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Shadow and Bone’s Jessie Mei Li, Ben Barnes and Archie Renaux talk developing grounded characters

Shadow and Bone’s Jessie Mei Li, Ben Barnes and Archie Renaux talk developing grounded characters image

Jessie Mei Li, Ben Barnes, and Archie Renaux recently discussed the excitement of Shadow and Bone, teasing things that fans can expect.

When it comes to big projects, Barnes is no stranger. He is Prince Caspian after all! However, this could possibly be his biggest when it comes to fan interest and excitement. There’s no doubt that Shadow and Bone is highly anticipated, and it’s not just about those who read the books when they first came out.

For Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux, Shadow and Bone, which premieres on Netflix on April 23, 2021, offers a chance to break out into the world of TV and movies. They’re relatively new to the scene, especially when it comes to starring opposite Barnes. That doesn’t stop us from being excited to see what they bring to the table, but is there any pressure with that?

The trio of Shadow and Bone cast members sat down to chat about Shadow and Bone, teasing what’s in store for their characters and what it was like filming.

Comparing Shadow and Bone to previous projects

We started with Barnes, finding out what it’s like for him already starring in some big projects. With this one as possibly the biggest when it comes to book-fan attention, what has it been like for him?

He shared how the series was unique and fresh. He didn’t read the books before getting the scripts but has since delved into the world of the Grishaverse. With all that came texting with author Leigh Bardugo, who would send him black heart emojis.

Those who know Barnes’s character from the books will know the black heart emojis are apt.

“It piqued my curiosity,” Barnes explained, “I’ve played the traditional protagonist boy with sword roles a few times, where you’re trying to win the girl and defeat the monster and find your way in the world. I think coming at this from a different angle of being in the most authoritative, powerful voice in the universe…it was just very intriguing to me.”

While the series is certainly a fantasy one and there are elements of it set in period times, that’s not the case for the entire series. Barnes explained there were elements that felt contemporary and stories worth telling in 2021.

The problem with the antagonist in a fantasy series is that they can end up a little too campy. That isn’t always a problem. Just look at the original Penny Dreadful series. That feeling can work, but it wouldn’t for something like Shadow and Bone. How did he keep General Kirigan from being too stereotypical for a fantasy villain?

It all comes from humanity. While Kirigan is powerful, he also has moments of vulnerability. There is light and dark, and there are questions about whether there is any hope for redemption for him.

When talking about General Kirigan with Alina, Barnes explained, “This is a much older, more powerful man in a position of power that needs something from this young woman, and he’ll go to the ends of the earth to get that. Can I ask an actor to find ways to justify why he behaves the way he behaves? Can I find redeeming qualities in that humanity? Can I imagine this woman could be a spark of hope and reignite his capacity for love again?”

Jessie Mei Li talks preparing for an emotional role

Alina is the character who introduces us to the Grishaverse at first. She’s the one that we learn about the magic through, and there’s no doubt that she goes through an emotional rollercoaster from the very beginning.

It can’t be easy preparing for these highs and lows. How did Li prepare for it all?

“I was so lucky that our writers were just amazing, and they had such a good idea of these characters,” Li explained, “I was able to bring a lot of my own experiences to Alina given the fact that they decided to make her mixed race, which has definitely shaped who I am.”

Just to note, Alina is a white character in the book like so many others. Bardugo explained that transforming Shadow and Bone into something more diverse was important, admitting the lack of diversity as a flaw in her first novel.

Li explained that being mixed race can affect the way you never feel like you belong anywhere, and it affected her as a person. She was able to take that and give it to Alina, especially with how Alina is always told to look like the enemy and isn’t wanted by anyone.

Sometimes, the actors also take things from the characters, especially when it comes to finding new ways to deal with situations. Li shared that there are some elements of Alina that she wants to use in her own life.

“She’s so strong. Where I can be silly, she has a certain strength that is like a serenity. She knows herself, or she’s on her way to knowing herself. I really like that calm strength, so I think I’d love to bring more of her strength and ability to say what she wants by the end of it.”

Making Mal a likable character on Shadow and Bone

The majority of book fans will say that Mal isn’t their favorite character. Get ready for all that to change with the TV series. You’ll start to feel torn when it comes to the ships (and you are more than welcome to ship whoever you want, no judgment here!).

In the series, you’ll immediately feel a connection between Alina and Mal. Archie Renaux brings something to the character that you just can’t imagine from the novels.

The chemistry between the two came naturally between the two. Li and Renaux immediately hit it off, but it was also Barnes who helped with that development of Mal and understanding of making the series work.

“For this show to work, we need to believe that these two people are all they need. That is the beating heart of the story,” Renaux explained to help the way he managed to prepare for the role.

Mal is one of those characters that goes through a lot, especially when he’s out in the wilderness. There were challenging moments for Renaux as an actor because of that, so how did he manage it?

“You have to think of something personal in your life to try to compare that to and use that to portray that emotion in the show. Hopefully, people see that and empathize with him.”

But how do you turn a lukewarm character into one that you root for by the end? It’s about capturing the heart of the character. He wanted to make his relationship with Alina important and help people empathize with Mal. It is all about the writing.

Shadow and Bone isn’t that much of a slow burn, but it is episode 2 where things really take a turn and you become invested in everything that’s happening. Get ready for the wild ride.

Shadow and Bone will be released on Friday, April 23.

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