Shadow and Bone fans, we are just 10 days away from diving into Netflix’s brand new series. Based on Leigh Bardugo‘s fantasy novels of the same name, the series will dive into the Grishaverse and explore the world and complex characters many readers know and love. I recently had the privilege and pleasure of taking part in four virtual roundtables with members of the cast as well as Leigh and showrunner Eric Heisserer. We chatted about character development, world-building and how it was to adapt the novels for TV. Everyone involved were such wonderful people to chat with during and in between the interviews.

For those unfamiliar with roundtable interviews, they’re comprised of multiple journalists from different outlets. They usually run for about 15 minutes. Each journalist is granted at least one question. However, it’s not uncommon to get the opportunity to ask talent two or three questions, time permitting.

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Sujaya Dasgupta, Danielle Galligan, Daisy Head and Calahan Skogman

The first roundtable featured Sujaya Dasgupta (Zoya Nazyalensky), Danielle Galligan (Nina Zenik), Daisy Head (Genya Safin) and Calahan Skogman (Matthias Helvar). During this roundtable, I was able to ask two questions, the first directed to Daisy regarding how she prepared for her extremely emotional role as Genya, a tailor Grisha who is close to Alina during her time at the Little Palace.

What is so unique and what I love about the world that Leigh (Bardugo) has created is all of her characters are so richly, emotionally developed as is true of all of us, as human beings as you or I or anyone. We have pasts, we have histories and it’s how one is able to own one’s own space in a world where it can be so difficult to be allowed to be who you are without being judged or any other negative things. So for me, it was just bringing a truth to her. Not hiding behind her past at all and Leigh says herself it’s a story about people who have been told how much they don’t matter and proving how much they do.

For me, that is such an important thing and it really highlights how important it is to be allowed to own one’s space in a world where it is easy to feel defined by what you are and how you are perceived by others instead of who you are. For Genya as well as anyone else, it’s knowing that you can own that space and everyone has a history and that’s totally okay and it’s about gaining the courage and vulnerability to show up and continue to show up without attaching to an outcome and without letting your history or past completely cripple you.

My second query was directed to Sujaya. Her character Zoya, like every character in Leigh Bardugo’s world, is complex and emotionally layered. She initially comes across as cold-hearted and rather rude, but it becomes clear further into this journey that she has her own internal struggles. We discussed what her first impressions were when she read the script and understood the different layers of Zoya.

I remember when the audition for Zoya and I was aware of the books but hadn’t read them. I remember reading the lines that she had. I related to her very quickly actually, despite her mean exterior like you said. I think it’s understandable. You learn how to have such a hard shell and that comes from going through a lot of things in life. I certainly tried to learn how to do that but I’m not as convincing. I think it is very easy to fall into that trap of ‘she’s arrogant, she’s a mean girl, she’s vindictive and sharped tongue’ and she is all of those things, but more.

There are so many layers to the character and it is such a privilege as an actor to unravel them. I could see what was her vulnerability, why was she like this. Those were the questions I was asking. Like Danny (Danielle Galligan) said before, I knew women like this. The women in my family are like this. Very hard, very abrupt, very abrasive, but it’s a sign of massive inner strength, very formidable as a person which I love. When I read her, I felt like blimey I could learn a lot from her, I wish she was my friend in real life. I absolutely adored her as soon as I read her and I knew there were lots of layers to her.

Daisy Head and Sujaya Dasgupta

Daisy Head (Genya Safin) and Sujaya Dasgupta (Zoya Nazyalenky). Both images courtesy of Netflix © 2021

Freddy Carter, Amita Suman and Kit Young

For the second roundtable, we got the chance to sit down and chat with the Six of Crows members Freddy Carter (Kaz Brekker), Amita Suman (Inej Ghafa) and Kit Young (Jesper Fahey). For this roundtable, I was only able to get in one question, so I chatted with Amita about the role of Inej. Inej’s strong connection to her religion within the series leads to her moral code and what she will do and not do. I asked Amita how she embraced this characteristic and used it to portray Inej on screen.

For Inej, everything that she does stems from this place of faith and how she is so 100% committed to her faith for the voice of good and the voice of reason. Because of that, she has this gorgeous ability to see the beauty in the world and see the goodness in people despite all the terrible experiences that she been through. Her religion has just made her into this beautiful and better person. It has really strengthened her as well. For me, I wholeheartedly respected that from a character point of view. I tried to find my reasoning from that and would think, ‘okay this is what Inej would do.’

Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa

AMITA SUMAN as INEJ GHAFA of SHADOW AND BONE Cr. DAVID APPLEBY/NETFLIX © 2021

Ben Barnes, Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux

The third roundtable gave us the chance to chat with the three main leads within Shadow and Bone, Ben Barnes (General Kirigan), Jessie Mei Li (Alina Starkov) and Archie Renaux (Mal Oretsev). I was beyond excited to chat with Jessie about her role as Alina! She is torn away from her found family, learns about her powers and is wanted by nearly everyone – and this is just what we know from the trailer! But she is so much more than this hurt girl – she is strong-willed, determined and willing to do anything to survive. We discussed how she prepared for such an emotional role and what she took from her real life and put into the character of Alina.

I was so lucky, we were all so lucky that our writers were so amazing and they had such a good idea of these characters and how they were going to develop. I was able to bring quite a lot of my own experiences to Alina given the fact that they have decided to make her mixed race. Which is something in my life that has definitely shaped who I am. It is something that lots of mixed-race people understand is that you never really feel like you belong anywhere and that can really affect you and how you interact with people. I could take that and give that to Alina.

She is told every day of her life that she looks like the enemy and she is never really accepted and that is going to affect who you are as a person. You are going to want to say, ‘look at me I’m not the enemy. I’m gentle and soft-spoken’ but also have this thick skin and ability to stand up for yourself. It was so easy to slip into that role given the fact that I had experience with that kind of thing before. I am so thankful for our writers who did just an amazing job really making Alina feel like a real person and having so many amazing actors to work with, that’s half of it. It’s only 50% me and the other half of every scene is whoever I am with. I owe a lot of these relationships to these guys (Ben Barnes and Archie Renaux) and everyone else I was able to share a scene with.

Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in Shadow and Bone

JESSIE MEI LI as ALINA STARKOV of SHADOW AND BONE Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2021

Leigh Bardugo and Eric Heisserer

Our final roundtable featured Shadow and Bone writer Leigh Bardugo and showrunner Eric Heisserer. We discussed how the different novels all came together and what inspirations went into visually creating the world. My first query was directed to Leigh regarding adapting her novel for the show. I asked her what elements, plot points and themes from the series she absolutely needed to appear within the Netflix series.

I actually feel like I got a lot of book one of the Shadow and Bone trilogy into this first season. It is very faithful in its big moments and its character discoveries. When it came to Six of Crows we were really taking on the challenge and writing prequel material. Treating this as two series that exist within the same universe so its very organic to have them crossing paths and it’s something that happens in the novels as well. It just happens a little bit sooner and a little bit differently in this version of events. There is obviously a lot more in the series and we are hoping we will have the chance to develop it and there are certainly a lot of characters I would love to see brought to life on the screen, we just have to cross our fingers for that.

My final question of the day was directed to Eric. Leigh’s world within her novels is unique and she pulled from different inspirations when building it. I wanted to know what inspirations Eric leaned into when he began to prepare to adapt the novel for the screen.

I hired everyone who was a lot more talented than I was. That was plan one and it included my costume designer Wendy Partridge. We gave her the blueprints of the costumes that came from the books. She would come back with stuff like ‘what if I did the embroidery with this material because this is the same material used for a military insignia on uniforms and it lets you know that they are officers in that kind of space.’ Those choices that were made by the experts in their field really helped inform and sometimes improve on ideas that previously just existed in our imaginations.

My lead effects supervisor Ted Rae and I had gone through a number of iterations of what the Shadow Fold would look like. We had some very passionate opinions about it at the start and most of them got squashed early on because we realized they didn’t work. We had a mourning period and then we went back at it. He finally got two close up solar photograph that shows the raging surface of the sun. And I said that’s interesting what am I looking at? He gave me a photo negative of it and said, ‘what if this is the skin within the fold? It’s essentially the opposite of what Alina is.’ I really leaned into that and it became the main texture when you are on the outside of the fold and its mimicking the behavior of our sun.

Leigh Bardugo and Eric Heisserer

Leigh Bardugo and Eric Heisserer

For those who are huge fans of Leigh’s novels or for those who are just being introduced to this series, I can promise you this. You are in for an amazing ride. Everyone attached to this project has put their heart and soul to bring Shadow and Bone to life and it clearly shows. We are so excited to finally dive into this world and see what future seasons will bring!

Shadow and Bone is set to release on Netflix on April 23, 2021.

This article was originally published 4/13/21

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Julia Roth
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