One day before I got on the phone to interview actress Jade Tailor, her show was cancelled. The Syfy series The Magicians is currently in the midst of its fifth season, having successfully remained fresh and invigorating for five straight years despite blowing past its source material and, at the end of Season 4, losing its lead actor. Despite all this, and despite the fans’ knowledge that these writers could easily have kept this show interesting for years to come, Syfy decided to pull the plug. As a result, The Magicians will come to a somewhat abrupt end as its Season 5 finale doubles as a series finale on April 1st.
This is not the interview I wanted to conduct. I’ve been a fan of The Magicians throughout the show’s run, and have marveled at the way creators Sera Gamble and John McNamara and their team of writers have really owned these characters. This was never just a story about twentysomething/thirtysomething magicians. It was a story about mental illness and addiction and sex and loss and love and depression—you know, life stuff. But also magic.
Tailor’s character Kady was unique from the start. She didn’t appear in the books so she was given the freedom to build this character out from the ground-up—especially after the pilot script was rewritten so that Kady didn’t die after the first episode. Over the course of five seasons, Kady has battled her own addictions and demons while also trying to keep up with the group. She didn’t get a fancy education at Brakebills or hail from a legacy family—she was educated by Hedge-Witches trying to figure this magic stuff out by themselves. But Kady has always held her own, even when she lost the love of her life Penny (Arjun Gupta) in Season 3, and has remained a vital and powerful member of this core group from Day One.
Season 5 was not intended to be the end of this beloved series, and although Gamble and McNamara wrote the Season 5 finale to somewhat serve as a series finale should they not be able to find a home for the show elsewhere (they didn’t, unfortunately), Tailor candidly says in our interview that there’s no way this ending can be satisfying because this show means too much to its fans. There won’t be a sense of joy or fulfillment after the Season 5 finale airs. There will be sadness. But, as Tailor notes, that sadness is good. It means the show meant that much to you, and made such a significant impact, that its loss is something to grieve, not celebrate.
Throughout the course of our interview, Tailor gets candid about the cancellation and the show coming to an abrupt end while also looking back on Kady’s journey from the beginning and talking about the various acting challenges that arose over the past five seasons. Again, I wish this interview were conducted under different circumstances, but Tailor is nothing but gracious and thoughtful here. It’s the voice of someone who clearly not only valued and appreciated her time on The Magicians, but also cares deeply about how much this show meant to the fans. So given that this interview itself is unique, I’d like to go out of my way to extend a heartfelt thanks to Jade Tailor for being so open and thoughtful during our discussion.
Check out the full interview below.
Thanks so much for talking to me today, although I wish it were under better circumstances. I was really bummed to hear the news this week.
JADE TAILOR: I know. Yeah, I appreciate that.
When did you find out the show would be coming to an end?
TAILOR: Um yesterday (laughs)
Oh wow, that sucks.
TAILOR: Basically, I got a phone call from our executive producers the day before, but I had missed the call. I basically lost my phone and then some nice gentlemen returned it. But I missed it during that time, so I found out basically with all the fans.
Oh man, that’s a bummer. Have you talked to any of the cast members or anything? How are you guys feeling?
TAILOR: Yeah, I think… I mean we’re all very sad, but also I think very nostalgic and grateful, simultaneously. It’s all been just love and appreciation, and I think we kind of had a feeling [it could be the end]. Basically, Syfy has never done more than five seasons of any show and it was just a feeling that I think they had, and there was some indication of it. But they all just feel super grateful for five, nearly six years actually with the pilot, that we’ve had doing this show and being together, and I think the sadness for me personally—and of course they’re also very sad—is because we love it so much. I think the sadness for me is with the fans and how much I know this show means to them. And for me, I hope they know how much it means to us as well and how heart-wrenching it is for all of us. How grateful we are to have been a part of it and to have impacted people in the ways that we have over the years.
It’s weird. I mean, the show has gone on for five seasons and a lot of shows at that point it’s like, “Oh, it’s kind of spinning its wheels” or “it’s probably time for it to end” but this show, I don’t know, each season they keep finding crazy ways to make things just super compelling and feel fresh and different.
TAILOR: Yeah, I mean that’s our writers and creators. I’m bowing down to them because they are just the most incredible creative beings I’ve ever met in my life, and I’m just in awe of them and how they have this endless capacity of depth and creativity and crazy imagination. So it’s been really amazing to see what they throw at us, and it’s been so fun to never know. You never know where we’re going to go with it or what’s going to happen. I’ve been endlessly surprised by it.
Knowing how the season progresses, how do you feel about this being the final run of episodes and specifically the finale?
TAILOR: I don’t think there can be any way that’s going to make it feel satisfying to be honest, because nobody wants it to end at the end of the day. I think they did an amazing job honoring our stories, honoring the people, honoring the journey. But I don’t think it’s ever going to be satisfying to anyone because they don’t want it to finish, and we never want a good thing to end. But I do think they honored it and so I’m proud of how they honored it and where they take it.
