🚨 There are BIG spoilers ahead for Shadow and Bone Season 2 AND minor spoilers ahead for Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows! 🚨
If you're a fan of fantasy books, then chances are you've encountered Leigh Bardugo's beloved Grishaverse series. And even if you aren't a big reader but a fan of the fantasy genre, then chances are you've come across Shadow and Bone on Netflix. The series — which is currently sitting at #1 on Netflix's Top 10 list in the US — has a legion of devoted fans who adore this book-to-TV adaptation, namely thanks to the spot-on casting of the characters.
To celebrate Shadow and Bone Season 2, Danielle Galligan and Calahan Skogman, who portray Nina and Matthias, sat down with BuzzFeed to discuss bringing this season to life. They looked back at their audition process and their partially improvised chemistry read, discussed going from only sharing scenes with each other to only sharing stolen glances in Season 2, their real-life friendship, and much more.
Here's everything we chatted about:
1. First, just looking back, what were each of your auditions like for Shadow and Bone?
Danielle Galligan: My audition process was unorthodox. It was a tape, which [that part] is actually pretty orthodox, but then they wanted me to fly to London for a callback, but I couldn't because I was doing a show in Dublin. So, I had to do a Skype with Eric [Heisserer, the creator] and Lee Toland Krieger [director and executive producer]. It was the time before we were okay with Zoom, it was pre-pandemic. So, I mean, everything was balancing precariously on my ironing board. It was a bit of a mess. We just had a little Zoom chat and then I found out I got the part, like, a month or two later, which was crazy.
Calahan Skogman: I was the last of the bunch to join in on the party. They had been rolling for quite a while. I believe they hadn't even opened up the audition process to Americans to start off with because they were looking for someone Scandinavian from over there. My family is Scandinavian, but obviously I'm from America. Really blessed that I got to audition. It was really one of my first ones [when] I got out of grad school. There was something special about it then, and now, years later, having done plenty of auditions following that one, it's even more apparent to me that it felt right in the moment. That might sound cliché sometimes, but it really did feel like I really understood this character. I gave it my best.
2. What was the chemistry read process like and meeting each other for the first time?
DG: Originally, I had to do a few chemistry reads with a few other Matthiases — Matthiai? — and they were [looking] in London, and they couldn't really find the right fit. There were a lot of really amazing, brilliant, talented actors, but then we were flown to Budapest. I started filming because I had some solo scenes, and then there were four Matthiases on the day, and then this guy was the last one that came in.
CS: I got a phone call and an email one morning saying they wanted to fly me out to Budapest for a chemistry read. I had never done anything like that. No real professional experience on film, just theater stuff at that point, and I flew over there and met Danielle. I didn't look her up prior so I could just see her in the flesh when we arrived in the room, and I thought that'd be the best for our acting experience. We just hit it off.
3. In that first chemistry read together, was it just an instant connection — both as yourselves, but also as Nina and Matthias?
DG: There was a really nice moment because, I've sat in on auditions before and you learn a lot about the casting process, which is useful as an actor. But it was like, when Calahan walked in and it was the last of the day, and I was like, Oh, that's who it is. It was like, you didn't know what you were looking for until it walked in the door and it clicked. We did a little rehearsal, and you remember — did we even run with the lines?
DG: Yeah, I don't think we did. I think it was a communal putting down of the script.
CS: Let's just do this.
4. Had either of you read Six of Crows or any of Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse books before auditioning? Or even heard of them?
DG: Not before the audition came through.
CS: Not for the audition. I read Six of Crows on the plane [to Budapest].
Did you pull inspiration for your characters from other places prior to auditioning then?
DG: I got a lot of my info from the fans. So, thank you fans. I think you inadvertently cast me or enabled me to be cast with all of your fan art and everything. When I'm working on characters, I like to get a collage of things like songs, artwork, what their room looks like, just to have visual images. The fan artwork was so helpful because they're all so evocative and they have such attitude and stuff that I was able to understand the character more via seeing everyone else's interpretation of her because they know her so well.
Not as useful as the books, obviously, because with the books you also have a direct insight into your character's inner workings, their engines, their worries, their fears, all the subtext you could possibly want is written on the page for you. So, all hail Leigh Bardugo for that.
5. The biggest difference for both of you between Season 1 and Season 2 is you went from essentially having every scene together to only sharing two quick moments. Calahan, especially for you being so alone, what was that like?
