Lyon Daniels: 'Spiderwick' series updates fairytale for new generation

Lyon Daniels stars in "The Spiderwick Chronicles," premiering Wednesday. Photo courtesy of The Roku Channel
1 of 4 | Lyon Daniels stars in "The Spiderwick Chronicles," premiering Wednesday. Photo courtesy of The Roku Channel

NEW YORK, April 19 (UPI) -- We Could Be Heroes alum Lyon Daniels says he wanted to take the lead in The Roku Channel's adaptation of the best-selling Spiderwick Chronicles books because he was a huge fan of the fantasy stories growing up.

"I'm such a big fantasy geek. I love Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. I always felt like this is a Harry Potter world to me. It's so special," the 16-year-old actor told UPI at the show's premiere at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Mass., hometown of Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, authors of the novels that inspired the show.


The eight-episode series, premiering Friday, follows Lyon's troubled character, Jared, his fraternal twin brother, Simon (Noah Cottrell), their sister, Mallory (Mychala Lee), and their mom, Helen (Joy Bryant), as they move to Helen's neglected ancestral home, the Spiderwick Estate in Michigan.


While the kids figure out their "new normal" in the wake of their parents' divorce, they discover an unseen world of fairies, goblins, ogres and other magical creatures living in the walls of their house and on the grounds.

Alyvia Alyn Lind and Jack Dylan Grazer play supporting roles.

DiTerlizzi said Spiderwick is not a "chosen one" tale, but rather a story about ordinary kids navigating extraordinary circumstances.

Lyon described Jared as "an angsty ball of fire" when he is introduced on screen.

"He's your average teenager -- super-angry, adventurous, brave, heroic, but he is kind of the outsider in his family. He is kind of a loner. Mallory knows what she wants to be. Simon knows what he is. Jared doesn't really know how he fits in," the actor said of the character, who has been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder.

"You'll kind of see him progress throughout the story and evolve. Even though he goes through trials and tribulations, you'll kind of see him take on this hero role, which he didn't think he could, but it happens."


Lyon said he was attracted to the realistic way the show depicts kids dealing with problems, even though they are inhabiting a fantasy world.

"It's definitely a Spiderwick adjusted for this generation," he said.

"We touch on very deep topics, especially mental health," Lyon said. "That is definitely a very important topic today that many teenagers my age go through and is very personal to me.

"To be a beacon for that -- for teens who think that they are alone and have nobody to talk to -- is amazing and beautiful."

DiTerlizzi said the best magical tales are grounded in emotional truth.

"Sometimes, the fantasy world is a way of giving coping tools to, maybe, think about or process some of the stuff going on in the real world," he said.

"Bringing it forward in time, it had to happen. It's just a different world we're in than we were 20 years ago [when we started writing the books]. We wanted to reflect that new way of thinking about it, but keep the spirit of the story."

The fact that the house at which they filmed was packed with "cool, creepy" things went a long way in assisting Lyon in doing his job.


"The set designers went crazy. There are so many details. There are little fairies on the wall, if you keep your eyes out. You go upstairs and places where we aren't even filming, where you probably won't even see, and they are decked out with vintage artifacts. Even the attic is insane," he said.

"I have a vivid imagination. It's so easy for me to envision creatures and monsters and stuff, but when you have this massive magical house with a tree in the middle, it really helps," Lyon added. "It really puts you into the world."

DiTerlizzi credited showrunner Aron Eli Coleite for retaining "broad strokes" from the books that were most important to him and Black.

"The Spiderwick Estate is a character. It's a quiet character, but it is very present and that comes through in flying colors in the show," DiTerlizzi said.

"The minute they open the door -- before they even open the door -- you see the dragon locks. You get the sense this really is a special house."

"With so many secrets in the design," Black added.

The books had been turned into a 2008 film starring Freddie Highmore as twins Jared and Simon, but it couldn't possibly cover as much mythology and character development as the latest adaptation, Black said.


The kid characters are also older and more introspective than they were in the movie and books, which means the stories can be even scarier and more compelling, she added.

"You can really follow all of the characters," Black said, noting the new long-form TV series can uniquely convey everyone's perspectives, actions and feelings.

"That is something that you not only can't do as much in a 2-hour movie, but you actually can't do in books that have a singular point of view."

DiTerlizzi said the additional space and time allows viewers to become better acquainted with Mulgarath, a malevolent ogre played by Christian Slater, too.

"We really get a lot more of his plan," DiTerlizzi said. "It's a situation of, 'Show, don't tell.' We get to see Mulgarath's plan slowly unfold, which, in the books, kind of happened behind the scenes through a mystery that the kids reveal. Here, we get to see him put all the pieces into play, which is kind of fun."

The project marks Lyon's second collaboration with Slater after We Could Be Heroes.

To get a better sense of his performance style, Lyon said he watched Slater's work in Mr. Robot, True Romance and Heathers, and appreciated Slater's humor, generosity and spontaneity when they shared scenes.


"He's just so easy to bond with. He is like a live wire on set. He knows how to take things seriously, without taking them too seriously," Lyon added.

"Even when he is supposed to be this cunning, conniving ogre, he's still just such a funny, funny guy. I love the cat-and-mouse dynamic we have. It's like Peter Pan and Hook."

Black said Slater wasn't who she had in mind when she was first creating the character of Mulgarath, but laughed and said, "He's not necessarily who I imagined, but I was extremely excited to 'reimagine' Mulgarath as Christian."

DiTerlizzi said the cast was expanded and more characters who will be friends of the kids or mystical creatures from the books now take human form, like Slater's Mulgarath, avoiding the kinds of "zillion-dollar-computer-generated effects that eat our budget alive."

Asked if they view this as a complete series or a jumping-off point for more screen adventures for the Grace family, Black said the show pulls largely from Books 1 and 5, leaving much more source material -- six more novels to be exact -- to explore if subsequent seasons should be ordered.

"There's a lot left to do," Black said. "But it's not in the order you think it's going to be in."


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