Rafe Judkins joined Tim Kash on the Amazon IMDb panel at the San Diego Comic Con at home. Below you can find a full transcript of the interview.

THE TRANSCRIPT

Tim Kash (TK):

Hi and welcome to the Comic Con at home panel for Amazon Prime Video and IMDb TV presents. I’m Tim Kash and today I’m going to be speaking with the cast and creators from some of Prime Video and IMDb biggest titles, including the Wheel of Time.  

Coming up you can look forward to some really great exclusives in store that you at home will be the first to see anywhere in the world. Sit back, this is the best seat in the house and welcome to Comic Con and let us welcome our first guest.

Joining me right now is the showrunner and creative force behind the year’s most highly anticipated fantasy series in The Wheel of Time. Please welcome Rafe Judkins. Rafe, thank you for being here and welcome to the show. 

Rafe Judkins (RJ):

Hey Tim thank you so much its great to be here.  

TK:

Where are we talking from? Where are you in the world right now? 

RJ:

Right now I am in Prague Czech Republic. I am in actually in the chair that I sit in when I read Wheel of Time. 

TK:

It’s no secret I’ve been looking forward to talking about the Wheel of Time for a while. To get more instant context this is not just a regular TV series right? It is based on undoubtedly one of the most enduring and best selling fantasy series of all time. I mean the numbers are astonishing, over 90 million copies sold worldwide which is a lot of zeros. Take us back to your origin story with this project what’s your personal connection to Robert Jordan’s epic story and why was this particular project one that you wanted, or felt you needed to be involved in? 

RJ: 

The Wheel of Time was actually something I read when I was younger with my mom. It was this book series that sort of connected us to each other especially after I came out of the closet. It was this thing that let us each see what it’s like to be a person who is different in the world. You know her, as a woman in a Mormon family. And me as a little gay kid in Utah like we could connect over this book and the women who were inside of it who had to be themselves in this world it was very different.  

TK:

It’s like you your own biography should be turned into a movie at some point. 

RJ:

I don’t I don’t think so, no one wants to watch that right. The book series was always like very near and dear to my heart and I always thought it would make great television series. So it’s the one that I was always sending emails to my agent about, and she’s like I don’t know what that is. Like, I’ve never heard of this thing. Just pay attention to all this stuff you’re working on. And I was like the Wheel of Time, this is for real, like this is going to be a really meaningful show, and I believe in it and just kept chasing it until finally Sony got the rights and then we took it to Amazon.  

TK:

How long we talking? I mean when you talk about the Wheel of Time as we realise time is a very long thing how long is this project being in your life? 

RJ:

Sadly its been in my life for what feels like forever at this point. I had read the books when I was way younger, but then I first came under the project with Sony back in 2017 I think. And then we started shooting in fall of 2019 so most of us now, I mean, it is a continuing joke on the show of us all feeling like we have pretty much given our lives to this project at this point.

TK:

It is a great lesson in perseverance there. The series spans 14 books and you know, welcomes readers into really one of the richest worlds ever created. I feel like I’m being dramatic but it’s Comic Con and I mean it, you know. And at it’s core this is an adventure story for the twists and turns but one that also weaves in a fascinating and very unique mythology. For the uninitiated can you tell us a bit more about the story and mythology of the Wheel of Time, and then this is a big question for fans tuning in, how closely will the show mirror the story in the books? 

RJ:

So, I mean you know summing up the Wheel of Time to the uninitiated is a difficult thing to do but I think it sort of sits in the in the fantasy pantheon as that connective tissue between Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

You know it was one of the first fantasy projects that will really took you into this unbelievably expensive world and created more POV characters than you usually see in fantasy books up until that time. Obviously, I want to stay as close to the books as we possibly can you know, these are really beloved books but they also, I love them, there’s a great story there.

We want to tell it and we want to tell it in the way that’s best for television, like this really is a true adaptation of the series. So, there will be a lot of things that are different from the book certainly, but I think it always stays true to the heart of the books and the spine of the storytelling. 

TK:

You mention something super interesting about this show having characters with POV, a point of view. Breakdown why that is interesting when it comes to the world of making television shows. 

RJ:

I think one of the great things about TV is that it lets the audience bring these characters into their homes and their lives and you really think of them like friends. You know you want to see what happens next to them. You feel comfortable being with them and I think the best fantasy series do that as well and that’s why some of them have translated really well into television.

