Exclusive Interview with Daniel MacPherson of The Shannara Chronicles

Photo Credit: Justin Aveling
Photo Credit: Justin Aveling

Talk Nerdy With Us recently chatted with Australian actor Daniel MacPherson. MacPherson began acting in 1998 and is best known for his work on Neighbours, The Bill, City Homicide, The Cup, Wild Boys, and Infini. He’s currently starring as Arion Elessedil on MTV’s hit fantasy series The Shannara Chronicles. Keep reading to see what Daniel had to say about the responsibility of bringing Terry Brooks’ beloved novel to life, and filming in New Zealand.

Hey, Dan, thank you very much for the interview. I really appreciate it. I’m been excited. 

My pleasure, man, I am quite happy to talk about the show as much as I can.  Particularly anybody in the US that has seen or heard of Infini. (laughs). It’s kind of cool, man, because I feel it’s building up a nice little cult following over here too.

​Definitely. Infini is awesome and Shannara is big too, you know.

Oh, I know. We had this conversation with Terry Brooks, because when Terry first wrote Shannara and he wrote for it to be pronounced SHANnara. And then when people first started reading the books, it was popular sort of opinion and they started calling it ShanNAra but it was always Terry’s intention to have it called SHANnara. 

(laughs). Yeah, I remember watching an interview with Terry where he talked about it and you guys looked at him and said, “Well, what do your fans call it?” So I’m going to hit on Shannara big here in just a few minutes, but I want to get a couple quick Infini questions in and talk about your upcoming SFv1.

Infini is just this seamless blend of action, thriller, psychological horror all kind of rolled into one,l and set in this gritty sci-fi universe. Was it that blend or something else that drew you to the production?

Initially it was meeting and chatting to the director, Shane Abbess. He and I seemed like we were on … We had very like-minded souls. We’ve had similar goals, we’d both spent a couple of years over in LA with limited amounts of success and we were like, “Hey, we’re coming back to Australia to make this deep dark intense sci-fi movie.” And I had to convince Shane to cast me in that, because at that time I was an Australian television actor and he was very much a staunch film aficionado, particularly a sci-fi aficionado. 

So we both went back to Australia along with Brian Cachia the other creator and composer, with a lot to prove and so it was that kind of attitude, that kind of, “Hey, let’s go and do something really awesome and show the world what we can really do,” that kind of challenge that really drew me to Infini. And it’s nice to see 1, the result, the final product of that movie. How it’s really just slowly building in its following and in its status, in its recognition in the 12 months since it’s been released.

​We shot that on a very limited budget, in a factory warehouse in Sydney, so you see all those production values and you see how good it looks, now that comes down to the DoP and the crew working on that film because it was a super low-budget.  But we had with big ambition with it and the feedback has been awesome, so thank you very much for checking it out.

Absolutely! And you’ve got another sci-fi feature coming out, alongside Kellan Lutz, “SFv1”. ​Can you tell us a little bit about it and your character in it?

Again it was reuniting with the team behind Infini, well the director and composer behind Infini, Brian Cachia and Shane Abbess, the director, albeit on a much bigger scale. Infini did what it was supposed to do and it got a lot of people’s attention, and Shane and Brian went away and created a very unique script, as unique as the title SFv1 which has been whittled down from Science Fiction Volume One, which is a very ballsy and bold title, but it delivers. It’s again an action/adventure sci-fi thriller with a similar, unique twist to Infini. Kellan Lutz and myself play strangers, actually, thrown together on a mysterious landscape trying to save my daughter and it’s a kind of a thrilling quest against the odds for these two strangers to go up and try to save my daughter and save themselves.

​It was a pretty grueling kind of shoot, as they all are, but we shot out in the Australian outback with very similar landscapes to those of Mad Max and things like that that are shot in those kind of landscapes, it looks pretty otherworldly. I saw the first final cut of the edit without any of the effects, I saw that last week and again, it’s a very powerful, very unique, very ballsy sci-fi film and I think people will like it.

Well it got both my blood and adrenaline pumping.

Sick.  Awesome.

From here on all my questions are going to focus on Shannara (laughs). As a long time reader of the novels, I’m a huge fan. I’m impressed with the series and I know that there’s plenty of others that are as well. One of the fans, Jess, sent me some questions here.  She wants to know if you were familiar at all with the source material, with Terry’s books?

