If you’re not familiar with Shadow and Bone, it’s based on the worldwide bestselling book series by author Leigh Bardugo and the executive producer and showrunner is Eric Heisserer, the writer of the sci-fi film Arrival. Unlike the book it is based on, the series actually combines two of Bardugo’s book series – the fantasy-adventure trilogy Shadow and Bone and the duology Six of Crows, which chronologically takes place after the events of Shadow and Bone despite being set in the same world. Heisserer said to make this work they essentially invented prequel stories for the key Six of Crows characters this season — Kaz, Inej, and Jesper — to fit alongside what is happening in the Shadow and Bone storyline.
The series takes place in a war-torn world where a lowly soldier and orphan named Alina Starkov (Mei Li) accidentally unleashes an extraordinary power that’s been residing in her that could help save her land and set her country free. What you also need to know about Shadow and Bone is this world has magical soldiers known as Grisha that have different powers, and a massive black cloud (known as the Shadow Fold) that runs hundreds of miles north and south that is extremely dangerous to cross due to the creatures inside. While you can attempt to cross, it’s like playing roulette with your life. Shadow and Bone was produced by Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps Entertainment and also stars Jessie Mei Li (Alina Starkov), Sujaya Dasgupta (Zoya Nazyalensky) Archie Renaux (Malyen Oretsev), Amita Suman (Inej Ghafa), Julian Kostov (Fedyor Kaminsky) and Danielle Galligan (Nina Zenik).
Finally, before getting to the interview with Kit Young and Freddy Carter, if you haven’t seen the Shadow and Bone trailer, I’d watch that first. Will help you understand the world and what they’re talking about.
Shadow and Bone arrives on Netflix on April 23.
Question: Were you guys familiar with the books before getting involved in this project and then if not, what was it like reading them for the first time?
KIT YOUNG: I wasn’t familiar with the books before the audition came through and then after a little bit research, I realized quite, how massive the world of the story is as well as what a big fan base there is that I wasn’t previously aware of. And then upon actually getting the gig I then just read them all in a really short period of time. Just did all my research and read five books in a week and a half or something. Yeah. What about you?
FREDDY CARTER Yeah, likewise. I wasn’t aware of the books at all and then as my audition process went on, I dipped my toe into Six of Crows and loved it so much that I had to stop myself reading it just in case it didn’t work out and I couldn’t do it. I was falling in love with the world and these characters. Yeah, I had to stop myself, but then like Kit, I just raced through it as soon as I got the part.
If you could talk a little bit about where you are at the beginning of the story and a little bit about your characters?
YOUNG: Yeah. Freddy and I both play characters who are members of this gang called The Crows. And I play Jesper who’s one of Kaz’ right hands. He’s the kind of gunslinger and the gambler of the group. He’s the one that always has a smile and can’t turn down a wager and is up for a good time and is fueled by greed and the thrill of it. Yeah, he is always looking for the next big score.
CARTER Yeah And I play Kaz who is the leader of The Crows and we operate in The Barrel in Ketterdam. Ketterdam is one of the cities in Kerch, which is one of the countries in The Grishaverse on the map. Yeah, sorry, it’s a lot. Yeah, we’re one of the gangs in Ketterdam and at the start of the story, an offer is proposed to us and then we’re off on a journey.
YOUNG: An adventure.
CARTER Yeah, Kaz is the leader of the gang and he’s probably best described as a sociopath with a heart in that he makes some questionable choices, but it’s more often than not for the good of him and his gang.
It seems like there’s like a lot of just straight up adaptation honoring the books. With your characters, now that you’re familiar with the books and you’ve pretty much shot the whole season now, what would you say are some of the things that you’re most proud of honoring, staying true to the books? But then also what are some of the things that you guys changed that noticed you liked that too?
YOUNG: One of the things that was really great to do with honoring the books is to meet the characters before, for the Six of Crows books and our characters, before those books in story time. But there was so much. There’s so much within the books and so much from the creatives on this, in particular, Eric, our showrunner who’s really laid out the map for us. There’s so much there to draw from. That means that when we get to those moments that either mimic the books or are derivative from them, we feel like we’re really making the same thing, but also at the same time making something that’s completely new. Because what’s really great is for the people who watch the show, but don’t know the books, they’ll just watch it and taking the story as is.
