Kaz Brekker didn’t need a reason, but Freddy Carter does. That’s what being an actor is, if the character you’re playing is ever going to feel like an extension of yourself, you must find that reason, that thing that makes the character click.
For Amita Suman, however, the reason was obvious. Inej was there, one second she was just a stranger, and the next Amita understood her so completely that even in the things they differed, the respect for Inej’s choices shined through.
And then there’s Kit Young, who promised us he did not “go commit some crimes and get a gambling addiction,” in preparation from Jesper, but who still, like his partners in crime, sound like Jesper isn’t just a character he played, but a friend he left behind just for a little while.
Speaking to all three of them before the release of Netflix’s long anticipated Shadow and Bone adaptation, it became obvious that the thing that always made sense, the thing that made this entire experience easier, better, more realistic, is the bond the Crows formed during the filming of what we hope is just the first season of Shadow and Bone.
Amita spoke plainly when she told us “I think my job was made so much easier by having two fantastic castmates, and working with them was such a pleasure, I think both of them had such gorgeous characters that it really inspired my performance with Inej, and especially finding that dynamic between them,” only to then share that the real challenge, if anything was that “this is a prequel to Six of Crows (everything you see in Shadow and Bone)” so “hopefully you’ll see Inej at the time she is figuring out who she’s gonna be (during) Six of Crows.”
The question was about the challenges and getting into character, but these three took basically every opportunity they could to gush about each other, and about the production in general.
“It’s a real gift when the scripts are as good as the ones we had,” Carter, for example, was quick to point out. “We had a writing team that was really good, so a lot of the work is done for you there, but also you have this amazing resource in Leigh Bardugo’s books, so I would quite often, during filming, even though it’s not the same storyline and everything in the series is a prequel to Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, I would quite often go back and re-read little bits and re-read the character introduction, just to sort of get that sense of him, again.”
Queue the gushing about his costars: “And then, the more I got to work with Kit and Amita, and everyone else, and seeing other people react to him (Kaz), I sort of had an idea of him in my head, obviously, and then when other people start reacting to you, you go, oh, actually maybe he’s a bit more this, a bit more that.”
Kit wasn’t the exception in this regard, though he did bring up another interesting point as he answered, laughed about his own answer, and then drew laughs from his costars.
“In terms of the character arcs and how they relate to each other,” he told us, “the stuff that makes (Shadow and Bone) work as a show, you get to move through these journeys with these people, as much as the world building is fantastic, you need good characters, which… Leigh Bardugo is a fantastic writer, and Eric (Heisserer) brought it to the screen with us lot, so that stuff is kind of quite easy, at least for me, because I had two amazing castmates to work with.”
Which leads us to the technical stuff of the show, of the characters, of getting to live in this Shadow and Bone world, and this is something Kit made clear he found much more challenging than the emotional beats of Jesper.
“The tricky stuff is some of the technical stuff, like you’re in a sequence and there are things that will be done in post, and it’s like look over here and do that, by the way there’s a live goat, and there’s fire and the floor is moving, and those things were slightly harder to technically get right, because they’re so specific,” he explained, while making hand gestures to signal the goat, the fire and the floor moving. “And those smaller chunks that are part of a grand sequence, those are tricky because quite often as an actor,” especially as someone who has “kind of come from theater where you’re used to doing it from beginning to end,” in this case “you have no idea what you’re doing cause they go action, spin gun, cut and I go what was I doing, like what was that, and they go it’ll work, and I go sure I hope you’re right, so those things were particular challenges for me, all the other stuff is breezy with these two.”
Didn’t I tell you we’d come back to the mutual admiration society?
This was, however, a good segue to the more technical side of playing their roles, especially for Amita and Kit, because Inej and Jesper both have some very specific skills that the actors had to learn or at least familiarize themselves with.