Yeah, that makes sense. I saw that Sera and John said that they kind of had an inkling, so they wrote the finale to maybe potentially serve as a series finale, but I think you’re right. There’s no way this is going to be like, “Oh, that was wonderful and satisfying and now I feel fine.”
TAILOR: Yeah, and I think they left it open-ended in a way that—the thing is, even after the show, the characters live on, the story lives on, and I think they honored that.
Well going back a little bit, I’ve been a fan of the show since it started. I was a big fan of the books beforehand and was really curious to check it out, and I’ve just loved seeing each season how things have expanded and changed. What was your entry point to this show? How were you feeling when you first joined the series?
TAILOR: Well, I was actually shooting a show called Aquarius that John McNamara was producing. Essentially John came up to me one day with someone at the time that I didn’t know who it was, it was just this young guy and his name’s David Reed, turns out he’s our executive producer and writer on The Magicians. But I didn’t know him at the time they’re like, “Oh yeah, this is David. We’re working on this new project called The Magicians would love you to come in and read for it.” And I was like, “Absolutely, I’d love that.”
To me, anything John did is like, I am honored, I will be there, just say when and I am there. They gave me the option to read for Kady or Margo and of course I chose Margo because in the original pilot Kady died, she was actually killed by The Beast and so I didn’t want it to be a one-off, so I went in for Margo. But I brought a very different spin on it because I think in the description it said something along the lines of like a typical girl from LA, and I’m from LA, so I have a very specific view of what that looks like, and I don’t think it’s the standard view or vantage point that everyone else has. So I brought in an energy that was very much Kady toughness and they called me that day and said, “We love you but not for Margo. We think you’d be perfect for Kady.” I was like, “Oh, I guess I’ll be a one-off.” and then I went to meet with the director and they had rewritten the script so Kady no longer died, and so it was then a recurring role. So I went and I shot the pilot and I was just absolutely thrilled, over the moon, had the best time, loved everyone involved and then [showrunners] John [McNamara] and Sera [Gamble] had actually sat me down and asked me if I wanted to be a series regular while we were shooting the pilot.
Oh wow. That’s cool.
TAILOR: Yeah, I was just feeling very honored and grateful, and I think Syfy thought they had enough series regulars for the first year from a financial standpoint (laughs) so they didn’t bring me on as a series regular until the next year. But I was in more episodes than some of those series regulars in Season 1, so they kept using me and then Season 2 I became a series regular. Sera had jokingly said something about—because they also wrote me into more episodes of Aquarius as well—she said, “I’m grateful that you came in for that alleged one episode stint on Aquarius and then we got to monopolize you for the next six years of your life.” So that’s essentially how it happened, and I think what I love about John and Sera is that they respect somebody in their work and you respect them, they show up for you and they continue to love to work with people that they love working with and vice versa, and I’ve been really blessed and honored to get to work with them and hope it continues.
Yeah, they’re fantastic. Kady was a really interesting character because coming into the show as a fan of the books, she’s kind of this original character and so there aren’t preconceived notions attached to that character. So was it fun for you to build out this character as that season progressed? I mean, one of my favorite things of the show is that, especially going into Season 2, the writers moved away from the books and really made the show its own thing. So it feels like there was a lot of room to evolve and grow. Was that the case with your character as well?
TAILOR: Yeah, absolutely. It was interesting. Of course, I read the books and I love them, but every other actor, I remember in Season 1, they were all bringing the books around with them, The Magicians series, and referencing it and learning about the character through it, and for me, I got to just create what I believed was on the page that John and Sera and our writers were writing, and so there was some freedom to it. It was so wonderful to be able to have that gift of “here’s the writing do with it what you will,” and yeah, you rarely get that sense of creative freedom. I also think the writing, like you said, came into its own in Season 2 where we were no longer really following the books.
John actually said this beautifully once, he’s like, “If you think of it in a linear fashion, the book is this linear structure that we have, but then The Magicians itself, not the books but the TV series, can vacillate and go anywhere on that line and can go up and down and twist and turn throughout that but we still keep that throughline and that vantage point and that foundation that is a book series.” I thought that was beautifully said, and I think they really made it their own and stayed true to the books while also bringing this other world to it.
Before each season started, did you come in and talk with them about Kady’s arc throughout that season, or was it just discovering her arc as the scripts came in?
TAILOR: It really depended honestly on them. So there were times where I’m like, “Hey, is there anything I should know about?” And then John would sometimes say, “It’s like life, you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” (laughs) There were times where I got that, and then there were times where I get more information of you know, “Your mother’s going to die in episode four of Season 1.” They would give us a couple things like that. I think especially I was asking more questions when it came to her addiction, because I wanted to be able to honor that journey because there is a struggle that happened before and after and so I’m going to need a little bit of information. But for the most part it was sort of flying by the seat of our pants.
One of the things I love about Kady is that she isn’t necessarily an outsider in the group, but she has had to work harder as a Hedge Witch, she didn’t get to go to Brakebills, and all this stuff. So watching your journey through that throughout the show, was that interesting and fun to track? Figuring out your relationship with the other magicians as someone who, you’re just as good as them, but you’ve had to work outside the lines?
