Exclusive: Ayoola Smart talks playing Aviendha, the Aiel, and filming action scenes for The Wheel of Time season 2

We spoke with The Wheel of Time's Ayoola Smart (Aviendha) about her road to playing the Aiel warrior and filming some the intense action scenes in season 2.
Ayoola Smart as Aviendha in The Wheel of Time. Image courtesy of Prime Video/Sally Montana.
Ayoola Smart as Aviendha in The Wheel of Time. Image courtesy of Prime Video/Sally Montana. /

The Wheel of Time is a sprawling fantasy series with an ensemble cast, and during its second season the show added even more key players. Ayoola Smart plays Aviendha, one the desert-dwelling Aiel people and a member of the fierce group of warriors known as Far Dareis Mai, or Maidens of the Spear. Aviendha made a big impression during her time onscreen, from intense fight scenes against Whitecloaks to teaching Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) about the customs of the Aiel.

Next season, The Wheel of Time will adapt the acclaimed fourth book in Robert Jordan's book series, The Shadow Rising. Without going too deep into spoilers, a major plotline of The Shadow Rising revolves around a journey into the Aiel homeland, called the Three-Fold Land. We'll be seeing a lot more of Aviendha in the seasons to come.

We spoke with Ayoola Smart about her turn in The Wheel of Time season 2, filming her most challenging scene of the season, how she prepared for the intense stuntwork the show demanded, and even some hints about what lies ahead in season 3. Read on for our exclusive interview! (Edited for length and clarity.)

Ayoola Smart as Aviendha in The Wheel of Time. Image courtesy of Prime Video/Sally Montana.
Ayoola Smart as Aviendha in The Wheel of Time. Image courtesy of Prime Video/Sally Montana. /

WINTER IS COMING: Hi Ayoola! Thanks for taking the time to talk today. Thinking back on season 2, what was one of the most fun days you had on set? And what was maybe one of the most challenging days that you had on set?

AYOOLA SMART: I think [they're] maybe the same day. One when we were filming in Morocco towards the end, because of like scheduling stuff, things got shifted a little bit later and we ended up filming when all of the sandstorms had started...and so the scene where I'm meeting my toh to Jolien, and also the scene where we're walking and Perrin and Aviendha are chatting, was insanely windy and stormy. And particularly when the girls are beating me up, we're like on top of this kind of plateau and we're just being completely battered by the wind and the sand. I remember resetting for one take where we're walking along and you couldn't open your eyes because there was so much sand coming into them, and everyone else who's not filming is like, goggles and wrapped up and hoods, and we're there just like, "yeah, this is...this is great!" [Laughs] But because it was just so elemental it was also a lot of fun, and yeah, I really enjoyed it.

WIC: That's a very intense scene. I was gonna ask you about what it was like filming and blocking that scene, but now you've made me curious: did the elements make it easier to get into what you were going through? Or did they make it more difficult?

AS: Yeah, I think it definitely helps in the sense of like...letting yourself go, to kind of meeting meeting this toh and being beaten up and kind of, you know, [it] helped being lifted into the air by the wind and things like that. Yeah, I think so. We had to kind of block it out a lot and we did a lot of training for it with the stunt department, who are incredible, So that we felt kind of comfortable with it. But I think there is an element where once you're on set, things need to be adjusted or changed and you kind of just have to go with that. So it's always a mixture of things. But yeah, that the elements definitely helped.

The Wheel of Time Season 2
Marcus Rutherford (Perrin Aybara), Ayoola Smart (Avienda), Ragga Ragnars (Bain), and Maja Simonsen (Chiad) in The Wheel of Time season 2. /

WIC: The Aiel are one of the most beloved cultures from Robert Jordan's books, and I think one of the more unique ones in his books. We know that they're going to feature in a pretty big way moving forward because showrunner Rafe Judkins has talked about it quite a lot. Is there anything in particular about the Aiel that you were really excited to dig into this season, or maybe that you're really looking forward to getting into in the future?

