From showrunner Eric Heisserer (Arrival, Bird Box) and based on the worldwide best-selling Grishaverse novels from Leigh Bardugo, the Netflix original series Shadow and Bone is set in a war-torn world and follows orphan Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), as she realizes just what extraordinary power she really possesses. As she struggles to understand and hone that power, General Kirigan (Ben Barnes) steps in, seemingly to protect her from the looming threat of the Shadow Fold, but clearly also with an agenda of his own.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, co-stars Freddy Carter, Kit Young, and Amita Suman, who make up the criminal street gang known as the Crows, talked about their audition process, how exciting it is to have the books as a resource, the work they did at “Crow camp,” favorite moments, bringing queer representation to a fantasy world, and what they thought of the final episode of the season.
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[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale of Shadow and Bone, “No Mourners.”]
Collider: Obviously it’s easy to see why you would want to play these characters, but because they’re a little different and you don’t necessarily have books to read for direct inspiration, did you decide to read the books? How did you decide to let that inform your performances?
KIT YOUNG: Yeah, we all read the books. When we arrived in Budapest to start shooting, everyone had read at least one of them, if not all of them. I think for us three, in particular, it was quite exciting to of have the books as this resource. There are some things in Six of Crows that are already facts within the world of the story, and we get the opportunity to make them up for the first time, to place the seeds for later. That was a really exciting thing. The books were the best resource because you really get into the characters’ heads and you get to know who they are. I had [Freddy Carter and Amita Suman] to bounce off and respond to, and it just fit. That was really exciting.
Have you been told how you’ll figure into future seasons and whether we might ever see events from those books, in later seasons, or are you as much in the dark about that as the audience?
FREDDY CARTER: We’re all in the dark together, but keeping our fingers crossed. There’s certainly a lot of material.
What was your audition process like for this? Did you have to wait a long time to find out whether you’d play your role, or did you find out pretty quickly?
AMITA SUMAN: It was different for all of us. I know my experience was that I sent a self-tape through. In my breakdown, it had character fan art of what Inej looked like, and I was just astounded. The similarities that I shared with her and the fact that this is actually made for a Brown actress and not just ticking that diversity box or changing it to tick that diversity box. I did my self-tape and I thought it was really, really, really bad. I wanted the part so much that I felt like, no matter what I did, it was just awful. Luckily, I had a callback straight away, went into the room, and got the part pretty soon after that. I was fully expecting a really long audition process, but it was pretty short and sweet. When I was officially told that I’d been cast, it was one of the greatest days of my life because I really wanted this part. From an anxious point of view, being given a part that you really actually care about and you feel proud to play, is such a gem and it’s such a bonus.
CARTER: It was similar to Amita for me. In the beginning, it was all very quick and very short and very sweet. It was this whirlwind of tape, and then come and meet Eric [Heisserer], and then another meeting after that, and then a few days after that, another meeting. It was all very quick and exciting. And then, I just heard nothing for weeks and it was awful. The wait was excruciating. I finally got a very, very exciting call, similar to Amita’s.
Image via Netflix
YOUNG: Originally, I auditioned for Mal and it was the worst audition of my life. It was just terrible. Everything that wrong and it was just bad. I left going, “Forget that Shadow and Bone thing. It won’t go my way.” And then, a month later, I was in a play and Eric, our showrunner, came to see the show by chance. He said, “You might be good for Jesper.” And so, I went in to read for it and it suddenly felt like a much better fit. I met Amita in my second round and I met Freddy in my third round. The three of us were put together, and apparently they looked at the shot of the three of us and they went, “That’s it. That’s the group.” It’s always tricky finding the third piece because you have two established and ready to go. I had about two weeks to pack up my life, move to Budapest, and read all of the books, which I did.
Your characters each have something that they’re known for, whether it’s Kaz’s cane or Inej’s knives or Jesper’s guns. Did you have time to get familiar with that thing for your character, or did you have to figure it out on set?
CARTER: We got to Budapest a month before shooting started, which was really a blessing because there was time for rehearsal and stunt training. All of that physical work needed to be in place to be able to play these characters. They’re all so intrinsically linked to these props and to their weapons, as it were. We did loads of work with our incredible stunt team at Crow camp.
SUMAN: I didn’t really get any professional knife training. I was just handed these 14 beautiful knives and whenever I had the chance, I was flinging them around and spinning them and breaking quite a few, as well. It was great because with Inej, her knives aren’t just her weapons. With Inej, her knives are her reason for her moral compass and a reminder of her always wanting to try to do good with them. As much as from a fighting and aesthetic point of view, I really wanted to find an internal, meaningful connection as to why she had them, and in the end, it really felt like I was wearing armor. You really had to ask yourself, why am I using this right now? It’s such an irony that she uses it to kill people, even though it’s one of her reasons to try to do good. That was a really beautiful battle to always figure out.
