Dafne Keen Plays the Hero

Dafne Keen in conversation with playwright and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda

Dafne Keen comes off as quite serious. She’s one season in on her HBO fantasy-drama His Dark Materials where she plays Lyra Belacqua, a bold little girl who’s unknowingly destined to have great power. Dafne takes the job seriously. But if you were a teenager working alongside James McAvoy, Clarke Peters, Ruth Wilson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, you too would probably want to blend in with the seasoned professionals.

Dafne, who has been living in Spain for the past 11 years after spending the first four years of her life in London, is the child of actors Will Keen and María Fernández Ache and she credits them as the reason why she’s so comfortable on a set. She’s also a wiz at memorizing scripts and enjoys playing complex characters. Before taking the lead role in HBO’s adaptation of the global best-selling trilogy, Dafne was most recognizable from Logan where she played the trained-warrior daughter of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). In her major roles she’s played intelligent, daring, young women, and like these characters — if she’s not highlighting the voices of fearless young women with UNICEF or speaking to large audiences at Comic Con — Dafne is earnest about her craft. Lin-Manuel delves into what makes this megastar-in-the-making tick and the lessons Dafne has learned from playing alongside some of the giants in Hollywood. — Danielle Kwateng-Clark

Halpern dress, Price upon request; halpernstudio.com.
Halpern dress, Price upon request; halpernstudio.com.

Lin-Manuel Miranda: Tell me your earliest childhood memory.

Dafne Keen: Watching my mum having decaf coffee and asking her for some when I was in the pram in Queens Park (London).

LMM: How did living between Spain and the UK inform your childhood? Did it affect your current outlook on life?

DK: It has made me take different things from each world: the social ways, tastes, traditions ... It has made me more aware of the cultural differences and how that tends to inform your temperament, and all that has made me more respectful and appreciative of differences, I guess. I’m weirdly British and Latina at the same time, which, although a bit schizophrenic some times can be very fun as a performer.

LMM: And your parents are both in the movie-making business. What was it like growing up in a creative household?

DK: I spent my holidays in rehearsal rooms and theaters, to the point where I learned the actors’ lines and corrected them when they got it wrong; must have been really irritating. It has helped me develop my own taste. I feel that creativity is what defines me.

LMM: What is your relationship with your phone? Do you love it or hate it?

DK: It’s weird; it’s love-hate. I hate the fact I love it. It’s forbidden love. It’s Romeo and Juliet. My parents ban it.

LMM: Were there any actors that you gravitated to as a child? And why?

DK: Not really any actors. When I was little I loved the characters themselves. But as I got older I started to get more and more interested in all the behind-the-scenes stuff. But the first actor that I noticed in a film was Jack Lemmon — who also played a Daphne [in Some Like It Hot]!! That was certainly a sign for me.

LMM: What was your first experience like being onstage?

DK: My first audition was horrible, but my first job was absolutely beautiful. As soon as we wrapped, I said I’d never enjoyed myself more. It was impossible to get me off set…. But as for strictly stage, I’ve not acted in theater yet, but I’d love to and I will.

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LMM: What was the audition process for His Dark Materials like?

DK: It was two years long. I did my first audition right before Logan came out and I didn’t hear back from them for a year and a half, so I thought I hadn’t gotten it. Then, one day they suddenly called me saying they needed a self-tape immediately. My mum and I were on a holiday in a hotel in Puerto Rico; the tape had to be sent ASAP! It was the middle of the night, I had a jellyfish sting on my face…. had to collect lamps from all around the hotel. It was hilarious! When they got the self-tape they said they liked it and told me to audition with Ruth [Wilson] in London. As soon as I walked in the room she said, “We have the same eyebrows.” She was so nice and fun to act with. And Tom Hooper was delightful with me, so I relaxed and had a very good time.

LMM: So, how was your experience filming His Dark Materials?

DK: It has been one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I get to ride on bears, talk to animals, go on hot-air balloons…. Also, I get to play one of the greatest young female heroes in literature, which is a total blessing and a great honor. But the best part of it is the people involved. I’ve gotten so close to so many of them, who now are very important in my life, and who I love very, very much.

LMM: What was the most surprising aspect of filming the series?

DK: Literally, every single day on set something unexpected happened. Another thing I learned on set: “Take every day as it comes.”

LMM: With that said, what was the biggest lesson you learned from being on set?

DK: All people are equally important and necessary, no matter what they do or who they are. We’re all just pieces of a puzzle called humanity and we all need each other to survive.

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue