Interview: Shadow and Bone Director Mairzee Almas Talks Nina and Matthias Falling for Each Other
That moment when Helnik started to blossom.
You can’t talk about Netflix’s Shadow and Bone series without mentioning Nina and Matthias, played by Danielle Galligan and Calahan Skogman. These two … well, their characters are enemies, to say the least. Nina has grown up hearing stories about the big bad Fjerdans, and Matthias has grown up being taught that Grisha like Nina are an abomination that should never exist. Despite all of that and the history their people have about one another, Nina and Matthias click, according to director Mairzee Almas.
It wasn’t easy. Let’s make that clear. These two are as different as two people can be, so it was a balancing act that needed to be earned, and for Almas, that started when they were in the water together after the Fjerdan ship sunk. Alone, on the brink of death, they leaned on each other, Almas told us in an interview: “So they’re both using each other in the very beginning. Nina’s not completely benevolent by waking him up. She is waking Matthias up so he can kick and save them both. So she absolutely has an ulterior at the top of the sequence. And he’s very distrustful of her.”
That’s further exemplified, that and the differences between them, when they end up at the abandoned whaler’s hut. According to Almas, “When they come into the hut, and they have to stoke the fire and she starts disrobing, she is enjoying poking at him because he is a very fundamentalist religious guy who is very modest. And she sees that this irritates him. It upsets him to see her disrobe. So she of course leans into that because she wants to upset him. They’re enemies. They’re opponents.”
But that’s not all Nina is. And as much as she wants to hate Matthias, she understands that people are people first and foremost, in Almas’ perspective. To Nina, “He is so cloistered and so sheltered and he’s been fed so much propaganda against the Grisha that he is fearful of her and hates her.” And if we flip things to Matthias, he doesn’t know why he hates her. “He just hates her because generationally he’s supposed to hate her. And there have been generations, my parents and great grandparents, they all hated the Grisha. So who is he to go against that?”
Both start their journey, especially in that hut, with a dreadful bias against each other. His is an unconscious bias that he unknowingly fights against the more he gets to know her. And for her, she remains in this place where she recognizes he’s been indoctrinated his entire life while poking fun at him and getting to know him, moment by moment. Why? Because she’s curious about him and how he could be so sheltered, and how could he have such blinders?
According to Almas, they spend a couple of days in the whaler’s hut, warming up and getting closer to each other while fighting their own biases. And as they start trekking off into the snow in “The Heart Is an Arrow,” we get to see one of the best exchanges between Nina and Matthias in the entire series. While she is rather open in making fun of him in a pull-your-pigtails kind of way, Matthias is the exact opposite—something planned by Almas.
“What we did is play with this idea of Matthias would say the opposite of what he’s really feeling. So, he would look at her and he would say, ‘I hate you because you are lewd and I don’t like you. And everything about you, I don’t like.’ But really, the subtext that he is playing with is, ‘Your lips look delicious. I want to kiss you. You smell fantastic. I really just want to hold you.'”
Seriously, go back, play Shadow and Bone‘s “The Heart Is an Arrow” at the timestamp of 40:30. Look at the way he looks at her. Look at the way she confronts him. Look at the way they dance around each other, finally getting to the heart of what separates them and understanding that they can move past it if they choose. Look at the desire that is clearly growing between them and understand that this is the moment where they transition into something new when it comes to their relationship.
“You can also see, and what I directed and said to him [Skogman], is that you’re thinking that her lips are beautiful but when you look at her, look at her face and see how beautiful she is. It’s all overwhelming. He’s having this great internal conflict against all these things that have been ingrained with him that make him go, ‘I don’t like you. You’re lewd. And I’ve been told that you lie and do all these things.’ But really he’s looking at this beautiful woman in front of him and he loves what he’s seeing.”
During this moment, and the one after where the ice breaks away beneath Nina’s feet and Matthias helps her, you can see that they “recognize that maybe [what they perceived of each other] wasn’t the truth” thanks to director Mairzee Almas. And maybe, just maybe, they can find some sort of home with each other if they just give it a chance. That’s why Matthias pulls Nina up. That’s why Nina sticks by his side. And that’s why they introduce themselves and start anew.
(image: Attila Szvacsek/Netflix)
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