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Shadow and Bone, the new Netflix series based on the fantasy novels by Leigh Bardugo, doesn’t take place in a world we know—but that doesn’t mean the fictional land of Ravka is entirely unfamiliar. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot similarities to Russia, nods to Amsterdam, and winks at world history hidden throughout the series. And while many of the series’ characters are what is known in Bardugo’s world as Grisha—people with magical abilities to control matter—a group of the story’s protagonists are also recognizable as part of the tradition of underdogs who take on a quixotic quest to vanquish evil in their world.
One of the series’ most compelling characters is Inej Ghafa, a knife-wielding spy who becomes part of a ragtag gang attempting to change the fate of Ravka. She’s played by actress Amita Suman (a Doctor Who veteran) and gives the series some of its most enjoyable (and nail-biting) cloak-and-dagger moments. So, what did it take to turn a Budapest set into a mythical world and what does Shadow and Bone’s TV adaption hold in store for the books’ legion of fans? Here, Suman shares all.
Inej is a complicated character and one who’s integral to this story. What about her made you want this role?
As a bad-ass covert fighter, a protective friend, a crew member, an independent young woman grappling with a difficult past, and a woman of color living in a hostile and predominately white city, Inej is one of the strongest and most dynamic female characters to emerge from a fantasy series in recent years. There is just so much to love about her. She's known as the Wraith in the series, and she continually demonstrates the power of being unnoticed, overlooked, and constantly underestimated. She is an outcast and an assassin, but even though she's done some sinful things, she is still good, she's loyal, she's kind. I always ask myself, how can a character who's been through so much hell still see the beautiful things amidst all the havoc?
The series takes place in a fictional world, but one that nods at reality. Did you take any inspiration from history to play the character?
[The fictional city of] Ketterdam is basically a depiction of Amsterdam, New York, and London all combined together. And look at the characters; Leigh Bardugo has just done such an incredible job of creating relatable characters who are relevant to the time right now. Inej is an outcast, and even in a time like this [for me] being a brown actress in this industry, seeing a brown actor in this role is unusual. There are so many things that challenge the things we are dealing with today in the show.
What else about the series do you think feels contemporary?
Politics will always be a part of life, and it's a massive part in the show. So you have the Grisha who are the magical people and then you have the non-magic folk and there's a war going on between the two. All of them have their different beliefs, cultures, and traditions and when they see change coming, it's unsettling. Sometimes you have to forget about your differences and come together for the greater good.
What was the most challenging aspect of making the series for you?
One challenge for me was to find a journey with Inej from the start to the finish of the series, because this is her working towards her introduction of when you first see her in [the first of Bardugo’s books she appears in]; it’s complete prequel. I also struggled with was the cold. Inej's physicality is that she's really still, so still that you forget she's there, and when you're that cold and you just can’t stop shivering, it is really hard to stay still. That's why in most of my scenes you'll see my hands in fists instead of relaxed because I'm trying really hard not to shiver.
So, part of your job was creating a life for this beloved character that takes place in part before she was introduced in the books. What does this first season hold in store for her?
It's really hard to say this without giving anything away, but she's coming into this group of thieves and thugs and ultimately, there are things that she never thought she would do that she has to do to survive.
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