Dungeons & Dragons opens at cinemas on Friday, 31 March.

The granddaddy of all role-playing games, Dungeons & Dragons redefined the idea of adventure for a generation. The board-game/improv storytelling hybrid created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson sent groups of friends on colorful journeys dreamed up by a dungeon master, or DM. Players would adopt alter-egos of varying species and abilities and face down untold dangers in campaigns that could take hours, days, weeks. Not every character made it out alive. It was thrilling, exciting and accessible to anyone with a boundless imagination and a collection of many-sided plastic dice.

The game genuinely struck a special chord with the fantasy-inclined, including future filmmakers Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley, both of whom grew up as avid D&D players. Now, the writing-directing partners are shepherding the venerable franchise to the big screen with the epic fantasy adventure DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES featuring an all-star cast led by Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant, Daisy Head and Chloe Coleman.

Although channeling nearly 50 years of lore into a rousing blockbuster film would be a challenge for any writer-director, Goldstein and Daley were uniquely suited to the task. Not only did they know the game well, but Goldstein and Daley also have repeatedly demonstrated a facility for both uproarious comedy and stirring heroics. Their screenwriting credits include 2011’s Horrible Bosses and its 2014 sequel, as well 2017’s Spiderman: Homecoming, starring Tom Holland as the iconic superhero. They also directed the sleeper hit comedy Game Night in 2018.

When it came time for them to pen the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES screenplay, from a story by Chris McKay and Michael Gilio, they drew on their passion for the game as well as their own unique gift for inventing unforgettable characters, surprising predicaments, and hilarious yet heartfelt dialogue. The pressure to get the script just right was immense.

Now published through Seattle, Wash.-based company Wizards of the Coast, a division of Hasbro, Dungeons & Dragons has reached a level of mainstream popularity that would have seemed unimaginable in the days when it was mostly an underground sensation—meaning that audiences across every demographic are likely to have some familiarity with, and affinity for, D&D. “It’s one of the greatest, most enduring pieces of American pop culture, and being able to tell a story in that world is a real privilege,” says producer Jeremy Latcham, p.g.a. “To take on something that’s so revered around the world, it’s a huge responsibility.”

Still, Latcham had the utmost confidence that Goldstein and Daley were storytellers capable of speaking directly to a passionate fan base. After all, he had hired the duo to write the Spiderman: Homecoming script during his 13-year tenure at Marvel Studios. “Spider-Man is a similarly hugely iconic character that people really have a deep love for, and I knew that these guys had it in them to bring this to life,” Latcham says.

Although the mood of the new film is unquestionably exciting and upbeat, the stakes of the story are a matter of life and (un)death. When the movie opens, unfailingly optimistic bard Edgin and his best friend and confidant, the barbarian fighter Holga, are locked away in the notorious prison Revel’s End. Although the duo had once been the leaders of a merry band of well-meaning thieves, their circumstances changed, dramatically, after a heist gone wrong. The pair was betrayed by the nefarious Forge Fitzwilliam, who allied himself with a powerful wizard, Sofina. He took Edgin’s beloved daughter Kira to live as his ward in the great metropolis of Neverwinter, where, with Sofina’s help, Forge installed himself as ruler.

But if there’s one thing Edgin excels at, it’s coming up with a plan. So, as he whiles away the days knitting mittens for Kira and leading his fellow inmates in song, he also cooks up a clever jail break, with the hopes of reclaiming what has been lost to him and taking revenge on Forge. Escaping, though, turns out to be the easy part. Once Edgin and Holga gain their freedom, they set off on the journey of a lifetime, eventually joined in their quest by insecure sorcerer Simon Aumar, devoted paladin Xenk Yendar and deadpan Doric.

As the adventurers form tenuous bonds of true friendship, their mission grows ever more dangerous, putting them on a collision course not only with Forge, but also with the dangerous Red Wizards, who wish to control the continent of Faerûn. Craving ultimate power, the corrupt sorcerers seek to create an army of undead slaves, sowing chaos and misery throughout the kingdom of Neverwinter.

“The first time I read the script, I was filled with so much joy,” says Latcham. “It’s the joy of characters coming together, of a family being born, the joy of gigantic spectacle and action, and then laugh-out-loud humor that Jonathan and John are just perfect at.”

As the filmmakers put the finishing touches on the screenplay, they knew that striking the right balance between action-adventure and moments of character-driven comedy and drama was critical, as was remaining absolutely true to the Dungeons & Dragons rulebook. At the same time, the film’s creators also designed the movie to appeal to viewers who had never rolled a d20 by crafting a thoroughly original, highly entertaining fantasy adventure with echoes of some of the most beloved films and television series of all-time.