AS: Yeah, I just think the way that they move through life is very interesting, and with the Ji'e'toh system and the kind of really inbuilt protective and like kind of loyal way that they are around their people and their culture. And also then the differences between different clans as well. That's definitely something that I'm looking forward to expanding into and also for everyone to see. But yeah, I think they're so specific in so many ways that it's all just really interesting, because it is so different to a lot of the other kinds of people that we see in The Wheel of Time world.

WIC: Is there anything in particular that you learned in season 2, either about Aviendha or your process as an actor while playing Aviendha, that you're especially excited to keep bringing back to your performance as the character in season 3?

AS: I think that just the way she is...I'm trying to think of how to answer this without going into future things. I mean, just like some of her innate of, you know, her strength but also her kind of stubbornness and single-mindedness about things is something that it will be interesting to keep developing with how other things meet her in life as the story develops, and what she will go on to have to do and the choices that she'll have to make. I think like with a lot of the characters where we first meet them, particularly the younger characters, you know, they are who they are at the start of the journey. We meet [Aviendha] as this incredibly skilled warrior, and that's kind of amazing that that's the starting point. And so everything that goes from there is really interesting and exciting to expand upon. Yeah...I think...that's all I can say. [Laughs]

WIC: Awesome. Thank you for getting into it.

AS: I'm tongue tied. Like there's loads of stuff, but I can't talk about it.

The Wheel of Time Season 2
Ragga Ragnars (Bain), Ayoola Smart (Aviendha), Maja Simonsen (Chiad) /

WIC: Talking about how Aviendha is a skilled warrior and how that's a really cool starting place, what was that like for you as an actor, in terms of training and getting ready to play a character like that? Did you have to do a lot of prep work for this part?

AS: Yeah. I've always wanted to play a physical character, and a character that kind of requires me to learn a new skill set. So I think when it first came through, that was something I was immediately really drawn to. And...I think that the space from when I got the part to when I started shooting was quite small, so I only had a couple of weeks of prep before we started shooting the fight. That's how she's introduced into the story. But from that point onwards, basically, I've just continued training and kind of doing things, and yeah, I love it.

There's so much that's kind of physically specific about prepping this character, which I think allowed it to feel less daunting in terms of getting into it because I'm like, "okay, I just literally need to get really fit," and all of these things. And I think before...I'd had really bad COVID actually, about six months before, maybe a bit less, and basically hadn't really done any physical activity in months because my chest was really bad. And so having that as a springboard also to kind of move through that and work on that was also really, really great. And yeah, I just love anything that requires me to move about. So it was good.

WIC: That must have been really intense to go from that point of recovering from that to...

AS: To the best fighter in the world, yeah. [Laughs]

WIC: I think we have time for one more really quick question, so we'll end with a fun one. If you were assembling an adventuring party to go out into the Aiel homeland, which three characters from The Wheel of Time would you want traveling with you?

AS: Okay. In what sense? Is this like people I just want to take to the Aiel Waste, or...?

WIC: Up to you. You can set the rules for, you know, if you'd rather survive or have a good time.

AS: Okay. Well, I feel like I should definitely take Perrin, you know, because they've got their bond from season 2. I think Elayne. Who else would be fun? Maybe someone...I mean, again, I'm trying to think of not storyline plots...but maybe like Mat...I feel like Matt would be a fun time. I don't know actually how well Aviendha would enjoy Matt in the Waste, to be honest. But I think it'd be a good time.

WIC: That's fair. She would have Elayne as a good buffer, I guess. Ayoola, thank you again so much for taking the time to talk. It was really a pleasure.

AS: Likewise. Thanks for having me.

The Wheel of Time Season 2
Ayoola Smart (Aviendha) in The Wheel of Time season 2. Image: Prime Video. /

You can catch Ayoola Smart in season 2 of The Wheel of Time, available now to binge on Prime Video. If you enjoyed this interview, don't forget to check out our conversations with Zoë Robins (Nynaeve) and Natasha O'Keeffe (Lanfear). And do check back over the holidays for more interviews with the cast of The Wheel of Time!

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