CS: It was a season of solitude for me, in both the show and in my own life. I think that was such an incredible thing I was given, in retrospect, because Matthias is so isolated in nature anyway. So, it's almost good that I was. Throughout our time over in Budapest, I was really longing to be with [the rest of the cast] because we are so close off screen, and I just wanted to be part of it. Sometimes I would go to set and watch them do their thing or show up to the little rehearsals at one of our houses. We have a vision for this whole story. I know that I'm part of The Crows and the vision further on, but with this season, you kind of have to be patient. You have to go through that period of isolation, working by yourself, and figuring out who Matthias is.
It was, I think, maybe the most profound season in my life of figuring out who I am. It coincided really well with what Matthias was going through. It was very challenging. I got to really explore the character and the depth, and what that time alone and those thoughts can really bring to the surface, and apply them to the scene, give it darkness and brutality and the depth that I think it requires. For me, it was a huge blessing to be able to do that, although I'm still very much looking forward to getting the hell out of there and joining these guys because I think we can make something very special. And I missed acting with Dani, of course.
6. And Danielle, for you, you were thrown into a different group of actors and characters as Nina joins Kaz (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman), and Jesper (Kit Young) alongside Wylan (Jack Wolfe). How was it working with them and building those crucial relationships?
DG: Similar to what Cal said, it was like he and I established such a safe space and trust and bond with Season 1. We got such amazing feedback on our story, our performances, and our chemistry. I was kind of going, Can I do this on my own? I don't know if I can do this on my own. In college, I always learned that you're only as good as the other actor in the scene with you, and I really do believe that if both of you are on the same page, you can only grow and get better. Obviously, I shouldn't have worried because all the other Crows are stunning, stunning performers.
It was interesting because I think as humans we have a certain amount of internal and external stimulus. And in all the situations, Nina, I think, spends more time with external stimulus, in terms of she's very much a people person. She's outgoing and wants to learn and experience the world. So, it was really fun to have all this new stimulus and these new energies because each Crow is so individual and so different. I think Nina is so multifaceted and has such a strong empathy that she can offer different things to all the different Crows, which is nice. Every scene I went into, I was like, Oh, which kind of Nina are we here? You learn more about yourself through your interactions with other people, and I just learned more about her from my interactions with The Crows for sure. But I missed this big guy.
7. In Shadow and Bone Season 1, almost all of Matthias and Nina's scenes were taken directly from Six of Crows, whereas this time around, it's all new storylines created for the series. Was that more or less challenging?
CS: It was different. You're right. Our scenes in the first season, or most of them, were straight from the text. Even the dialogue was straight from the text, so you have a very clear painting of the original idea. My storyline in Season 2, Matthias's Hellgate journey, was all so imaginative. You have all these details about it but you create the universe in your own mind ahead of time, and so it's a different experience to kind of jump into what is actually on set in contrast with what you've created in your own imagination over months and months.
So that was a real thrill. To see Hellgate for the first time, to see the arena for the first time. To act with Dean [Lennox Kelly] and get scenes with Pekka. To have Matthias have something against this man because, in the books, there's a dissonance there. He's along for the ride, but now there's something personal in that vendetta as well, which I thought was so great. I think it's different.
DG: Yeah, for sure. I think the storylines wouldn't be as strong without the source material. But then, I think, they also took the source material and enhanced it.
8. Aside from your individual new storylines, one of the biggest additions is Nina actually making it to Hellgate and seeing Matthias before the events of Six of Crows. How was it getting those — although brief — reunions?
DG: Like you said, in the books, Nina tries to visit Hellgate a few times but doesn't really get anywhere. And then, when she gets in, it's only to break him out. So, for the show, to rewrite that and to make it so that she gets to Hellgate and sees him and has that moment of — I was gonna say eye contact — but unrequited, whatever the feeling is. I think that was just so much more heartbreaking. I think they just turned the dial up and pushed it to an 11, which I think was really great for me. To get there twice and have the two near misses, I think, it's so much more heartbreaking from what Nina was imagining. The reality was probably far worse.
CS: I totally agree with that.
9. Again, a lot of Matthias and Nina's relationship this season rests on two very quick moments between the two of you where there's barely any dialogue. Was it challenging to pack so much into, essentially, one glance?
DG: I felt a lot of pressure. I was like, We have this ONE beat. I find it kind of paralyzes me sometimes when you focus on one beat too much. I also remember, I have to do lots of "Matthias! Matthias!" trying to get your attention. The first time you do it, all the crowd, all the extras, are making loads of noise, and it's really loud. There's great cacophony, and you're really fine.
And then, for sound, they have to do one where the extras are all miming and making no noise. It was just the sound of my own voice in this big cave, and it really freaked me out. For that take, I was like, [whispering] "Matthias."
