When Danielle Galligan was a young girl, she would often change her name. ‘I’d force everyone to call me random names like Robyn and Star,’ she tells us. ‘I probably just always wanted to be an actor.’ Now, aged 28, she’s fulfilling her childhood dreams. Galligan’s acting career began in stage productions, but recently she’s turned her attention to TV, starring in the final season of Game of Thrones as well as in Krypton. Galligan remains in the fantasy world for her latest venture, Netflix’s Shadow and Bone. The show is based on Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling fantasy novels Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows, based in an alternate universe. Here Galligan – who plays Nina Zenik – tells us more.
Q&A with Danielle Galligan
What can you tell us about Shadow and Bone?
It’s a new fantasy TV series set in a fantasy-verse called the Grishaverse. The country of Ravka (think Imperialist Russia) is segregated, dangerous, facing civil war and currently plagued by an ancient, dark magic called The Shadow Fold (think The Wall/Whitewalkers in Game of Thrones). Ravka’s saviour suddenly appears in the form of a soldier, Alina Starkov. Orphaned, ostracised and told her whole life that she will never amount to anything, Alina now discovers she has the power that can, hopefully, tear down the fold once and for all. She becomes a glimmer of hope for her country but poses a threat to those already in power. There’s a battle of good and evil, plus a swoon-worthy love triangle and a heist – so a little something for everyone.
Favourite person on the set of Shadow and Bone and why?
I’d have to say Calahan Skogman. He plays Matthias Helvar who is Nina Zenik’s ultimate enemy-come-love-interest. He’s my favourite for loads of reasons but mainly because we trust each other, and trust is really important to me as a performer. I trust him to have my back if I want to try something different, I trust him to surprise me and challenge me and I trust him to just basically always be there.
Any funny stories from filming?
One day I flashed the crew. Unintentionally. There was one scene where Nina is following Matthias through some pretty miserable weather conditions when they’re both very much at the end of their tether. She’s mouthing off at him and as I trudged into shot my skirt broke and just fell off. Thankfully I had some extra layers on so I wasn’t done for indecent exposure.
Favourite role to date and why?
That’s really tough as I’ve really loved all my roles so far for different reasons. I was in a musical called The Train based on The Contraceptive Train which took place in Ireland in 1971. It was a protest against the law against the sale and importation of contraceptives. My character was based on a ballsy and fearless journalist and civil rights campaigner from Derry called Nell McCafferty. I worked with amazing women, and I got to sing, dance and be cheeky everyday which was class. It felt like a really important experience.
Role you’d cut your right arm off to get?
I love Lady Vengeance by Park Chan-Wook and would love to play Geum-Ja. I think that film is perfect so I hope they never remake it, but if Emerald Fennel was going to write and direct something like that, then I would absolutely give both arms to play her version.
What do you like to have with you on set?
Always water and coffee. I’m always at peace when there’s caffeine nearby. I always bring a toothbrush as well, and a book. Right now it’s Angela Carter’s Black Venus.
Director you’d most like to work with and why?
Today I’m saying Andrea Arnold. I love her shooting style – it feels so authentic and spontaneous and intimate. I love the performances that she gets from her actors, it feels like they’ve been given loads of freedom to find their characters themselves. I’d like to be challenged in this way. I love the way she uses natural light, and I adore her female characters. If we could throw Robbie Ryan in the mix as well it’d really be the dream job.
What qualities do you think have made you successful?
I don’t think I’m all round successful – really I’m a bit of a disaster at times. When I have experienced what felt like success to me, it has always required the combination of doggedness or tenacity and knowing what I want. There have been times when I’ve had lots of one but none of the other and I’ve ended up going round in circles.
Film you think everyone in the world should see?
Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky. It’s not really suitable for ‘Netflix and chill’ but definitely a must watch for everyone. It’s stunning and haunting.
What’s your relationship with social media like?
Definitely love/hate! It’s a double-edged sword which keeps us all connected but leaves all feeling isolated. I keep my Facebook for sentimental reasons because of old photos, but I don’t really engage with it. I had to delete my Twitter because I didn’t feel smart enough or angry enough to keep up with everyone. And I still haven’t jumped on the TikTok bandwagon. I just have Instagram, which I love. I do need to take long detoxes from it every once and a while though.
