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Photo Credit: Jan Thijs, Amazon Content Services LLC and Sony Pictures Television Inc.

On the Verge: Marcus Rutherford in ‘The Wheel of Time’

British actor Marcus Rutherford is having a surreal moment. Three years ago, he made his feature acting debut in the 2018 indie film Obey, earning him a nomination for Most Promising Newcomer by the British Independent Film Awards.

Now he’s on the verge of a major breakthrough as one of the stars of Amazon’s fantasy series The Wheel of Time, based on Robert Jordan’s best-selling novels. The eight-episode show stars Gone Girl actress Rosamund Pike as a sorceress on a quest to find the Dragon Reborn, prophesied to be the one who will destroy humanity when it awakens in its reincarnated body, which could be anyone’s.  She narrows her search down to five unsuspecting young villagers — among them Rutherford — one of whom, she believes, could unknowingly be the dangerous beast. 

The Wheel of Time is debuting on Amazon Prime Video beginning November 19, and is purported to be the streamer’s answer to Game of Thrones, with a reported budget of $10 million per episode. The production was so massive, there was no studio in the world large enough to film in, so Amazon built a 350,000 square foot studio in Prague. In fact, Amazon has so much confidence in the show that production on Season Two is already underway.

The five young actors playing the villagers are relative newcomers aware of the potentially life-changing opportunity The Wheel of Time could be for their personal and professional lives.

In an interview with Casting Networks, Rutherford said he was shooting the British police procedural Bulletproof when his agents called to tell him about a huge new series at Amazon. They felt he should audition for the show’s gentle giant, and submit a tape.

There was no script or sides, just little scenes, so “whatever you brought to those scenes was what they were looking at,” Rutherford told Casting Networks.

While there was very little information about the show, what he did know was that he’d be auditioning for the role of Peter. Armed with that information, Rutherford began to research his character.

“I was Googling Peter and The Wheel of Time, and I couldn’t find anything,” he said. “My agent was telling me it was a big part, but there was nothing online!”

He didn’t put two and two together that due to the project’s secrecy, character names were changed for the auditions and the role Peter was actually a pseudonym for Perrin. 

Fortunately for Rutheford, his self-tape earned him a seat at the next round of auditions. He was brought in for chemistry reads and two weeks later got the call saying the role of Perrin was his.  Then it was Rutherford’s turn to participate in chemistry reads with those still auditioning for the outstanding roles of the five young villagers. In Rutherford’s case, it was with actors vying for the parts of Rand and Egwene.

During this time he first met Dutch actor Josha Stradowski and Australian actress Madeleine Madden, both of whom were eventually cast in those roles.  The chemistry reads, he recalled, were slightly unnerving.

“It was quite weird being on the other side of it, having already been cast,” said Rutherford. “You want to help the people who are auditioning, but you feel a little bit like you still might not have the role yet. So you want to do well yourself.  You don’t want to get too comfortable because the producers might say, ‘Actually, Marcus is terrible!’

After the reading, Rutherford spoke to casting director Kelly Valentine Hendry and told her who he felt stood out for him during the readings. Madden, he felt, gave a “flawless audition,” despite being jet-lagged, having just arrived in London for the auditions.  And while Stradowski mainly kept to himself, there was “a purpose to him,” Rutherford noticed.

“With Josha it was sort of like, ‘I’m here to do the best I can on this day. I’m not here to second guess what they’re looking for. I’m just going to do whatever I feel is right.’ That was very similar to how I approached my audition.”

Looking back on his auditioning experiences so far, Rutherford felt that in-person auditions will always be his preference. “I think there is something quite nice about going into the room, especially when you’re starting out, and being like, ‘This is the work I’ve done, this is my little sales pitch, this is me.’  If it doesn’t work, then okay. If you get it, then you fall by your sword.”

Whereas Rutherford was previously not a fan of taped submissions, thinking actors don’t stand much of a chance unless they are physically in the audition room, he’s since changed his tune.

“I got The Wheel of Time from a taped submission initially,” he said, laughing. “After that, I was like, maybe they do work!”