As fans await the second season of The Witcher, Netflix is bringing to life yet another rich fantasy world you can delve into with their new show Shadow & Bone.
The new series is based on Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, tying the author’s Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows duology together into one epic and compelling fantasy series!
Set in a war-torn world, the show follows the mapmaker Alina Starkov who discovers that she may have the power to set her country free from the Shadow Fold– a barrier of dark magic that split her country in two. She must then train with an elite army of magical soldiers known as the Grisha, to hone her powers in the hope that it would one day destroy the Fold.
Playing the role of Alina is the English actress Jessie Mei Li. She is also joined by Archie Renaux who plays Mal Oretsev– Alina’s childhood friend who would stop at nothing to protect her; and Ben Barnes as General Kirigan, the leader of the Grisha army.
Through virtual roundtable interviews, we got to chat with Jessie Mei Li, Archie Renaux, and Ben Barnes where we asked them about the show and their characters.
On what drew Jessie Mei Lee to Alina’s character.
According to Jessie, she only had a brief overview of the character when she started auditioning for the role of Alina. It wasn’t until after her first audition that she started reading the books.
“I guess what really drew me to Alina and the books generally, I think Alina is so well-written in the books,” explains Jessie. “She’s so funny, and she has all these relationships with all these different characters, and she meets so many people. And then on top of that, they’ve taken Leigh’s beautiful character and made some changes to her that I felt meant that she was like real, you know, your sister, your mate, and she has flaws, she has fears.”
“When she starts off, she’s weak, and then we watch her grow. And I loved [that]. So much about that was just in the writing, and I loved the way that they brought her to life on the page. So yeah, I was really excited to be able to dive into that,” the actress added.
On Alina’s powers as the Sun Summoner.
Alina Starkov turned out to be the Sun Summoner, the fabled Grisha who can use the power of light in combat and, with full control, could also eradicate the Shadow Fold.
According to Jessie, doing the scenes where Alina uses her power didn’t feel awkward, thanks to the props given to her.
“I had LED lights that were kind of wired through my costume. So I had something to imagine when the lights actually worked. And you know, the lighting team [was] brilliant. [Then] sometimes, when I would have to do a movement, a light bulb on a stick would come into my peripheral vision, which is sometimes quite funny. But mostly you just get so immersed in this world. Everyone took it so seriously and really, really loved it. So it was easy just to completely throw yourself in,” said Jessie.
On the female protagonists of the show.
Besides Alina’s story with Mal and General Kirigan, the show also follows other characters whose personalities and adventures are just as interesting. Some of the most notable characters are Inej, who is a member of a criminal crew, and Nina Zenik, a Heartrender (a heart-controlling Grisha) who was captured by foreign Grisha hunters.
Asked what she thought of the show’s portrayal of its women characters, Jessie said:
“I love the female characters in this show. I mean, I love all the characters, but I think what’s really nice about the female characters is that they’re not badass female characters and that they’re like real women who are strong, funny, brave, and independent.
“Because so often you might see a female character on screen who’s just like, stupidly strong and stupidly brave without any flaws. And I think we get to see the nuances in these characters. We get to see what they really care about, as well. And they have a voice, especially in scenes with male characters. You know, we don’t feel the difference there. And I think that’s just really, really nice and really well done.”
Archie Renaux’s on getting into the show as Mal.
Archie Renaux plays Mal Oretsev, Alina’s closest friend since childhood. The two grew up at an orphanage and share an unbreakable bond. So when Alina gets thrown into the world of Grisha and is given the biggest role to play for her country, Mal is ready to do anything just to be there to support and protect her.
“I was so excited,” said Archie about getting into the show. “After I read the first book and really got an understanding of the scale and the size of the world– all the different countries, the geography, the powers, and stuff– it just felt like it was something new and exciting and epic in the fantasy genre, and I was really excited to get started on it.”
Archie on how close his personality is to Mal
Asked about the similarities and differences between him and his character, Archie said:
“I think to make any character real and grounded, there has to be a little bit of yourself in there. But yeah, I think he’s a lot braver than I am. I think, if I got asked to go through the Shadow Fold, I’d probably just be like ‘Nah.’ He’s very selfless and courageous and probably a lot better at fighting than I am. He’s just a bit cooler than me. Mal is really cool, actually.”
Ben Barnes on working in this new fantasy series.
Ben Barnes is not new to the fantasy genre, having worked on Stardust, The Seventh Son, and of course, the Narnia films where he played Prince Caspian. This time, he plays General Kirigan who leads the army of Grisha and becomes a mentor figure to Alina.
During the interview, Barnes described the differences between working on his past fantasy projects and working on Shadow and Bone.
“I think that one of the main differences is obviously, the type of character that I’ve been playing and the other fancy things that I’ve done. [Those roles have] been sort of earnest characters who are kind of hard done by and supported wherever they go, and sort of struggling to find their voice. And [Kirigan] is a man who’s very much been through it and had that experience and found his voice and knows who he is and where he stands. [And now it feels] like I can offer support to all this much younger, brilliant cast. It’s kind of amazing.”
Barnes on working with showrunner Eric Heisserer.
Ben Barnes also talked about his experience working with showrunner Eric Heisserer, and how he was able to have an influence on the way they tell Leigh Bardugo’s story on TV.
“I think my experience of it is, after 20 years-ish of doing this job, I want to be involved in how we tell the stories,” shared Barnes. “And Eric was, luckily, an incredibly collaborative, open, wonderful genius writer who would sit down with me.
“You know, my preoccupation and my passion are words, it always has been. I studied literature at university, and I love the scripts, and the books, and the and the language. So to be able to have a say, [like] I think this line is stronger than this line. I think this is important. [It’s] important to me to have a say in how we tell a story. And that made me feel like, [that] was different from when I was [in my] early 20s and didn’t know anything, and didn’t know what I would want even if someone did ask me.”
Barnes on what fans can expect from the show.
As with other live-action adaptations on TV or film, it is normal that some fans of the source material might be skeptical about how the live-action might turn out. But Barnes assures the books’ fans that the upcoming adaptation is in the best hands.
“I can assure all the fans of the books that you will find no group of people that are more passionate [in telling] this story in a more loving way than these [people] have. And so now I’m actually just really excited. I’ve seen this show, I’m proud of it. I think it’s really fun, and I think people will enjoy it.”
Shadow & Bone is coming to Netflix on April 23, 2021. For more information, check out the show’s official page on Netflix.