Jason Ralph wasn’t aware of “The Magicians” book series before he decided to audition for Syfy’s TV adaptation, but he quickly became a fan.
Lev Grossman’s original 2009 fantasy novel and the TV series, airing at 9/8c Mondays, focus on a group of 20-something students at Brakebills University, a secret college that specializes in magic.
“I started reading the book and am now a rabid fan,” Ralph told me at the January meeting of TV Critics Association in Pasadena, Calif. He was happy to see that others involved in the project felt the same way.
“It’s a real gift to get to work with a bunch of people who are as passionate about the project—and about the source material especially,” he said. “We’ve all kind of bonded over guarding the material, making sure that we’re doing it justice.
“And we just had a really good time together.”
Ralph will get to reunite with his co-workers later this year. Syfy already has renewed “The Magicians” for a second season.
Ralph stars as college-bound Quentin Coldwater, a “goldmine of neuroses” who is accepted into Brakebills. Quentin often sabotages himself. Before Brakebills, the socially-stunted, self-saboteur had just one friend, Julia (Stella Maeve).
“It’s been really cool to get inside of his head,” Ralph said of playing such a messed up character.
At Brakebills, Quentin finally understands why he seemed so different and out of place in his previous life. But like his classmates—troubled Penny (Arjun Gupta), shy Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and partiers Eliot (Hal Appleman) and Margo (Summer Bishil)—he still isn’t happy just being with fellow magicians.
“These people are seeking things to make them feel better and they’re getting them from the outside world,” Ralph said. “It’s like, ‘With magic I’m going to feel better. If I had a girlfriend that would make me feel better.’”
At Brakebills, Quentin gets almost everything he wants but he’s still unhappy.
“I think the series is a jumping off point of that theme: Then what do you do?” Ralph said. “Once you have everything and you’re still unhappy then it’s about looking inward.”
Quentin and his friends don’t really want to look within, but in order to truly master their magic, they must get right with themselves. Ralph compared it to becoming a spiritual leader.
“You must become one with yourself before you can really become truly spiritual. To become a great magician you must become a great person,” he said. “A lot of your powers come from your inner demons and your inner peace.”
Despite playing a magician in training, Ralph said he’s generally skeptical real magic exists but he’s happy to be proven wrong. He may already have done it himself. He’s not sure, but he may have been able to fly as a child.
“The problem is my eyes were closed so I can’t know for sure,” he said. “I felt like my life was saved once because I could fly.”
He and his friends were trying to see who could jump the farthest from a swing set in his backyard. He let go of the swing too late and flipped on his back in the air
“I remember clenching my body and closing my eyes and just never falling,” he said, laughing. “And then I remember just being on the ground. I’m like, ‘OK, wow, I think I flew.’ ”
He landed gently—and safely.
Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) is troubled in Syfy’s “The Magicians.” (Carole Segal/Syfy)
Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) are dating in Syfy’s “The Magicians.” (Jeff Weddell/Syfy)