The only thing that Summer Bishil has come to expect when she shows up to the set of The Magicians is that she can forget her expectations.
“It’s not the kind of show you can show up to and know what to expect and get comfortable,” Bishil said. “The stakes are always high and the circumstances shift rather quickly and often.”
Bishil isn’t unfamiliar with these kinds of twists and turns. Over the course of her early life, her family moved from Pasadena, California to Saudi Arabia, then to Bahrain, and back to Southern California. It was after this return to the Golden State that Bishil decided to take her chance to become an actress.
“I became involved with acting as a teenager,” Bishil said. “I always knew I wanted to give it a go and see where it could lead, so as soon as I saw an opportunity to pursue it after moving to Los Angeles, I did.”
Bishil was drawn to The Magicians, which wrapped up its second season on the Syfy channel earlier this year, and her role as Margo Hanson during the casting process based solely on the material she was given to try out for the show.
“The thing that really drew me to the material was in the audition process. Before reading the books, I fell in love with Margo,” Bishil said. “The audition material really seduced me and I thought to myself, ‘I want this!’”
Now, even as a part of the show, she still finds herself drawn in by the surprises that each new script throws at her. It’s also helped to add new layers to her acting and refine how she plays certain scenes.
“I’ve never read a script and thought to myself, ‘Well, I saw that coming,’” Bishil said. “So in a lot of ways, it’s made me disciplined in the sense that I operate purely from instinct. Learning to trust those instincts has been invaluable, really.”
She continued, “One of the things I love most about this show is it forces you as an actress to ground fantastical scenarios. The circumstances my character is placed in are never normal or predictable and they are not what I would ever expect to happen.”
For Bishil, the most enjoyable part of her role is “how deeply gratifying it has been to play a woman who doesn’t apologize for her sexuality or her right to be heard.”
“She is courageous,” Bishil said. “Early on in her life, she knows exactly who she is and she is self-aware enough to change when she is confronted with her own limitations and failures. She is nobody’s fool and when she loves someone or cares for him or her, she is the most loyal friend you could hope to have. But she doesn’t throw her loyalties around casually. Her trust is hard earned. She is off the cuff, spontaneous, and energetic.”
There is also a more personal aspect to her role that she stressed the importance of.
“I’d be remiss to not point out that she is also a woman of color in a leadership role on television,” Bishil said. “However whimsical her regality might be, that’s important to me; to play powerful, dynamic women and to see those types of characters on television because not too long ago, it was hard to find.”
I know I’ll look back at Margo in 10 years and think, ‘Hey, that was a truly special role.’
While Bishil has played many different characters and enjoyed them all, she says Margo is especially close to her heart. “She is the type of character that I fought to be able to play for a long time,” she explained. “She is not weighed down by endemic prejudices that come along with being an actress of color. She is emancipated in every sense of the word.”
Since the show is based on a series of books, it predictably already had a dedicated fan base. Regardless, Bishil said that the response to the show goes much further than just enthusiasm from the cult following.
“It has been those things, but it’s also resonated with people in a meaningful way,” Bishil said. “It really has shown what mental illness can look like and what it can do to you and those around you.”
According to Bishil, the magic on the show has been used as a tool to shed light on upsetting, but important truths in the world, and most importantly, how we cope with difficult times in life.
“Yes, magic is there or was there until the end of season two, but it doesn’t alleviate what it feels like to be 20-something and realize the world not only doesn’t revolve around you, but it can also do a number on you,” she said. “These 20-somethings are confronting that myth while living out mythology, literally!”
The Magicians is slated to return for its third season on Wednesday, January 10th at 9/8c. Bishil said that fans can expect the unexpected.
“That is how I felt during production,” Bishil said. “You don’t want to miss a beat because it is a dense season in the best possible way. You’ll also get to see some new characters take center stage in some really inventive ways.”
For Bishil herself, being on a show successful enough to be filming a third season is something every actor would love. Plus, if it gives her the chance to continue playing Margo Hanson, she’s all in.
“It’s the elusive dream,” Bishil said. “Especially coming from a beloved book series, it means we did right by the books and the pre-existing fans and that’s something to be proud of. I’ll be happy to live in Margo’s fabulous shoes as long as they’ll let me.”
She continued, “Living with her for 3 years has made me fearless. It’s demanded that I be present at all times while I am playing her and that I be fully in my body. That’s been a real learning curve for me. I know I’ll look back at Margo in 10 years and think, ‘Hey, that was a truly special role.’”
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Summer Bishil Talks Season 3 of ‘The Magicians’: Photographer: Quavondo, Styling: Yesenia Cuevas, Hair and Makeup: Ieva Radina