Interview: Danielle Galligan tells us all about filming Shadow & Bone

Dublin native Danielle Galligan plays a badass female warrior in the brand new Netflix series Shadow and Bone, which is quite possibly one of the most highly anticipated fantasy series of the year, already likened to cult classic Game of Thrones.

As a long-term fan of the Grishaverse novels, it’s fair to say that I’ve been looking forward to this adaptation for quite some time. For those who don’t know, Shadow and Bone is based off a series of hugely popular fantasy novels, expertly written by Leigh Bardugo, with Galligan playing one of the infamous starring roles, Nina Zenik.

One afternoon recently, Danielle and I met up over zoom and chatted about all things Grishaverse, including how she’s been handling the insurmountable pressure from the fans, stepping into a refreshingly strong and witty female role and what it's been like to work on a show where diversity is at the forefront.

As the show already comes with a ready-made devoted fanbase, that inevitably puts an awful lot of pressure on Danielle, who wondered whether or not she could live up to their expectations.

“I definitely did feel the pressure,” Danielle confessed with a bubble of nervous laughter, before going on to explain how the character of Nina “is so beloved and you’re trying to step into shoes that, you know, belong to so many different women who’ve read these books. Everyone has their own Nina and I think that’s down to Leigh’s writing — she writes them so specifically and vibrantly.”

Danielle went on to talk about how connected she felt to the character of Nina, only to realise that “so many other people had probably had that feeling as well.”  However, even before anyone had seen Danielle playing the part, a lot of fans had already made up their mind that she wasn’t a good fit visually, and voiced this opinion on social media.

Taking it on the chin, Danielle commented, “I hope that whether I look ‘right’… you know, I can’t control that. I’m born a certain way and I have a certain amount of control over the way I look, but I can’t be everyone’s vision of Nina.”

“My favourite thing about Nina is that she lives for the experiences of things. She lives to feel and to touch and to smell and to connect with people, and it’s not about how things look! She loves and celebrates and embraces herself and all the people. That, for me, is how I hope people perceive her. She’s into the experience and not necessarily caring about what she looks like or how people perceive her.”

One of the big reasons why I found the Shadow and Bone books so utterly brilliant, is purely because of the sheer quantity of strong, badass female characters — Nina Zenik included. When I asked how Danielle felt to be one of these warrior women, she said, “It felt amazing! I feel like women often fall short compared to the men in character briefs, and this is the absolute opposite of that.”

“Leigh Bardugo’s characters are so brave and so strong and have such courage, but on the opposite of that they also have vulnerabilities and complexities and insecurities as well. She seems to have woven them all into the fabric of this human.”

After having a sneak peak at the new Netflix series, it’s clear to see that they’ve stayed true to the books in every way that counts — including the amount of diversity.

The story takes place across Russia in the midst of the 1800s, with a variety ethnicities, minorities and class divisions featured throughout. Speaking about the show’s diversity, Danielle said, “Leigh Bardugo has worked really, really hard to create an array of experiences and shapes and sizes and colours so that multiple people can feel represented and empowered.”

“All of these characters are infallible but very empowering for people from various backgrounds. I know that when they were casting Alina [the main character], Leigh made it very specific that Alina had to be half Shu, so that’s an issue in the series as well. I think that reflects back to society — most recently with the Asian hate crimes, which are horrific.”

“This show has chosen to take some responsibility to speak against that, and we are a step in the right direction. What I love about it, is that it all feels very natural. It doesn’t feel like a choice and it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to say something. It just feels like these are the characters and I think that’s the most powerful thing ever because the more you make a big deal about it or make a statement or other, it then becomes ‘other’. Whereas I almost kind of forgot — which I think ideally is the place where we should get to.”

Shadow and Bone is Netflix’s latest high-fantasy series, which 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 Shadow Fold looming, Alina is torn from everything she knows to train as part of an elite army of magical soldiers known as Grisha. 

But as she struggles to hone her power, she finds that allies and enemies can be one and the same and that nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. There are dangerous forces at play, including a crew of charismatic criminals, and it will take more than magic to survive.

The series brings together the stories and characters of Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows, two books from Leigh Bardugo’s New York Times and USA Today bestselling Grishaverse novels, which have been translated and sold in over 38 languages around the world.

This eight-episode series premiered on Netflix last week, and you can check out the trailer below;