Interview: Ben Barnes & Jessie Mei Li Talk Dynamics & Trust in ‘Shadow and Bone’ [EXCLUSIVE]


Ahead of the highly anticipated premiere of the second season of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone next week, Nerds & Beyond had a chance to speak with two of the show’s titular stars — Ben Barnes and Jessie Mei Li (who portray the Darkling and Alina Starkov, respectively).

Based on Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels, Shadow and Bone finds us in a war-torn world where lowly soldier and orphan Alina Starkov has just unleashed an extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her country free. With the monstrous threat of the Fold looming, Alina is torn from everything she knows to train as part of an elite army of magical soldiers known as Grisha.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

Nerds & Beyond: The dynamic between Alina and the Darkling becomes even more complicated this season. Can you talk about how you further developed the trust and chemistry off-screen?

Ben Barnes: I think that the trust that you have to build up for scenes of conflict is very much the same that you would have to build up for doing romantic scenes. It exists in the same kind of space. A lot of that is talking about your hopes and dreams for each scene and for the season as a whole. And actually asking each other …

Mei Li: “What’s important to you in this scene?”

Barnes: “What’s important to you in this moment, what’s important to you to highlight about who she’s becoming?” You’re looking at these characters quite myopically when you’re looking at the season, because it’s your job to look at it from your character’s aspect. But actually sort of discussing that, sharing that … and drinking endless cups of tea and eating biscuits. Biscuits are essential to the process. 

Attila Szvacsek/Netflix

Mei Li: Tea and biscuits are very important. We do a lot of silly, silly things in the show. But luckily, because we’re all so close, even when — we are actors, it’s our job — you can sometimes think, “Oh, this is ridiculous what we’re having to do in this scene.” So when you’re around people that you love and you trust, then you can make those bolder choices.

Barnes: There’s two types of jobs. I’ve had ones where you’re at work and then you sort of go home and you all separate. Whereas something like this, big world-building, and you’re away in Budapest together for long periods of time, they’re your found connections. If you want to socialize, that’s who you’re socializing with. If you want to drink, that’s who you’re having a drink with. If you want to get outside time and go for a breath of fresh air and a chat, it’s with these people. You’re kind of necessarily building up that trust as you go. Coming back for a second season, we obviously had that dynamic built up from that sort of more sizzling chemistry they have in the first season and that head-to-head they have in the second. 

The second season of Shadow and Bone will premiere on Netflix on Thursday, March 16. Stay tuned for our episodic recaps, review, and more!

Lindsey joined the Nerds and Beyond team in 2018. If she's not writing or out and about with her camera, she's probably watching anime, nerding out over Star Wars, reading manga, and definitely forgetting to water her plants. And waiting for the Genshin loading screen to pop up. Contact:

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