In January, Freeform (the new name of ABC Family) launches a new series based on the wildly popular Shadowhunters books by Cassandra Clare. The cast and creators made their first public appearance to reveal the opening 6 minutes of the premiere episode at New York Comic Con. I was lucky enough to interview these folks and there was so much to talk about that I’m splitting this two parts: Welcome to Shadowhunters (getting it right for the fans) and Meet the Shadowhunters (all about the characters/cast).
If you’re not familiar with the books, City of Bones is the first of six books in The Mortal Instruments series set in the Shadowhunters world where part-angelic humans, called Shadowhunters, fight demons. Clary Fray is drawn into this world when her mother goes missing and she learns about her true heritage. Is that enough of a tease to get you interested? Cassandra Clare has over 35 million books in print so that many readers can’t be wrong.
In fact, City of Bones has already been made into a film so this TV incarnation is a second chance at visualizing the books. Author Cassandra Clare praises the production company, Constantin Films for their “recognition that this is strong material that has a huge fan base and if they didn’t make it work, then it’s not because of the books. I think they looked at it and thought that the books are loved by a lot of people across the world very sincerely so if we didn’t get the story to them in the right way then that’s on us and we’re going to do it again.”
This time around, the material is being cared for by Ed Decter, TV showrunner veteran of Helix, who is working hard to adapt the book for a new medium. “This is a whole new clean slate,” Ed explains. “We started from the beginning. A new take on the material. It’s using Cassandra’s characters maybe in a little different combination than you’ve seen them, but ultimately delivering some of the big moments that everybody’s really expecting.”
Ed is not only adapting the books into a new medium, but he’s also leveraging the fact that they already know what happens in books 2 through 5: “There are certain things we know we’re headed toward many seasons down the road, if we’re lucky. So we used our opportunity to maybe set up some things up. I think that the really passionate fans will see. They’ll go ‘Wait a minute. That happens in another book’ and then they’ll realize what we are setting up. That this could happen in the universe. That’s what we’re doing.”
Ed Decter, Dominic Sherwood, Cassandra Clare, Matthew Daddario, Katherine McNamara, Harry Shum Jr, Alberto Rosende, Isaiah Mustafa, McG and Emeraude Toubia
He stresses that “we’re honoring the relationships, the character and the work, especially the big 7 characters” and gives an example of a tweak made to play up a big moment further down the road [SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT]: “This happens in television and films all the time. The character Maureen has a big part to play in the show at some point, but she was introduced as a fan of the band. We just put Maureen in the band so that we could get to know that character better and then whatever happens with Maureen (the big event with Maureen), we’ll know her a little better than having just been a fan that was introduced. We are heading, potentially, in the same direction as the book, but we just shifted a little bit with a character that Cassandra already created.”
Director McG (Chuck, Charlie’s Angels and Terminator Salvation) is comfortable with Ed’s direction for the show despite the material’s very tricky mix of drama, action, humor and tears which “dances on the head of a pin. It’s tricky tone to nail, but for some reason, that’s what makes sense with the voices in my head. That’s the way the material wants to come out. But having said that, I say with the greatest respect that Cassie writes the books, I direct a couple episodes, but Ed creates the show. Hopefully we can get it right and hopefully Ed has done a good job of interpreting and capturing the spirit of Cassie’s great work.”
“Speaking to the voices in your head,” Cassie chimes in, “you’re either drawn to the idea of a dark, supernatural world that has an edge of humor that’s going to be very significant to the storytelling, or you’re not. If you are bothered by the fact that it’s serious, but also funny, then I don’t think its material that calls to you.”
While Cassie isn’t in the writers’ room, she did insist on including a key scene in the book that was omitted from the movie [SPOILER ALERT]: “Jace has marked Clary while she was dying with a healing rune. Then she wakes up and is like ‘You marked me.’ And he’s like ‘Yeah I marked you with a healing rune because I thought you were a Shadowhunter.’ And she’s like ‘but I hadn’t been a Shadowhunter I would’ve died.’ And he’s like ‘Yeah, but I was 90% sure.’ And then she hits in in the face. He’s like ‘What’s that for?’ She’s like “that’s the other 10%.’ That, to me, is the grit in Clary that says this girl, who is an ordinary girl and hasn’t been challenged in this way, has this backbone of toughness to be a heroine and it’s also the moment that says to Jace you cannot jerk this girl around.”