“I didn’t actually have any knife training,” Amita told us. “I was just gifted these beautiful knives and I played with them and held them and tried to really get in touch with them,” she continued, and a part of her – though we don’t think she’d believe us if we told her – almost sounds like Inej as she talks about this subject. “I was very mindful of where the knives sat, and kind of made up stories about what is this knife capable of from the character’s point of view, and what does this knife do emotionally, because she (Inej) names all of her knives after Saints.”
And that is Inej, the sentimental, the kind, the thing men fear when they close their eyes at night. All of those, and sometimes none of that. And Amita was very mindful of the shoes she was stepping into, and even just looking the way Inej was meant to look, because, as she confessed “before I came I wasn’t fit enough to do the role and I promised myself if I don’t get Inej’s fitness, you know, I wouldn’t do the character justice.”
For Kit Young, the training started much the same way. “I started off being given a pair of guns to start doing tricks with, and was not a natural at all, so I drew up the first pair I was given, and smashed those around,” like we would, “then gradually I started to sort of get good at it,” said as if this was a perfectly normal thing, “and then it just became an extension of my limbs, both my arms, and I was just doing it all the time, I carried them with me literally everywhere, I (even) got a pair here.”
We’re still not sure if he was joking.
“It just became such an addictive thing,” he continued, “but it’s so quintessential to who the character is, it was necessary to get it right. In a script or book where it’s like that kind of classic hero, they’re not just good at it, they’re kind of the greatest in the world. So you suddenly have to be really good at this skill and learn how to do it properly. So that was a challenge. But I think we all got there in the end.”
Got there they did, and on top of the immense amount of work and passion these actors clearly put into it, one of the reasons why everything just sorta came together perfectly, was the production design. Freddy Carter referenced this as we discussed the work it goes into imagining you are this character, living in a very different universe than the one we inhabit, by sharing: “I remember one of the first things we filmed on the Ketterdam set was a walk and talk with Kit and I, where we basically got to walk through the whole set, and the level of detail in the production design and the costume design was kind of staggering. I’d never really seen anything like it. There basically was no imagination required, which as an actor makes you feel a bit redundant, because there’s no acting required.”
Don’t believe him, a lot of acting is still required. Nonetheless, he continued, “So many examples you read in the script about there being so and so, and you think that’ll look great in post, and you get there and the costume is amazing, and again, does all the work for you,” before concluding with, “That was a real treat, and I felt like it was happening basically every day, getting pleasantly surprised by the level of detail.”
Kit picked up the thread of the conversation easily. “As production went on,” he told us, “we got to kind of see more of how the other side was working. And it was hilarious because a lot of our stuff can be done practically on set. You need a gun to go off, the gun will go off. You need a knife to be thrown, you can throw a knife, or you can get a placeholder in there. It can be done quite simply. But things like light and darkness as concepts are slightly trickier. And they had these amazing kinds of tricks where they made it brighter and they made it darker.”
So, of course, we had to know how. You all want to know how too, right? Or at least get an idea? “I remember kind of looking in on stuff people were doing, kind of visiting set and going, “This takes ages.” It takes twice as much as our stuff, and it was mainly because Jessie has these LEDS stuck to her hands. And they have to do all this stuff to prep it for post. And I was like gosh this is high fantasy stuff. I’m glad I’m in the camp where you just get to sit around making plans.”
To be honest, we would have probably chosen the making plans camp too, and that’s not just because we love the Crows.
“But it was really amazing to see all the levels of detail in the different areas and plotlines and aspects of the show kind of come together, and actually how much of it was exactly how it was in my head.”
We can’t wait for you all to get a chance to experience that too. It’s a real treat, not just visually, but because these three bring everything – everything into the roles they play. You don’t know the Crows? It’s okay. You’re going to fall in love with them. You do know them from the books? Get ready to love them even more.
Yes, I’m sure that’s possible.
And since we had such fun talking to Freddy Carter, Amita Suman and Kit Young, we had to cut this interview in two! You can read the first part of it here.
Shadow and Bone will be available to stream on Netflix April 23rd.