Paul Blackthorne, <EM>The Dresden Files</EM> Paul Blackthorne, The Dresden Files

Can Sci Fi Channel cast yet another spell on savorers of the supernatural? On Sunday at 9 pm/ET, the cabler premieres The Dresden Files, a series based on Jim Butcher's best-selling novels about a private eye who cracks typically otherworldly cases using a bit of magic — literally, being that he's a certified wizard and all.

Finding an actor who could pull off Jim Rockford-as-sorcerer was no easy task. "We saw people you've heard of, people you haven't heard of... a lot of different people, because we knew that this show would really live or die on finding a great Harry Dresden," executive producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe tells Ultimately, the plum gig went to Paul Blackthorne, whom many will recognize as sinister Stephen Saunders of 24's Season 3. That, though, is not where Wolfe was coming from when he first considered the handsome Brit. "When Paul walked in the room, to be honest, I don't think writer-exec producer Hans [Beimler] knew his work at all, but I knew him — not from 24, but from Lagaan [Once Upon a Time in India], a Bollywood musical in which he played the villain." Wolfe then adds with a laugh, "He also played a lot of cricket in it!"

Regardless of that incongruous calling card, and despite his bone-chilling turn as a 24 mischief maker, Blackthorne sold the producers on his ability to bring a charming, special something to their wizard named Harry. "When he came in, he did a terrific, terrific, terrific audition," Wolfe recalls. "It was not in any way us going, 'Who we should really look at is Paul Blackthorne.' If we'd been smart, we would have said that, but we weren't that smart. It was just a terrific call. He came in, and he earned the part."

One significant deviation from Butcher's source material is the TV take's presentation of Bob, Harry's confidante and right-hand... er, man? Skull? Apparition? As executive producer David Simkins (Blade: The Series) tells us, "In the Jim Butcher book, Bob is a talking skull, and when the pilot was shot, there was a very valiant attempt to duplicate, create and sort of augment that aspect. But when we cut the pilot together, we realized that, if we were to continue with this talking skull, [there would be] two things: One, we were going to be paying a lot of money in special effects, and two, the relationship between Dresden and Bob was not [going to come] across. Bob's role is to be the computer or a font of knowledge for Dresden, to provide some humor and wisecracks."

And when thinking of a real rib-tickler, who comes to mind more quickly than Les Miserables' Javert, right? Enter two-time Tony Award nominee Terrence Mann. "There were many, many long discussions about whether we get rid of Bob or what, and it was decided that we actually make him a character," says Simkins. "We looked around and we landed on Terrence, and we are extremely pleased. This sort of odd-couple relationship that Paul and Terrence have created and that the writers have been writing toward, is a lot of fun, and it gives us a lot of room to explore not just Dresden's character but also Bob's backstory. How did he get into this skull? What crime did he commit? Was he this terrible sorcerer who transgressed in some way, or was he a victim of circumstance? There's a lot of material there to play."

Alas, Mann's alter ego is "chained" to the near vicinity of his noggin, seemingly limiting his ability to "play" in Harry Dresden's case-solving games. "He's a bit like one of those dogs who have the electric fence," notes Simkins. "But if Harry takes the skull out, Bob can go with him" on occasional constitutionals that Bob, it sounds like, may choose to seize upon. Previews Wolfe, "There's an ongoing undercurrent of Bob wanting to be free, and in some upcoming episodes, to get himself out of his particular purgatory, he's going to make some tragic, tragic decisions."

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