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The Story and Cast
To find the right young person to embody the critical role of Lyra, casting directors Fiona Weir and Lucy Bevan cast a wide net across the UK, ultimately seeing over 10,000 young actresses. "We had casting sessions in multiple cities,” recalls Weir. "Literally thousands of young girls came out, really brave, wonderful personalities, and it was then honed down to a core group for the director. And when we found our Lyra, she just seemed born for the part.” 

Overwhelmingly, one young actress stood out – Dakota Blue Richards. "Dakota had a particular spirit that made you sit up and take notice,” recalls Weitz. "I was looking at the tapes and there was this waif of a girl, yet there was something very strong and interesting about her.” 

"She is an extraordinary young woman,” says producer Deborah Forte. "She's just 12 years old, and has never acted professionally before, but when she gets in front of the camera, she possesses an intelligence and feral quality, a little bit of wildness, that is perfect for Lyra.”

Dakota Blue Richards, who had read the books and seen the stage adaptation of The Golden Compass, jumped at the opportunity to play a character for whom she had a passionate affinity. Richards particularly admired Lyra's bravery and determination. "Because Lyra never had parents, she thinks no one can tell her what to do, so she never really does what she's told,” explains Richards. "She does things other people would be scared of, like climbing the roofs of Jordan College, where she lives, and getting in trouble.”

Lyra is accompanied every step of her life by her daemon (pronounced DEE-mon), Pantalaimon (voiced by Freddie Highmore). A daemon, explains Weitz, is "a physical manifestation of your soul, which takes the form of an animal. In the case of children, because of their unlimited potential, a daemon can change shape.”

Throughout her journey, Lyra is constantly given strength, comfort and occasionally wary admonishments by Pan. "I think it's a very enticing concept, this notion that you have a running dialogue with your inner self for your entire life,” muses Weitz. 

But Lyra's life changes dramatically when she meets Mrs. Coulter, the beautiful and entrancing head of the Magisterium's General Oblation Board, who visits the college on business, accompanied by her daemon, an unnamed silent golden monkey. A scholar and an explorer, Mrs. Coulter embodies everything Lyra hopes she'll someday be. "I don't think there are many people in the world who could convincingly play this character,” says Weitz. "Nicole Kidman was the first person that everyone on the creative side wanted for Mrs. Coulter.”

Executive producer Ileen Maisel had previously worked with Kidman and knew she would be intrigued by such a complex character. "Nicole immediately understood the nature of Mrs. Coulter,” Maisel notes. "She understood the power of the character; she understood the charisma of the character, and ultimately she understood the vulnerability of the character.”

Adds executive producer Andrew Miano, "Nicole was the only actress that we ever talked about for the role, and Chris's script went to her first. She was the only choice. Luckily for us, she shared our enthusiasm for this project.”

The Academy Award®-winning actress embraced the intricacies of Marisa Coulter, who has kept the true nature of her relationship with Lyra hidden from the child. "I've obviously played characters before that have done despicable things,” Kidman relates. "Rarely do you judge the character you're playing. You have to work from within and try to find the motivations as to why she feels that what she's doing is right, and you hope that her humanity bleeds through.”

"The chemistry between Mrs. Coulter and Lyra is a very specific one,” says Chris Weitz. "Mrs. Coulter's allure and glamour draw her in, bu

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