Yeah, to be brutally honest, no I wasn’t and I went back and started … Actually the first thing I read was the original pilot scripts and then, when I started doing my research I realized what a huge world and what a huge following Terry Brooks has and has created. And so then, from there, I started going back and delving into them. And it’s funny, some people you say, “I’m working on a series called Shannara,” and they blank over, they’ve got no idea what you’re talking about. Other people, say: “I’m working on Shannara,” and their eyes light up, and they go, “Oh my god I grew up on those books, I’ve read every single one.” And now I realize how significant Terry Brooks and this Shannara series has been to so many people’s lived and so it’s even more of an honor to be part of that.

There’s no one on this production cast or crew who took the responsibility lightly, you know, of taking Shannara from the books to the screen. I know it’s probably everyone’s biggest concerns and I know it was one of Terry’s biggest concerns was to make sure that we do them justice and there’s such a huge following of people to whom these books mean so much that there is a great responsibility that comes with that adaptation, you know?

Absolutely. We were speaking earlier about the magic and otherworldly aspect of the Australian Outback and, obviously, another place with that same magic would be New Zealand and I had the pleasure of speaking with Ivana last week, who described it as very special and amazing.  Was this your first time filming in New Zealand?

Yeah, it was my first time filming there. But my father is actually from New Zealand so my father’s family are over there, I’ve spent a little bit of time in New Zealand, not a lot but I’ve been over there to visit family. I’ve also been over there to race and Iron Man Triathlon, actually, which I did in 2008, which is a great way to see a lot of the north island. But it’s my first time filming there and, again, we only scratched the surface of what that landscape has to offer, you know, we were filming predominantly in the surrounds of Auckland and the black sand beaches and amazing caves and amazing cliffs and whatnot.

​We shot a little bit of stuff down in the south island, obviously where people are more familiar with that landscape from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. But down in that south island landscapes are absolutely breathtaking and you can find whatever you, as a film or a television maker are looking for in terms of a landscape, particularly an alien or fantasy or otherworldly landscape, you can find it in New Zealand. It is absolutely spectacular. It is very few people who go to New Zealand and don’t come away just in awe of the landscape.

Yes, I had the pleasure a few years ago of actually going to New Zealand, the southern area, but it was absolutely beautiful and I can’t disagree with you there.

Did you feel a little bit like you were suddenly in a fantasy novel or in another world?

I felt like I absolutely stepped into one. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

(laughs). Yeah. It’s pretty special man.

You’ve talked before about your love for working out and exercise.  Ivana was also talking last week about the intense training during filming so my question is this: Were you treated to the same regimen that they were or did you get the royal prince treatment?

Aaron (Aaron Jakubenko who plays Anders) and myself always thought that we were getting princely treatment and we always expected princely treatment, but no, we’re all subjected to the same stuff actually. We were trained by an incredible stunt and fitness department, you know those guys had trained the guys on Spartacus before us. They’d worked on Spartacus, Game of Thrones, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings so we were in some very good hands there. It was actually one of the ways that Aaron and myself developed our brotherly relationship is that we did all of our training together. You know, all of that physical training, all that stunt training, all that sword fighting, all that horse riding. And we developed … We’re both natural competitors, both coming from different sporting backgrounds, and so we did push each other the entire way and I felt it built up that brotherly competition in us.

​It was a great way for us to bond, but also the fact that we both love exercise, we both love keeping fit and I reckon we probably pushed each other to work as hard on our scripts and our performances as we did in the gym, and that was a big part of one of the things I loved. We trained a lot with Aaron and myself, we trained a lot with Austin. We trained a lot with Markus, who played Bandon. Ivana did a lot more with the knives because you know the rovers were all … She had to be very dextrous and very familiar with the knives and the swords. And then Poppy did a lot of everything because Poppy has to do a lot of everything.

​But it was pretty much with the boys and Aaron and I did most of our stuff ourselves, but we really did push each other the whole way and it was one of the greatest memories I’ve got of shooting that series was, we called it the sky deck, you know, it was the gym above the studios and we would all spend a lot of time on the sky deck, it was great.

Awesome, and those relationships and that energy and that emotion and realism.  It comes out on the screen and it’s absolutely amazing just watching all of you.