“I don’t know if Cassie knows this, but that wasn’t in the pilot, says McG. “I’m beating her up ‘Please, please talk to me! I want to get a few more clues.’ She’s on the other side of the world and she’s gracious enough to speak to me. And she talked about that moment and that night I reinserted that moment. I’m so proud of the way it worked out so great. It’s worth its weight in gold.”
McG is also encouraging Ed to get feedback from another source: “I like Ed Dector and I think he’s done a real good job and we’ve become really good friends. I want to constantly challenge him to listen. I want him to listen to you guys. Listen to the fandom and not get caught in a k hole and be sensitive. He’s got some tricks up his sleeve regarding Church and what have you.”
(Cassie jokes with “I’m interested now! In the end, it turns out that Jace is the cat!”)
At this point, the roar of the fandom on social media can’t be ignored. Matthew Daddario (who plays Shadowhunter Alec Lightwood) recounts his first hours as a newly appointed Shadowhunter: “When I was cast, they told me ‘you have one hour to do the following things: give us your Twitter handle and yada yada and then we’re releasing [a casting announcing to the public].’ And then after an hour, all of the sudden, my phone is just going dzzzzzzzzz and there’s thousands, thousands, of people saying welcome. Until then, I had no real understanding.”
“With Glee I thought I understood that,” adds Harry Shum Jr. (aka Magnus Bane, the warlock with the most original fashion sense). “I was like ‘Yeah, yeah yeah, I get it.’ I did the same thing. I put a video up and it was just nuts. It was so awesome to be part of something where they haven’t even seen a single thing and have that kind of support.”
Alberto Rosende (who plays Clary’s best friend Simon Lewis) is also feeling the fan love: “All of it’s been supportive, but there’s still that pressure, because you don’t want to let them down.”
Ed’s in agreement since “the most challenging part of doing something that has this passionate a fan base is delivering what they’re hoping for, being true to the characters and really honoring Cassandra’s work, but also delivering some surprises. So we’re hoping that the fans will go ‘Wait a minute. That didn’t happen in the book. Oh! I see where they’re going with that.’ And it ends up where I’m dreaming that it would up.”
McG, no stranger to very high profile, familiar titles is also eager to get the adaption right for the fans: “I take it tremendously seriously. I’m a huge fan of the books as well. I want to do right by Cassie. It’s clear the passion of the fan base and you want to get it right. I remember being in charge of Charlie’s Angels and there was definitely a good version of that and a bad version of that. I think I surrounded myself with really smart, talented people and we got it more right than wrong and I think we were happy with that. And then I had to try to shoulder the responsibility of Terminator and that was really, really tough following in the footsteps of James Cameron. I tried to deliver Christian Bale. I did the best I could, add elegance and class. We did a few things right and we definitely missed on a few levels and it didn’t age as well as I wanted it to. So here I am at the footsteps of what Cassie’s has put forward and I simply can’t express the degree to which I take it seriously. I want to get it right in capturing the essence of what she put forward and express it in this new medium. And I try to use Game of Thrones/Song of Fire and Ice as my north star where the television expression and the literary expression are both excellent and one hand compliments the other. It’s very, very tricky to do we should be so lucky, but I can say, with my heart full, that I’m very, very respectful of it and I hope that we got it right. And I think our first step of casting well was done to a way that the fandom feels good about it.”
And what about that casting? I’ll be back with part two of this interview with more from Matt, Harry and Alberto and also insight from Katherine McNamara (Clary Fray), Dominic Sherwood (Shadowhunter Jace Wayland), Emeraude Toubia (Shadowhunter Isabelle Lightwood) and Isaiah Mustafa (Clary’s father figure, Luke Garroway) as they talk about who’s best at fighting demons, losing their shirts in fights and why the guys run away from a sexy girl with a whip.
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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