Madeleine Madden & Zoë Robins on the Cliff Jump Scene

From showrunner Rafe Judkins and based on one of the most popular fantasy series of all time, the Amazon Studios drama The Wheel of Time is set in a world where magic exists and it follows the story of Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a member of the incredibly powerful all-female organization called the Aes Sedai. After she arrives in the small town of Two Rivers with her loyal Warder, Lan (Daniel Henney), the two quickly find themselves on the run with Egwene (Madeleine Madden), Rand (Josha Stradowski), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), Mat (Barney Harris) and Nynaeve (Zoë Robins), any of whom could potentially be the Dragon Reborn, who is prophesied to either save the world or destroy it.

During this interview with Collider, which you can both watch and read, co-stars Madden and Robins talked about the excitement surrounding this show, what most appealed to them about this project, the audition process they each went through, how they found their place in this epic world, the incredibly detailed world-building, bonding over the cliff jump, and shooting the big fight sequence in the first episode.

Collider: First of all, congratulations on the series already getting a Season 2 pick-up before it had even debuted. How does the level of excitement around this series feel for you? Has it sunk in yet, or do you still feel like you’re in a bit of a bubble?

ZOE ROBINS: For me, I’ve felt like we’re still in a bit of a bubble. It still feels like the work that we’ve done is ours and it’s gonna be a little bit of a birthing experience, letting our baby out into the world so that people can enjoy it. We’ve always known that this day was gonna come and that we’d have a release date. We’re really excited. It’s been a joy, over the last two years, to work on this show. I think it’s what the world needs right now.

Madeleine, is it weird to see so much excitement before the show has even aired?

MADELEINE MADDEN: Absolutely. It’s been a long time coming, not just for us, but people that have been fans of the books for years. We feel their excitement for this coming out. Exactly like Zoë said, this feels like our baby and we’re releasing it out into the world really soon. We’ve worked really hard on it and are finally excited to share what we’ve been keeping secret for the past two years. It’s a surreal feeling. You work on something for a long time, for two years, and then the promotion of it all happens very quickly. And then, we’re able to have these amazing conversations about the show with people like yourself. It’s very exciting.

This is absolutely epic. When this project came your way, what most excited you about it? Was there an aspect of the genre, of the story, of your specific character, that most interested you? Was there one thing that really keyed in with?

ROBINS: I think all of it, honestly. This type of role comes around once in a lifetime. For me, personally, Nynaeve is such a wonderful joy to play. She’s so flawed and complex. I’ve just had the best time planning her. It was definitely character first, but then, obviously, the draw of coming to Prague and filming this epic show was something that I could never turn down.

MADDEN: Exactly like Zoë said, the story comes first, and then, once you get the role, you’re working with amazing other actors that are like family and [showrunner] Rafe [Judkins]. You’re working with the best people in the industry and it just feels like home. It really is a dream job.

What was your audition process? How do you go through something like that and not get attached to the character before you know whether you’ll actually get to play the character?

MADDEN: It’s really difficult. As an actor, you have to try to put it in your mind that you audition for a role, and then once you send that tape off, it’s not yours. I remember just saying to myself, as I got in the later stages of the casting process, I was like, “I haven’t got it until I’m on set in costume, fully as Egwene in the Two Rivers. For me, I did two audition self-tapes, and then I was flown out to London, where I met the lads and we did our additions. Even getting to that point, you’re like, “I’m so close! If I don’t get this . . .” And then, I got the call that I got the job and it all happened very quickly. I felt my world changing for the better. It was just an insane period of time.

ROBINS: We all had similar casting experiences, but quite different. I’m from New Zealand and I got my audition through email and I self-taped with my New Zealand agent back home. I think I got the first episode and I was like, “What is this?!” And then, I taped and heard back immediately and had a Zoom call, or I think it was Skype back then, with Rafe and he just helped me get more of an understanding of the world and the character and the different takes of her because she’s very complex. And then, after that, I think I had one more tape to do, and got the role and came out to Prague, which was really quite surreal. I feel like I was pinching myself for a very long time. I didn’t have the privilege of auditioning with the others, so it’s just such a miracle that we all love each other and we get along. The chemistry, in particular, between the Two Rivers kids is incredibly important, and we love each other to death. So, they did their job really well.

