The Shadow & Bone Cast On Queer Love & Conquering Monsters In Season 2
The Shadow & Bone Cast On Queer Love & Conquering Monsters In Season 2
PRIDE sat down with Kit Young, Jack Wolfe, Jessie Mei Li, Ben Barnes, Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, Danielle Galligan, Calahan Skogma, and Daisy Head to discuss what lies ahead.
Shadow and Bone, which returns for its sophomore season today, became an instant hit for Netflix when it first premiered back in 2021. Why? Well, for one thing, the Grishaverse world-building of the novels on which it’s based is incredibly unique and immersive — oh and, queer. But more importantly, its world is populated with wonderfully compelling characters who fascinate in equal measure with their heroism (Alina Starkov) as well as their villainy (General Kirigan).
The battle for good and evil takes center stage; after all, the story’s central rivalry is quite literally about light vs. dark with its Sun Summoner and Shadow Summoner battling over the fate of the world. But where the series truly excels while playing in the grays in between. We're speaking, of course, about the Crows, a group of street-level criminals led by kingpin Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter) and his gang of uniquely skilled toughs, who fight to survive and occasionally even thrive in the underbelly of Ketterdam.
Season two sees this band of morally gray, but deeply beloved characters return to their home turf only to find it taken over by their leader Kaz’s greatest rival, Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly). Determined to take Rollins down, Kaz begins pulling together what will become the core six Crows, including returning character Heartrender Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan), her Fjerdan lover Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman), and new this season, explosives expert Wylan Hendriks (Jack Wolfe).
It’s the later arrival, Wylan, that queer book readers have most eagerly awaiting, as it signals the beginning of a fan-favorite ship with the swashbuckling, bisexual gunslinger Jasper (Kit Young).
The excitement over this development is not lost on the actors, for whom the anticipation is palpable. “I mean, there is a lot of anticipation. I think if we're ever in a photograph together, people either assume we're filming a new scene or something,” Young tells PRIDE. “I think that can be quite daunting.”
Watch PRIDE's full interview with Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, Kit Young, Danielle Galligan, Calahan Skogman, and Jack Wolfe below.
Despite the pressure, Young is feeling confident that both new and old fans will be pleased with how the story plays out. “I'm really proud of what we've made. And I'm really kind of proud of what the story is, but also the execution of it because I had such a great time working with Jack (Wolfe),” he shares. “I think the story is quite unique in some ways, in terms of this relationship is very kind of lovely. And it's not, you know, taboo.”
Wolfe recognizes the pressure that Young describes for what it is: a deep and abiding adoration for the characters and their love story. “I think the anticipation for the relationship really speaks to something,” Wolfe tells PRIDE. “I think fans of fantasy who are queer don't often get to see themselves in stories like that, especially playing characters who get to be dangerous or get to be flawed in that way.”
For Wolfe, it was the complexity of Wylan that excited him most about taking on the role. That and the fact that queerness is only a small (but important!) part of his character. “It was really special for me to be able to play a character who gets to engage in a queer relationship, but that isn't the crux of his story,” Wolfe shares. “He also at the same time gets to be a badass and gets to join a group of criminals. That's a very special thing.”
As for his on-screen paramour, Wolfe has nothing but praise. “Working with Kit was fantastic for so many reasons,” he recalls, adding that the show’s writers were also a big part of why he's confident that fans will enjoy their dynamic this season. “We were really, really blessed, I think, with writers who cared about this relationship and how it can function and form in this adaptation, versus in the books, and give fans of the book something new, and also something that feels like home to them that what they were waiting for.”
“I'm very, very grateful to exist in that sort of universe as well, where it's not a part of their battle at all. It's just something [they] get to enjoy together,” adds Wolfe.
While Jesper and Wylan may be finding love this time around, there’s no love lost between Alina (Jessie Mei Li) and Kirigan (Ben Barnes). They find themselves inextricably linked as they begin closing in on one another for another battle that may forever decide the fate of, well, the world.
In the first season, Alina was just learning of her power and how to use it, when she had her metaphorical wings clipped by Kirigan. This season, however, she is finding her power in new and legendary ways.
Hers is a story that has resonated with the audiences, something that has been really moving for the actor. “I was actually really surprised by after season one, how many people really related to Alina, and were so emotionally connected to her story,” she tells PRIDE. “So that was on my mind, definitely through season two, because she just grows and grows in so many ways. And you know, she learns [that] the sort of little wobbly Alina from season one, who doesn't know who she is, she's still kind of there, but with all these added layers of she’s powerful now, and she's a leader, she knows who she is now. So that was really exciting.”
