As a girl in Morro Bay, Olivia Taylor Dudley longed for a little magic.
“Growing up on a ranch, all I wanted to do was pack my horse and ride off and have an adventure” straight of her favorite fantasy novels, she recalled.
Dudley never dreamed that she’d discover show-business sorcery as a cast member of “The Magicians,” Syfy’s hip, darkly comic fantasy drama about a group of sexy, young spellcasters. The critically acclaimed show’s third season premieres Jan. 10.
“I’m such a magic nerd, more than the rest of the cast,” acknowledged Dudley, 32. “When we’re on set and we get to do magic, I’m like, ‘Yes!’ I love it.’ ”
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According to Dudley, “I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was 5.”
That’s when she accidentally caught a peek of classic horror movie “The Exorcist.” Dudley watched — shocked, then fascinated — as a demon-possessed girl cursed, levitated and projectile-vomited pea soup.
“I was like, ‘Oh wow, I’ve never seen something like this before,’ ” she recalled.
At age 17, Dudley left Morro Bay for Los Angeles in pursuit of an acting career.
Although she’s logged plenty of screen time on shows such as “Arrested Development,” “CSI: Miami” and “The Mindy Project,” “The Magicians” represents her first major TV role. It’s also a dream come true for Dudley, a self-described “huge fantasy fan” who loves “The Lord of the Rings” and “grew up watching ‘(The) NeverEnding Story’ and ‘Labyrinth’ on repeat.”
“Playing make-believe is the best part of this job,” she said.
Based on the best-selling novels by Lev Grossman, “The Magicians” follows Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) and his friends as they discover their magical abilities at Brakebills University. Dudley co-stars as Alice Quinn, a skillful sorceress who can manipulate light.
Playing the bookish, buttoned-down Alice was a welcome challenge for Dudley, she said.
“I’ve always played live-wire crazy characters” with considerably less self-control than Alice, explained the actress, whose credits include a handful of horror movies (“The Vatican Tapes,” “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension”) and a Charles Manson crime drama (“Aquarius”). “It takes a lot of restraint to play that character. ... She’s very composed and very internal.”
What’s more, Dudley has watched Alice blossom from braniac to badass over the course of the show.
“Last year, I got to blow the lid off this character,” she said.
While Season 2 of “The Magicians” found the characters exploring the magical world of Fillory, facing off against fairies and hedonistic gods, the third season finds them on a quest to restore magic itself. Dudley said the storyline has a “Game of Thrones” vibe.
“It’s a very rich landscape this season for fantasy,” she said.
Dudley describes “The Magicians” as “Harry Potter for adults,” noting that the Syfy series deals with real-life issues such as relationships, sexual assault and drug addiction.
“I don’t think of it as a show about magic. I think of it as a show about the human condition,” she explained, adding that “magic is just a storytelling tool.” “That’s what attracted all of us to the show. It was (about) human beings with very human stories.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect time for the season premiere of “The Magicians” on Syfy. It has been corrected.
Watch “The Magicians” at 9 p.m. Jan. 10 on Syfy.