Dafne Keen (Lyra Belacqua)

Dafne Keen stars as the young protagonist Lyra, who lives in Jordan College, Oxford. Placed there by her uncle, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) she lives a sheltered life amongst the scholars and college staff under the watchful protection of The Master (Clarke Peters) and Librarian Charles (Ian Gelder).

Published: 25 October 2019
Lyra is a very curious, cunning, and adventurous girl. She’s very intelligent, street smart, and she's brilliant. I love her.
— Dafne Keen

How would you describe Lyra?

Lyra is a very curious, cunning, and adventurous girl. She’s very intelligent, street smart, and she's brilliant. I love her. She's a tomboy, definitely. When we first meet her she is racing with her best friend, Roger and she’s all energy. Then, that changes. She's still energetic, but she's more dark by the end of the show. The thing that most describes Lyra for me is a line that Ma Costa says in the books. When Lyra says something about her wanting to be a Gyptian she says: "You're not a Gyptian Lyra. Gyptians are water people and you're marsh fire." That's the thing that described Lyra for me the most.

How does His Dark Materials differ from other fantasy shows in your opinion?

For me, the stand-out thing is that the main character is a young girl. It's also I think darker and it goes very deep. If a nine-year-old watches it, he's only going to see the adventure part, but then if an adult sees it, they're going to see all the layers and everything that it has.

What was the greatest challenge in playing Lyra?

Probably the heat! The heat from when we were in Oxford and I was having to be in like a woollen dress and then a fur coat. Acting-wise, although the daemons were pretty easy to imagine, it was a bit overwhelming to get your head around it at the beginning.

What were the sets like for the series?

They are so detailed. You go somewhere and you think: "Wow." It's like they have every single switch in Asriel's lab, every last detail that you wouldn’t even see on camera. It actually really helps, acting-wise, to have all of those things around you. My favourite set is Lyra’s bedroom. I love it, it's brilliant. I also love the barges and Trollesund was amazing. They built the whole town from scratch and you would be walking around going: "Wow, there’s a motel. Oh, look, there’s a weird lake with blood in it." It was brilliant.

What is the alethiometer like in real life?

It's really heavy. There's a shoulder bag from Mrs. Coulter’s episode and it kept on breaking because of the weight of it, but the alethiometer itself is amazing. It has literally all of the drawings on it and you can move the needles. I am the sort of person who breaks everything, but I did not break the alethiometer because props was like: "If you break the alethiometer, that is very expensive." I was like: "Okay, I won't."

Can you read it in real life?

There was this one scene where I'm asking it something, looking at it and going: "The serpent’s for cunning, the crucible is for knowledge…" and then it gives me an answer. I can sometimes work out what it will be but not always. I've tried.

Can you explain what a daemon is?

A daemon is your soul. It's the expression of your soul and when you're a child, it changes because you still change and then it fixes when you're an adult in to what most looks like your personality. Lyra is a kid so her dæmon still changes, but it's mostly an ermine and his name is Pantalaimon.

Is Pan in any way different to Lyra or just an extension of her?

He's a bit different to her because obviously your soul is more responsible and wiser than you. Lyra's like: "Woo, let's jump off a roof." Pan's like: "No, don't. You're going to die." He's more responsible than her, but they are pretty similar.

How did you film so that a daemon was always present?

The first stage was rehearsals. We did rehearsals, we used puppets and oh god, I remember the first time them; I remember how excited me and Daniel Frogson were about those puppets. The puppeteers are really nice, too. They do a ‘puppet pass,’ when they're like puppeteers pretending to be animals and you have to imagine it. Then there's reference, which is when they put in a weird silver ball to know where the animals are. Then, they go into post- production where they make it all perfect. It is very complicated!

What would your daemon be?

It might be a pine marten or a monkey but I haven't ‘settled’ yet, so I can't really say. Definitely not a golden monkey like Mrs Coulter’s, those are freaky. And it would probably be called Apollo from the myth of Apollo and Daphne.