"It's a fantastical thing to have happened," Anna Leong Brophy, one of Shadow and Bone season 2's new stars, exclusively tells TechRadar about her casting.
Brophy, who plays Tamar Kir-Bataar, didn't expect to portray the fan-favorite Grisha Privateer in the hit Netflix show's second season. After all, the bulk of the British actor's previous roles have been more comedic in tone – Back, Code 404, and Last Night in Tango, to name three – or of the animated voice role variety, such as Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas.
Now, though, Brophy's mesmeric performance in the popular fantasy series – one of the best Netflix shows, in our opinion – is sure to catapult her into the limelight. Yet, despite her casting being announced 14 months ago and the show's second season officially debuting on March 16 – read our Shadow and Bone season 2 review for more – Brophy can't quite believe she was hired in the first place.
"I don't think anyone can enter a series like this – the Grishaverse is a huge fantastical tapestry – and be completely chill about it," Brophy says. "It's incredibly surreal. It was a fantastic experience because you're living out the fantasy you had as a child. I'm a good guy. I have magical powers. I get to kick ass. That's all you can ever ask for!"
In our extensive chat, Brophy opens up about how Tamar's heritage mirrors the actor's own and how Shadow and Bone season 2 has aided the fantasy genre in becoming a more inclusive environment. Brophy also discusses the hardest scene she filmed, the show's creative deviations from Leigh Bardugo's book series, and teases what to expect from a possible third season.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
TechRadar (TR): Tamar's a character who originates from Shu Han, which is inspired by Mongolian and Chinese cultures and traditions. Talk to me about the personal importance to you of landing this role, especially as it ties into your own Sino-Kadazan heritage.
Anna Leong Brophy (ALB): Someone's done their research! *laughs* Yeah, it was incredibly powerful. I hadn't read Shadow and Bone before I was cast, so I was like, 'Oh, this is a character that exists in the books who's made for me'. Tamar is mixed race; I'm mixed race. Tamar is half-Ravkan, half-Shu. I'm part Irish and part Sino-Kadazan. She doesn't grow up in those countries, which I really related to. There's a strong feeling that I think all mixed-race people have about not quite belonging, and mixed-race actors haven't always been visible on the screen. When I first watched Shadow and Bone and saw Jessie [Mei Li, who plays Alina Starkov] in that role, I got emotional. I don't think the landscape would have allowed that five years ago. To me, this role felt like an honor.
TR: How did you collaborate with Lewis Tan, who plays Tamar's twin brother Tolya, to bring authenticity and a humorous sibling rivalry to this dynamic?
ALB: I'm a big sister in real life, so I brought some of that energy to it. But, before I met Lewis, I thought we had to create an ego-less relationship off-screen for it to feel bonded and affectionate on the screen. That doesn't always happen, but Lewis was a joy to work with. We created a shared backstory and discussed how we'd grown up because it's an interesting dynamic. How does that work when it comes to love interests? How do Tolya and Tamar maneuver through meeting people in general? We came up with that together.
TR: There's a pleasing blend of physical and magical action in the Grishaverse, which you got to experience as an ax-wielding Privateer and a Grisha Heartrender. Tell me about the challenges of filming action set pieces, especially as you hail from a comedy-drama background.
ALB: It was daunting, but I was lucky to have such a reassuring and wonderful stunt team. I knew it would be all about having self-confidence because you're throwing yourself around and looking like a plum doing it! It is an interesting blend, and there aren't many ax-wielding characters, so our stunt team was very excited to work on crafting unique things for Tamar to do. She has a gun as well as the axes – and she's a Grisha, so there were lots of discussions about at what point she used what part of her armory and why.
TR: You briefly touched on the show's impact from an inclusivity perspective. How do you think Shadow and Bone differentiates itself from its fantasy peers in its portrayal of diversity and representation, particularly in its genre setting?
ALB: I feel like there's an ease in its diversity, and it wears its inclusivity lightly. Sometimes I watch shows or movies and I think, 'Oh, that person's ticked that box' and, 'They've been cast by numbers'. Obviously, fantasy hasn't been historically diverse but is making strides to diversify, which is great. But I think Shadow and Bone already does that really well. It's a character-driven series, and the inclusivity part just lives under the surface. You're absorbing it without realizing it, and I think that's the best way for matters surrounding representation to get into people's bloodstreams.
TR: Like season 1, this season takes sharp left turns over its interpretation of the source material, and there'll be some long-time fans who won't take kindly to those changes. As a creator, can you sympathize with those calls, or do you feel these creative deviations are necessary to tell a story like this?
ALB: That's an interesting question. My experience working with writers, and being a writer myself, is it's about a lightness of touch. Once you surrender your work to the world and allow it to be interpreted, that's how I think it works best. You release it and allow ownership for other things. Personally, I prefer an adaptation that's free. Those are far more interesting because you're adding to the world rather than recreating it. If you try to do a shot-by-shot adaptation, you're still not going to please everybody because people imagine it in different ways. That's the beauty of a novel. This way, I feel like you get to read the books and then experience them in a different way via the television medium.
TR: What was the most challenging scene to shoot and why?
ALB: There were a lot because the weather conditions where we shot [in Budapest, Hungary] were quite extreme. There's one scene with a bonfire and it was around 38ºC outside. You know, I'm in full Privateer gear, other actors are in their full costumes, and they're all made of wool and leather. There was no shade standing by the bonfire and the baking sun's shining down on us for a full eight hours of shooting, so it was intense.
TR: Season 2 only scratches the surface of Tamar's story from the Shadow and Bone book trilogy, plus the spin-off novels. Obviously, season 3 hasn't been greenlit yet, but are there any specific elements from Tamar's journey that you'd be keen to explore in future seasons?
ALB: There's the relationship with Nadia [Gabrielle Brooks], which would be fun to expand upon, and I think the fans would love to see that, too. But I'm also excited to see how Tolya and Tamar become whole while they're away from each other. They're two halves of the same whole and have quite a co-dependent relationship. How do you extract yourself from that and still retain your autonomy? That would be really intriguing, but I think whatever Tamar gets up to, I'll jump in feet first.
TR: Have you spoken to Eric [Heisserer, showrunner], Leigh [Bardugo, series author], and the wider creative team about season 3 yet, or is it still very hush-hush?
ALB: No, we've been completely focused on season 2 and we're still caught up in the whirlwind after its release. Now it's finally here, I'm just trying to enjoy the moment, so I think those discussions are for another time.
TR: Season 2 brings a wide range of main and supporting characters together at various junctions, and the season 2 finale sets up the potential for a third season to explore new character dynamics. Are there any specific characters you'd like to spend more time on-screen with in future seasons?
ALB: I was very jealous of Lewis getting to hang out with The Crows. You know, I wanted to hang out with Wylan, Jesper, Kaz, and Nina, so that was a contentious issue between me and Lewis. *laughs* I'd love Tamar to get some screen time with that crowd, but yeah, there's an embarrassment of riches when it comes to characters in the show, so I'm happy to share scenes with anyone.
Shadow and Bone season 2 is available to stream in full now on Netflix.
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