Based on Leigh Bardugo’s worldwide bestselling novels, “Shadow and Bone” transports viewers to a world brimming with war and magic (or science that we have yet to understand). While travelling across the treacherous location known as the Shadow Fold, a lowly soldier and orphan, Alina Starkov, manifests an unusual ability that could be the key to setting liberating her nation and ending the war.
As the Shadow Fold continues to bring more troubles to the horizon, Alina is dragged from her normal life, away from everything she knows to train with an elite army of magical soldiers known as the Grisha. Nevertheless, as she struggles to hone her power, she finds that her allies and enemies are one and the same and that nothing in this fantastical world can be perceived at surface value. There are dangerous forces at play, including a tight-knit gang of criminals, and soon, it will take more than a simple gesture of the arms to traverse the broken madness of the universe itself.
Starring Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov, Archie Renaux as Malyen Oretsev, Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa, Kit Young as Jesper Fahey, and Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, along with Ben Barnes as the shadowy General Kirigan, this series will explore the whimsical and magical elements of the GrishaVerse, bringing its audience across beautiful landscapes and exploring the rich fantastical nature that defines the pages.
According to Leigh Bardugo, who is also a producer on “Shadow and Bone”, the series takes place in a very different kind of fantasy world. It is a narrative about the people who have been told how much they don’t matter and turning the tables by proving how much they do. She adds, “Think Imperial Russia, not Medieval England, repeating rifles instead of broadswords, the battles, the magic, but also the relationships between the characters.”
Eric Heisserer, “Shadow and Bone’s” showrunner and executive producer adds, “We worked tirelessly to craft a lived-in feel for fictional lands like Ketterdam and Ravka, with invented languages, uniforms, currency, and artistic choices from set design to costuming.”
We recently had an opportunity to talk to the cast and producers of the Netflix show, and of course, we’re truly excited to share the early concepts, preparations, emotions, and fun facts that these enchanting souls experienced throughout production! Let’s peek in!
1. “Shadow and Bone” was originally set to become a Hollywood film adaptation in 2012.
Almost a decade ago, Dreamworks Pictures announced that they had picked up the rights to a “Shadow and Bone” film adaptation. David Heyman, a producer of the “Harry Potter” films and Jeffrey Clifford, President of Heyday Films were also announced as producers for the film adaptation.
Nevertheless, according to writer Leigh Bardugo, the project was left in limbo after the executive producers left, leaving the rights to the property floating until they were available for other studios to pick up. While the interest from various production studios was there, Bardugo essentially said that she was not enthused with the idea of working with someone she did not “feel really good about partnering with.” She needed someone she could trust.
Eventually, Eric Heisserer and Netflix came-a-knockin’ on that door, to which Bardugo answered. With that, she noted that she had found the proper fit for an adaptation of her work.
“Whenever you make an adaptation, there’s a lot of risks involved. There’s a lot of emotion involved but you roll the dice and you hope to make a good deal and in this case, I feel that we really gambled on the right people.”, said Bardugo.
2. The Shadow Fold was a challenge to adapt on-screen due to the clashing elements of light and darkness
The Shadow Fold, also known as the Unsea, is a crucial aspect of the GrishaVerse. Described as an area comprised of nearly impenetrable darkness, this region is host to monstrosities of all shapes and sizes, including the terrifying winged Volcra. To navigate across the Fold, travellers would have to make use of a skiff, a vessel that is able to move freely on the sand.
Bringing the Shadow Fold to life was a challenge as the crew had to figure out how it should behave and look. According to showrunner, Eric Heisserer, the process to get to the final version was an interesting one.
“Every reader has their own imaginary and idealised version of that. Part of that is wrapped up in your own fears. Part of it is the primal fear that we all share: the fear of the dark. It can’t be total darkness as people want to see Jessie Mei Li and Ben Barnes. How do we light a space that should otherwise be dark? That carries over into the texture of the fold.”
Heisserer then went on to reveal that early iterations of the Shadow Fold were fruitful failures in that they showed that they didn’t want the Fold to look a certain way. Some early ideas made it look too hokey-smokey, too natural, or too alien sci-fi. Well, we wouldn’t have wanted an “E.T.-phone-home” out of that one, did we?
It wasn’t until the VFX supervisor, Ted Rae, brought some close-up images of the Sun to Heisserer and inverted the image to a negative that they finally settled on the swirling madness that became the exterior of the Fold.
