The blue carpet and the cast of ‘The Wheel of Time’

Rosamund Pike, Daniel Henney and the cast of Amazon Prime Video’s new series discuss Robert Jordan’s epic and representation of gender

It’s a cold November evening in London when Rosamund Pike steps on to the blue carpet at the BFI IMAX in Waterloo. Dressed in a hooded sheer white toga-style Christian Dior silk gown and bodysuit (from the Cruise 2022 line), the Oscar nominee looks like she’s just magicked herself there from the White Tower of Tar Valon, the seat of the mighty Aes Sedai in The Wheel of Time series. Quite fitting for the British actor who plays Moiraine Damodred, a powerful magic-user from author Robert Jordan’s 14-book high fantasy, who upends the lives of five youngsters in her quest to find the Dragon Reborn, a messiah of sorts to stop the ultimate evil.

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Pike is the last to arrive at the much-awaited premiere of the new Amazon Prime Video series, but also one of the most anticipated. Her remarks about how you’ll see “more naked men than naked women” in the show “which is quite pleasing, since women have been asked to expose themselves forever and a day” have already been doing the rounds online. At the time, she was responding to the inevitable comparisons with Game of Thrones.

Though the Gone Girl actor’s blue carpet appearance is brief, she finds time to tell me that it’s the representation of gender — of how women operate on equal terms with the men in the books — that drew her to the series. “Usually a guide character in any fantasy book is a man, and here it was interesting to see a woman who changes the lives of people. So, in the spiritual sense, it came at the right time for me to explore a power outside of myself,” she says, adding, “The whole idea of channelling was also very appealing to me.”

Worldbuilding and sound bites

Urban legend has it that The Wheel of Time series, which started shooting in Prague over two-and-a-half years ago, came about because Amazon’s Jeff Bezos wanted to create a fantasy epic that would surpass Game of Thrones’ success. What better then than an epic that has maintained its active fan base over 23 years, 14 volumes (with over 90 million copies sold worldwide), the death of the writer, and the completion of the saga by another writer using the notes and deathbed audio recordings that Jordan had made before he succumbed to a rare blood disease. The ambitious on-screen adaptation has been a Herculean task — condensing its thousands of characters, many nations, centuries of history and, of course, the sprawling geography.

The common emotion on the blue carpet is excitement. I watch New Zealand actor Zoë Robins (who plays Nynaeve al’Meara, one of the five youngsters) in her off-shoulder lime green Valentino gown, as I wait my turn for a quick chat with Daniel Henney. The American actor — known for his roles in several Korean and Hollywood films, including Seducing Mr Perfect, Shanghai Calling, and X Men Origins: Wolverine — is stylishly dressed in a slim grey suit and black polo neck. He plays al’Lan Mandragoran, Moiraine’s warder, a magically-enhanced bodyguard of sorts, and admits he’s racing through the first book, Eye of the World. “I need to be up to speed as we are doing press,” he laughs, adding that he loves being a man in a woman’s world. “Following an amazingly powerful woman into the dark and to see where we end up, is extremely special. And working with Pike is a challenge I am most excited about.” The two first connected over a two-hour FaceTime during casting, before meeting in Prague.

A still from ‘Wheel of Time’

Correcting a hypermasculine gaze

The fantasy tale is directed by a woman, a breakthrough of sorts for German cinematographer-director Uta Briesewitz, who is thrilled to be helming a show of this scale — an “opportunity reserved for male directors in the past”. Speaking about comparisons with The Lord of the Rings and the hypermasculine world of Game of Thrones, she says, “This is a show about women being in power and how they wield it. If we gave women opportunity we could get the world in balance.”

With its diverse cast, inclusivity is definitely a topic of discussion on the blue carpet, with due credit given to Jordan’s fantasy world. It brings to mind Pike’s recent interview with Radio Times, where she talked about receiving fan letters, where many men wrote to her about how the women in the stories “were mentors and role models for them growing up”.

Amazon Prime Video has already confirmed season two, and shooting has begun. Meanwhile, season one, with its six episodes — Leavetaking, Shadow’s Waiting, A Place of Safety, The Dragon Reborn, Blood Calls Blood, and The Flame of Tar Valon — will premiere on November 19 and run through till December 24.

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