But for people who do know the books, there’s a little extra layer of fandom, I guess, and an excitement because lots of things that we take for granted in the books, we get the opportunity to make happen for the first time. How certain characters meet or certain plot beats that are important in the books, we get to see happen in real time.
CARTER Yeah Because a lot of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom is set in Ketterdam, in the city, and you see these characters going about their business in this one very specific, very… Well, Ketterdam is like Chinatown meets Blade Runner meets Las Vegas meets Amsterdam.
YOUNG: It’s the Gotham of The Grishaverse.
CARTER Yeah And it’s amazing and dark and cool and dangerous. And then in this story we see them almost like fish out of water because you get to see these characters who we know so well and we know them in Ketterdam and the book fans will know them from Ketterdam, but we get to see them and its totally different scenario and environment.
YOUNG: And at different stages in their relationships to each other because in the books there are quite extensive flashbacks for all of those main characters in the Crows books, but we get to see them play out in real time, some of them, and we get to make up certain things that may well have meaning later, but also it means that there’s a hell of a lot of other stuff that we can create on the fly as we go because there’s just that opportunity there to go, “Well, we don’t really know what happened in this little period so this thing could have happened or maybe we should do this. Maybe this will be interesting and fun.” And see where these things might tying into the first Shadow and Bone book as well.
Kit, did you have to learn any gun training and then Freddy, did you need to learn sleight of hand?
YOUNG: Yeah, we had a lot of that because three crows that we meet at the beginning, Kaz, Inej, and Jesper, I don’t think we realized that until we were all in a stunt room together, we’re all very propsy. Kaz has got his cane and his gloves and then Inej has got her knives and Jesper’s got his guns. I remember day one, I just arrived the night before, and I turned up and the stunt team put these old school Western revolvers in my hands that were made from this kind of polymer so that I could start to do tricks with them. And immediately I dropped it and smashed it and it went all over the floor. And they were like, “Oh my God, Kit. That was the only one we had.” And I just started panicking. They said, “No, it’s okay. We got loads.”
But they gave me a couple of these safe revolvers that aren’t metal or real working guns. They said, “Just go and see what you can do.” And at first, you can try and make it go forward and backwards in your hand and get it in and out of a holster and I couldn’t do any of that stuff. I was just watching all of these clips of Old West movies and seeing, they’re really these incredible professionals that still do that stuff and they do incredible stuff with it. And I was like, “Maybe I can gradually get there.” Within a month before we started shooting, we were out here for an extended pre-production process and yeah, I think I got better than they thought I was going to, which meant that there are certain things in the scripts that were like, “This will be CG,” and then they were like, “Oh, no, actually you could do that,” which is very encouraging.
CARTER Yeah Yeah, there will be stuff when you watch it that you won’t believe that Kit did it. It’s incredible.
YOUNG: Yeah, but it’s all good fun. I mean, I get to live my childhood fantasies in a way. I’m like, “Oh yeah, I’m a cowboy.”
CARTER Yeah There is less you can do with a cane (everyone starts laughing). But I worked with this amazing magician called DMC who also has a show on Netflix and we worked on some slight of hand tricks and yeah, that was amazing. That was really fun.
YOUNG: Which, I’ll just also say, is extra impressive given that Freddy throughout the entirety of the show is always wearing gloves because Kaz never takes these gloves off that he has and so slight of hand when you can’t actually use your fingers, is extra impressive.
CARTER Yeah Slight of palm mostly.
Can you guys talk a little bit about uniting these two previously separate stories and the opportunities that that reports to tell more story?
YOUNG: Yeah. We were immediately looking for clues in the books to see where there’s potential crossover because the timelines of the books are slightly different. The Six of Crow’s books I think happen a year after the Shadow and Bone trilogy, but we’re merging them altogether so they’re happening in the same timeframe. But at the same time I think there was, we were immediately on the first day, I was talking to Jessie and Archie who play Alina and Mal and in the beginning of the second Shadow of Bone book, they’re in Zemeni where my character comes from and they come across this character called Jess and Jesper is often called Jes for short and I was like, “That could be me.” Looking for clues like, “That could be me in the books, right? Let’s do that.”
