As director McG stated, the creators made a concentrated effort to make sure the casting was done “to a way that the fandom feels good about it.” Even though some of the actors aren’t exactly what Cassandra Clare describes in the books, the idea was to get the right actor for the part.
Clary (Katharine McNamara) and Jace (Dominic Sherwood) were cast relatively early, but Alex was a big puzzle and it took Alec’s creator, Cassandra Clare, to find him. Matthew Daddario is, as Cassie proudly claims, “My gift to the world!”
“Alec is important. Like really important,” explains Cassie. “I love Alec and so do a lot of readers. It’s got to be right and it’s nobody’s fault because sometimes it’s just hard to find the right person. One night I’m up late and I have access to the casting server which means all of the auditions that everybody has done. And I would never have looked at the Jace casting stuff since we had cast Dom real early and I was like ‘He’s great for it and I don’t have to look at the others.’ So I went through them all and I found Matthew who had auditioned for Jace. And I’m like ‘He’s Alec! This is Alec!’ So I called McG and I called our producer. I was like ‘This guy. This guy.’ This is not really what writers do so I was stepping over a little bit, but I was like ‘Please. I never ask you for anything (ok, that’s not true), but please look at this guy.’ And they were both really responsive. They flew him out and he auditioned and that’s how he got the part. It was a total chance thing.”
Finding the right Simon was also tricky. McG was worried since Simon is Jewish and “here comes this guy of Latin descent and I went (I’m aging myself) to Welcome Back, Kotter where Epstein (Robert Hegyes) was a Puerto Rican Jew. So I gave myself permission.”
Alberto Rosende may not be the first name that comes to mind as Simon, but he has Simon’s earnest, down-to-earth sensibility which makes you want to have him as your best friend. Also, his interplay with Emeraude Toubia (who plays Isabelle Lightwood) is pretty much what you would want to see between Simon and Isabelle. For example:
Alberto: I always shipped Clace.
Emeraude: [Aghast] You’re not supposed to say that! Sizzy! Sizzy!
Alberto: Isabelle makes Simon…not a man, but he grows up for her.
Emeraude: [Shakes her head] She makes him a man…
Emeraude is also conscious of breaking the casting mold. “Isabelle is kind of a superhero and there aren’t many female superheroes, so it’s kind of cool to be portraying such a strong character. Being strong and being confident, and feeling great in her own skin, and then being Latina, I think girls look up to me. I feel we’re breaking the mold: Latinos taking roles that are not common, the typical maid roles. I’m really happy ABC Family (now Freefrom) has opened the doors to girls like me.”
Isaiah Mustafa is also a bit different from what you may image for Luke Galloway from the books, but he has a patient, I’m-going-to-watch-the-kids-play sort of attitude. He also bonded well with Kat: “We get along almost scarily well. We have dinner once a week. We go work out together. We shop together. It’s strange. I’ve never been around a group where we’re so connected to any one person or any one group like this group here. Especially Kat.”
Assembling the ensemble was a real challenge for the creators, but then the cast had to become Shadowhunters which was quite the challenge. “We had to physically train and stunt train as well. All of us, as a team, physically transformed the way we look to become these soldiers,” says Dom.
Showrunner Ed Decter was impressed with the transformation since: “Matt and Dom thought that they were ripped until they started working out with Isaiah. It raised the level of rip-ness in the show. The women fans will appreciate the level of rip-ness.” Isaiah chuckles “They went for it and they got it. Believe me. Especially Matt. Matthew is on another level.” Ed chimes in with “I think a lot of people are going to be surprised when they see how ripped Alberto is. They are going to be shocked and surprised in a good way.”
Ed also made sure that “Occasionally, when you get into a fight, shirts get ripped off. I’m surprised how much it happens myself.” Isaiah provides a bit more context since “there are beings with claws on the show. Claws sometimes tear things.”
But physically transforming wasn’t the only physical challenge. Dom talks about how “we had to learn how to fight with swords and staffs and hand to hand combat. The gymnastics quality of these Shadowhunters is unreal. It took a big physical toll to get it done, but we enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun and the whole team behind us was amazing.”
Training was wide and varied as Kat explains: “Each weapon is made specifically for each character. Each Shadowhunter is connected to their weapon. The qualities of the weapon reflect the qualities of the character. It’s a reflection of who they are as a character and an extension of themselves.”
While Shadowhunters mostly use seraph blades, Kat “had a lot of fun with the bow staff. I had to fight with one character a few episodes in where we’re fighting with bow staffs, training and fighting. It was a lot of fun since I’ve never done anything with a weapon like that before.”
