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Ben Barnes says violent Darkling and Alina scene required "trust"

In Shadow and Bone Season 2 General Kirigan, aka the Darkling, is at his most vulnerable, but also his most violent. This meant that scenes Ben Barnes shared with Jessie Mei Li required a lot of communication and trust, he told Newsweek.

The Netflix hit returned to the small screen on March 16 and in it Li’s Alina Starkov is searching for the last two of Morozova’s amplifiers in order to gain the power she needs to defeat Barnes’ villain.

While she is on this mission, though, Alina and the Darkling share a mental connection, which allows them to access each other’s minds and communicate with one another.

One of these scenes takes a nasty turn, though, when the Darkling attacks and threatens Alina in a bid to make her return to his side and see that they are more alike than she wishes to believe.

The connection between Alina and the Darkling is a concept that originated in Leigh Bardugo’s original Shadow and Bone trilogy, which the show is based on, though it has been adapted slightly for the show.

In the aforementioned scene that turns violent, Kirigan holds Alina in place as he explains that he is going to take the children from the orphanage she grew up in and has already attacked the soldiers that were based there. The scene escalates to the point where the Darkling pushes Alina against a wall and holds his hand against her throat.

Barnes shared that it was “very” important to ensure Li felt safe whilst filming the scene, and he explained that communication between them was important to do so.

“I hope that the trust that builds up if you are filming something romantic is the same as if you film something violent,” the actor explained, referencing romantic scenes between Alina and the Darkling in Season 1. “It’s sort of trust falling, and she has to feel comfortable enough to say [things].”

“You know, I’ve been there, I remember doing scenes where I was being choked and thinking, ‘Actually, I want to be choked a bit more because I think it will help me feel like it’s a strain’ or, ‘Actually , that’s constricting what I’m trying to do, can you lay off a bit?’ and I think we got to a point where we were comfortable enough communicating with each other in that way.

“She’s my little sister, they’re all my family and I feel so affectionate and protective of all of this cast, but particularly Jessie in that way and I think we built up a really good system.”

Barnes added: “I like to come onto a set with actors and ask them what they’re interested in highlighting and pulling from the scene —what’s their dream version of this scene feel like?— so [we can] find a balance, because in real life if you walk into a room with someone they have their dream of how that interview is going to go [or] that date is going to go.

“And, so, when you’re acting, you ask someone what they want to get out of it and then you say what you want to get out of it. I mean, some people hate that, but I think Jessie and I have a language where we quite like that. So yeah, that’s how we build that up, with communication really”

For Barnes, it was also important to humanize his character in the connections between Alina and the Darkling compared to the one-sided nature of the interactions in the books, which are told from Alina’s point-of-view.

“I think in the books, particularly the second [Siege and Storm]he becomes quite representative of a darkness in her mind, and I think, for me, it was important to be able to play a human character instead,” Barnes said.

“I think the other important distinction was the realization that they can access each other’s mind palaces and both of their attempts to manipulate that, I think what was interesting.

“Then we have to be very honest about like, ‘OK, well Alina is a little more naïve to the ways of this world in that way, so he’s the one who is able to figure that out first’ and then when she comes with her manipulation he kind of smells it because he’s been alive a long time and knows that stuff.

“People being one step ahead of each other feels like a very real relationship, and a villain with experience is, I think, scarier than a villain without one.”

The connection allowed Alina and the Darkling to be more honest, Barnes thought, as he added: “They were able to drop all the masks and tell each other the truth with this format, which felt quite freeing because obviously I’m playing quite a manipulative character.

“I actually don’t mind playing bad guys, I don’t like playing liars. So, it was more comfortable for me in some ways to play a guy who’s just gonna put his hand on your throat, shove you up against the wall , and tell you how he sees it, you know?”

Season 2 of Shadow and Bone sees Barnes’ character in a much darker place, no pun intended, and in order to convey it the Punisher star tried to draw on his own experiences, particularly what it was like for him during the COVID pandemic.

“He’s at his most vulnerable, also at his most broken, his most violent, his most everything,” Barnes said. “And I think those things were all heightened by the fact that Eric [Heisserer, the showrunner] and I, together, worked on this concept of shifting what’s happening to him in terms of his mortality because if these inner shadow demons [Nichevo’ya] are poisoning him then essentially you’re dealing with a man who is becoming more aware of his mortality, having been alive for hundreds of years.

In Shadow and Bone Season 2 General Kirigan, aka the Darkling, is at his most vulnerable, but also his most violent. This meant that scenes Ben Barnes shared with Jessie Mei Li required a lot of communication and trust, he told Newsweek.

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