His Dark Materials: Lin-Manuel Miranda's Welsh 'joy'

By Huw Thomas
BBC Wales arts and media correspondent

media captionHis Dark Materials: Lin-Manuel Miranda shows us behind the scenes

Relocating to south Wales to film His Dark Materials was a "joy", Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda has said.

The TV adaptation of Sir Philip Pullman's trilogy is being screened in London before being broadcast on BBC One in November.

The actor plays Lee Scoresby in the series, which was made by production company Bad Wolf in Cardiff.

Miranda shared his love of Wales on social media during filming.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Speaking to the BBC, he said: "I think part of the joy of saying yes to this was in getting to live in a new part of the world.

"My wife is a lawyer and she does her homework, so every weekend is a different expedition. So, we are going to go to Hay-on-Wye and eat ice cream, and go to all the used booksellers and find cool stuff to read.

"Or we are going to go to Caerphilly Castle and take the kids. I was very lucky that my oldest son was in a knight phase and we had no shortage of castles to take him to."

To the joy of many locals, Miranda, who has won Tony, Emmy and Grammy awards for his work, was also spotted at events including a musicals karaoke evening at a bar in Cardiff.

media captionHamilton star Lin Manuel-Miranda performs in Cardiff bar

Miranda said: "Let me ask you something, wouldn't it be weirder if there was a musical theatre karaoke going on in Wales and I wasn't there?

"Yes, someone on Twitter invited me and they were like, 'Hey, we do musical theatre karaoke, first Thursday of the month,' and I was like, 'I'll see you there!' And it was great. I brought a bunch of the crew, and it was a fun night out for a lot of the company.

"The next month was a costume night so I came in a phantom mask that I bought in Venice on my weekend off. It was brilliant."

image captionLin-Manuel Miranda on set - the animal models have been brought to life in post-production by the visual effects teams

The local impact of His Dark Materials has stretched far beyond the Cardiff karaoke scene.

The budget for the show, which also stars Ruth Wilson, James McEvoy and child actor Dafne Keen, has not been disclosed, but it is believed to have been among the most expensive series to be filmed in the UK in recent years.

The production was brought to Wales by Bad Wolf, a company established by experienced producers Julie Gardner and Jane Tranter.

image captionRuth Wilson stars as Mrs Coulter

The duo were responsible for bringing the Doctor Who production base to Cardiff in 2008, and sought out the city to open the Bad Wolf studio in 2017, which has gone on to house the adaptation of Sir Philip's iconic trilogy.

The author, who was brought up in Llanbedr in Gwynedd, is said to have been "amazed" at the scale of the production.

Tranter said: "We had a fantastic visit from him when we had built the Bear Palace on stage four and five. And we showed him this frieze work [a narrow band of sculpture] on the ceiling that told the history of the armoured bears over time, and which was just something he had mentioned in passing in his book.

"Philip was so moved and so astounded that we would be looking at his work and be looking to realise it in the detail in which he wrote it," she said.

image captionA model of the polar bear-like creature in the series - the producers have recruited local graduates for behind-the-scenes staff

Tranter said having the Bad Wolf studio had allowed it to bring big productions to Wales, providing long-term work for crews.

"We are here in Wales 52 weeks of the year and we are committed to doing all of our interiors in Wales, and as many of our exteriors as we can. And we have shot everything in Wales - from the east coast of America through to Oxford. There isn't anything you can't turn your hand to."

While a shortage of skills has been a regular concern for producers including Tranter, Bad Wolf has tapped into local graduates to help power its productions.

image captionDafne Keen as Lyra, with her "daemon" - a form of spirit animal - created on screen by visual effects

Sarah Notley from Newport went into the industry after graduating in TV and film set design from the University of South Wales in 2012.

"I am an art director in the art department," she said.

"I work with the designer and convey his vision into the sets, and on to the screen. I draft the sets from start to finish, whether that is a manor or a town house, or a village in the middle of Russia. It can really vary from set to set.

"It is amazing. Wales has so much to offer with its productions, which when I first graduated I was really wary about. A lot of people say you have to go to London to work.

"It has been fantastic doing jobs like Da Vinci's Demons and the Bastard Executioner, and then on to A Discovery of Witches and luckily on to His Dark Materials which is just a fantastic show to be a part of."

His Dark Materials is being screened in London and Cardiff this week ahead of its launch on BBC One on Sunday 3 November.

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