How Dafne Keen Navigates the Double-Edged Sword of Social Media

The His Dark Materials star reflects on the eight-episode final season, her secret role in a new Star Wars series, and how she blocks out negativity online.

by Max Gao

A portrait of Dafne Keen wearing a blue blouse, bathed in green light
Photograph by Joseph Sinclair

Dafne Keen admits that she has only just begun to process the end of His Dark Materials, the hit BBC/HBO fantasy drama based on author Philip Pullman’s acclaimed trilogy of the same name. “The show has taken up the entirety of my teenage years, and been there through the highs and lows of the last five years of my life,” Keen, who landed the role at 13, tells W over Zoom. “When the last episode comes out, it’ll be a couple of weeks from my 18th. I’ve grown up on the show. It’s really hitting me now.”

For three seasons, the British-Spanish actress has played Lyra Belacqua, the free-spirited and fiercely independent heroine journeying through parallel universes with the help of Will (Amir Wilson), who has the ability to open a portal between different worlds. But in the final chapter, which premieres December 5, Lyra and Will face their biggest test yet: They must travel to the land of the dead, a dark place from which no one has ever returned. “[This season is] definitely grittier, more raw,” Keen says. “Even though it’s insane fantasy-wise, the human storylines seem real and emotional to me.”

Below, Keen—who rose to fame opposite Hugh Jackman in Logan, the final installment of the Wolverine trilogy—reflects on the eight-episode final season, her secret role in a new Star Wars series, and how she has learned to navigate the double-edged sword of social media.

What dynamics were you most looking forward to playing out in this onscreen adaptation of The Amber Spyglass?

I love Lyra and Mrs. Coulter’s (Ruth Wilson) relationship this season—it’s interesting to investigate as an actress. She has this craving for a mother and a family that any child would have, but [there’s] also that duality of “[Mrs. Coulter] is a horrible person, and I hadn’t known her until a year ago. Do I love her, or am I just searching for family?”

I’m looking forward to people seeing Lyra and [her childhood best friend] Roger [played by Lewin Lloyd] reunited. Time passes, and even though you don’t want to, you do end up being forgotten, and that’s quite sad. But at the same time, it gives him peace to know that she’s okay. And Lyra is still grieving him.

How does Lyra’s relationship with Will continue to evolve this season, and what has been your favorite part of bringing that relationship to life with Amir?

Will and Lyra start off as friends, and Amir and I spoke a lot about the fact that they’re the only ones who don’t know they’re falling in love. We got to finally play around with more intimacy because they’re growing up, [so we] finally see a more adult side. They have sexuality, which they haven’t had before, and they have adult feelings. It was a huge challenge to dive into the complications of more adult relationships.

What do you remember from your last day on set and the final scene you shot?

I remember there were only three actors: Amir, Ruta [Gedmintas], and me, for a very action-y scene. Amir and I spent the entire day just messing about as usual, laughing and pissing off people, and I don’t think we realized it was the last day until they called out our names and said, “That’s a picture wrap on Lyra.” I was like, “Wait, I’m done playing this character forever.”

Did you take any keepsakes or mementos from the set?

I did, I was given the alethiometer! I have that in my house in Madrid, in my sitting room, just showing off. And I won’t lie to you: I stole a bunch of socks from the costume department.

You have now joined the Star Wars universe in the new Disney+ series, The Acolyte, which just began production in London. What can you tell me about your experience thus far?

I’m living away from my parents for the first time, but the cast is so lovely. We go out together; we go to the theater together; we have dinner together. We’ve all been stunt training since September [for] hours and hours a day. I sent one self-tape, and they were like, “Cool, that’s it. You got it.” I had my best friend help me learn lines and rehearse with me. We didn’t know it was Star Wars at the time; we were like, “That’s really weird. It’s all in code.”

It’s surreal, because I’ve been a huge Star Wars fan since I was little. I remember going to a video store—when those were still a thing—and we rented the first Star Wars movie. I binged the entire saga in a weekend. Now, every time I go into a costume fitting, I leave and just scream into a pillow.

Let’s move on to the Social Qs. Do you remember your first Instagram post?

I do. My godfather helped take a photo of me in a car from the monitor on set of a movie I did called Ana with Andy Garcia. [The caption] was something like, “Hey guys, this is Dafne Keen and my official Instagram account,” because I had a ton of impersonators.

Describe yourself using 3 emojis.

A camera, for sure; the little pink heart because I’m full of love; and probably a shit because I’m a bit of a shit show sometimes. [Laughs.]

What is your favorite thing to post?

My favorite thing to post is my photography, even though that’s not what my followers love the most. [Laughs.] I love hearing people give me their opinions on it. I love doing “dumps.” I love this new era of Instagram. It’s just so unfiltered.

I’m only a couple of years older than you, and I feel like the people of our generation really struggle to disconnect from the virtual world. How do you like to unplug?

Yeah, you’re fully right. I have lots of friends who can’t even watch a movie without taking their phone out. I watch lots of films—that’s good for my focus. I read. I love going out and walking around—with or even without music—and playing with my dog. I’ll spend a day out with my friends without my phone, going back to photography.

You’ve spent most of your young career working on major franchises, which are notorious for having ardent fan bases. How do you deal with the influx of reactions on social media?

I basically just didn’t deal with it for years; I only got my Instagram account last year. I used to have a private Instagram account, and a bunch of people kept reporting it, so I no longer have a private account. I don’t look at comments. To be fair, I would be lying to you if I said I haven’t read comments that have hurt me. It’s hard, especially when you’re young, [because] there are so many people that have opinions about how you’re growing up, people commenting on how much better you were when you were younger and how you’re growing up in a certain way that they don’t approve of. I also think it’s hard for some people to accept that I’m growing up.

How do you block out the haters online?

My family and my closest friends are the people who keep me grounded. I never left my home. We didn’t even move houses when Logan came out. My friends have been pretty much the same. I know that I haven’t had it the worst. There are other actors in my age group I’ve spoken to who’ve had a horrible time with this.

You need to be careful about who you surround yourself with, because there are lots of people who are with you for clout. You can get really lost in this industry, and you can have lots of people saying things about you that aren’t true, but that you end up believing. If you’re doing something wrong, the people who love you will tell you. My advice is to rely on your friends and listen to the opinions of people you value.