‘It's going to be such a treat for the fans’: Anna Leong Brophy On Season 2 Of Shadow and Bone
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‘It’s going to be such a treat for the fans’: Anna Leong Brophy On Season 2 Of Shadow and Bone

The much anticipated second season of Shadow and Bone lands on Netflix on Thursday

Arriving on Netflix this Thursday is the much-anticipated second season of Shadow and Bone. Based on Leigh Bardugo’s ‘Grishaverse’ – the universe explored in two of her book series, Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows – the first season landed in April 2021 to critical acclaim, and fans have been eagerly awaiting the second instalment. As well as sought-after approval from the existing fan base, Shadow and Bone attracted a new cohort of fans to boot – including Anna Leong Brophy. ‘I immediately binged the whole season,’ Anna tells us, having been recommended it by her comedy partner. And now Anna plays Tamar, a ‘pretty formidable’ twin not too distant from her own personality. We sat down with Anna to chat all things Shadow and Bone – from working on a show she was a huge fan of to psyching herself up for action scenes – as well as finding silence and toying with the idea of standup comedy.

Interview: Anna Leong Brophy On Starring In Shadow and Bone Season 2

Two images of Anna Leong Brophy

Makeup by Maria Asadi. Styling by Jennifer Michalski-Bray. Photography by Niko Mitrunen.

Hi Anna, thanks for joining us today. How does it feel to be part of the next season of Shadow and Bone?

I’m really excited for the show to come out! It’s been a long time coming, and now it feels almost surreal. It’s such a fun show, and this season it’s so gripping that when the scripts for each episode would come through, I was reading them onset on my phone and emailing the writers. They’d be like, ‘woah, woah, you’ve already read it?’. And I was like, ‘I had to know!’ I think it’s just going to be such a treat for the fans – which I am one of, as well.

When did you wrap?

We wrapped last summer. Because it’s a fantasy show, there’s a lot of post production that has to be done to it. So they’ve all been working away behind the scenes whilst we’ve all been like ‘ooh, can’t wait for it to come out.’ But it’s looking amazing.

Were you a fan of the show before you auditioned for it, or did it happen in reverse?

It kind of happened simultaneously, because I hadn’t seen it, although I’d just recently been recommended it, weirdly. My comedy partner had said, ‘Have you seen Shadow and Bone? You should be in Shadow and Bone!’. And I was like, ‘yeah, I should be in all sorts of things!’ [laughs] So she recommended it to me, and then when the casting came through, I was like, ‘OK, cool, I’ll watch a bit of it’, and then immediately just binged the whole season. Then I thought, ‘Oh no. If I don’t get the part, I am now just like a rabid Shadow and Bone fan, just really disappointed that I didn’t get it’. So when I first met the core cast, I was like, [gasps] ‘I’m such a fan’.

What was it like joining a preexisting cast?

Yeah, it was quite intimidating to be honest, because I thought they did such an amazing job as an ensemble. And you think god, they’re all so young! How did they do it? So I was intimidated, but I immediately was made to feel incredibly comfortable. I remember once I was in the gym practicing stunts and things like that. I went down to the changing room, hadn’t met any of the cast, and Jessie Mei Lee, who plays the lead role, saw me in the reflection of the mirror, and she just went [mimics smiling and pointing]. The casting director said she was looking for people that would fit with the really good family vibe that they’d created in the first season, so it ended up being a really nice blend of new people with old, and no one made us feel like newcomers.

Could you tell me about your character?

Absolutely. My character, Tamar, has a twin brother. They are both heart renders which means, in the Grishaverse (in the world of Shadow and Bone), that they can control people’s hearts, their blood flow, stop and start, things like that. So they’re gifted, they have these powers, but they’re also warriors. They’ve been trained up by their dad. And they’re pirates. My character is an ace with axes – that’s her weapon of choice. But it’s also important to her character – and, I guess, sort of unusual in fantasy, which is often a very white world – that she’s mixed race. So she and her brother kind of live betwixt and between two worlds, not being quite accepted by either, which has made her quite fiery. She’s always ready to defend herself, and she’s very capable of doing that. She’s a pretty formidable person.

Wow – is that quite a reach from your own character? What was it like getting into character?

Well, certainly, I can’t claim to have any magical powers myself – that I’ve discovered yet. But I could really relate and, when I auditioned for the role, I really wanted to bring myself to it. So she is, as I play her, very close to myself. I am definitely a bit of a hothead – or have been in the past – and I really relate with this feeling of not quite fitting in. You know, with the white side of the family, Asian side of the family – where do you fit? I think you can grow a little bit of a husk of defensiveness or wit around that. She maybe is a little bit more pointed in that direction but, especially when I was younger, I’ve definitely been like, ‘I’ll take anyone on, I’ll take anyone on!’ [laughs]. She’s also really protective of her brother, and I’m also really protective of my own brother, so I felt like I didn’t have to reach too far. Probably the furthest thing away from me is that she’s got absolute self confidence. Never doubts herself in a fight. Always backs herself. If she’s pursuing a cause, then it’s the right cause. Whereas I’m much more likely to be like, ‘Oh, ooh, uhh…’ Prevaricating. So I do envy her that. She’s decisive.

