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The Shannara Chronicles ended it’s sophomore season recently on its new home at Spike, and not too long after, OMFGTV was able to jump on the phone with General Riga himself, Desmond Chiam (“NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Bones”), to chat all about it! The Australian actor was very open about his love for the series, his experiences with such a talented cast, and what it was like to play with his own severed head!
The Shannara Chronicles is a fantasy show based on the book series by Terry Brooks. It includes magical races such as elves, druids, and gnomes, but it was also filled with a group of people who hated magic and anyone who used it. This group was called The Crimson and led by General Riga.
“His character is a direct result of the events that occurred in season 1,” Chiam tells us, “where we had the demon army come in using magic to slaughter a whole bunch of people.” Unfortunately Riga lost a lot in that fight and had then gotten “a vendetta to get rid of all magic users in the whole land.”
Because General Riga was on this mission to eradicate magic he’s obviously involved in a lot of sword fights. Desmond did not have any background in sword fighting, but does have a dance background that helped him immensely. “It did help me remember sort of position 1, position 2, and so on with all the positions, and you just move between them.” After getting down the moves, Desmond would add little embellishes that he felt Riga would do.
With that dance background, Chiam was able to help alleviate the often very dark and heavy times of the show on the set when they weren’t filming, and even had the rest of the cast joining in. “There was a lot of dancing,” he reveals. Desmond remembers on several occasions when they called “cut,” everyone would just start wiggling and grooving. “Between takes there was a lot of hip swiveling.”
Meanwhile, when the cameras were rolling, General Riga was one of the only characters who interacted with just about everyone in the cast, and Desmond feels incredibly lucky to have worked with so many amazing actors, but the person who stood out most to him was Manu Bennett (“Arrow,” “The Hobbit”). “My first scene was with Manu, and I was like, ‘This is gonna be interesting,'” he says.
“But he was a real gentleman the whole time. He invited me up to his place to run the scene before we filmed on set for the first time and he gave me a good couple of pointers.” Chiam also says working with so many amazing actors taught him just how much he can push himself as well.
Fortunately for the Four Lands and unfortunately for Desmond, Riga does not survive the season. But before dying we did learn a little about his past and why he’s on this plight to destroy magic, but not much else about him. Desmond says he created a little bit of backstory for his character, but not a whole lot just in case it contradicted what the writer’s wanted to do with the character.
“I did color [his backstory] and add details,” he shares. “When I lost all my friends, for example, I tried to put myself in those shoes and I tried to personalize it a bit.” He even imagined family members serving under him and losing them in the battle, which served to help him step into Riga’s shoes.
Riga loses his head when he gets a little too cocky with the Warlock Lord and the powerful magician pulled his head off of his body. If you’re on Twitter you may have seen some of the photos Desmond posted from set with himself and several different members of the cast with the fake head.
“The most fun I had with it was the day that Gentry [White] and Malese [Jow] and Glen Levy were filming the scene where they throw the head in the throne room. The head got passed around between a bunch of different people.” That morning Desmond was not on set, but he woke up to several texts from the cast and crew on set, all with photos and head puns attached. Desmond also got a kick out of showing his parents the head with no warning, scaring his mother.
Unlike several others on The Shannara Chronicles, Desmond is very proud to have grown up reading the Shannara series. “I was pretty obnoxious around set, honestly,” jokes the actor, saying he made sure everyone knew that he already knew the story. “I read them when I was 12 and they were actually a very big part of my childhood.” Chiam credits his love of fantasy to the Shannara books for “opening the door to the world of fantasy” for him.
Are you a huge fan of Desmond Chiam? Do not fear, he will be on your screens again next year in a Disney movie called Magic Camp!