We’re officially one week away from the release of Shadow and Bone. Are you tired of the coverage yet? Me neither. In our final interview for Shadow and Bone we spoke with Leigh Bardugo, the writer and creator of the Grishaverse novels, and Eric Heisserer, the showrunner behind the series to talk about what it took to develop a show like Shadow and Bone.
We talked to Bardugo and Heisserer about working with Netflix, developing a new fantasy series, incorporating the Six of Crows characters, and Bardugo’s cameo in the series! We also spoke briefly with Archie Renaux about how the change in the point of view affected the way he approached his character Mal Oretsev.
Taking It Seriously
Being a popular fantasy book series means that, eventually, the author will be courted by Hollywood for the inevitable adaptation. We spoke with Leigh Bardugo about working with Netflix and how it was different and stood out from the rest of the pack. “So, originally the rights [to Shadow and Bone] were acquired by Netflix back in 2012. And, you know, as is common in Hollywood, the executive who brought that story in then left and Shadow and Bone kind of languished there for a while. But once the rights became available again, we’re in a sort of a strange situation. You know, what they do in Hollywood is they bring you to a lot of meetings and they kind of butter you up and tell you you’re great, and give you a tiny bottle of water.”
“And then they talk about your books as if they haven’t read them. And that really changed when we got to Netflix. One of the first things one of the executives said was, ‘We take the stories of young people seriously.’ For me, this has always been about finding the right partner. And I was very lucky because from the first time Eric and I sat down together at that lunch, we were really very much on the same page. Sometimes trusting your gut goes horribly, but in this case, I think it was the right gamble.
For Eric Heisserer, it helped that shows like Game of Thrones had laid the groundwork for a fantasy show that would bring in mainstream audiences and big numbers. “It helps to know that it has been done before, it is useful when you’re trying to tell producers or studio execs or network execs that this is a thing that can be built and built well. So, it serves that much. But then you also need to make sure that you’re carving out your own space, and that you don’t feel like you’re just regurgitating a show they’ve seen before.”
A Different Perspective
A major departure from the original Grisha trilogy is the fact that we are able to see the story from new points of view. Shadow and Bone and its subsequent two books are written in first-person through the eyes of Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li). The series allows us to see what is happening outside of her experiences in Ravka. One of those new perspectives has been seeing the series through the eyes of Archie Renaux’s Mal Oretsev, Alina’s childhood best friend.
Renaux talked about this in our interview. “The main thing that I wanted to do was to make him human and relatable. In the books, we don’t get to see his journey. Whereas, here, we do. And there’s a lot of torture that happened, a lot of terrible things happened on his journey. Whereas, in the books, we always see it from Alina’s point of view. And the fans…they don’t best like Mal, some of them don’t anyway,” he admitted. “They feel very passionately about that. But I really hope in this series, people get to see his struggles and how much he will do, you know, go to the ends of the earth, just to make sure that Alina is alright because this is his best friend we’re talking about and he’ll just do anything and everything for her.”
Of course, it is no secret that the book version of Mal has often been labeled as toxic (this io9 headline is not lying), but show Mal brings the character to a new light. Part of it has to do with seeing the story through Mal’s eyes, but another part of it has to do with the charm and earnestness that comes with Renaux’s performance and his chemistry with Jessie Mei Li (everyone has a lot of chemistry with Li, she’s a fantastic cast). As a person who has spent many a tweet explaining why Mal is not a good match for Alina, Renaux’s performance really has me changing my tune.
It’s been nine years since Shadow and Bone was originally published. And in that time, Bargudo’s writing has definitely evolved. Given the gap of time, we asked Bardugo if she was open to some of the changes being made in her stories now that it has been adapted. “I think I’ve become a better writer, as I’ve progressed,” Bardugo explained. “I think Six of Crows is not a book I could have written at the beginning of my career. I think there are things that I tried to pull off in Shadow and Bone that I probably could have done better and my feeling was always the show should get it right. There’s, for me, not a lot of ego involved in that, I want to see the best story possible.”
“I want people to be invested in these characters on this journey, as much as possible. And I wanted to see all of it brought together. So a big part of that was making this deal with Eric and then entering into collaboration that would not always mean agreement. But that would mean we challenged each other in respectful ways.” Some of that meant trusting Heisserer with his suggestion to bring the Six of Crows characters into the story early, which Bardugo was initially unsure about.
Watching the show come to life also meant that Bardugo could physically step into the worlds that she created. She has her own cameo scene in Episode 3 of the series, but, she joked, it wasn’t exactly the cameo she wanted. “I asked Eric if I could die horribly. But, you know, maybe we get a season two,” she laughed. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed for a season two, Leigh!
If you can’t tell, I’m massively excited for the world to watch the series. We’ll be coming to you with more articles next week and after the series releases next Friday. Get buckled up, people, we’re only a week away!