Did you have any quirky ways you got into character on set? How do you psych yourself up for stunts and scenes?

That makes me think of a very early moment on set… I like to energise myself, because sometimes you can be sitting around a lot between takes. And I had this amazing costume – the wardrobe department is incredible – with axes and stuff like that. Early on, when there was going to be a big fight scene, I was thinking, ‘OK, come on, got to bring your A game. Energize. Bring it back into your body, ‘and I was jumping up and down and shaking myself. And then all of my belts – all my axes, everything – fell off! Like a game of Buckaroo, just things clanging on the floor. Everyone’s like, ‘What? Hold the roll! What’s that?’ So that was a bit embarrassing… But normally, I would try and do some shadow boxing or jumping up and down. Tamar lives on her wits and she’s very front footed, so you’ve got to be in the body.

Watch the trailer for the first season of Shadow and Bone below…

Is Shadow and Bone the kind of show you saw yourself going into? Fantasy and stunts?

I think it’s been a journey. When I watched the show originally, I was very moved to see Jessie Mei Lee in the lead role, because that just wasn’t really conceivable for a long time. And so I didn’t allow myself, perhaps, to imagine that I could be in certain roles. I feel like the industry has come a long way in that respect, and the more you see it, the more you can be it, you know? Even now with Michelle Yeoh getting recognised for 30 years of work – it’s really inspiring. But then I would say, at the same time, baby Anna, who didn’t really have all these societal worries, would have been like, ‘Yeah, I can do anything!’ Shadow and Bone is like a dream come true in terms of fulfilling your childhood desires because, as a kid, you live in fantasy. You think, if you’re going to play a part, you’re going to be the coolest person, and they’re always going to win the fight, and they’re going to make a difference. So it feels like a gift to my childhood self to be able to do that.

Did you always want to be an actor, then?

I think I wanted to be an actor, and then I wanted to be a director. I always wanted to work in the industry. I also write and I bore easily, so any creative endeavor, something that’s always fresh, really appeals to me. I definitely thought everybody wanted to be an actor when I was a kid. And there was a time where I was going down a more academic route, but then I thought, ‘Nah! This is what I want to do.’

Yeah, you do lots of other things alongside acting, including radio, podcasts, and you recently presented the Critics Circle Film Awards. What’s been your most exciting project so far?

Hosting the Critics Circle Awards would definitely, definitely be up there. I’d been threatening for quite a long time to do some stand up. I hadn’t done it, because it’s so scary. But then I thought, ‘Oh, OK. I see. I’m doing my first bit of stand up in front of Bill Nighy, Cate Blanchett, Michelle Yeoh… OK! This is pretty cool and scary!’ But luckily it was well received, so that was really fun. And now I’m currently working on a new live comedy show with my sketch partner. That’s always really enjoyable – being in front of a live audience again.

Did you get to meet a lot of actors at the awards?

Well, I was essentially coerced – in a good way, benevolently coerced – into going and saying ‘hi’ to some of the big inspirational names that were there. So I had a lovely chit chat with Cate Blanchette. She’s great. And I’m half Malaysian, Michelle Yeoh is Malaysian, so she has always been a huge inspiration for me. Getting to meet her was… Let’s just say I’ve got a lot of cousins now who are very, very jealous. I’ve gone up in their estimation, for sure.

Did presenting give you the confidence to do stand up?

Ha! I’m going to say yes, because it’s good to give yourself something to aim for. It’s just terrifying, but I do love doing things I find terrifying and coming out the other side saying, ‘I’m alive! I did it!’. I think it’s good to scare yourself.

What’s been your favourite acting role so far?

I really enjoyed working on Back, which was with David Mitchell and Robert Webb. That was probably the first time that I got to play a fun, comedic role. And to work with those two icons of British comedy who, particularly because they’ve worked together for so long, watching them work together was a real joy. Just to be on set and watch them at work.

Who has been your co-worker/co-star to work with in the past?

I know this is going to sound cliché, and we have spoken a lot about Shadow and Bone, but playing a twin was really special. The guy playing my twin, Lewis Tam, is just amazing. He’s been in the industry for such a long time. We really did click, like mentally – you have to create a shared history with a twin. But he’s also an amazing martial artist. So getting to do some of my first big fight scenes with somebody who is not only incredible to watch but also incredibly generous and insightful when it comes to movement – that was a real gift.

Anna Leong Brophy in Shadow and Bone

(L-R) Lewis Tan as Tolya and Anna Leong Brophy as Tamar in episode 208 of Shadow and Bone. Dávid Lukács/Netflix © 2022

Who is someone you’ve learned a lot from in your career?