“For me, being an ’80s baby, it reminds me of all the great wonderful qualities of ‘80s films,” says star and executive producer Chris Pine. “It has a bit of The Princess Bride. It has a bit of The Goonies. It has a bit of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s got a bit of Game of Thrones. It manages to wrap up all of these different tones and colors into one really joyful film. It’s a classic hero’s journey about a bunch of misfits that are trying to do better and be better.”

Brash, extroverted bard Edgin Darvis can find the silver lining in even the direst of circumstances. “He will make the best out of any situation,” confirms Chris Pine, who brings the character to the screen. “He might seem like he has his stuff together, but more often than not, he’s winging it. It makes him, I think, a likable thief.”

Any adventure worth its weight in gold requires a likable character at its core, and Edgin serves nicely as the proverbial glue that holds together the found family of ruffians at the center of the new movie. But Edgin is also haunted by the tragedies of the past—he once belonged to the noble society of Harpers, a group devoted to fighting against tyranny, and defending the powerless. After running afoul of the sinister Red Wizards of Thay, however, Edgin unwittingly invites tragedy into his life: the evildoers murder his wife Zia, leading him to renounce the order and attempt to raise his daughter alone. His friendship with Holga helps him begin to move beyond his loss, leading to a newfound interest in petty theft and genial miscreancy.

Thanks to his tremendous skill as an actor, Pine exudes boundless charm at the same time he retains just enough of Edgin’s wounded soul to ground the endearing protagonist. “Edgin has this devil-may-care attitude about him,” Latcham notes. “He’s got this great sense of humor. He thinks all his plans work wonderfully—they rarely ever work. And that’s what makes him such a lovable guy because he keeps trying and trying. There’s something about that guy that you want to cheer for.”

Although Pine is no stranger to blockbuster filmmaking—having starred as Capt. James T. Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ trilogy of Star Trek films and having played Steve Trevor in Warner Bros. Wonder Woman movies—he was new to the world of Dungeons & Dragons. In an ideal confluence of events, the same week he was offered the role in the new film, Pine happened to be hosting his nephew’s D&D group at his home. He decided to sit in on the campaign and was immediately hooked.

“I ended up playing with my entire family—my parents, my sister, my nephew, the two Dungeon Masters that run the game for my nephew—and we had a blast,” Pine says. “It’s such an incredibly creative game. It’s a game that depends on performance and investment and allowing for whatever comes and not censoring yourself and having fun. It teaches so many things from camaraderie to friendship to strategizing to team building. It’s joyful.”

Joyful is maybe not the first word that leaps to mind to describe Edgin’s compatriot Holga Kilgore, a fierce Barbarian warrior. Although Holga is formidable, lethal, and intimidating, above all, she is deeply loyal to those she loves. “He’s like her brother in a sense,” says Holga actress Michelle Rodriguez of the Barbarian’s feelings toward Edgin. “She’d never admit it, but when you’re shunned by the world and you find acceptance somewhere, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Edgin and Holga’s bond is sealed in part by their shared commitment to Edgin’s daughter Kira. “She’s this wonderful child that they by chance ended up bringing up together,” explains Rodriguez. “They love this kid so much, and that drives them through the whole story. It’s really all about getting Kira back.”

Famed for her work as Letty in the Fast & Furious films, among dozens of other high-profile, fan-favorite roles in her two-decade-plus career, Rodriguez possessed the charisma and the athleticism to play an unstoppable warrior who is supremely skilled in combat—on the battlefield, Holga’s inner rage takes over, giving her almost superhuman strength and resilience. “Michelle has this inherent toughness that she brings to the table,” Latcham says. “She’s just a badass, to be honest. She’s going to be someone that fans really fall for.”

Every bit as skilled with a sword as Holga, handsome paladin Xenk Yendar makes true heroism appear effortless—he’s both invaluable to the quest and maddening to envious Edgin. “Xenk is the perfect man personified, and Edgin, who might like to believe himself to be a great version of the species, has to encounter the guy,” offers Pine. “He just hates the fact that Xenk has his stuff together. So, Edgin uses his nephecibility and his wit to try to cut this guy down to size—but he’s incapable of being cut down to size.”

Despite his youthful appearance, Xenk is cursed with unnaturally long life after having narrowly escaped a ritual that transformed the residents of Thay into the undead. The role of the nearly immortal hero went to breakout Bridgerton star Regé-Jean Page. “Xenk is a very old man stuck in a young and virile man’s body,” he says. “He is sworn to heroism. He’s infuriatingly upright, moral, a perfect paladin hero. Within D&D, paladins are known for being slightly overly heroic and showy. The joy of Xenk is that he’s all those things yet utterly unaware of them. He exists mostly to infuriate our group by being the hero that they’re not quite.”

