Jason Ralph

Jason Ralph

Jason Bell/SyFy

When you are a lead actor on the SyFy show The Magicians, you get to spend your day casting spells, meeting mythical creatures and becoming a king of the magical world called Fillory. So what could you possibly miss from Texas?

The answer, of course, is barbecue.

Review: 'The Magicians' has an imperfect start that could lead to a magical series

"Barbecue in general is lacking in most places in the country," Jason Ralph says with a chuckle over the phone. "And we shoot [The Magicians] in Canada, which is about as far away as you can get. Their idea of barbecue is sort of a joke."

Spoken like a true Texan, though Ralph is quick to defend the country where he spends much of his time. "No offense to Canada, I love a lot of things about it. But you know what I mean."

Ralph plays Quentin Coldwater on The Magicians, a series that can most easily be summed up as Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia mashed up and served to adults. Quentin is a graduate student that finds himself enrolled at Brakebills College, where he spends his days taking classes on how to be a magician ... when he and his friends aren't running from the deadly and twisted man known as The Beast.

Ralph grew up in McKinney and did two years of school at Collin College (back when it was still known as Collin County Community College). "I kind of turned that associates degree program into an arts conservatory for myself," he says. "I pretty much exclusively took the theater and arts classes over there, which I think prepped me for making the transition up to New York."

Jason Ralph, Olivia Taylor Dudley

Jason Ralph, Olivia Taylor Dudley

Jason Bell/SyFy

Though he spends most of his time outside of Texas now, he tries to come back often for holidays and big family events, such as weddings and births. "You don't want to miss any of those moments," he says. "But it's hard, because the schedule of an actor is very difficult. It takes you all over the place, so you have to squeeze in time when you can."

Now 30, Ralph runs his own theater company in New York when he's not travelling for acting gigs or working as a producer, director or writer on other projects. "That's kind of what I do for fun, in an odd way," he says. "I'm a bit of a workaholic. When I'm not doing that, I'm just up at the dog park with my dogs."

We spent some time with him chatting about The Magicians and acting in general.

GuideLive: Season one of the show ended very dark. How dark can we expect season two to go?

It continues along that same vein. The tone and the journeys these people are on are not lighthearted, but I think we do a fine job along the way of finding the moments of humor. It's like people do in real life. To cope with tragedy you have to find the lightness. That is certainly not absent from the show, but the show certainly does not shy away from going to darker places.

Were you a fan of the books before you got this gig?

I became a rabid fan of them very quickly through the audition process, and then before I officially signed on I had become, through reading them, very protective of my experience of reading them and of the material itself. I found myself, for the first time as an actor, in a position to go to the creators and say, 'Before I say yes to this, what is the story you're interested in telling? What does this mean to you? Is it the same thing that it means to me?' I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page about the kind of story we were interested in telling. 

They did a very good job of convincing me that we were on the same page, and we've done, I think, a very fine job of keeping so much about the books that the people love, staying true to the tone and staying true to the characters themselves. 

We do bounce around as far as plot and stuff is concerned, but that almost doesn't matter as long as you're remaining true to the heart of this thing. And that's something we're constantly guarding, day to day.

What's different about doing theater and doing TV?

Most of my career has been doing theater, and that's where the majority of my training comes from. It's where I think a lot of my focus on story comes from, because as an actor on stage you are responsible for the whole play, all at once, in telling it in a clear and concise manner. 

Taking those same principles to film, I think, is extremely helpful, and I think it makes the actor a more valuable collaborator in the room. If we have more than one eye on the story we're trying to tell, I think that's helpful. 

Film is really different in the performance, because you don't really get a lot of time to rehearse and refine something for all the stuff that's there. You really have to learn to trust your instincts in a way that's slightly unfamiliar from theater. Of course, during the first readthrough you're just kind of throwing it out, and all through rehearsals you're just trying things to see what sticks, and you get to pick along the way. But on film you don't have that luxury. It's been very nice to teach myself to sort of trust myself and go along with it, and not second guess things.

I haven't had the opportunity yet, but hopefully those lessons will translate back to the theater and I'm not now a horrific theatrical actor.

Jason Ralph and Nicole Lowrance from the New York cast of "Peter and the Starcatcher" in 2013.

Jason Ralph and Nicole Lowrance from the New York cast of "Peter and the Starcatcher" in 2013.

File photo

Here's a question my wife wanted to make sure I asked: Why can't Quentin keep his hair out of his eyes? Because the dude's got magic.

It's a mask, I think. It's a shield. And I try to use it as a tool in that way. When he is feeling more confident and is on a mission and is more front-footed, I try to get the hair out of the face to communicate that idea. When he's feeling like he needs to be isolated or is in a situation that makes him feel threatened, it's a bit of a cocoon. A safety net, I suppose.

Do you have any other favorite characters in the series, besides Quentin?

I love Elliot so much. The books are so good, and I really love all of the characters, but particularly you learn so much about Janet, who's Margo on the show. In the books she starts off as vapid and can be the fall for jokes, and can be a bit of an [expletive]. But later in the books you come to learn so much about her and her journey. It's quite incredible.

If someone in the Dallas-Fort Worth area wanted to get into acting, is there any advice you'd give them?

You just have to do things, and commit to them. If you're interested in films then start making films. If you want to be acting, then you need to be taking acting classes. I think it's simple in a way. Everybody is going to have their own journey through, but you're never going to get there unless you just do it. Commit. Immerse yourself fully, and through immersing yourself you'll find out what it is you do love about it, if there is something you love about it. And if those things are strong enough to sustain you for a lifetime.

The Magicians airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on SyFy.

What's Happening on GuideLive