I used to do a lot of improvising, and I learned a lot about how to be generous with other actors in that respect – it’s the same thing with working with an ensemble. I think you can go into acting thinking that it’s all about you, but it really isn’t. Well, not if you’re doing it right, I think. This is a bit left field, but I trained under someone called Ken Campbell, who is this real theatre maverick and a bit of an oddball of the British theatre scene for many years. He taught me a lot about being irreverent. Particularly as a woman, as a young woman, you get seen by the industry in a certain way, but he taught me a lot about throwing all of those worries about how you look or how people are looking at you aside, and just thinking, ‘what’s fun, what’s interesting and what’s different that you’re able to bring to the table?’ He’s no longer with us.

And you said you’re working on something new with your sketch partner…?

Yeah, the last thing we did together was a Radio 4 show, and then we took a break, she had a baby, there was a pandemic… I think pretty much when Shadow and Bone airs is when we’re going to be doing our first new live shows in London – so that’s really, really fun. It’s something you have complete creative control over and input into – to create something very much in our shared voice, and that’s just really, really silly and fun, that makes us laugh. It’s a real blessing, I think, to spend the whole day absolutely in stitches, and it’s my job.

Do you have anything else in the pipeline that you’re working on that you’re excited about?

Right now, no. I’ve just moved house, and I’ve taken a bit of a break to get my ducks back in a row. So I’m the resting actor at the moment, but I’m really excited to see what’s coming up. I’m now hungry again, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next, and what the universe is going to present to me.

Can you tell me about your new place?

Yeah, I’ve just moved in, and I’m really enjoying putting it all together and making it like a little cosy nest for when I get to escape. So the time is perfect right now – I can get everything as I would like it, and hopefully it will be set for when that time comes back around. I’m just hanging out with my cats at the moment. Just hanging out with my cats, and painting.

Sounds amazing. Are you based in London or the countryside?

I’m in southeast London. I was thinking about leaving London, particularly because I love gardening. But my tribe is here. And being away with work so often, I thought ‘no’. But the great thing is now I feel like I’m so close to not-London. Before, I felt like I couldn’t escape, but now I can just jump in the car and be like, ‘Trees! Nature!’.

What is your interior design style?

I feel like I’m only just discovering exactly what it is. I’m a big fan of Beata Heuman’s style. I like things to be quite eclectic and fun, but I’m also trying to focus on creating a very harmonious space to begin with, and then putting fun in. Because otherwise, I think in the past, when I was younger, there was a lot of hat on a hat going on. So now I’m like, OK… Let’s just try to keep everything relatively calm.’ I have a lot of houseplants and pictures and things like that, and they’re slowly finding their way out of the boxes into their rightful homes.

How do you find balance in your personal and work lives, and stay grounded amid everything you get up to?

I think maintaining close relationships with family and friends, even if you’re away for long periods of time – shooting in other countries or on tour or things like that – is really important, because you can end up in a bubble. The people who are able to make a successful go of it long term and still maintain their own actual lives, they have a healthy detachment from the bubble. Otherwise, you’re in this very intense, amazing scenario with people that you’re having very intense on screen bonding experiences – and off screen, too; often they’re your only people on the ground – but it isn’t real life. It’s good to know that there’s always a friend who will take the mickey out of you if you get too snobby, or a cat that will just ignore you as it always does, to create a balance of where you actually are as a human being in your life. I guess you just have to be self reflective.

What is your top piece of advice for everyone to live life a bit better?

I think probably by cultivating a bit more silence in our lives. Whether that’s metaphorical or literal. If there’s no silence, you don’t get to hear yourself, you know? I think boredom, basically, is underrated. I’m certainly guilty of just picking up my phone… But now I’m trying to think, ‘Could I just sit here and have a little moment to myself?’ Rather than diving into a scroll or anything like that.

Quick Fire

The last thing I watched was… Severance. The casting is amazing, and the tension they build up over episodes is masterful.

I’m currently reading… How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

The last film I watched… The Paul Rudd movie I Love You Man. The perfect romcom for a Sunday afternoon. In the cinema, TAR – incredible.

What I’m most looking forward to seeing… I haven’t seen Living yet – the Bill Nighy-Kazuo Ishiguro film. I’m really looking forward to seeing that. I also really want to see All the Beauty and the Bloodshed – the Nan Golden documentary. 

Favourite film of all time… Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Band/singer I always have on repeat… I’ve been listening to a lot of Steve Lacey – I really like his sound. And I always always tend to Bombay Bicycle Club if I need a little pick me up.

My ultimate cultural recommendation… As a Londoner, I would say just looking up in London. There are so many blue plaques! And so many interesting things to see just by walking around.

Cultural guilty pleasure… I love adult animation as a way to wind down: Bojack Horseman, Rick & Morty… Silly, high low-brow cartoons. And I love pop, but I’m not guilty about it.

What’s next for me is… Something quite reflective and finely drawn would be nice to delve into – something quite and introspective, whether that’s on stage or on screen.

Season two of Shadow and Bone will arrive on Netflix on Thursday 16 March 2023. Season one is streaming now. netflix.com

Featured image: Makeup by Maria Asadi, Styling by Jennifer Michalski-Bray, Photography by Niko Mitrunen.