RELATED: ‘Shadow and Bone’ Season 2 and Beyond Teased by Showrunner and Author Leigh Bardugo
YOUNG: I had to become the greatest gunslinger in the world. When I started with these guns, it just didn’t work. It wasn’t a good fit. I dropped them immediately and they smashed, and they told me that it was the only pair. And then, they gave me another pair to take home. It took me ages to get them to go forwards and backwards. I was doing it over my bed, so if they dropped, they wouldn’t smash. Eventually, about a month before we started shooting, I got to a place that I was happy with, or at least I was just better than I think they expected from me. As the season goes on, you see the tricks get more and more intricate because I was just doing it all the time. I still do it now. I’m on the phone to my mom and I’ll just be spinning these guns while pacing around the flat. Maybe it’s a problem. I don’t know.
Freddy, what was it like to have a scene with Ben Barnes that is not from the books? Was there a conversation about what was wanted from that scene or, or what you guys were looking to accomplish with it?
CARTER: It was really exciting when we finally got to do it because Eric Heisserer had been teasing it for months. As soon as we got there, he was like, “You guys may pass in a corridor sometime.” And Ben and I were really eager to get to work with each other, so it was very exciting when that finally came around. We talked a lot about it because it’s the two people who are never scared of anything, like an immovable object or unstoppable force, coming together. Ben was desperate for me to play scared of him. He was like, “You should be scared of me, I think.” I said, “No. I’m not going to be scared. I’m going to get out of it.” So, there’s that slight tension between us. I was like, “No, I’m not scared.” And he was like, “Well, I’m not scared of you.” We used that to create a little bit of that tension, but it was really fun. It was just great to get to work with him.
Amita, do you have a favorite moment for your character, in this season?
SUMAN: There are so many. From a personal point of view, stepping into the Crow Club was just amazing. Walking through Ketterdam was something else. It was one of the truest moments of feeling like I was in the books, seeing all of the colors and the smells and the different textures. It was always raining in Ketterdam. From a character point of view, probably Inej’s first kill with this hand being forced onto her, and her second kill, which was out of choice, changed who Inej was. This battle of always trying to do good, but creating this unforgivable sin, and how she goes forward from that and how she still chooses to do good from that, was a favorite moment for me.
Image via Netflix
I love the dynamic between Inej and Kaz because you don’t really know how genuine it is. It seems like it becomes a lot more genuine, over the course of them actually having to survive together. Did it feel that way for you?
SUMAN: For me, yeah, definitely. Inej was one of those people that really forces the good out of someone. When she meets Kaz, Kaz is the reason why she’s not working at the brothel anymore. Even though she works for Kaz Brekker, he saved her and she owes him so much. On this journey of working for him and paying off this debt, she sees the type of person that he is, even though he’s so ruthless. He’s not a villain. She has this beautiful ability to see the good in people. Even though they’re two people that can’t speak about their feelings to one another, their actions speak louder. She takes a life for him, and he puts up the Crow Club as collateral. They’re two people that are always arguing about things instead of talking about their feelings, but there’s an undertone to it. As an audience, it just makes you scream, “Oh, my God, just tell one another how you’re feeling.”
Kit, Jesper brings some LGBT representation to the show. When it came to that aspect of the character, what was most important to you?
YOUNG: The thing that was most important to me is that we just do it without fanfare. It is a big deal for a fantasy show to have queer representation because you don’t see that a lot. Often in this type of world, if you do see it, it’s something taboo and the whole plotline is about hiding people’s true nature. What’s really important with this is that it’s not a gimmick. It’s in the writing of the book, from inception to shooting to today. The key was that it’s just a fact of who he is. By not making it a statement and not making have to say something, you’re actually saying quite a lot, which is, let people be who they are.
People have these connections with the people that interest them or that they care about. The thing that really struck me about Jesper is that he’s constantly going to the next opportunity and engaging with whatever’s around him or whomever’s around him. He does it in really interesting and surprising ways. This guy who doesn’t hesitate to kill people or shoot them or rob them is actually quite good at being tender with someone who he met three seconds ago. That’s a really lovely character contradiction. That’s quite a beautiful thing. For those who do know the books, it’s quite interesting to see him in a relationship, pre the one that defines him. Book fans, you know what I mean. So, I think it’s a really lovely opportunity to plant the seeds for later, but also do something that people haven’t seen.
What was the reaction you guys had when you got to actually read the script for the final episode and to really get a feel for what it was going to be and how you were going to leave things at the end of the season?
YOUNG: I remember being surprised because, up until that point, we still had the cliffhanger of Episode 7 and were like, how is this all still going to come together? We were suddenly all in one place, but we didn’t know how it was going to resolve in one episode. When we got to those final scenes and we’re all off on our way, I was like, “Oh, this feels perfect, but still really annoying because I want to more.” I was like, “I can’t wait to film this,” but we’d run out of things to film. In the shooting of that final episode, I remember getting quite emotional, with the three of us going over the plan one more time. It was one of the last few times we got to do it and I remember being really, really excited, but also having that feeling of knowing it’s all coming to an end, as well.
Did you immediately have a lot of questions and do you have a wishlist for what you’d like to do next?
YOUNG: Oh, yeah. We were making stuff up at the beginning, and we didn’t even know what we were immediately going to do. We were like, “In Season 51, we could be doing this.” We were really bouncing off the walls and I think we became quite annoying for Eric and the writers’ room who were like, “All right, slow down and do this thing first.” We’ve all got loads of ideas for things we want to do.
Shadow and Bone Season 1 is streaming now at Netflix.
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About The Author
(4797 Articles Published)
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.
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