CS: It's a great challenge for an actor to be able to impart such a complex — and what could be a very long — story into so few scenes. I mean, you could do eight episodes of just Hellgate in my opinion.
DG: Yes! Spinoff!
10. Going off of that, this is such a big and vast ensemble series, it must be hard to pack so much of your own character's journey into the select amount of scenes you're given per season. I can imagine, especially with Season 2, that was even more challenging considering you have to somehow continue Matthias and Nina's story without sharing scenes together?
CS: Like you said, you have a select amount of scenes, and you know you have to deliver and tell that story, similar to the challenge we had in Season 1. There are so many stories to cover. There's so many brilliant actors and characters that are intriguing, but you just have to show up and deliver the few amount of scenes you're given. I spent months and months thinking about that one look in Episode 3, and then that other look when I'm getting taken out in Episode 8. I'm being dragged away, and what is that moment of desperation and this realization. How do you take months and months — and actually a lifetime — of pain and desperation for Matthias and pack it into one look?
It's a phenomenal challenge, and it's one that you literally pray for as an actor. The moment when I walk out of the fight in the arena and see her for the first time when she's almost like a mirage. After seeing it, I'm so proud of the work that we put into that behind the scenes. We didn't get a ton of time to act together this season, but when she was there, just having Danielle on set those days, it was special to me. We didn't even talk that much, really. Just to have her there. Even the eye contact between us filming the, like, 20th round of the fight. Knowing she was there and knowing we're building this moment. It really means a lot.
DG: I couldn't agree more. I think, as well, like you're saying, there was so much life and history and emotion and feelings, and everything filtered into that one second. I think that's when the real cohesion of the piece comes into focus for me because there's only so much of this that we can do. Whereas, if you're not supported by the story and by the text, all our work prior, all the writers, everyone's work prior, has given all the context to make that one moment between Nina and Matthias the most electric moment it was. I was like, I hope we nailed it. I hope we got it. But I think there's so much supporting story around it that it was good.
11. Danielle, out of all of Nina's relationships outside of Matthias, her friendships with Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta) and Inej are so important, not only in Season 2, but knowing what happens further down the line in the books. How was it getting to start building those connections this season?
DG: So, so wonderful. I think one of the writers said to me, "Oh, keep an eye out for the Zoya and Nina stuff." I was like, "Wait, what?! Excuse me?!" Obviously, Sujaya Dasgupta is such an incredible performer and a person to boot, and friend. Nina and Zoya have such a history, so to be able to even have the small tête-à-tête that we have was such a joy. Selfishly, because I just love her so much. But also, I think for the characters, it just adds a little bit more of that context, world, history. Again, that's the thing about how the series is so expansive, like, their history could be another whole episode, in the way that Cal says Hellgate could be eight episodes itself. It is sprawling and expansive, and amazing that the writers were able to keep all those plates spinning at the same time. And quite lovely that they would take the time to include a little bit of Zoya and Nina's backstory.
The Inej and Nina stuff is...what I love about it is with all The Crows stuff there's a lot of quick pans, and it's quite dynamic and there's a lot of camera movement, and all that stuff. I feel that the Nina and Inej scenes were so still in contrast. Such a different dynamic and pace and temperature, which I really, really love. Again, I could say all the same stuff I said about Sujaya about Amita Suman. An incredible actor and friend. I'm a lucky gal.
12. And finally, Calahan, what was it like exploring Matthias's Hellgate journey and working alongside Dean Lennox Kelly as Pekka Rollins?
CS: Phenomenal, really. It's another thing where I really worked with only two actors in this season again. Well, three, including Danielle. But outside of Danielle, two new actors and that's it. First, I should give a shoutout to my guy Thue Rasmussen. Brilliant actor. I think he does an incredible job. But working with Dean, that was something I looked forward to since seeing his work in the first season. There's some people you watch and you're like, That's a real actor, man. It just gets me excited. Dreaming about standing across from someone like that just to see what happens.
When I read the script and found out Pekka was going to Hellgate and he gets mixed up with Matthias, and we're actually gonna have scenes together, I was super, super, super excited to work with him. He's a professional. He goes about his work and he delivers. He's a fantastic actor with a ton of depth, and years and history and life behind him. I love those scenes so much. It's controlled, but it's still explosive. These are very vicious, masculine men, pushed to their limits. And, they're in Hellgate and anything is on the table, right? I think those scenes were really well written, even in their brevity. The point is there and the stakes are there, and the nuance and complications are there. We really don't know how that partnership is going to line up and when it turns the way it does, even in those last moments with Matthias and Pekka in the ring. There's going to be a real hatred there and that can fuel a character for seasons. So, I'm super thankful for that.