Austin Butler is excitedly telling me about how he can’t wait to go home to Los Angeles and see his dog. He’s been in New Zealand filming for half a year now for the second season of ‘The Shannara Chronicles’ (the first season was filmed here too), and homesickness is setting in. Despite this, Butler sparks up talk about our polaroid cameras, answers every question with genuine thought and attention, and even stops at one point during the interview to spot a butterfly flying past the window.
Where the first season solidified the televised world of Terry Brooks’ ‘Shannara’ series, the second season goes on a path of its on (still with input from Brooks), and is set to be darker, but still filled with the magic and fantasy which pulsated throughout the first season.
We spoke to Austin while he was on-set of ‘The Shannara Chronicles’ in Auckland about his character Wil, his fondness for his horse Cricket, and more…
COUP DE MAIN: So you’re here filming the second season of ‘The Shannara Chronicles’ - you filmed the first season here, and you’ve been here previously to film ‘Aliens In The Attic’. New Zealand must feel like a second home for you now.
AUSTIN BUTLER: Yeah, if you add up all the time it's about a year and a half.
CDM: That's a pretty decent chunk of your life.
AUSTIN: Yeah, a pretty decent chunk.
CDM: You’ve recounted the age old story of you going to the dentist after first meeting with the producers for ‘The Shannara Chronicles’ where you dentist enthused about how great the books were. Have you been back to the same dentist? Does he have thoughts on the new season?
AUSTIN: Yeah! I went and I saw him right before I left for New Zealand actually. He's quite a thorough dentist, so he asks me to get my teeth cleaned every three months.
CDM: I think he just wants to hang out with you.
AUSTIN: Yeah, I think that's what it is. We hang out. He's a pretty cool dentist, he’s got George Harrison's guitar because he used to clean George Harrison's teeth and it's signed by George Harrison - he's a cool guy. The first time I went in there, Bob Dylan was in there. He’s a pretty cool guy. He was pretty excited about the second season, asking me all these questions about it and stuff.
CDM: The ending of season one was so heartbreaking, was that a difficult scene to film for you?
AUSTIN: Yeah, I think any scene with loss or that type of thing is always one of those things that I don't look forward to because your body doesn't know the difference really - so you are kind of tricking your body into feeling the actual… It's like scratching a scab on your heart. I'm always like, 'Oh, I don't know if I wanna go there,’ and so it definitely is. But there's something cathartic about it in a way, in the same way that we watch 'The Notebook' and we cry afterwards - I don't know if you do, but I do, I bawled my eyes out! It hurts but then you think about the movie and there is a beautiful sort of human feeling in the catharsis.
CDM: It's kind of amazing that that type of stuff can make people feel so strongly even though it's not actually happening to them.
AUSTIN: Oh yeah. So true. Humanity is a wild thing.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT THE SECOND SEASON OF ‘THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES’…
CDM: After filming first season, you said in interviews that you, “Hope to see how loss and overcoming of challenges makes Wil stronger.” Do you think that’s happened this season?
AUSTIN: Yeah, in a way. The way that we start season two is in a place of almost complete despair for Wil and he has almost been hardened by the loss and that loss of hope is such a sad thing that I've seen. You know, you meet people walking down the street in New York that are just jaded towards the world and I've often thought, 'What makes a person that way?’, and, ‘Could I just become that?’ That's sad to me, to almost lose the desire to open your heart to the world, and that's almost where Wil starts, so it's been an interesting exploration for me to kind of dig into that part and then also find that little speck of light that can rekindle and open his heart and find hope again, and find the heroic side of himself again.
CDM: You worked with a horse called Cricket on season one who you seemed to really bond with, did you get to be reunited with Cricket?
AUSTIN: Yeah - I ride him all the time! I just took him out on the beach the other day.
CDM: I’m so glad, you seem to have a very good connection with him.
AUSTIN: Yes. I know, I’m glad too.
MY FAVOURITE CHARACTER IN ‘THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES’ IS…
CDM: It’s really interesting in the fantasy genre, most protagonists seem to have sense of destiny and fate. Do you think the same thing applies to real life or do you think that hard work gets you to your fate?
AUSTIN: That's a very good question. I don't know… I believe that things are meant to be, in a way, but I also believe that we have free will, so I believe that there are multiple destinies in a weird way— I don't even know if that makes sense! I was even just talking yesterday with somebody who met their wife in this certain way, and it's like, if you didn't do one little thing-- if my grandparents didn't meet on that particular day and they hadn't crossed paths, I wouldn't even be here sitting here talking to you. It's a crazy overwhelming thought to think about. The delicate nature and the whole web of the world is kind of held together, but at the same time if one of those things didn't happen, there would be a different destiny that would've happened that another person would be sitting here talking with you maybe. I don't know if that answers the question at all. <laughs> I believe in free will.
CDM: What do you think it is about the fantasy genre that makes it so universally beloved as a form of escapism? There’s entire conventions and events dedicated to the genre, which doesn’t exist for every other genre of film and television.
AUSTIN: Life can be painful. It can feel really nice to be able to enter another world where good always overpowers evil and that sort of thing, but at the same time I think that there is always a truth that runs through fantasy. It can be so easy to lose that as well. So often at the top of scenes I'll write, ‘What is the truth here?’, or ‘What is the reality in this moment?’, or ‘What is really happening?’ There is often something that it really relates to. It's like for anybody who has experienced losing a loved one and then feeling like, 'Where is the hope in life, if this can happen to somebody who is so wonderful and they're just taken from the world in this way?' That's how jaded a human can become, and so then to see a fictional character, it's almost in a hypnotic way - in hypnosis it's like lowering your brainwaves so that you're in a suggestible place and then that is where the change happens, that's the idea behind hypnosis - but we're all in a hypnotic place when we're driving or when we're watching TV. It's like you kind of get distracted by the lightsabers and the Mordor and the Elf-stones and then you get to a place where it's like, ‘Okay, now we're talking about something like hope and now we're talking about love and loss.’ And so-- oh, there's a butterfly right outside the window! Wow that has so much symbolic meaning to me, that's beautiful. I don't know, I'm kind of rambling.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT NEW ZEALAND…
CDM: You once told Wonderland Magazine that you love walking around the city playing music - it’s like being in your own movie. Have you been playing music while walking around and exploring Auckland? What have you been listening to?
AUSTIN: Yeah I have! Let's see... I've been in an interesting phase of music right now. I've been to listening to a lot of Miles Davis and walking around, but also a lot of Anderson .Paak, and the new Kendrick Lamar album.
‘The Shannara Chronicles’ second season premieres on Friday 13th October at 8.30pm on Sky TV’s The Box.
Watch the trailer below…