Ah, Lan Mandragoran, you enigmatic man. Standing staunchly by Moiraine’s side as her Warder, Lan is not known for being loquacious. The Wheel of Time character may not launch into minutes-long monologues, he still communicates the most with the set of his jaw or a tightness around the eyes. And Daniel Henney brings Lan to the screen. In the series so far, we’ve seen Lan work with Moiraine on her quest to find the Dragon Reborn. He displays nothing but dedication to his Aes Sedai, whether he’s herding the Two Rivers youths or grieving for a fallen friend. We talked with Henney about finding his way with Lan and possible “love stuff” in Lan’s future.
Nerdist: Lan has spent more time with the Two Rivers folks now. I’m curious how he’s feeling. Do you think he feels for them since their lives changed so drastically, or is he more on the side of, “Would you please just listen to Moiraine, for the love of…”
Daniel Henney: I think it’s a combination of all those things. The fun thing about the show [vs. the books], these characters are human now. We’re able to play a little more with all these characters’ sort of emotional spectrum. You’re definitely seeing that with Lan. You saw it in episode five, obviously, at the end of it where he’s just showing that grief in that scene with Stepin.
It’s been over a month they’ve been on this journey, and he’s human. He feels what they feel and he knows what they’re going through. But at the end of the day, he’s very duty oriented. Moiraine is his number one concern and their mission is the number one thing. So he’s going to keep moving forward, but he definitely feels for these kids. One in particular he’s getting very fond of, but yeah, he feels a connection to them.
Speaking of. What is Lan thinking about Nynaeve these days?
[Laughs] Oh, absolutely nothing.
I think he’s really surprised by her, and he’s surprised by himself. It’s interesting, because you have the dynamic between him and Moiraine, obviously. This may be the first time for him to be emotionally touched in this way, to where he’s actually thinking about someone else in that light. Right now, as we find ourselves in [episode] six, it’s still sort of a curiosity that he feels, but there’s definitely an interest. But without giving too much away, episode seven is one of my favorites. And you get to see a lot more about Lan, and his history and culture, and maybe some love stuff as well.
I’ll take love stuff whenever I can get it.
You’re right. I love those days too, when I come to set, when I know I’m not slaughtering someone, or delivering some heavy monologue, or screaming and beating my chest. A nice love scene’s always fun.
But as far as Lan and emotion, he is famously a very stoic character. Have you had to learn a different style of acting to show his emotion in other ways besides dialogue?
It’s been tricky. I don’t really watch the episodes because it’s hard for me to watch myself, but there was definitely an evolution for me, acting-wise. We first started two years ago I remember being, I wouldn’t say uncomfortable, but I think as an actor, if you have too many scenes where you’re just sort of in the background or there’s no dialogue, you have this urge to want to perform a little bit. I can remember sort of fighting those urges in the beginning.
It was pretty quick, but I learned that there was so much power in his silence. I remember seeing some of the dailies back, and hearing some positive sort of reactions to that from our producers and our staff… I realized I was on the right track with him. There’s so much that you can communicate through a look, or a gesture, and it can be very powerful. A lot of times words are just not needed. I’m happy with how that’s turning out.
When you’re playing one of the most badass warriors in fantasy history, first of all, you’re like, “How am I going to pull this off?” But then you’re like, “Well, I’m playing him now, and so this is how it’s going to be.” And no, I’m not going to fit everyone’s idea of what Lan was in their heads, the book readers, but I’m hopeful that the essence of Lan will be there for most of the scenes. I’m trying very hard to make that happen, so I’m just hoping that people like it.
By the time we get to that powerful, heartbreaking Warder funeral in episode five, Lan lets it out. Can you tell me about the development of that scene, having Lan serving as the representative of everyone’s grief?
That was something that I think Rafe and our writers wanted to bring in. It’s, I believe, from an Eastern philosophy, this idea of a designated mourner. And in our world, they have these funerals, and in that scene, Lan was the only one that was supposed to show emotion. So when you see Moiraine, and you see Nynaeve as well, not being able to sort of hold back the tears, we thought there was even more power in that. Because essentially they weren’t supposed to be doing that, but the scene was so powerful—his wailing and sort of this guttural scream that he was calling on. We thought that was a very special moment.
It also helped to cement how deep the bond between the Aes Sedai and Warder goes, how she can actually feel everything he’s feeling. And moving forward, the idea that that could just as easily have been them, and there could be a day where he’s putting her ring into that fire. There was just so much going on around that scene, but we’re happy with how it turned out. I know it probably could be controversial, but I think that it creates a lot for Lan. He’s a real person in this world, and he has emotions. And Stepin was very special to him.
And as far as filming that moment. It looks like a lot. How did you get through those scenes?
Yeah. It was a combination of… Well, it depends on how you want to get there emotionally as an actor. For me, I do kind of a combo of methods, and music is a big a deal to me. So I created a playlist for the day on songs that I felt could help me get there, and then sort of recent emotions that would trigger that in him. Salli [Richardson], our director, she was really wonderful in giving me time to step away and letting me know when the closeups were happening, when the wide was happening. So when it’s a wide shot, you don’t have to give a thousand percent, because if you’re doing that all day long, you’re going to lose your voice.
I have pictures after that day that I sent my family. I was beating my chest so hard, that I didn’t realize it, but I had a completely black sternum for like a week and a half afterwards.
I wondered about that! I figured it had to turn red at the very least. I know you filmed that a while ago, but do you recall any of the songs you had on your playlist?
I had this group I listen to called Beta Radio. They have some really amazing acoustic songs, sort of American country acoustic songs, that always get me emotionally. There’s some classical music I listened to as well. I was listening to some Schubert at the time. That helped me to access that emotion.
I remember thinking a lot about… It’s still kind of cheesy, but I had just recently lost my golden retriever. She was 15, and she passed away right in my arms. So I kind of used that memory to help catapult me. Her name was Mango. I’m always thankful to Mango for giving me all these gifts. And I thought, “To this day, she’s still helping me.” So she did help me that day.
New episodes of The Wheel of Time premiere Fridays on Prime Video.