And Eric, our showrunner just kind of raised an eyebrow. Clearly he’d already thought of that, but I don’t know whether that’s even somewhere we were wanting to go, but we immediately looking for moments where the crossovers could happen and our showrunner was been very clever about those things-
CARTER Yeah Safe to say that all of our guesses and trying to figure out and looking for clues are nowhere near as good as what Eric has come up with. The way he’s worked these stories together and I think he’s kept the spirit of both books and sets of characters really well whilst also creating something, using them together to create greater something as a whole.
YOUNG: And I think one of the reasons that the decision was made to put them together instead of do one story and another afterwards, it’s that the tone in the other books are quite different. The Shadow of Bone trilogy is, it’s a very heroic journey. It’s very macro scale or saving the fate of the world. Whereas The Crows books are a bit darker in nature and it’s about who’s double crossing who and it seems like it’s mostly in one city, so it feels like a microscope in comparison, but to put the light and the dark with each other I think gives us a really interesting texture in the show. It’s really exciting, basically.
For Jesper, at the end of Six of Crows, we find out that his gun slinging abilities are impacted by something else. Do we see some of that in season one at all?
YOUNG: We get to show things and hint at things that I think book fans will be really excited about. Whereas I think people who don’t know the books will just be like, “So what?” There’s so many layers to certain backstories and plot points that are quite vague even when you see them. I think it has a high rewatch-ability factor the show because I think people go, “I feel like I missed something there. I want to go back and pick that.” Especially when it comes to what Kaz is up to because Kaz is the man with the plan and so everything is always a bit, “Oh, when did you think of that? When did that happen?” And the stages of the plan and how things come together I think is really exciting, but I think Jesper’s story, I mean, given that we’re at the beginning of season one, there’s a lot of room to really go and see where things go and we’re just planting the seeds at the moment and then just getting a first look at this character.
You obviously know the books and you’ve obviously read all the scripts. What’s surprised you about the scripts that maybe you weren’t expecting?
CARTER Yeah I think the diversity of the scripts and the books are incredibly diverse, but this has gone to a new level just in terms of the type of story that we’re telling, the story and who’s in the story. In all terms of diversity. In terms of sexuality or race or all those things, and gender I think. That really surprised me because I knew, and in reading the books I thought, “Oh, this is great because Leigh’s really pushing the boundaries here and then Eric has taken it to another level.” And that was a lovely surprise.
YOUNG: Yeah. I think in terms of the kind of visual representation of the people within the show is really, really exciting. The look of the show, we’ve had the chance to see it in snippets here and there, just the odd, whether it’s playback or whether it’s just a little scene and the look of the show is really, really interesting and completely its own thing. The colors in it and the richness of the world. Hopefully, I think people are really going to delve into this world and really fall in love with it because there’s lots going on. But I think there’s constantly things that will surprise first time viewers as well as people who think they know the stories because we’ve got the opportunity to mix and match. I think for people who write fan fiction, this is going to be something they love because they’ll get to see things that they’ve gone, “Oh, what if only that thing had happened?” Because we get to shake things up a little bit.
CARTER Yeah That’s also nice as well about having Leigh Bardugo involved in such a hands on way because these stories and these characters are so dear to her, but her and Eric and the rest of the team clearly have a wonderful trust in each other’s work and in each other’s goals with the show, that if something does take a different direction or if it’s not what people are expecting, it comes from a place of wanting the show to be as good as possible and to tell the most exciting story.
YOUNG: Yeah and especially from her because she’s on set today. She could easily put our foot down and be like, “This would never happen. I made this. You’re all here because I thought of it.” And she’s not like that at all.
Can you imagine that?
YOUNG: Yeah, it would be quite something, wouldn’t it? But she’s not like that at all it seems that every slightly rogue choice has been taken as completely had her blessing, if it’s not already been part Leigh around here as well. All of that is really encouraging for us because it means that when we’re given something that we weren’t expecting to find in the scripts, we can go, “Oh great, we can just run with this and see where it goes.” And that’s really fun and exciting as well.