TAILOR: Yeah, absolutely. I think that was one of the most fun aspects of playing her is the complexities of those relationships and how she viewed them, and also this idea of having to prove herself and having to fight for herself. I think I’m realizing more and more how much I relate to Kady’s journey, and I think it was interesting to see sort of my own experience play out with her finding her inner strength when she always felt like a bit of an outsider and what that looked like and how to interact with people and how did she interact with all of those people, how did she feel about them in the midst of that? I think that’s what makes The Magicians special, is the complexities of those relationships and the struggles of our own relationship with ourselves.
Well, and to that point, Kady’s been through a lot on the show, more than some of the other characters, but obviously the biggest challenge was the loss of Penny. I was curious from your perspective what it was like finding out about that particular story arc and then essentially playing out a significant grieving process on screen.
TAILOR: Yeah. I think so many of us have experienced loss and grief, and so for me, hearing that I always just want to honor what that would look like for someone, and so for me it was really about believing in this relationship and believing in their love story so much that I truly believed it in those moments, and what would that look like?
I would say the hard moments were when they got really into the fantasy aspects of what would it be like if the love of your life died and then you thought they were gone but then they really weren’t and they were astral projected? And then you’re seeing them in person, what would that feel like truly and how do you play that? So for me it wasn’t about planning out what it feels like, but it was really about understanding the depths of emotion of what that would feel like as a human to have that experience. I’ve lost people in my life and to be able to understand the depth of that pain, I just wanted to own that for those who have lost people and for them to understand the depth of her love and her and Penny’s love for one another.
And then the constant torture of like, Penny’s there, but it’s not your Penny. So you have to look at him every day.
TAILOR: Yeah, and that was the other question, what would that look like? And how would that feel? And would you really be able to disassociate and go, well that’s not really my Penny, but I’m looking at Penny’s face, but it’s not mine, and so I think it was a very sort of challenging moment in that regard. But at the end of the day, I do a lot of backstory work on character and character analysis and so for me just understanding the depths of her and how she would operate in moments like that, I’m really believing it in the moment and I hope that was conveyed.
This being the last season, what was the experience through Kady’s journey this season and Kady’s arc?
TAILOR: It’s interesting because I think last season she was really finding her strengths and finding her power as an individual and then I think this year what has been empowering for her is actually knowing that she can be part of the group and she can be in support of others while also being an individual. So I see the journey this year, she’s still head of the Hedge Witches and she is dealing with that on her own. She’s dealing with her own addiction, but she’s also able to show up for others and so I think she finally feels like she belongs to this group, and she can be a part of it. I think that’s one of the things in life is how do we find our own inner strength and our own wisdom and our own power and not let that isolate us? How do we continue to believe in that while also interacting and being a part of something greater than ourselves? To me, the journey this year is finding that strength within the group as well.
Which is a nice way for Kady to go out.
TAILOR: Yeah, totally. Yeah. I think It was.
Looking back, is there one particular day or experience that stands out in your mind that encapsulates your time on The Magicians, what it was like?
TAILOR: Oh goodness. I always go back to the musical episodes because they brought me so much joy. That creative freedom and that expression and expressing it through ways that are unpredictable and fun and heartfelt. But I think there are so many moments. I remember just a couple from this past season, which is her dealing with the addiction and then of the choice that she was making in the midst of that. To me that encapsulates The Magicians in a lot of ways because it’s not just that creative fun musical play, but also in the antithesis the struggles that we go through as humans and the choices that we can make at any given moment on any given day, and we really have the power and the choice to choose something greater. So I hope what people will take away is their own inner strength to make the right choice for themselves and to make the powerful choice for themselves and for others. That at least has been a really big gift for me.
Is there anything else you want to say to the fans?
TAILOR: Yeah, I guess because of this news, I would say I’m just so blown away and endlessly grateful for the love and support we’ve gotten over the years, but the greatest gift has been to see how we’ve impacted the people that have watched the show. I know we’re not doctors saving lives, but we’ve had so many people say that The Magicians has saved theirs through these experiences and through this storytelling, and it means the absolute world and I hope that people don’t hold on to the sadness of an ending, but hold on to the joy of the five years and the stories and the growth and the lessons that we’ve learned through it and from it, and knowing that my life has been changed because of it. I hope that people have been impacted in the same way and I’m just endlessly grateful for the five years of magic. I’m actually grateful to be able to express my love and gratitude for it. It is sad, but I’m glad it’s sad because if you weren’t, then it means you don’t care.
That’s one of the things, I’ve talked to Sera before, I’ve been covering shows like this for a decade now, and fandoms can be so toxic. The Magicians fandom is just so positive and supportive of one another, it’s a really special thing so I think you guys should all be really proud of what you built there.
TAILOR: Thank you. Really. We really are. We really, really are.
The Magicians airs on Syfy on Wednesday nights. The series finale is April 1st.