“We thought that it was a dark characterization, the antonym to Jessie’s Alina. And we think you’ll see and understand it the closer you get to it.”
3. “Alita: Battle Angel’s” Poise and Grace Was A Major Inspiration For Inej Ghafa
Inej Ghafa is a member of the Crows, a spy who has an unwavering sense of morality along with a quiet demeanour. The character will be brought to live-action for the first time ever by Amita Suman. When asked about what her preparations were to play Inej, Amita was ecstatic to tell us all about it!
“When I read the books, I immediately fell in love with the character and her uniqueness of having fourteen knives. Her commitment to her Crows and how she demands respect, honesty and equality.”
Of course, Suman was committed to bringing the best out of the role as she knew how much of a beloved character Inej was to the fans of the GrishaVerse.
“I really empathised with the fans and readers, in how they felt, and the things they loved about her as well. When I got the part, I knew I wasn’t physically capable of what she was capable of. I didn’t have stamina. I said to myself, “I cannot do this if I was not able to do a pullup at least one time… or at least one cartwheel”. I went to the gym a lot and got special training in acrobatics because she does a lot on the show. In the first sessions, I couldn’t even hold myself. Fortunately, by the time we came to filming it, I could do a short routine.”
In terms of the character, the actress thought it would be interesting to determine what sort of scent Inej would have on her. She felt that associating Inej with a sense of smell was essential to evoke nostalgia, feelings, and memories to allow the character to methodically weave into the script.
Suman then revealed that she based Inej’s physical elements on Robert Rodriguez’s 2019 fan-favourite anime adaptation, stating that the title character was a major inspiration to her.
“I just looked at Alita from the film, how she moved, how she fought and just how she carried herself in this beautiful grace.”
As for Inej’s personality, she did not think much about drawing real-life influences as the books were so rich and descriptive to provide a full picture of who Inej was. Besides, the character’s experiences weaved into her own personal experiences and that helped her empathise with her role so well.
“There were a couple of things that I related to Inej because she was forced into an entirely different world in a predominantly White city. I was born in Nepal and came to the UK at a very young age. I didn’t know anything apart from organic living, growing your own food, using candlelight as a light source, and using fire to cook your food. And I come into an advanced futuristic city where everyone is White and I am so different. So, I understood what she was going through in terms of that,” Amita concluded.
4. Blazin’ Paces! Amita Suman finished reading the “Six of Crows” in the span of a day!
If we were to read a novel, we’d probably find ourselves at a leisurely pace to complete it, but not for Amita Suman!
“I was doing research, looking at the character, and I saw some fan art of Inej. What I saw was these two big brown eyes just staring back at me holding this dangerous expression. I fell in love with the character in terms of that.”
“I got the book, opened it up, and was expecting to finish it in a couple of days. It was light outside and by the time I finished, it was completely dark. A whole day had gone by! I was just speechless and overwhelmed by the journey. I was even more excited to start the show because it felt like such a high!”
While her two Crows co-stars did not finish the book in record time as swiftly as she did, Freddy Carter and Kit Young added that they felt that there were moments while reading it that they were fascinated with the grand and epic scale of the narrative.
“There were so many moments in the duology which felt very cinematic. The ice court. Everything in Ketterdam. It all felt really cinematic.”
5. The Duality of General Kirigan Was Born Out Of Ben Barnes’ Yin & Yang Character Method
General Kirigan is the enigma of “Shadow and Bone”. Without a doubt, he exudes a fiery charm in his eyes when he first appears on-screen in the show, but make no mistake, there is more to him than meets the eye. And this all comes from Ben Barnes’ comprehension of his role and how to bring out the best of Kirigan.
“It was actually challenging in some ways. He’s a really dark, brooding, mysterious character on the surface. It was about navigating that line to keep him mysterious and to find the humanity in him. How is he powerful? What were his vulnerabilities? Where could he be warm? Why could he be confused? Where could be all these human things rather than just something that exists only in Alina’s mind as kind of alluring and then threatening.”
Barnes added that the challenge of making him human and relatable brought out the complexities of the character, making him a joy to portray.
“There was a difficult grey area to navigate and some interesting themes and some challenges that cropped up while navigating that zone. It intrigues me to play complex characters who have certain ambiguity to them because we are all a bit messy.”