The reason that I always chase the Wheel of Time and really believed in it as a TV show is because I think the characters in it are exactly those kind of people that you keep wanting to come back to. And the author, Robert Jordan, was really careful about giving each of them a very full interior life and agendas. You know, they’re always working towards something even if it’s not necessarily working towards the story he’s trying to tell. All of those characters want something and they push for it and I think that makes for the best television. 

TK:

Which means casting is so important with a show like this with characters that are so beloved. I was running down the cast list on IMDb and like one word to describe your cast is global. There’s just so much diversity in so many different ways. Why was it important for you to bring in such an international cast to take on these roles? 

RJ:

The Wheel of Time has always sat as the most diverse fantasy book that came out in its time. And I think when you’re adapting it to be on television today, we also need to do that in order to honour the books that are there and make this the most diverse fantasy TV show that’s been on television before. So I think that that’s something that’s been really important to me the whole way through the process and then bringing in all these people from these different parts of our world is letting us build the worlds within the show too. And it’s, you know, it’s just exciting when you sit down to dinner with Alvaro Morte from Spain and Priyanka Bose from India and Rosamund like everyone just comes together in Prague and makes this thing more than it would be without them. 

TK:

And let’s talk about Rosamund for a second. I mean we all have a favourite Rosamund movie. When you’re casting for kind of, really the main role of Moiraine, are you looking at different actors works? So are you going back through their kind of movie catalogue and spotting pieces that remind you of Moiraine? Like what’s the process and why did you land on her? 

RJ:

When you look at a character like Moiraine she is so iconic. Not just in the Wheel of Time books but in the whole world of a fantasy and genre. You need someone who just feels that part and believes it 100% and that’s something that was most important to me.

I think that these books and fantasy shows in general have the potential to really transport you to another world, if the people who are in that world believe in everything that they’re doing and the things that they’re saying and the things that they’re seeing.

The first time I got on the phone with Rosamund I could just tell from the way that she spoke about the character of Moiraine, that when she had read that first script, it just hit her, that she understood this woman. And when I talked to her, I knew that she was the only option for this character. Because she understood Moiraine. Kind of in her bones in a really fundamental way and that’s the foundation of this whole show, in this whole world working, is that you believe the characters that are there and Rosamund is like the best foundation this show could ever hope for.  

TK:

What was something she said to you in that conversation that you remember that you can share with us? Where you were like OK this is, this is Moiraine right here. 

RJ:

It was raw, I will set the scene for you, we were on a writers retreat in Bali.. 

TK:

Glamorous 

RJ:

.. yeah it was very glamorous. We were in the jungle and we were meeting with people that you know, believed in past lives and shamans who sort of read your past life just to get everyone in the mindset of it. And I’m talking to Rosamund and it’s on a really weak connection, and a horrific thunderstorm and I was just like this is going to be a disaster. Like, I’m gonna keep dropping in and out like there’s no way this is gonna work and then her voice just came through the phone crystal clear.

And I remember the first thing she said to me, she said Rafe, I know this woman. I can be this woman. And I will never forget that because it was the first words that came out of her mouth and you can tell she was just so passionate about this character and this story that she didn’t even really want to talk about anything else. It was just Moiraine was the only thing she could think of and talk about. I will never forget that call live, like that.  

TK:

I’m so happy I asked. Listen I said this earlier right, but this is really a massive worldbuilding series. We are talking a literal tonne of locations, characters, creatures. But also cultures from fans to immerse themselves in. Behind every great showrunner there is an even greater team from what I’ve heard. Let’s talk about your team for a second who are some of the people you’re working with to bring this all to life?

RJ: 

I am just so lucky with this show to have an unbelievable team with me. From our producer David Brown who did Outlander. Our EPs (Executive Producers) Mike Weber, Marigo Kehoe, who did The Crown, The Queen, everything good you’ve ever heard of. And then the writing staff too. It was just really important to me to find people who brought very different kinds of storytelling to the show.

My number 2 on the show is a woman named Amanda Kate Schuman, who is an incredible writer who doesn’t really like or care about fantasy at all, and so she always make sure that our characters felt authentic and real. And our director, of course, Uta Briesewitz who is incredible, from Westworld and Stranger Things and every show that you’ve watched and loved she’s directed… and… and she came in with such a strong vision of what this world could look like and how to capture it again in a way that felt really really grounded. 