Dom’s favorite weapon is a secret since it’s “brought in the last episode. And it’s kind of a surprise for everyone. That was a lot of fun. It’s also exceptionally dangerous. I can train with these weapons for 6 months but that’s not really enough. That one was my favorite so watch episode 13 and you’ll see it.”
“Beware Emeraude’s whip and Dom’s seraph blade,” cautions Ed Decter. “Dom hits people.”
Isaiah recounts a small incident: “Dom was wielding a sword around me. He did catch me across the face, but it didn’t hurt. It was Dom. [Shrugs.] It didn’t really hurt.” No, but that response might. Ouch!
Isabelle’s whip, however, could do some damage and caused some anxiety among the cast:
Dom: Isabelle’s whip…I’m terrified. It’s a genuine, dangerous, serious weapon.
Kat: We don’t go anywhere near it. They pull it out on set and we back away. Not because she’s not amazing with it, but just because it’s a fierce weapon and we’re all terrified of it.
Alberto: It’s lethal and she just whips it like it’s nothing. She’s really safe and very good with it so I’m not THAT worried. It just makes me nervous.
Emeraude is quite comfortable with this weapon: “Oh my God! It’s so much fun and I get to do all my own stunts. I was born to do that. It’s fun because every time I pull my whip out, every guy wants to walk out of set. It’s really funny because, you would think that guys would be attracted to the whip, they run away. I’m like ‘maybe the whip is not a good idea.’”
As you can tell, the cast genuinely bonded together, and Matt is the popular choice for a real-life parabatai:
Dom: Probably Matt. Elvis! Hands down.
Kat: I’d pick, maybe Alberto. It’s different people for different reasons.
Alberto: Can I pick all of them? If I needed something brilliant at finding information and being smart, I would want to be parabatai with Matt. If I needed someone to take me on an adventure and be the guy that takes me out of my comfort zone, I’d pick Dom. If I needed someone that I want to relax, talk about movies and musicals with, I’d pick Kat. And if I needed someone to go eat amazing food and dancing, I’d pick Emeraude. It depends on the situation.
Emeraude: Maybe I would pick Matt. I don’t have any brothers; I’m an only child. I feel that we have that relationship. He always makes fun of me.
And to illustrate that brother/sister bond, Emeraude points out that Matt “laughed at my dress today. I need to smack him.” Matt smirks and answers with “It is a great dress. That’s the highest slit I’ve ever seen…”
Speaking of clothing, Harry Shum Jr. has some major looks as Magnus Bane: “He’s going to look different every single episode. It’s going to be fun. My first fitting was three hours. I had so much fun working with the wardrobe department. We created a lot of things from scratch. We built suits, jackets and work things out with the hair and makeup. We whittled it down to 45 minutes from an hour and a half. This isn’t right. We need to erase this and this. It’s too much makeup and then too little and not enough glitter. It’s been a fun process.”
But all this training and fashion is in service of the greater story and this story is thousands of pages long. The cast has, to varying degrees, read Cassie’s books. Matt says, “We talk with her and her voice is in the books. In the times we’ve spoken to her, she’s given us insight.”
“Sometimes when you do a TV show, you are creating on your own,” adds Harry. “Sometimes you need a little guidance and it’s really nice to have for me; I have The Bane Chronicles so I literally have centuries of history I can go to.”
Alberto became the resident expert since he read all the The Mortal Instruments books: “I definitely became a fan. This is the first entire book series that I’ve read which is kind of weird since I do read a lot. I fell in love with it right away and I fell in love with these characters and the fact that we’re going to be part of the story now further motivates me.”
While reading the books, Alberto saw himself as Simon since “I knew that I wanted to be a Shadowhunter, but I knew that I wasn’t. So I why I knew that I was Simon.”
Despite Emeraude’s protests, Alberto did indeed ship Clace: “I knew that Clary and Jace were just meant to be. Simon, in the books, he does let go of Clary and I had to as a reader, too. When the Sizzy relationship started to evolve in book 4, 5 and 6, I was like ‘Oh yeah. Alright! That’s it.’”
Are you excited to see Shadowhunters yet? Here’s a sneak peak with many of those Shadowhunters weapons in action as Clary visits Pandemonium:
The first extended look at Shadowhunters will be on December 6th when ABC Family airs Beyond the Shadows: Making the Shadowhunters. Then Shadowhunters premieres on Freeform on January 12th.
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