Hale Appleman: All Hail the King
In The Magicians, Hale Appleman plays a gay royal empowered by his own otherness.
Playing the queer king of a fantasy realm is a dream come true for Hale Appleman and he’s taking full advantage of the opportunity in Syfy’s The Magicians, now in its third season. While instilling a natural-born leadership into Eliot Waugh, High King of Fillory, the character beautifully brought to life from the best-selling Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman, Appleman doesn’t take lightly the impact a queer king can have.
“I didn’t have an Eliot growing up, but I’m glad Lev created him, and I’m proud I get to play him,” Appleman says. “I think his sexuality is inherent to his story arc in that it’s an essential part of his identity.” In previous seasons, Eliot was married off to a woman, but now his sexuality is referred to in broad strokes, yet to be fully explored.
“It would be great to see him have more fully realized relationships with men in both sexual and nonsexual contexts,” the actor says. “While I don’t think Eliot is a stranger to fluidity or new experiences, I do hope he gets to have a real relationship with a man soon. I think it’s important to explore Eliot’s sexuality unapologetically, now more than ever.”
Appleman adds that in real life, he is “definitely not straight. I am about as queer as Eliot and at least as open and fluid when it comes to supernatural beings, women, and everything in between.”
As for bringing the beloved Eliot to life, the actor credits the director of the pilot, Mike Cahill, who used the Italian word sprezzatura (“effortless” or “studied carelessness”) to describe both Eliot’s ease with magic and his interaction with the world. “[Eliot’s] skill is either an optical illusion [because he secretly practices] or he is so innately gifted that his mastery is an extension of his being.”
Growing up in New York City’s East Village, the son of a modern dancer mother, Appleman was destined to be creative. “To create with my hands was my first impulse,” he says. As a lover of the fantasy genre (“Tolkien, Narnia, L’Engle, Potter, The Princess Bride, I could go on,” he says), The Magicians’ adult stakes and consequences appealed to Appleman.
The nuances of coming to terms with one’s truth are evident in Eliot’s arc, which includes sex, shame, guilt, and deviance — particularly when Grossman hints at Eliot’s backstory: disowned by his family and community and perhaps a survivor of childhood bullying and abuse. “At one point, Quentin walks in on [Eliot] being dominated, physically, and verbally humiliated by a much younger student, which… I understood to be an extension of the oppression of his past,” Appleman explains, adding that “it’s charged, it’s homoerotic, it’s extremely complicated.”
“I see Eliot as someone who has labeled himself a deviant before anyone else could. ... His deviance is a point of pride in this context.” Clearly, Eliot’s arc could take many trajectories in the coming seasons, but Appleman hopes for “a serious love interest who’s present in more than a couple episodes,” and for “a continued exploration of Eliot’s character, his layers, his reasons for using humor as a defense... I hope he continues to be brave and deliciously uncompromised in his expression of self.” —David Artavia