While Xenk exudes confidence, half-elf wizard Simon Aumar does not. He often struggles to perform even basic magic, despite the fact that wizarding runs in his blood—he is descended from the great sorcerer Elminster Aumar. “He is riddled with insecurity about his magic,” says actor Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) who won the role. “He has internalized that he is never going to be enough and bathes in his own self-deprecation and has resorted to using his tricks for petty thievery.”

But Simon also displays a surprising level of acceptance about his own shortcomings. “The thing that I find beautiful about Simon is that he’s not necessarily upset that he’s not good at magic,” says Smith. “He really has come to terms with it, and I love the idea of someone who’s practical about where they’re at and not in a woe-is-me kind of way. But it definitely is his obstacle throughout the story, trying to come into his own power.”

The final member of the scrappy band is Doric, played by Sophia Lillis (It, I Am Not Okay with This). As a Tiefling, Doric has curved horns that sprout from her skull and as a Druid wields magic derived from nature. “Her go-to forms of combat are her slingshot gauntlet and turning into different animals,” explains Lillis.

She’s also the group’s straight man—or, more accurately, truth-telling shapeshifter. “With all these people who blow things up and make horrible plans, you really need one person there who’s just completely deadpan, saying, ‘This makes no sense,’” Lillis says. “Doric, the way she was written, she’s a really fun character to work with because I got to be that deadpan person.”

Although Tieflings are typically loners, Doric was taken in as a young child by a group of wood elves, a race now under threat by Edgin and Holga’s nemesis Forge. And that is the thing that ultimately motivates her to sign up with Edgin and the gang. “She would do whatever she can to protect them because they helped her when she was a kid,” says Lillis, herself an experienced D&D player. “Tieflings usually are independent, but she really wants a family. She wants a home. So when these bunch of idiots come to her and say, ‘We want to take down Forge,’ she goes along with them, and it ends up being something more.”

Knowing that Forge would play such a pivotal role in the story, Goldstein and Daley wrote the character for venerable Emmy®-nominated actor Hugh Grant, the charming Brit best loved for his performances in such landmark films as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and About a Boy. Although Grant was not necessarily an aficionado of the fantasy genre—nor had he any familiarity with Dungeons & Dragons, the game—he nevertheless eagerly signed on to the film. “I initially thought this probably isn’t for me, but then I read it and was highly entertained,” says Grant. “I genuinely laughed and was rather touched by the whole thing. Forge looked like a good character, sort of a smooth, phony, cravatted, pseudo upper-class conman.”

Exceptionally skilled at deception, Forge uses his abilities as a master manipulator to turn Kira, played by young actress Chloe Coleman against her father. Although the girl is brave and resilient, she naively believes him to be her protector based on years of lies. “Forge gives me the idea that Edgin and Holga are these bad greedy people, these bandits who left me for money just to get this tablet of riches,” Coleman says. “Kira loves Forge. She trusts him because he’s been there for her when Edgin and Holga weren’t and that means a lot to her.”

Forge is hardly the most intimidating presence in Neverwinter, however. That title belongs to the Red Wizard Sofina, who serves as Forge’s closest advisor—though her ultimate loyalty lies elsewhere. “I’m supposed to be the boss, but I’m terrified of her,” Grant says. “She’s pure evil and utterly ruthless and incredibly powerful as a wizard. Forge quakes in his boots when she appears.”

“The Red Wizards are ultimately feared as some of the most powerful and nefarious wizards in all of Faerûn,” says Daisy Head (Harlots, Shadow and Bone), who plays the wizard. “She’s in the school of necromancy, spellcasters who deal with magic around the dead, and she is a willing ally and servant to Szass Tam and achieving his goals of domination.”

Once all the principal roles had been cast, the filmmakers created a unique opportunity for the actors to bond, organizing a D&D campaign run by an experienced DM from Seattle, Wash.-based Wizards of the Coast. “We had the entire cast around the table, playing this unique one-shot adventure that she’d come up with for the team,” Latcham explains, noting that the directors joined as the character Jarnathan, who represents the race of nomadic bird-people known as the Aarakocra.

“They were there for four-and-a-half, five hours around the table playing, getting to know each other, understanding each other’s sense of humor, understanding each other’s sense of timing,” Latcham says. “To see them all come together, having fun was a delight.”

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