Related to that, I would say that reading the books, you can tell who was going to end up with who. Will the show be subverting some of those expectations in terms of the love setups and whatnot?
YOUNG: I think so. Some of them are definitely, obviously at the heart of the stories. For instance, the pairings in the first show and they look and how that works with that kind of love triangle, that’s at the core of that story. We’re definitely, at the very least, it’s definitely addressed and it’s definitely, it’s a big old plot point, but for some of the ships, we just won’t get there yet. We get the chance to see some of these characters before they meet some of those other characters and see how they meet and see some of them already in the throws of those ships and pairings and stans, which is great. I never thought I’d say that in a sentence.
I was going to day, I love that you know all the terminology.
YOUNG: Oh my gosh, we get so much on Twitter.
On top of that, what’s it like when the fans have expectations going into this in terms of is it scary and what are your feelings about that?
YOUNG: It’s completely new for me.
CARTER Yeah Yeah, likewise. It is scary, but I have such faith in this group of people making the show and the people who love the books love them because of Leigh’s imagination and I believe that we’ve taken Leigh’s stuff and enhanced it and taken it to a whole new level. It doesn’t scare me so much. I’m excited, really, really excited for people who think they know what this show is going to be to be completely surprised and subverted.
YOUNG: Yeah, and I think also there’s something in the getting people to wait for it because within those two books series alone, before we even get to the ones that Leigh is currently still working on, the sequels of sequels if you like, there are four or five major pairings and ships and all the different kind of combinations. We’ll give you some now and if we get the chance, give some later. We’re giving people a little bit here and there and taking them on a journey so that hopefully they’re going to want more of that and hopefully we keep surprising them throughout.
Talk a little bit about some of the sets. We obviously saw that the skiff and we’ve heard about some of the locations you went to. What were some of the cool practical sets that you stepped on and you were like, “Get out of here.”
YOUNG: Yeah, yeah. I mean, for us, we had to same… The first time that we, the crows walked into the Ketterdam set, which was just mind blowing because it’s also, it’s a back lot that’s used for a lot of stuff out here. It had just been used for The Witcher.
We were just outside and thinking, “Is this The Witcher?”
YOUNG: We walked onto the set of The Witcher and they were still in construction. We were like, “This doesn’t feel like Ketterdam. It’s a bit medieval, isn’t it?” And quite gray and then within what seemed like half an hour they’d completely remade it into this gorgeous tapestry of whatever Ketterdam can be in your mind you’re going to see a little bit here and there. And it’s very dark. It’s always nighttime.
CARTER Yeah It’s like a rabbit warren, but also like a nightclub.
YOUNG: It is, yeah. Just to actually walk the streets of Ketterdam and have some of the locations that people know and love from the books and have them literally within 20 yards ago. “This scene starts at the Crow Club and it ends in front of this place,” was really cool for us. We had loads of fun doing that kind of stuff. Myself in particular I, there wasn’t a single piece of that Ketterdam set that I didn’t shoot on because for some reason Kaz is always telling Jesper to go outdoors and so I was always out in the rain at night, treading that set and it was absolutely incredible. But, I mean, that was the kind of first big shock for us because that’s where we began. But throughout some of the stuff across the board has been truly incredible to witness.
CARTER Yeah Also, the set for the Crow Club, which is our casino and bar and the crows run and it’s our HQ was mind blowing.
YOUNG: It really was.
CARTER Yeah The macro scale of it, it was this old warehouse? No.
YOUNG: Well, yeah.
CARTER Yeah It was underneath a stadium.
YOUNG: It was fun to leave the stands for, yeah.
CARTER Yeah The stadium. The macro scale with the huge posters that they put up and these amazing rich colored drapes and all this stuff. But then the tiny details was what I found amazing. Eric had devised all these different board games and card games and all the cards had non… what’s the word?
