Zoya Nazyalensky and Genya Safin seem as opposite as two characters can possibly be. And yet, fans of the Grishaverse know not only what role they have still to play in the Shadow and Bone universe, but in each other’s lives. In a way, that made it even more fitting that we had a chance to talk to Sujaya Dasgupta and Daisy Head together about bringing these two characters to life, and what was coming next in the Shadow and Bone show.
Because …that season 2? Yeah, we’re pretty convinced we’re getting that. And that means for both Zoya and Genya, characters who are introduced in season one, but that barely scratch the surface of what they could be, there’s a lot more coming.
Zoya, for example, starts the series – and the first book – being a little of a stereotypical mean girl, which “comes from a sense of, she’s been with General Kirigan for a long time and she’s been his best soldier,” because she’s Zoya, so of course she is “and it comes (from) her pride and her sense of… I think can be perceived as arrogance sometimes, which I don’t think comes from self-righteousness, as much as it comes from her confidence, just a confidence in her abilities.”
Alina, of course, disturbs this – not just personally for Zoya, but the relationship she’s built with General Kirigan. “That all plays a part in how she kind of sees the situation develop between Kirigan and Alina,” Sujaya confirmed. “It’s a real kind of stab in the gut for an established relationship, and very close to the symbiotic relationship she’s had with Kirigan all this time, and now someone’s come in that is threatening that, and I don’t think she can take it. By that point, she’s very much ruled by her emotions.”
Jealousy, of whatever kind, is never a good advisor. And also, it’s hard to make friends when your “heart and emotions and anger is ruling.”
But despite all of this, getting into the mind of the character wasn’t hard for Sujaya. There’s so much to Zoya that, even before she truly knew her, she felt her. “I remember when I got the audition for Zoya and I was aware of the books, but I hadn’t read them before I got it, and I remember reading the lines that she had, and it’s just…I related to her very quickly, actually, you know, despite her exterior.”
Zoya, of course, puts up walls. Very, very high walls. And we’re still not even close to the part of the story where she has to start reckoning with bringing them down, or have even introduced the most important people who will influence her to want to tear those walls down. But for Sujaya, it was important to establish this Zoya, while still looking forward to what she could learn, and one day be.
“I think that it’s understandable, you know, you learn how to have such a shell. I guess, a hard shell, and that comes from going through a lot of things in life. I’ve certainly tried to learn how to do that and not be such a big softy.” And with Zoya, in particular, because of the way she behaves “it’s very easy to kind of fall into that trap of, you know, she’s arrogant, she’s vindictive and sharp tongued. She’s all those things! But (she’s) more, you know, there’s so many layers to this character and it’s such a privilege as an actor to unpack them and start to unravel them.”
The most important that had to come true, even if not be at the forefront? Vulnerability. “I could see, you know, that vulnerability. Why is she like this? And those are the questions I was asking. I know women like this, you know. It’s this very hard, very abrupt, very abrasive, but it’s kind of a sign of massive inner strength. She’s very formidable as a person, which I love and when I read her, I was just like, blimey, I can learn a lot from her.”
Isn’t that the best kind of character? The kind that makes you examine yourself, the kind that make you better because you got a chance to walk in their shoes for a bit? For us, as fans, it’s easy to relate to the characters, to see them as our friends, and it’s so much easier to watch an adaptation when you truly believe that the actors are not just there reciting lines, but that they have taken great care to make the characters you love come to life as lovingly as possible.
“To be honest, I kind of wish she was my friend in real life. But I absolutely adored her, as soon as I read her when I got the audition. I adored her so much and I knew there were lots of layers to her.”
Season one might bring the prickly Zoya, the one who’s rash and moody, the one who’s jealous. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t much more to Zoya, and we’re crossing all our fingers that Sujaya has a chance to continue the journey of this beautiful character on screen.
Not only does she deserve a chance to grow with the character, but we deserve to see this woman’s character growth on screen.
While Zoya plays the mean girl who will one day be so much more, Genya, on the other hand, quickly becomes Alina’s friend and ally. She’s also our eyes into the Little Palace and the world of the Grisha. But there’s much more to Genya than casual smiles and a kind demeanor, and Daisy was excited to step into such a complex character.
“What is so unique and what I love about this world that Leigh has created is all of her characters are so richly emotionally developed. And as is true of all of us, as human beings, as you or I or anyone, we have such… 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 of those other negative things.”
I swear, these actors don’t just love their characters, they understand them. They’ve put in the work to become them, not just physically, but mentally. And it shows not just in the performance, but in the way they discuss the little nuances that make these characters feel real.
“So, for me, it was just bringing a truth to her not hiding behind her past at all. And, you know, Leigh says herself that it’s a story about the people who have been told how much they don’t matter, proving how much they do.” Something we can truly all relate to, because at one point or another, everyone has either been told this, or worse, felt it. “And for me, that is such an important thing and it really highlights how important it is to be allowed to own one’s own space in a world where it’s easy to feel defined by what you are and how you are perceived by others as opposed to who you are.”
This is so much the theme of the entire show that I promise, as Daisy was giving this answer, absolutely everyone was nodding along. And that’s been one of my favorite things about the experience of interviewing this cast – not a single one of them is taking the roles they got, the way they fit into the larger universe, for granted. They’re all immensely invested not just in what their characters can and will do, but in how that ties to the larger stories in the Grishaverse.
Daisy also added, “For Genya as well as anyone else, it’s just… it’s knowing that you can own that space and everyone has a history, and that’s totally okay,” and expected “and it’s about having the courage and the vulnerability to show up and continue to show up without attaching to an outcome, and without letting your history or your past completely cripple you.”
If there’s a better way to describe, not just Genya’s journey, but the general themes behind the Grishaverse, then I don’t know what it is. And we – and Daisy, cannot wait for everyone to get to experience the world of Shadow and Bone. “It’s been nothing short of amazing, the way Eric (showrunner Eric Heisserer), with the help of Leigh (Bardugo) has combined these worlds. It’s a remarkable feat and it’s so exciting. I cannot wait for the fans to see it.”
And for fans of the books, like me, there are still a few surprises, they promise. “It’s such a unique opportunity for characters who may never have interacted and haven’t yet in the books interacted in this way to come together. And it just offers such a great insight into the world. And I just feel so humbled and privileged to be a part of it. It’s such an exciting, exciting thing.”
We agree, Daisy. We agree. There’s a lot to enjoy, to obsess over, and to examine when the show finally releases next week. But lets use our voices for a second and make absolutely clear, as book fans, as fans of what these actors bring to their roles, and what they could bring in if given a chance to do more …we need a season 2, 3 and possibly four and five of this show, at the very least. There are no secondary characters here, after all, just some whose chance to shine will come later.
Fans really, really want to be present for that.
Are you excited for Zoya and Genya? Share with us in the comments below!
Shadow and Bone will release April 23rd on Netflix.