with the issue; it was really, really hard for all of us—and I think, particularly, Guillermo—to come to terms with Anton’s death. We just didn’t want to think about it. Then, I don’t exactly remember how Emile came to us, but I think it might have been our casting person Ania [O’Hare] who mentioned that Emile was very close friends with Anton and was an actor in his own right. We thought maybe he might be interested in helping finish Anton’s work, because for us, it was less important to hire a Anton Yelchin sound-alike than it was to hire someone who would really understand the role that they were stepping into, and I don’t mean the role in terms of casting, I mean the job of completing Anton’s work. We met with Emile, we screened the first two episodes of Trollhunters for him. Emile could not have been more warm and [was] very deliberate; he really took his time before committing. He wanted to know that he was doing the right thing.
What’s really kind of nice is, just the same way that Anton didn’t really have any voice-acting experience, the same was true with Emile. Much the same way we got to see Anton grow into the role of Jim, we got to see Emile do the same thing. In this very wonderful way it was like watching history repeat itself. Once we met with Emile and got a sense of who he was as a person and knew how close he was with Anton, we never discussed anyone else. Even though he took his time to do what was comfortable for him, and the right thing for him and his friendship with Anton, I don’t think there was any doubt in our minds that Emile ultimately would say yes. It just made perfect sense that Anton’s work should be completed by a friend of his, to the point where you stop hearing Emile and you just start hearing Jim Lake.
Tune in for Season 3 of Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia on Netflix Friday, May 25th, and come back here for Part Two of our interview next week!