DEADLY CLASS IS IN SESSION
By Pauline Perenack
While there are a lot of fans out there who already know all about the world of Deadly Class, many more were hearing about it for the first time at San Diego Comic Con this year. As such, there were lots of questions, and lots of intrigue that only the creators and cast could shed more light upon.
ScreenSpy recently sat down with some of the main players involved in the show to find out what viewers can expect from this comic to screen adaptation. We chatted with stars Benjamin Wadsworth, Benedict Wong, Luke Tennie, Lana Condor, Maria Gabrielle De Faria, creator Rick Remender, artist Wes Craig, and producer Mick Betancourt.
Can you give us a primer on your characters?
Luke Tennie – My name is Luke Tennie and I’ll be playing Willie. Willie is, as far as fighting style, he’s street. He’s bareknuckle brawler. He’s a sharp shooter. He’s giving everyone the impression that he’s not the one to mess with, but there are some secrets he’s hiding, and we’ll find out what those secrets are over the course of the show for sure.
Lana Condor – Hi, I’m Lana Condor and I play Saya in Deadly Class and Saya is a very dangerous and mysterious young lady who has a ton of walls, and she strives to be valedictorian in the school. She’s kind of a lone wolf I think. She’s very in control of every situation she’s put in and it’s very exciting to play her and I’m very excited for more to come.
Maria Gabriella De Faria – Hi, I’m Maria Gabriela De Faria and I play Maria. Maria is just great. She is one second, she’s so happy and the life of the party and sexy and charming, and then the next she’s just unstoppable and filled with rage. She becomes a killing machine. She has been performing assassinations for the cartel for a while – since she was a little girl actually – and she has a pretty awesome and painful backstory that you’ll get to see later.
Do we get to discover all of your backstories?
LC – We haven’t seen any of the scripts yet, but our hope is that they do show us our backstories and where we come from, because we all come from very specific families. So I think it would be fascinating if they did write that in.
LT – The way that it’s been done, Rick is not just someone who’s attached to the project. He is the creator of the comic book and he is an influential and integral part of the TV show. He’s not just attached. He’s in charge. So we’ll get to unpack those characters the way he sees fit. That’s a real, true translation from one medium, that’s on the page, to the screen. So, yeah, we’re going to unpack.
Going from page to the screen, what’s the most interesting thing you thought when you learned more about your characters?
MF – I was really looking forward to the Day of the Dead scene which is in the trailer, and that was awesome. That just blew my mind. It was beyond my expectations and also, all the fighting that we did in the pilot, and we keep training for that, so that’s something I didn’t have before, those skills, and Maria has given them to me.
LC – Yeah. A lot of what she says. I suppose what I’ve found in just shooting the pilot that took a month, is this power I didn’t know I had. This strength…we were forced to really discover as we were training for the show and whatever, so just being powerful and strong is wonderful, and a great character to play.
LT – Something that excited me was that, I read the comic first and didn’t know who would be cast, so for me, it was exciting for me to meet the cast. This is so and so. And watch them come to life. Because before, everyone was in costume and whatnot. I just got to see the characters, who they’d be portraying, and man, I was so excited, and still am. It’s been great.
Are you guys going to draw from your own high school years to develop your characters?
LT – I would say so. It’s a resource we have. I would imagine it’s to our advantage if we use it.
LC – I think it’s such a universal show because it touches on things that every kid goes through when they’re going to high school. Like, isolation and not feeling like they belong, and maybe if you’ve been part of a clique or something like that. So, I absolutely draw from my experience of high school, because I didn’t always feel like I belonged. I always felt a little bit like an outcast.
M – Not only high school. I think we all feel a little bit like that everywhere in life so this is a very relatable show for everybody.
It’s a school for assassins, not your typical high school. But does it have a curriculum we could expect?
LC – Poison class!
LT – Deadly arts. Sambo class. Martial arts.
LC – The poison class is going to be funny.
LT – Yeah, you’ll like the poison class. That was fun.
Is it the mixture of the mundane and the fantastic?
LT – Yeah, I really like the fact that it’s just that. Mundane and fantastic. We’re not super powered people. We’re playing real people. So the threats are real. Some people might have powers that might skew the stakes. Here we’re flesh and blood with skills. But that said, it’s a high school where the threats are real. So what’s so cool about Deadly Class, in high school, you’re going through life and if feels like life and death, but it’s not. At Deadly Class, it’s life and death.
Can you discuss your character’s relationships to Marcus since he’s the main student we’re following?
LT – We try not to give too much away but I can definitely tell you that none of us really are fond of him. At the start.
M – That’s not true.
LT – He’s fresh meat. Well, I’m not really fond of him.
M – Right. Maria I think, she does like Marcus a little more than the others.
LT – Yeah, we’ll go with that.
LC – You know, it’s funny, when we were shooting the pilot, we all got really, really close, and the producers started having to take Ben away from us because we were bonding so much, so we had to isolate him so it could show on camera, and I think we did a great job.
What do you guys think the audience is going to gravitate to the most in this pilot?
