Nina and Matthias might not be the showiest characters on the new Netflix Shadow and Bone adaptation, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t bringing the feels. The two, who fans of the books know only make their appearance in the Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom duology, have had the beginning of their individual – and joint – story explored in season 1 of the Netflix show, and it was very easy for us to see why the people behind the show thought it was necessary to introduce them.
We talked to Danielle Galligan and Calahan Skogman about just this, about the fan enthusiasm for the show and their characters, and also about seeing Shadow and Bone come to life. And let us start with this note: these two really worked hard to not just inhabit Nina and Matthias for a little while, but become them for as long as the show required.
The problem, of course, just like with Kaz, Inej and Jesper, is that Danielle and Calahan had to deal with these very complex characters and couldn’t show their whole hand, not in season 1. Instead, it was about gradually peeling the layers of who they are …and who they might one day be.
“I think Nina is so complex and she’s so multifaceted,” Galligan explained. “I like to find an engine for people or an engine for a character or a scene. It’s like that thing that the audience won’t see, but that is driving them. And I think with Nina, for me, it’s that…” she paused then, because she – like basically everyone in this cast – was about to make a book comparison, and she wanted to make sure we would understand it, “there’s a chapter in the book when she’s trying to save her friend who’s just been stabbed, and she kind of has a bit of an identity crisis in a way of going, “Well, I’m not good enough.” So, you know, she goes back to being that young lost girl whose training didn’t last long enough, and she feels that she’s not up to the job. You know, Zoya’s words are coming, echoing in her ear, saying that you’re not good enough.”
Even without powers of our own, this is something we can all relate to. “And for me, that has been the engine for Nina. And so, in times of trauma and extreme stress, I think that she can go back to that little inner child who is an orphan, who is just looking for home, looking for a hug sometimes.”
We’re not saying Nina is us and we are Nina more often than we feel comfortable admitting to, but we’re also not saying otherwise.
Galligan continued, “I try to keep that going in as an engine for a lot of it. And then I think all the rest of it kind of goes from there. And I think that it’s been quite easy to show a lot of it because she is, so you know, she’s so sensuous, she’s so hedonistic. She just loves her body. She loves the experience of life, like she’s the real Iggy Pop, I think of the Grishaverse, to be honest.”
We’re not sure we want that mental image in our heads. We’re also not sure we’re going to be able to erase it now.
“It’s easy to play all of that, because the way that the narrative is laid out, the way they’ve (the writers) adapted it makes it very easy, because they know the characters so well that they’ve kind of paved the track for you. And you just have to kind of come on and pick your intentions, pick your engine for the scene.”
And have the right partner. Because, most times, a scene is made up of two people, and you cannot make it shine just by yourself. But Galligan didn’t need any prodding to find good things to say about costar Skogman, that came very naturally.
“Having Cal makes it really easy, because at the end of the day, Nina values human connection over anything else. And I think that when she can see the other human and what they need, or what they’re doing in the moment, she can very much react to that,” so “I leave a lot of it open to Cal because I know he’ll be there all the time doing something different be it good or bad, but something to react off. Because I do feel that Nina, she doesn’t plan a lot of the time.”
Now there’s an understatement if we’ve ever heard one. Plan and Nina have never gone together in a sentence unless she’s following someone else’s plan – typically Kaz’s. But the Six of Crows journey is not the journey of Shadow and Bone season 1, we already know that. And in this journey, well …Nina is finding herself, but Matthias is doing the same too. And that’s a very personal and hard journey to go through.
“I think he was raised a particular way, you know, in a particular place with a certain set of ideals. And I think not so much the laws and the structure of what Matthias initially believes that he has to follow are what make him what he is. It’s more so his higher ideals, like honor and faith and love and, you know, doing things in the right way and being a good man. And I think that’s what makes him able to accept, slowly… accept Nina into his life, and to be changed by that.”
We’re going to need a moment or five to recover. And while you’re taking that moment, you might want to brace for what he added, because if this isn’t quintessential Matthias, and truly, the perfect example of growing beyond your prejudices, and learning, and becoming a better person, not for someone else, but because another person helped you understand something you hadn’t before, then I don’t know what is.
“He’s not so much attached to doctrine, really. And deep down, you know, it’s more about something bigger for him and when he kind of sees his twin flame that it’s Nina, it’s like, “Oh, she is the same as me.” from this other place.”
“So, I think that’s what allows him to, you know, start to change. And when he starts to change, it’s phenomenal. It’s so cool to have him keep all the honor and all that stuff. But to be, you know, to let a little bit of softness and love and change and other perspectives (in), which I think happens to all of us as we grow up. And I know for myself for sure. So, to have that in common with Matthias was really cool.”
