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'Shadow and Bone' cast brings humor, endurance to Netflix adaptation

Jessie Mei Li plays Alina Sarkov, the hero of Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone. Photo courtesy of Netflix 
Jessie Mei Li plays Alina Sarkov, the hero of Leigh Bardugo's "Shadow and Bone." Photo courtesy of Netflix 

LOS ANGELES, April 22 (UPI) -- Shadow and Bone is the Netflix series adaptation of Leigh Bardugo's series of fantasy-adventure books. Cast members said it was important to preserve the humor found in the books, and to keep up with the physical re-creation of her epic.

The fantasy depicts the region of Ravka, whose colonies are separated by a barrier called the Shadow Fold. Jessie Mei Li plays Alina Starkov, called The Sun Summoner because she has the power to create light. Mei Li said that Bardugo told her to make sure Alina is funny in the Netflix show.

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"In the book, she's so witty," Mei Li said in a Zoom roundtable. "We're in her head, so she has all these little sarcastic comments and things."

Alina survives an attack by the Fjerdan while crossing the Shadow Fold. She trains to develop her powers throughout the first season.

"They brought to life some really intense traumatic events for Alina," Mei Li said. "It was a fine line to walk between having a sense of humor and being able to laugh at the world, but not making her seem like she wasn't taking it seriously."

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Alina becomes separated from her friend, Mal (Archie Renaux), while crossing the Shadow Fold. Ravka's First Army drafts Mal, and the show portrays more of his journey than the book, which was told from Alina's perspective.

"People get to see his struggles," Renaux said. "He'll go to the ends of the Earth just to make sure that Alina's alright because that's his best friend we're talking about."

Shadow and Bone viewers also will meet Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) as a prisoner on a boat with captor Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman). Galligan said that Matthias and Nina resist growing closer as they survive a storm and a harsh journey through Ravka together.

"Their physical journey reflects their emotional journey," Galligan said. "We were constantly being reminded by the elements of the tumult that is within them as well."

Skogman said that filming in Budapest, Hungary, was not quite as intense as Nina and Matthias' experiences in Ravka. However, Skogman said filming on location in the elements helped their performances.

"At a certain point when you're not acting tired anymore -- you're just tired, you're just freezing or you're just irritated," Skogman said. "What an opportunity to be part of a visceral acting experience."

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Nina also speaks the Fjerdan language in Shadow and Bone. Galligan learned the fictional language, created by David J. Peterson, who also developed Dothraki for Game of Thrones.

"I loved speaking Fjerdan," Galligan said. "My voice always dropped two octaves, and I'm not sure why. It was quite aggressive."

Another group of characters in Ravka is the Dregs, a gang of thieves trying to cross the Fold for a big score. Freddy Carter plays Dreg leader Kaz, who walks with a cane. Carter said Bardugo, who uses a cane due to osteonecrosis -- a disease that can cause the death of bone cells -- told him she wrote to Kaz to say how she grew to love her own cane.

"What I took on board and really wanted to embody was something that never stopped him doing anything," Carter said. "In fact, [it] made him stronger."

Kaz's Dregs also include Jesper (Kit Young) and Inej (Amita Suman). Jesper twirls a pair of pistols, which Young had to practice. Young said he broke the first pair of prop guns.

"I was given another pair to go home and practice with," Young said. "Now they're just extensions of my arm, and I'm constantly playing around with them."

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Inej uses a set of knives hidden strategically around her body. Suman practiced with a set of 14, and said the props help her develop her character. Inej names her knives after saints, so Suman said she doesn't want to part with a single knife unless absolutely necessary.

"I really had to ask myself is this from the character's point of view, 'Is this really worth using such deadly weapons?'" Suman said.

Galligan also praised the level of detail in the Shadow and Bone sets. She said handling Ravkan money and reading prop books written in Ravkan language helped her feel immersed in the world.

Mei Li also said the level of detail on the set made her performance easier. The actors did not have to imagine fantasy elements in front of a green screen, Mei Li said.

"I feel like the world that Leigh created is so immersive and so exciting that you can just get lost in it," Mei Li said. "The production value on this show and the amount of passion that went into it just made everything so believable. It felt really easy just to slip into it."

Shadow and Bone premieres Friday on Netflix.



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