Barnes then went on to say that he approached playing the character by thinking of opposites to how the character would be represented. For instance, despite General Kirigan’s cold nature, there was a certain vulnerability to him. For him, it was showing the contrast that made a character stand out with shades of depth and gravitas.
“All of us are all of those things sometimes. We can’t understand the light without the dark. We get a characters description like Kirigan who is sort of cold, powerful, manipulative, and feared. I ask myself, how is he vulnerable? How is he confused? How is he susceptible? Where is there room to be different? Can he be potentially wrong? So, when I’m playing the character, I want to use all those colours in the paint tray, not just black.”
6. Jessie Mei Li’s Mixed Heritage Helped Her Relate to Her Portrayal of Alina Starkov In “Shadow and Bone”
The main character of “Shadow and Bone”, Alina Starkov, is given a mixed background in the series in which she is portrayed as half-Shu. In the books, the Shu are inhabitants of Shu Han, which is clearly inspired by the lands of Mongolia and China. Mei Li, who is half-Chinese in real life, felt like that particular aspect brought a very personal depth to the character of Alina.
“I was able to bring a lot of my feelings, especially growing up to this role. It was a really great decision to make her half Shu. I think that adds to the world as well as to her character. Alina is a strong character the moment we meet her as a child. It’s really important to me that we saw how life would beat her down because of the fact that she looks like the enemy.”
“I was really able to tap into some parts of myself that were really personal. I grew up, akin to Alina, in a way that I felt like I didn’t really belong to one camp. I was too White to be Chinese. Likewise, I was too Chinese to be properly White. That feeling has always been a part of me and it was a really nice feeling to be able to express that.”
7. Season 2 In The Works?
When asked about potential sequels, the cast, along with Eric Heisserer, did not hesitate to express his desire for more opportunities to explore this world. “Yes please! We would love to explore more of that world!”
Mei Li and Renaux similarly felt excited about the prospect of a second season. “When the show finishes, there are so many questions. I’m so excited to see what happens to the Crows. They’re such an exciting group of characters and actors as well!”, Mei Li exclaimed.
Renaux subsequently added, “I’m excited to explore the second book because we get to explore new lands and countries. And hell yeah, if we’re going to be considered the next “Harry Potter” or “Game of Thrones”, we’re all for it!”
8. Your Majesty, King Caspian.
Aite, the following is not actually a fact about “Shadow and Bone”… BUT WE COULDN’T HELP BUT GAZE AT OUR FINE PRINCE, BEN BARNES!!
The British actor has played a bunch of literary characters over his career including the likes of Prince Caspian from C.S. Lewis’ beloved Narnia titles along with Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. There is no doubt that he’s a king of the pages with a role alongside Jon Bernthal’s Punisher as Billy Russo aka Jigsaw.
When asked about which character from his past and present work that he related to the most, particularly Prince Caspian, Gray, and Kirigan, Barnes delved into the individual aspects of each personality to determine his answer.
“There’s this sort of confusion to Prince Caspian. There’s this earnestness to find out where he belongs and what the right thing is. I no longer feel like I’m in that stage of life anymore. On the other hand, Dorian Gray is extremely unrelatable. Then again, I’m curious in a way that Dorian Gray is. He’s thirsty for culture and human experience and to understand other people. Likewise, I understand the fight for something you believe in, like Kirigan does, and falling for somebody you did not expect to fall for because they have a joy that you didn’t see coming.”
“King Caspian was someone I felt a little more connected to as he was more grounded in his place and he deeply cared about those around him. He was very protective of those individuals, kind of like how I was with my ‘Shadow and Bone’ cast. So, yes, I guess I would relate to the later, more mature version of this wonderful character!” Ben subsequently concluded his statement with an elegant appeal to address him as if he were royalty.
Why, certainly, Your Majesty.
Needless to say, we love Ben Barnes in the show cuzhebelookinflyasheck [teehee]. Nevertheless, that’s not all “Shadow and Bone” has to offer. In all sincerity, this Netflix outing has much to offer to both longtime fans of the novels and newcomers to the franchise. The GrishaVerse’s spanning tale is here, and its vast lore along with its compelling characters will only get richer from this point onwards!
“Shadow and Bone” is set to debut on Netflix on the 23rd of April 2021.