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From the perspective of a viewer, it’s easy to see why you would want to play these characters because who wouldn’t want to play in a world like this. How deep did you dive into this world prior to shooting? Did you read the books? Did you do some other type of research? How did you approach finding your character and really focusing on their place in this huge world?

ROBINS: For me, when I first got cast, I bought the book immediately and started reading. The quickest crash course, if you will, was going to YouTube and Wheel of Time wiki because there’s so much information there. The fans have so many hot takes and opinions and thoughts. They are the ones that have been invested in this world for so long, so what better way to really get into the world and into Nynaeve’s head and what people think of them than going straight to the Wheel of Time fans? I learned a lot very quickly. I learned a lot about what people don’t like about Nynaeve and what people do, and it was really helpful.

MADDEN: Absolutely. Like Zoë said, the fans have been such an amazing resource for us, helping us find our characters and where we are in the world or in the story. We were flown out a month earlier, before shooting, to do our stunt rehearsals and horse riding and movement coaching for our specific character’s style. It was amazing because, in that time, we got time to process what we were going through, not just as Maddie and Zoë, but also our characters, and mentally prepare and physically prepare for what was coming up. It was also a great opportunity to bond with each other during that time.

This really is a massive world-building series with locations, sets, costumes, language, and mythology. The viewers really have a lot to take in. Was there anything that most helped you get into the world and the character, when you got on set? Is there something with the wardrobe or the environment, or even a prop that you always have, that helps you?

ROBINS: The costume is incredibly helpful. There’s something about shoes and walking in your character’s shoes that really just informs the way that you walk and hold yourself. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know it was a moment for me to walk into the Two Rivers for the first time. It’s incredible. I wish everyone could see it. I feel like Amazon should make a theme park out of it. The set designer is just so talented. He built it from the ground up and it was just absolutely surreal.

MADDEN: I remember the first time I stepped onto the set of the Two Rivers and it was exactly as I pictured it from the books, down to the finest detail. That’s what’s so brilliant about Robert Jordan’s writing, the detail that he gives to the world. Definitely, the costume [helps] as well. I remember putting my coat on for the first time and the belt and I was like, “Okay.” You just figure out how a character walks and moves. All of those things are so important and that’s why the collaboration that we’ve had with all of our creative teams have been so crucial to us finding these characters.

What have you loved about your character from day one and is there a quality you’ve grown to appreciate, the longer you’ve played them, that you didn’t necessarily realize when you started?

ROBINS: What I love about Nynaeve is that she is one hundred percent Nynaeve. What you see is what you get, and she doesn’t care who you are. I think that’s really bold. I wish I had half the competence that she has. What’s been a joy to discover with her is how many layers that she has underneath, and just understanding her motivations and what makes her tick and why she acts the way she acts. Upon the first read, you can see her as something entirely different, at face value, but there’s a lot going on under there. As an actor, that’s a joy.

MADDEN: I think I’ve really grown with Egwene. She’s incredibly independent and determined and eager to learn and ready to just get out in the world. She’s like a horse out of the gates. It’s hard to keep up with her sometimes. She is just so determined, and just knows who she is and what she wants. Something that I’ve really learned from her is just knowing your worth and knowing what you can do, and don’t settle for anything less than what you feel you deserve. They’re just such strong women and they’re so connected. They really spur each other on and lift each other up, and that is something that’s a rarity in film and television, and can be in this genre. We’re very lucky to play two women that have such a strong bond.

I love how female-driven the show is and how so much of the strength of the show comes from the women, which is rare, especially in a fantasy world like this.

ROBINS: Yeah.

MADDEN: Yeah.

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How bonding of an experience is it when one of you gets to push the other off of a cliff? Is there an apology that happens first? How did that whole thing play out?

MADDEN: [She was] so apologetic. I think it was harder for [her] than it was for me.

ROBINS It was a bonding experience because it was very traumatic for both of us. I don’t know if you’ve had any experience throwing someone off a cliff, but it’s not fun.