TK:

It must be interesting to be a showrunner on a project like this because there is such a die-hard fanbase of so many of us, who know these stories and much like you, feel kindred spirits with these books so do we all. So it makes us very harsh critics. Talk to us about, you mentioned a great word, authenticity. It is something that us fans are so grateful for when it’s done right. How important was that for you? Because it’s brilliant that you bring up a perspective for someone that’s not into fantasy to keep authentic and grounded. Yet at the same time someone like yourself who’s been married to these books for so long.

RJ:

I think it’s really important to find that balance around you all the time and have, you know… I always want to hire people that challenge me and sort of say, is this the right way to do this season? Really stick true to it? So we had the same thing. I mean we had, you know, people who had basically the seminal moment of their lives was reading the Wheel of Time in the writers room, and then people who who’d never read the books. And so I think that balance really lets you remind yourself of the things that are important in there. The things that ring true, and not get too tied into the stuff that actually makes the adaptation worse than it would be. Because it’s sort of fundamentally breaking things just to deliver them exactly as they are to TV. 

TK:

The Game of Thrones finale taught us all as viewers, kind of what happens when you run out of books now. I still love that show but there’s so many people and, everyone is so divided. With 14 books are you ever in danger of running out of story with the Wheel of Time. 

RJ: 

I mean, I feel like my danger will never be running out of books. I think it’s more the challenge that we face is how do you tell this story the most cohesively and the most coherently in what is a reasonable number of seasons of television. So it’s something I really set out to right from the beginning. I think you really need to know the end of your story when you start telling it.

I think that’s true for television even though its serialised in those many years. Like, I sat down and broke out what I thought eight seasons of the show might look like before I started writing the pilot. …coz I felt like you have to build this knowledge of where you’re going and how you’re getting there from the very beginning in order to tell the stories the best we can. 

TK:

Let’s talk thematically for a second. What do you think sets the Wheel of Time apart from other fantasy series out there? And what do you think fans are going to enjoy the most about it? 

RJ:

I think the thing that always defined Wheel of Time was with both its characters and its world. And, those are the two things that I try to stay the most true to, because those are the things that drew people in and made them read these books over and over again, and give them to their friends and come back year after year for 14 full novels.

So the specialness that exists in those characters and that world, I think that’s my job is to figure out how to most effectively bring that to TV. And I think thematically, right now a story that is really about balance is something that’s meaningful in the world. So I think with our world being very divided and hyperpolarised it’s actually, it’s really refreshing to see a fantasy series that it’s not so much good versus evil, as balance versus imbalance. And I think that, you know, that is a message that’s worth writing about right now and something that is really meaningful.  

TK:

This all just moved fast and I thought we’re already at time, and time is something I guess we gotta respect. Especially when talking about your show. Before you go, I know you bought something along with you today to share exclusively with the fans at ComicCon at home. I promised everyone at the top of the show some great surprises so Rafe, the floor is yours. Go ahead, what are we about to see?  

RJ:

We are about to see the first teaser poster for the Wheel of Time. I don’t want to say anything more about it when you see it. I feel like it says it all. 

The Wheel of Time Poster, shared by Rafe Judkins at San Diego Comic Con at Home
TK:

Well, this is it right here. Let’s break this down because you’ve put this out here so we can talk about it. Get into the details with me, what exactly are we seeing? 

RJ:

I think fans of the book will recognise this as a very iconic moment in the Eye of the World. And, I think what I like about it is that for people that don’t know anything about the books, this is a moment where you see our lead Rosamund Pike, Moiraine looking back over her shoulder and saying like, you don’t know what’s through here, but come along for the ride. And I think that’s what’s so fun about these books and why people love them. It is not necessarily that you need to know every specific what’s in them, but you know the 90 million people have read and loved this thing and if you walkthrough that door, you’re coming into something really exciting and special.  

TK:

And what a great idea to use this as the poster for it for both fans who are initiated with the show and brand new eyes and ears as well. Rafe, honestly thank you so much for joining us. I had such a wonderful time chatting with you. I know we all enjoyed and appreciated you coming here to talk about the Wheel of Time. Honestly cannot wait until November right? 

RJ:

November! The Wheel of Time is coming your way and it was nice to meet you to Tim. Thanks so much.  

TK:

Hey thanks Rafe. Thanks so much. I’ll let you go back to doing what you do. 

RJ:

Ok Thanks. Talk to you soon. 

 

Share: