MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles will introduce viewers to the world of author Terry Brooks, if they weren’t already avid readers themselves. It begins with Poppy Drayton as Amberle Elessedil competing to be among The Chosen in a blind obstacle race. When fellow Chosen are murdered, Amberle, an elf, teams up with a mostly human Wil (Austin Butler) and Eretria (Ivana Baquero), a forest Rover whose father (James Remar) wants to get his hands on the elf stones.
We spoke with Drayton by phone about her role on the show, including some questions from the fans on Twitter. The Shannara Chronicles premieres Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 10pm ET/PT on MTV.
Poppy Drayton The Shannara Chronicles Interview:
How hard was it running blindfolded?
Poppy Drayton: “Good question. I haven’t been asked that yet. It was quite challenging, as you can imagine. We had variations of blindfold. So we had some that were full blindfolds that you could kind of see through a little bit and then we had some that had holes with perspex, but the perspex used to get all fogged up. So actually I preferred just going full blindfolded and hoping for the best. It was definitely a challenge. Lucky I wasn’t injured in that part of it.”
What are perspex?
Poppy Drayton: “Like clear plastic lenses. Nifty little trick if you ever need to run blindfolded.”
What do you like most about Amberle?
Poppy Drayton: “Oh my gosh, what I like most is I love her compassion. I think she has a wonderful compassion that transcends everything. She loves creatures and plants and flowers and living things in the same capacity. She just has this wonderful love of life. That’s something that I’ve definitely learned from playing her and I hope other people love too.”
What don’t you like about Amberle?
Poppy Drayton: “I don’t know if there’s anything I don’t like about her. I don’t think you can not like your character. I love her. I can’t think of one thing.”
How does Shannara differ from anything else you’ve done?
Poppy Drayton: “Gosh, for one, there’s a lot more leather than any show I’ve done. It’s not every day you’re on horseback with a sword charging around these pine forests and stuff. It’s quite full on and high action adventure. I’ve done a lot of period stuff in the past. I mean, the most action you get is just sitting around drinking tea. It’s quite nice to wield a sword around for a change.”
How close together was your guest spot on Downton Abbey to doing Shannara?
Poppy Drayton: “I think it was about a year.”
What’s involved in putting on the elf ears, the hair, and all the other aspects of your costume?
Poppy Drayton: “It was quite a full-on operation every morning. It took two hours to get me all rigged up. The elf ears alone take about 45 minutes to put on because you’ve got to put the ear pieces on and then you’ve got to glue them on. They’re sort of disposable so you end up using a pair every day. That process is quite long and it obviously has to be colored. The artists who worked on us were absolutely incredible and were the best of the best. They worked on The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. They really know their stuff. They knew elf ears like the back of their hand. The rest of it took heaps of time too. It’s quite a big rig every morning, and then trying to squeeze into a nice leather corset and another pair of leather pans every morning. That’s an ordeal in itself really.”
Did the ears ever come off under the waterfall?
Poppy Drayton: [Laughs] “They didn’t with me. My ears luckily stayed on but I think Austin had a bit of a touch and go moment when he had to fall into his river. I think he came back up but I don’t think the elf ears did. We had a couple of funny ear moments.”
What special training did you have to do for all the things you do on Shannara?
Poppy Drayton: “We had to do quite a lot, actually. We arrived in New Zealand about three weeks before we started shooting to do some sword training and to work with a personal trainer to get us all fit and in shape. And then also had horse riding lessons on top of that too. So by the end of those three weeks you just felt like you could take on the world. You just felt wonderful. It really helped to have that as sort of a foundation so when you did come to film, you had that to fall back on and your training to act as a base. It was invaluable.”
So horse riding was new for you?
Poppy Drayton: “Yes, it was. I think I’d been on a horse all of about three times before we started filming. It’s definitely given me a love of it. You do start to feel really relaxed up there and you do just fall in love with it. It’s such an amazing, beautiful thing to be on the back of a horse and to be riding through this beautiful countryside.”
Had you read the books before getting the part?
Poppy Drayton: “I wasn’t aware of Terry Brooks’s novels before getting the job, but then once I did, I immersed myself in his world. I listened to audio books and was also reading it, and was doing everything I could to completely understand the world that he created. Which is such a fantastic world to get invested in. It has everything. It’s so rich in texture and creativity. It was hugely exciting to immerse myself into it and I’m so glad I got the job and was able to.”
How close to the books does it ultimately stay?
Poppy Drayton: “Well, you’ll have to watch and see, but I think what Terry Brooks has been amazing about is the fact that he completely appreciates that they’re two separate mediums. The books will always be the books and they’ll never go away. Our TV show is different in some respects and in some aspects it’s really similar. He totally understands and appreciates that we are two separate things. If they do branch off in certain directions that differs from the novels he wrote, he’s totally supportive of that which is wonderful.”
How do you like New Zealand?
Poppy Drayton: “I love New Zealand. It’s such a beautiful country. You sort of walk around and you feel like you’re on a film set and you think it’s green screen everywhere you look because it’s just unbelievably beautiful. They sort of have everything. They have black sand beaches and they have golden beaches and they have pine forests and they have huge, glorious mountains. It never ceases to amaze. It’s quite breathtaking.”
Do you have any special spots that are personal to you?
Poppy Drayton: “For filming, we were based in Auckland and around Auckland. So at the end of the job, I was really keen to carry on exploring. I’ve actually just come back from there again just because I wanted to do more exploring. So I’ve now done the South Island which is absolutely spectacular. There’s a place called Arthur’s Pass which is this road that crosses from the west to the east of the South Island and it’s just glorious. I can’t even find words to explain it because it’s just inexplicably beautiful. So I advise everyone to go if they can.”
When you started out in acting, was action heroine something you always wanted to do?
Poppy Drayton: “Yeah, definitely. I think one of the most exciting things at the moment especially is that women are getting a chance to play these really strong female roles. It’s just so encouraging and great to see because with all the feminism and stuff that’s in the media at the moment, it’s nice to have something that proves that hopefully the social stigma that has been prevalent in the last however many years, is hopefully starting to break down even more. And I think there’s still further we can go with that but at least it’s a start. To have the chance to play such a strong power young girl is hugely humbling and I’m really excited. I hope it just encourages young girls to realize that they shouldn’t ever feel inadequate because of their sex. If they are feeling that way then they should really try and fight against it because we can do everything that men can do, if not better.” [Laughs]
And there’s two on Shannara, you and Ivana Baquero.
Poppy Drayton: “Exactly, so go girls!”