LT – Great question. You know what? I’m going to go ahead and say school. That’s the one thing that no matter what, every person in one time of their life, whether it’s leaving, or avoiding, or being a part of school is this thing, it’s an experience shared by everyone. An education. So, regardless of anyone’s background they can see something that’s familiar. Whether it’s a book, or a locker.
LC – Or a face. It’s an incredibly diverse cast.
LT – You got that right. You got a lot of color up in this cast.
Can you talk about the blend of the mundane and the fantastical at the school?
Mick Betancourt – Sure. The thing that I loved the most about the show is the fact that it’s grounded in this heightened world. So you’re going to have nuanced, grounded human school moments that are in the high school, early years of college era. In this heightened, genre world, and that’s how we’re going to experience a deadly arts, poison class, but in preparation for a dance later on that also happens to show the social castes and levels in the school.
What was the process of taking it from comic to screen and deciding what elements to keep, and what to adapt for the screen?
MB – I came on after the pilot, and they had shot the pilot and the development process was three years for them from the time they pitched the books to developing it as a script for a pilot that was shot. I’ve been doing television for 15 years, and I’ve never seen from the production company, to the studios – there’s two studios involved – to the actual networks, so excited about maintaining the integrity of the books. Usually there’s a conversation of your question. How do we translate this IP that’s a graphic novel into the screen? And the whole point during the entire process was maintaining loyalty to the integrity of the books, and not compromising it in any way in the dialog, the production design, in the music, any of it. So I feel like that people who are fans of the books are hopefully impressed and feel honored for their loyalty instead of discarded, oh now we’re in television, we don’t care about anyone who read the books. We’re honoring and protecting the people who loved the books, and were loyal to that in every aspect of the show.
There’s got to be some surprises for fans too though, right?
MB – Yes. My answer is through the tone of the show. We’re not recreating a television thing that where the books are a jumping off point. The books, the tones, Wes Craig’s art, there are panels that we’re using as frame for the shots. So of course the books don’t translate page to page, minute to minute for the show, but all the new content that we’re creating is through the integrity of the books, so you’ll recognize…it doesn’t stray because now we’re like, oh, it’s a TV show, so this is how we have to tell the stories. It’s firmly rooted in the bedrock of the books.
School is a very social atmosphere, but being an assassin is a solitary thing. How is that dichotomy addressed in the show?
MB – Yes, it’s about being an assassin, but it’s also about the deadly arts. It’s about criminality, which is a mirror to, how did the collapse of 2007 happen? How did credit default swaps happen where you’ll cause hundreds of trillions of dollars of damage, and break the world economy in half and cause millions of people to lose their homes? How do you become that person? Where you have no empathy for that at all. How do you transition from being a kid having dreams and ambitions, and friends who want to go to the movies and hang out, get a little high, laugh, listen to their favorite songs, to **** them. And that’s the deadly arts. How can you be trained through all the things we’re exposed to as human beings and demoralize? So our punk ethos is to blow all that up.
You said you came on after the pilot. Where are we in filming now?
M – Two weeks from Monday, is our first day of prep where we’ll be shooting 101 and 102. Second and third episodes of the season, and then it’s game on. Shooting all the way through December.
What can viewers really look forward to in the show?
M – Here’s the normal reaction you’ll normally hear from every other show. The fight scenes are going to be great. You’re going to love the school. The uniforms are cool. The classes are interesting, and all that’s true. The **** you’re going to love the most are going to be two or three people sitting on a corner pipe, laced with graffiti, smoking a joint, talking about being kids. Talking about their lives, what they’re afraid of. What they like. Nuanced. Not plot stuff because you’re getting that everywhere else. WE want to slow it down and have real people talking about real things that impact them on a profound level. And now add on top of all of that, the fight sequences, the cool classes, the beating heart of the show is just people like, can I drop into this halfpipe? I’ve never been able to drop in before. I’m terrified because I feel if I go, I’m going to smash my face in. That’s our show.
How is the blend of the mundane with the crime of this world?
Rick Remender – The idea is that the mundane is what we all universally experienced in high school, and all of the tumultuous experiences we had in high school are then magnified into metaphors. The dagger in your back is real at King’s. All of that is born out of character, and ideally all of that is born out of things that are metaphors for universal experiences that we all struggled through in our high school life.
Wes Craig – The violence adds that extra tension, but a lot of it is that high school drama stuff. Everybody has experienced it one way or another, if they’re in high school now or remember when it was like that, that was the idea.
Was this then born out of experiences you had in high school?
W – Mostly him.
R – I grew up in a pretty violent place, and one of the core things I wanted to examine was, and the reason I pulled the trigger on moving forward with it, and contacting poor Wes to dive in for the rest of his adult life, was that as somebody who was a victim of a lot of violence and saw people shot, had friends shot, and was jumped and beaten near to death twice, the effects that violence had on me and how I proceeded in life and, I still walk into, when in a crowded place, I still check my periphery. I’m still very nervous about violence. I don’t know if that’ll ever go away. It was more about the effects of the violence and the aftermath of it, and what it does to people. Especially young adults. More than the violence itself. I always equate what we do on this to if Richard Linklater had done Kill Bill, so that you’re getting into the true heart and character and humanity, and at the same time, you can go into the heightened ninja backflip stuff. But the responsibility there is to come out the other end and have something to say about it, as opposed to just bathing in it I think. That coupled with all my misadventures as a youth that are hidden in there that I don’t specify which are which, so that I have plausible deniability. And then obviously having someone who can draw it, is a wonderful treat.