MADDEN: Sure, it’s not. I’m sure it isn’t.

ROBINS: I was just amazed with how Maddie handled it. I remember we did the first take and our incredible director, Uta Briesewitz, was like, “That’s great, we got it.” And Maddie was like, “No, I can do one more. I can do it better.” She wanted to be thrown off again. That just speaks to how incredible Maddie is. As an actress, I was blown away. I think that day was difficult, but it definitely brought us closer.

MADDEN: I love [her] so much and think the absolute world of [her]. When [she] said, “It’s hard to push someone off a cliff,” I’m like, “I bet,” but there are videos of us hugging before doing it. [She was] an amazing support because obviously it was a scary thing to do. I felt [her] support the entire way. As people will see, it’s a thing that the women do as love. “I love you. You can do this. This is your initiation. We believe in you. We wouldn’t do this, if we didn’t believe that you could do this.” And I did feel that from Zoë, from Rafe, from Uta, and from everyone that was there. It was a really special moment for our characters, but also for us.

Did you have a moment, right before falling into the water, where you thought about not doing it?

MADDEN: It was such a brilliant save. I was like, “I have to do it.” We had incredible stuntwomen who were like, “We could do it for you,” but I was like, “No, I’ve just gotta do it. It’s a massive part of my character. It’s an initiation moment for her and it felt like an initiation moment for me. It would kill me to think of somebody else doing it and not myself.”

ROBINS: Once you make a decision, you just go for it. There’s a part of you where you’re like, “Once I decide, I’m all in.”

Did it feel different doing it the second time? Did it get easier?

MADDEN: The second time, I definitely was like, “Do not do bicycle legs,” which is when it looks like you’re on a bike. It is a stunt, so there is an element of choreography to it. Obviously, a lot of it is real fear, but there is a way of falling and moving that is important to get.

ROBINS: There’s a lot to think about when you’re flying through the air.

MADDEN: In a dress. And then, you have to get hoisted back up. Adrenaline takes over.

Pretty early on, we see some horrific creatures show up and slaughter a whole bunch of people. That’s such an interesting sequence because it goes from celebration and dancing to this horror, and it also includes magic. What was it like to shoot that whole sequence? It feels like that really sets up so much about what the mood and tone of the series is going to be, so what was that like to do, and then to see what it looks like?

ROBINS: The experience of shooting that was like nothing I’ve ever done before. We shot that in September 2019. Prague’s weather is pretty changeable and suddenly it just dropped. It was night shoots for two weeks, and not all of us on, every day. We really felt it. We were in the elements together. It was another real bonding moment, but it was also incredible to look around and see how much work was being put into sets, lighting, the fire, the disaster that’s happening. You felt the real desperation. I think the individual stories are all so poignant and beautiful. And then, to watch it all back, it wasn’t difficult to be transported right back into where we were. What is translated on screen is really special.

There are so many layers and so many things going on in that whole sequence that it was just so impressive to watch.

MADDEN: It’s relentless.

ROBINS: We obviously know the script well, but the first time we watched it, we were shocked by what we were seeing. Big moments took our breath away. It’s pretty wonderful.

How much are you actually told ahead of time, going into this? Do you know what the full arc for the season is, going in, or do you get bits of it, as you go?

MADDEN: It’s broken up into episodes, so we find out what our characters are going through two episodes at a time. Obviously, we are aware of the major moments that happen in the book series and our character arcs, and we will have a sit down with Rafe and Justine Gillmer, who is one of our other writers and producers and who’s amazing. We’ll have a sit down at the end or the beginning of the season and they’ll be like, “This is what’s happening for your character,” and they’ll map it out, which is incredibly helpful, but we try to stay in the present with our characters. They all go through so much in one episode. There’s never a dull moment. So, it is really important to not get ahead of ourselves.

The Wheel of Time is available to stream at Prime Video.

'The Wheel of Time' Review: Rosamund Pike Anchors an Intimate Fantasy Series About Power and Prophecy

The first three episodes of 'The Wheel of Time' premiere November 19 on Prime Video.

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Christina Radish (5060 Articles Published)

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.

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