What did you want to be when you were a little girl?
I think I hopped between a fairy princess, a spy, a mermaid and a witch. I do remember having an issue with my name and I used to change it all time. I’d force everyone to call me random names like Robyn and Star. So in a way, I probably just always wanted to be an actor.
Three books you’d take to a desert island and why?
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. This book is devastatingly beautiful and bursting with originality. I kept having to put the book down and stare at the wall just processing some of his metaphors and analogies. The World’s Wife by Carol-Ann Duffy. She’s one of my favourite poets and this is my favourite collection by her. And Circe by Madeline Miller. I’m obsessed with Greek mythology, and I just like the vibe of reclaiming this female character and reframing her experience. Also she’s exiled on a desert island and really makes the most of it so it could have some tips.
The most challenging moment of your life?
It’s all relative, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s getting dressed in the morning, sometimes it’s grieving a loss, sometimes it’s just writing the subject line for an email. A challenge I’ve been facing recently – like so many others – is loneliness and isolation throughout this pandemic. I think it’s important to understand the difference between being alone and feeling lonely. I’ve sensed a bit of stigma or shame around admitting to feeling lonely and if we don’t eradicate that then we’ll just be dealing with a mental health pandemic, on top of everything else.
How can we all live a little bit better?
Self-love has a lot to do with living better. It sounds so simple but it’s not easy. I think of it like relationships: when I see them really work there’s love yes, but also mutual support, mutual compromise, mutual accountability and mutual acceptance of each other’s dark parts and flawed bits, and friendship. You’ve got to approach your relationship with yourself the same way.
Any life hacks your learnt in lockdown that you can share?
“Dress for the life you want, not the life you have” is what I kept saying to myself and anyone who would listen. I was spending so much time looking like a slug that I was actually just calling myself a slug and then convinced myself that I was in fact a slug. I found that making the extra effort and dressing like an actual human who liked myself made me look like an actual human that liked myself – and then I convinced myself that I was an actual human that liked myself.
What’s your interior design style?
I’m mostly eclectic, maybe a little transitional. I like a bit of everything. A bit of old and new, a bit of masculine and feminine. But really I’m pretty basic. As long as I have plenty of wall space to hang bits and bobs and big windows for light, I’m happy.
Are you conscious of what you put in your body?
I used to be but not so much anymore. Now I try to be more conscious about how the things I put in my body affect the environment. After watching Seaspiracy, I simply can’t eat fish anymore. I avoid meat as much as possible as well. I don’t eat a lot of dairy either if I can help it, but I just can’t resist cheese.
What is your current beauty regime?
Sun cream, always and forever – even in the winter. I also drink lots of water. My skin is always either two dry or too oily or too both at the same time so it’s a bit of a pain. I use a lot of Image products which I find to be the best. I come from a long line of beauty therapists so I’ve learned the importance of skincare. It took me a while though – I used to sleep in my make-up and use face wipes and all sorts of other heinous crimes that my mother would disown me for.
What are your indulgences?
My main one is always chocolate. Cadbury’s usually, but I don’t discriminate. When there’s a big bar bought in the weekly shop my poor housemates don’t get a look in! If you’re reading this guys, sorry not sorry. I also absolutely love a Guinness.
How do you relax?
I don’t. I try, but I struggle. I meditate a lot, I read, I do yoga, I journal, I have a whole rack of essential oils and I burn through aromatherapy candles, but still even when I’m asleep I feel like I’m awake. And when I’m awake I feel like I’m somewhere else. Again, it’s a work-in-progress.
If we’re coming to your area for a visit, what should we do?
Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin), my one true love. I would wake you up early and drag you onto the DART out to Howth and bring you on the cliff walk along the coast. There’s a hidden beach there where we’d have a heart-stopping swim and then we’d head back up and grab some tapas in Octopussy. Then we’d get a 99 ice-cream for the journey back into town. And then I’d bring you round all my favourite places to drink Guinness and I’d eventually drink you under the table.
Are you a rule breaker or a rule taker?
I’d love to say that I’m a rule breaker but really, in my heart of hearts, I’m a rule taker.
Shadow and Bone is available now on Netflix. This interview was originally published in April 2021.