I think also there’s a lot to be said for taking a bunch of actors from all around the world, from all different cultures, from all different backgrounds, at all different stages in their careers but predominately a lot of us really starting early in our careers, you know, and Shannara was a big step forward for a lot of us. But also then being isolated together on the same floor at the same hotel in a city on the other side of the world, all purely there to do a job and do it to the best of our abilities, there’s a lot to be said for how that unites the cast and how that translates on-screen and I think that was also a big part of it, you know.

In episode 4 of Shannara. Arion seems to be caught up in some things he doesn’t quite understand, some big reveals went on. What would you say is going through his head right now?

That’s a tough one for him, because all he’s ever known is what his father taught him and his father taught him that magic doesn’t exist, that Druids don’t exist anymore. Now he’s concerned that his father is aging and he’s concerned of his fathers mental health and well-being. And let’s not forget that Arion was never meant to be King. Aine was meant to be King. Arion was always the middle child, the middle child seeking his father’s love and acceptance and all those things that a middle child often struggles with, especially when his older brother, who’s now passed away was, of course, the golden child.

​So all of a sudden Arion, over the last few years, has had to step up into this role that really doesn’t come naturally to him. But he does think that … He believes that he does have a responsibility to doubt everything because suddenly a druid who is supposed to have been dead for a long time comes in and suddenly tells him that magic is real and that a tree is going to unleash a demon army? And his father jumps on and believes this 100% straight away? I’m glad … Someone’s got to put their hand up and go, “Hang on, I want to see proof. Let’s not jump on this 100%”

​Arion’s starting to see proofs now. Episode 4 with the seed from the Ellcrys and whatnot, I mean there is undeniable proof. Arion now has to grapple with whether or not it’s in the best interest of the Elven people to assemble an army and confront this challenge with power and might or whether we continue to listen to the druid and put the future and the fate of the elven people in the hands of a bunch of kids and that’s where Arion’s conflict is coming from right now, I think.

If Arion becomes King what do you think he’d do in this situation?

I don’t believe Arion has the worldly understanding, the knowledge of all the other inhabitants of the Four Lands and I don’t think he has the sensitivity to deal with the threat in any other way other than by force. So I’m sure if he’d become King there’s a military offensive and the Elven people go and assert their power through the Elven army. I don’t think Arion has ever … He’s never lived through a time of war. He’s never witness demons, he’s never witnessed magic so I don’t think he knows any other way. He’ll do what he believes is the best way forward, but thankfully he’s got his father and his younger brother and all these other people to show that there is an alternative way and he has to come around to that way of thinking eventually.

So what are some of the things you’d say you have in common with your royal counterpart?

I’m a Taurus, so if you ask my wife, I can be very stubborn, I can be very pig-headed.  I can be quite abrasive in the same way that Arion can too. And sometimes I like to get in and just fix things with force and power with a minimum of fuss. Like Arion, I’m not big on patience, you know. So there’s a few commonalities there.

The key’s just to make Arion accessible and my goal is always to make an audience understand why Arion has to go the opposite direction to everybody else. There has to be a kind of a human element, a human understanding of what he’s doing, so I think the way to do that is to make sure that everything he believes, everything he is doing he believes is for the good of the Elven people. He’s not bad, he doesn’t have evil intentions, he doesn’t have bad intentions. He believes that his way is the most sensible way for the Elven royal family and you really have to find those human elements in that and come back to that father/son and father, son and brother dynamic.

​That was one of the things I really enjoyed most of doing Shannara, was really exploring that Elessidil family dynamic. There’s no mother, the oldest brother has passed away and it’s a very complicated set of relationships between Arion, Ander and King Eventine and I think bringing the humanity to those relationships was one of the key parts of making them understandable.

So this segues perfectly into my final question for you.  What’s something that you’re hoping the fans take away from Arion? A lesson learned, so to speak, from watching his development.

Wow. I hope that they see that everything he tried to do was for the love and acceptance of his father and because he was trying to do the role that was bestowed upon him the best way that he knew how, you know, and he just tries his best. He tries his best to please his father, he constantly tries his best to be the son that his father wants him to be and underneath there, as the series goes on you’ll see that he’s got a good, strong heart that only wants the best for the Elven people. It’s hard to see in these first early episodes but Arion really matures and is forced to mature and is forced to grow up throughout the trials with this series of Shannara and I think people will be surprised to see the Arion and to get to know the Arion they see towards the end of this series. And that was something that I’m very proud of as an actor, I loved Arion dark, I loved Arion’s journey throughout this series of Shannara and I hope everyone will enjoy it too.


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