YOUNG: They’d invented a what the suits look like and the cards and so on. Because Jesper being the gambler in the show, I remember walking up to set and getting a blueprint for what all the games were and what they would look like and what the different tables would like and they were like, “Okay so the game Macker’s wheel, there’s nowhere in any of the books where we necessarily know what the rules are so maybe it’s poker mixed in with craps mixed in with this. Maybe if you’ve got cards and you also maybe throw some dice.” And I was like, “Okay, so I can make choices here and you’ll probably not even see that in the edit because I think I was probably finding it too hard to make sense of because I’m just making up the rules as I go. The level of detail in that stuff, it was, yeah.
CARTER Yeah It was amazing.
YOUNG: Yeah, yeah. It was really, really cool.
CARTER Yeah It made our job very easy.
Jesper’s gambling in Six of Crows ends up being a huge issue. How much does it factor into this?
YOUNG: It definitely plays a part. Definitely plays a part in this. One of the things that’s quite interesting to explore is the games that we know and the games that we don’t and I mean that both in terms of physical gambling as well as psychological games, but in terms of just gambling, as you’d imagine, it definitely gets The Crows, as a group, in trouble. His actions don’t just affect him. That’s what I’ll say for now on that front.
And then for Kaz, do we get any of the backstory with his brother?
CARTER Yeah I think you will have to watch to find out.
If you were to describe the show as something meets something, two different things combined. How would you describe it?
YOUNG: Can I do it with more than two?
YOUNG: Just to be easy. I think in terms of people who will want to watch the show, there’s a lot of comparing it to other book series that deal with magic and love triangles and the kind of adventure nature of it. I think my think Potter heads will love this. Work out what Grisha you are. You get the colors and you go, “Oh, I’d be wearing the purple or red or blue,” or whatever it is. I think most people will really, really love that. I think the adventure story-ness about it is something that will really resonate with people like Oceans 11 fans and Indiana Jones fans and there’s, the scale of it is massive. I mean, there’s a lot of people on boats as well, so maybe Pirates fans. I even dress like a pirate through some of it. There’s quite a bit. For some reason I can’t think of anything plot-wise, but also The Hunger Games comes to mind for me as well. There’s something about the politics and them and us and again, love triangles. Yeah, what about you?
CARTER Yeah Kit’s stolen one of my answers, but I think the Middle Earth comparison to there being this map and there is this map. This is the world we know and the factions within that and the old feuds going on with that stuff. And then I also think the other comparison to Lord of The Rings is we have a central, every man, every woman character who takes us through the journey and we learn about the world as she learns about the world and she’s set a challenge and goes on this quest. I think that’s probably a fair comparison.
YOUNG: Yeah, exactly. And I think for all of our point of view characters they’re all very, very different in nature. They play different roles in are very different people so they’re not all experiencing that same world in the same way. It’s all very different because it’s a bit morally gray, maybe speaking about us a little bit. Yeah. There’s a lot going on. I think, a lot for people to really sink their teeth into.
I was going to say, when you think back on the making of these eight episodes, what’s a day or two that you’ll always remember?
CARTER Yeah That first day when we walked onto the Ketterdam set was pretty special because we’ve been in prep for about a month before that and we were finally let loose and that felt like our domain. Knowing where the story was taking us and what we’ve got, we pounced on that opportunity to just be in our world and run the show.
YOUNG: I think we got very lucky in that there’s a decent amount of special effects in the show. Obviously as soon as you tackle the Shadow Fold for people who know what that is, then that’s obviously going to take a lot, but we got a lot of stuff that we managed to do in camera with the sets and so while some people were off tackling the massive scale things right in the beginning, we were three Crows in a room and all the politics and character dynamics that go between those three people. And that felt really brilliant because suddenly we were in the gear, we had the stuff on, we had the props, we felt that we were in, all we had to do was really inhabit the world.
That beginning felt brilliant and I think one of the other things that I’d always remember was just the, some of the things that we encounter on our journey are insane even when you read them. Time and time again when you walk onto a set and the difference between, “This is exactly what was in my head,” and, “This is now real in front of me and I get to walk on this set,” or “I have never thought of it this way. This is how you’re going to do it. Okay, I’m going to completely recalibrate, but I’m in.” I think all of us collectively, so excited to be a part of this and to feel like we get to start this world on screen. We just dived head-first into all of it because it’s so exciting and we hope that people will really come along with us.
Shadow and Bone arrives on Netflix on April 23.
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