Danielle, also, found something to relate to when it comes to Nina. “I think everyone, like in our lives, we all have pasts,” and it doesn’t even matter where we are in our lives, we can all, at some point “associate with feeling like every time you go to act, sometimes you’re like, “I’m not cut out for this. My training was too short. I’m not able to do this.” So that was something that for Nina really resonated with me.”
Perhaps the best thing about Nina, though, is that she never back downs, even when she isn’t sure, and she never gives up. And for Danielle, the inspiration for the kind of woman Nina is was clear. “I found Nina in a lot of the women around me. I found that, as I was reading the book, a lot of the facets of her personality were being reflected back to me. Like my nana is a shameless flirt, and we’ve said she’d flirt with a pair of shoes. My mom, we always say she missed her calling on the stage. I have a best friend who is very quick to anger. I have another best friend that we say you’re pretty smart.”
“So, I find that really enriching in Leigh’s writing, she writes such complex and such fully fleshed out wholehearted characters that…I suppose I found the security that I knew Nina, because I know and love all of these women, so I could know and love Nina, I guess in the same way.”
This is the way we love Nina, too. The way the books have allowed us to love her, flawed, gentle, angry, loving and all the things in between. Rarely has there been a character who has captured us the way she has not because of her virtues, but because of the way her flaws inform who she is. Nina is a badass, and a hero, and she’s also loud, talks too much, never truly thinks before she acts …and isn’t that the most relatable thing ever?
For Danielle, and for Calahan, too, it was about loving these characters, about getting in touch with them …and then about finding a way to bring them to life, without placing the expectations of the fandom on their own shoulders. Because you can never win if you do that, and yet, you also can’t win if you completely ignore those. What a conundrum.
“I think you just know that it is a really awesome responsibility and that everybody, is going to have their own image of Matthias,” Calahan shared. “But when you’re an actor, you are your instrument. There are minor things you can do about the way you look, or you speak, or you do these things and you kind of morph as an actor. But you are you, so I think, as long as I’m committing fully, one hundred percent and making it the best version of Matthias that I can do. Because it’s just me, you know. I got cast. So that’s what I have to work with.”
And, that, of course provides the confidence to “kind of let the pressures of being anything anybody else wants you to be kind of slide away, as long as you’re doing it just as you know, and showing up in the right way. I think that that will show through the performance.”
Danielle agreed with this sentiment. “I think it’s also about kind of taking ownership of your art, you know, are you going in and, making these choices, making this your interpretation of the character. You’re confident and you can take ownership of what you’ve done and the performance you’ve given, and it’s an offer amongst the myriad of many, many interpretations of these wonderful characters.”
And seeing that come to life, seeing the finished product, felt like the hard work had definitely paid off. “I think it’s an incredible thing, for me, an incredible experience, I’ve never been a part of anything like this, certainly, before.” Calahan told us. “So, I was pretty emotional. Like the first time I saw Danielle and I was out in the countryside in the snow and the wind, I mean, or we’re at sea, you know, it’s because you create it in the day in your imagination but seeing it on the screen is an entirely different experience. But it’s amazing. It’s like magic, you know, filmmaking. So, for me, it’s absolutely thrilling.”
With these two it was all about the one answering last filling in the blanks for the other one, so of course, Danielle did that in this final question, too.
“Yeah, I think it made me really, really aware of the intense collaboration that had gone on. I remember having a day on set where, you know, you turn around and there’s 30 people all doing something and then a bell rings and there’s like this mad response of everyone picking up a thing, or holding a thing or dropping something, and then it all funnels down to like the moment where they say action.”
Then, it’s about you. And your partner. About Nina and Matthias, about the story they’re telling us, about growing, about learning, about finding someone who, on the outside looks like your enemy, but could actually end up being your soulmate.
“And then it’s just you and the other person and the space between you. And I remember getting the feeling like, well, I’m actually a very small cog in this massive machine.”
But Shadow and Bone, the universe, is much more than about Nina and Matthias and we’re hoping we get to see much more of these characters, much more of this story. Because, as Danielle shared “It’s a collaboration between so many people. So, when I finally did watch it to see, like all the collaboration kind of weaved together in this very well-functioning, like ecological system or Grishaverse world, (it) was really, really incredible.”
We agree. And we think you will too, when you finally get to see it next week.
Are you excited for Shadow and Bone? Are you looking forward to Nina and Matthias’ storyline? Share with us in the comments below!
Shadow and Bone will be available on Netflix April 23rd.