Watch PRIDE's Full interview with Jessie Mei Li, Ben Barnes & Daisy Head below.
It’s something the actor took away from the experience in her personal life as well. “I felt like I learned a little bit more to stand on my own two feet and sort of stand up for myself as well,” she shares. “It was a really great experience playing that power.”
If Alina serves an inspirational story, Kirgian’s journey is a cautionary tale in the eyes of actor Barnes. “With fantasy, you can represent, visually, themes and character traits, which in other genres you're just purely relying on human interaction. [Kirgian’s] got these poisonous shadow monsters that are eating at him from the inside, and they are a result of the things he feels have betrayed him. You know, he says to his mother, everything I learned I learned at your knee — it's his fault. It's never his fault, which, like all the best toxic villainous men,” he tells PRIDE. “We make it very clear that these kinds of monsters are violent, and rage when he feels threatened. And I think, again, that these topics are something that are worth highlighting as we go through the story.”
It’s a story that Barnes can draw parallels to in real life, especially when it comes to the dynamics of leaders who may start out well-intentioned but morph into something darker. “In terms of crossing that line from the nobility of someone who is there to try and bring peace and safeguard their protect their people, you cross a line over into the dictatorship, who's willing to pursue the longevity of their people at the expense of other peoples, and then you become a fascist dictator,” Barnes explains. “I think somewhere between — somewhere before season one, probably, but certainly by season two — he's just unleashed and raw and nasty.”
While season two sees Kirigan infused with new and terrifying powers, the number of those who oppose him has grown as well. This season also introduces three more fan favorites from the book series: pirate (sorry, privateer) Sturmhond (Patrick Gibson) and his twin mercenary sidekicks Tamar (Anna Leong Brophy) and Tolya Yul-Bataar (Lewis Tan).
Sturmhond is the kind of complex and mysterious character that audiences love and actors are dying to bring to life. It was a challenge that Gibson found to be especially intriguing, particularly the duality that lies at the heart of Sturmhond (that we won't spoil).
“It's funny, there’s a duality of being an actor and [playing] somebody who's drawn to being somebody else. It's funny that this guy kind of has that same thing, you know, and there's kind of a lot of commonalities there,” Gibson muses to PRIDE. “I think there's a real escapist element for him and ... by going off into the seas and inventing this new persona, he's kind of able to live out and fulfill the thing that he feels destined to do.”
“I think there's kind of something beautiful in when he comes home, and he has to become Nikolai again and drop this facade and this act. He realizes the people around him still accept him with all of these flaws and vulnerabilities and stuff. He has to let that guard down a little bit. And I think that was like a yes, it's a good lesson in there somewhere,” says Gibson.
Watch PRIDE's Interview with Lewis Tan, Anna Leong Brophy & Patrick Gibson Nikolai Lantsov below.
When it came time for both Brophy and Tolya to craft their characters, they had plenty to work from. Between the scripts, the books, and the veritable sea of fan art there was no shortage of places to take inspiration from. “How often do you get to look at the fan art of a character you're about to play? That's a very rare thing,” says Brophy. “That was amazing, it showed how much the fans really cared about the characters. Definitely, there was a lot of reading up and a lot of delving into what was going on. But the great thing about [author Leigh Bardugo] is that she really gave her her blessing to make the characters our own. So that felt really freeing.”
Tan echoes Brophy’s enthusiasm for having the opportunity to make the character his own. “It's not so often that you get a series to watch, a book to read, a script to break down, fan Wikipedia pages… all the different things that come along with that character,” he recalls to PRIDE, admitting that, in some ways, it added some challenges. These included trying to bring together all the source materials or, as he describes it, “sifting through all of that, then trying to make it your own and trying to make it truthful, and trying to bring the best thing that you can offer to that character.” Thankfully, he shares, there was plenty of support on set (and from Bardugo ultimately) to make the character his own.
Like all the best literary adaptations, Shadow and Bone is a mixture of what works best about the books and the new life that’s breathed into their world when transitioning to a new medium. These new characters exemplify that axiom, while the characters we’ve come to know in love continue to grow, develop, and even find queer love.
Frankly, we’re just happy to be back in the Grishaverse.