April 23rd marks a very important day in all of our hearts, it will be the official release date for Season 1 of Shadow and Bone. Based on Leigh Bardugo‘s Grishaverse novels, the series mainly covers the events of Bardugo’s first book of the series, also titled Shadow and Bone. But, when the show was announced, book fans were surprised to see the names of characters from Bardugo’s subsequent duology Six of Crows also in the mix. We spoke with Danielle Galligan and Calahan Skogman about their inclusion in the series and their characters’ relationship with each other, affectionally dubbed Helnik by the shippers.
For the uninitiated, Galligan and Skogman play Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar (hence the portmanteau of Helnik). Unlike their fellow Crows characters, Nina and Matthias actually have a canonical history before the events of Six of Crows. Their meeting, a tumultuous and abrasive one, eventually grows and evolves over time into something more.
Nina is a Grisha Heartrender. Grisha are people who can manipulate matter at its most fundamental levels, known as Masters of the “Small Science”. Nina is a spy in the Ravkan army, and as a Heartrender she is part of the highest order in Ravka’s Second Army trained to use her powers as a weapon.
For Galligan, approaching the idea of being a Heartrender was not a natural thing. “[It’s] quite far away from where I am. I had the idea that she’s been trained since she [was] eight years old, she’s kind of an expert in doing damage and she is her own weapon. So I tried not to think about that too much and tried to just let that come because it was almost like a given about her personality. She’s incredibly reliable when she’s a spy.”
Galligan added, “I feel there’s so many areas of her personality that are in direct conflict with the training, in terms of her hedonism, her joy, her pleasure-seeking, her naughty, cheeky side, and I suppose her need for human connection and her love of all people. I was trying to work to weave that in there as well.”
Embodying Nina’s character also meant taking on the physical training that came with the character. “I’m not really a gym-goer. I’m not,” Galligan confessed. “I have gym-timidation. But I wanted to build a lot of muscle and I wanted to build weight. I wanted to feel strong.” She notes, “There’s that one line in the book that sticks out to me, like, ‘She’s carved like the figurehead of a ship.’ And there’s something about that posture, and that leaning forward, and I wanted to have that, that presence.”
“I think with Nina, it’s not about how things look with her,” she said. “I think [how] she looks at the world is different. She experiences the world [with] all five senses. She’s about the taste of something, or the smell of something, or the experience, the feeling, the emotion of things, as opposed to how things look. So that’s when I kind of wanted to go quite inward and get my body to feel a certain way so that I feel that I could engage with the world in the way that she would. Because you know that girl has no shame. She does not care what people think of her, she will just go and get what she feels and wants.”
On the other side of the coin is Matthias Helvar. From the country of Fjerda — like a fictional Scandinavia — Matthias is Drüskelle, aka a witch hunter. The Fjerdan people are suspicious of and prejudiced against Grisha. As a country on the northern border of Ravka, this means that Grisha traveling that northern border are likely to be nabbed by these witch hunters and taken back to Fjerda for trial (one that typically ends badly for the Grisha).
For Skogman, developing a scene between him and Galligan came naturally. He said that being in scenes with Galligan inspired changes to manifest in his character in their scenes. He said, “I know I’m starting here and I have this perspective, I have to just be willing to let it take [me] where it goes. And I think with Matthias, he is, in theory, very resistant to that. But the power of Nina, this whole other life, and perspective — he does yearn to understand things. He is disciplined and has structure, but it’s like this whole new world is opening to him.”
The Matthias book readers know is a straight-laced man. He’s honorable, honest, square, the essential opposite of the group of thieves he’s ended up running with. Skogman admitted, when it came to Matthias’ progression, “It is tricky to slowly unfold.” But he added that there is a natural progression throughout the episodes. “[It’s] the little things; there might be a comment there the first time I see [Nina], like, what am I seeing in the first scene with Nina? Where it’s just like, ‘Wait a second.’ I’m, all of a sudden, thrown off. And then that kind of just builds throughout the storyline. By the time it’s ended, I have like 20 things that make me feel a particular way about her.”
“There’s love and desire and everything that you could possibly want out of the fantasy show Shadow and Bone is going to provide for you,” Skogman praised in a description of the show, and part of that is linked to the relationship between Nina and Matthias.
For Galligan, it was about hitting the proper beats in her character’s journey. “I tried not to plan it too specifically in the journey. I had marks that I wanted to hit in terms of her development and how she starts to soften towards Matthias, and I was very specific on how that happened. But I think that Nina is very much in the moment and bases her reactions off other people so I wanted to try and not plan that too much so that I could try and be live to whatever Cal was going to throw at me.”
As a confident woman, Galligan notes, “When she wants what she wants, [Nina] will go after it. And I think that that makes you very vulnerable as well, on the flip side. Because when you want something, there’s the vulnerability of not getting it and when she wants the love from Matthias, [or when] she wants the waffles, there’s a vulnerability there. I wanted to find a lot of strength in her vulnerability as well.”
Of course, Nina and Matthias’ journey is far from easy and when it came time to film their scenes, the actors often found their physical filming locations benefitted their performances. From being drenched by the sea to being chilled by the snow, it became a part of their performances.
“That was one of the amazing things about working on Shadow and Bone. Everything is there for you, and everything is real in the moment. I came up through fringe theatre,” Galligan explained, “where you don’t really have enough money to actually buy a drawer and buy a spoon put the drawer. Whereas, when you walk onto Shadow and Bone, everything is there. The sand is real. The shells are from the beach. The water is there. The elements are there. It was tough, but it felt like a gift as well. It was like, what other job can you show up to, and all of this [will] just be here for you? And you get to live in three different elements and places in one day. It was quite amazing. It felt very real, and I did feel my body was completely suspended in this in this world.”
She continued, “I think it also helps, in terms of logging into their journey and to what their bodies have been through, to actually have been through something similar. Of course, we weren’t as cold and we weren’t as wet. I mean pretty close, pretty close. Let’s be honest,” she laughed. “But I think that it was a real gift in terms of the showrunners in the show being able to create an environment that is conducive to you doing your absolute best work, we hope. I found this great craic and I treated it as a gift.”
“Yeah, it’s a unique experience,” Skogman agreed. “With Danielle and I, it’s like, when we’re showing up through this season, what are we actually going through today physically? Whether it’s being outside freezing or just sopping wet for hours and hours. And like you said, Dani, it’s not to that extent but there’s a lot of times where, we were filming a scene, [and] I’m looking at Dani and I’d be like, ‘This is actually really cool that we get to physically go through these things.’ Because at a certain point, you’re not acting tired anymore, you’re just tired, or you’re just freezing, or you’re just irritated or whatever it is. What an opportunity to be part of like a visceral acting experience.”
Galligan followed up, noting, “I think what was really special about their journey is that their physical journey kind of reflects their emotional journey in that they have to go from a place of fear and hatred, and thinking the other one is a monster, to slowly starting to see a human. And then letting go of fear, so that they’re able to open themselves to love.” She explained, “And I think that, in terms of poetic fallacy where the environment around you tends to take on human emotions, it did feel that [way]. We were constantly being reminded by the elements of the tumult that is within them, and the fight and the battle, trying to learn to love something that you hate, and letting go of that. […] It really was quite helpful in terms of that journey and how they mirrored each other.”
Well, have we got you hyped for the series, and are you Helnik shippers out there excited? Good, we’ve got more interviews coming with the cast and creators behind Shadow and Bone, so stay tuned and keep an eye on The Beat for the next scoop!
Season 1 of Shadow and Bone will premiere on Netflix on April 23rd, 2021.