W – That would be nice.
R – Do you know somebody like that?
W – I don’t, actually.
R – Wes and I get on the phone a lot and talk the stories out, and you never know when you start collaborating on a project in terms of the chemistry how it’s going to turn out. We became good friends and love to create this thing, and I hope it comes across and invoke the comic and the show.
W – Yeah, nobody can talk about their teen years without talking passionately about whatever happened to you in that era, it shapes who you are. No matter whether you want that to be the truth or not, that’s really hard to not talk about those years with either a lot of anger, or a lot of envious. You have heightened emotions.
R – It was the first time you were doing so many things.
W – All new.
R – That’s the part that I really love when we can show these characters who are avatars for us, experiencing things that were sort of similar to us and how we went through it the first time.
W – The craziest thing is seeing the army it takes to create this little, floppy comic into a real thing. It’s people driving cars, and I haven’t seen it personally, but picturing the army it takes to make it happen. It’s insane.
R – Yea, in the hiring process, and now being co-showrunner and lead writer, hiring all these people and making sure we have top level talent. We’re very fortunate that we have the Russos and their company to help us do that, as well as part of Syfy and Sony, but I would say that during the pilot, I had moments of just, it’s surreal. It’s a boring word, but yeah, sitting there and seeing hundreds and hundreds of extras walking around King’s Dominion, and seeing the entire crew and everyone putting it together. People working so hard to bring to life things that were fleets of fantasy that we talked about like, oh, it could be this!
W – I drew that crest and then it was a giant metal thing on the board.
R – Dude, I remember walking in on that day and just looking at the giant King’s Dominion crest and thinking wow. It’s humbling and we’ve worked very hard, and put a lot of ourselves in the book. It’s a labor of love. It’s not for commerce. The amount of time and energy Wes puts into the pages and panels is staggering, and it’s a work of art, because we love it. So to see other people love it too, and get involved to make it, it’s just hugely gratifying.
What are you guys most excited to do?
Benjamin Wadsworth – Scenes with this guy.
Benedict Wong – Aw. I was just so pleased embarking on telling the story, and you’ll see from the pilot and the trailer, it’s introducing Marcus, how he came about. How he’s been invited into this private academy. Where the elite of the world send their offspring and as he goes in there. We’ll see how it all unfurls.
Tell us about your characters.
Benjamin – Marcus, I’ve been describing him as a rabid puppy. He looks cute, but also looks a little injured. You have to watch out, because he might bite you. He’s a homeless teen on the streets of San Francisco. He wants family, but he’s abducted into a secret academy of assassins. He’s an ethical person in an unethical world. He’s a person with morality in a world where there isn’t much of that.
Benedict – Master Lin is someone who we don’t really know a lot about, to be honest. We don’t know whose side he’s on. He’s someone who’s very much holding up the legacy of his family, the legacy of the King’s Dominion, but yet he, further down the line, he mediates all the criminal bosses. The parents to the children, so the parents you think will be quite delicate to tell how their sons and daughters are getting on.
How did you pull from your own experiences for your roles?
Benedict – I didn’t draw anything from where I went to school. I think Lin is someone who is head of the academy, who is a megalomaniac about it, really. I always go for the action, and it’s never enough. And if you keep playing that constantly, and you’re looking for perfection, and constantly striving for it, you may never get it. Even then, everything has to be right, and that’s what makes the school elite, and that’s how it discards people very quickly. Keep everything all ship shape. All the action starts to unfurl itself so that’s what I keep myself busy with.
What excites you about your characters?
Benjamin – The rage Marcus has is really exciting, and energizing to be able to play. To show that on camera. In real life, it’s not ok to show your rage, or take it out on people or things, but on camera you can.
Benedict – I’m just excited to get started, really. We just finished the pilot and they’re putting together the next four episodes that we’ll hopefully get in the next few weeks. For me, it’s unfurling this trajectory where we’re going, and I’m looking forward to playing Lin. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think the opening sets up what we’ve got. We’ve got this school, and it kicks off in different factions and groupings. We’ve all felt like outsiders, really, so it’s difficult as a team, and how to fit in, and where to we actually all belong. It’s something very relatable. I’m excited to be working with these guys. They’re all 19, 20, and an amazing bunch. I’m really thrilled to be the honorary veteran to be working with them, and the amazing work they’re doing. I think we’ve been very lucky to snatch them very early. They’re all going to blow up I think.
Have you read ahead in the comic? Or waiting for the script?
Benedict – I’ve read it a couple of times. Not really sure at which point we’re stopping now, so I’m just leaving it up to Rick and Miles.
Ben, we heard that the other members of the cast were kept away from you. Did that help you find the right dynamic of your character?
Benjamin – I think for certain scenes, yeah. I think the friendships we had been creating was kind of bleeding into what we were doing, so yeah, we did need that isolation to do our work.
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