- Words Miriam Balanescu
- Photography Joseph Sinclair
- Styling Olga Timofejeva at The Only Agency
- Makeup Karin Darnell Skincare and Beauty using Giorgio Armani Makeup
- Hair Narad Kutowaroo at Carol Hayes Management using Unite Hair
- Videography Sam Jones
- Styling Assistant Vania Monteiro
Notion caught up with Amita Suman - the Shadow & Bone star to watch - about stunts, fantasy superfans, chimney cakes, and much more.
From the age of only 3, Amita Suman knew that a life on stage and screen was for her. The Nepali-born star moved to Brighton at age 7, going on to study at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts as funded by a coveted DaDA Award.
You may have glimpsed Suman on dramas like Casualty or Ackley Bridge, but you’ve almost definitely seen her in the long-running, cult series Doctor Who, where she scored a major role in the acclaimed episode “Demons of the Punjab” – and that’s if you haven’t already started devouring addictive Netflix series Shadow and Bone. After the success of the first season, it’s since been announced that the show will be returning for a second round.
- Necklace Bulgari
- Suit Preen by Thornton Bregazzi
In the fantasy drama, which acts as a prequel to Leigh Bardugo’s immense novel Six of Crows, Suman is in her stride as warrior and gang-member, Inej. The Crows, a medley of thieves, have a high-risk mission to cross the Fold, a mysterious and dangerous void dividing East and West Ravka, to retrieve something as yet unknown.
Inej, who has been rescued from a prostitution ring – the Menagerie – by The Crows chief Kaz, is responsible for spying for the group. A romance is kindling with Kaz, but Inej also has a traumatic past to reconcile herself with.
Before playing the part, Amita chomped through Leigh Bardugo’s original book in one sitting. The actor is set to be a staple in Games of Thrones-esque television, having taken over from Medalion Rahimi as Naya in The Outpost.
We chatted with Amita about feeling a deep connection with her character, on-set injuries, and starring in a drama that centres on kickass women.
- Blazer Stella Mccartney
- Earrings Stephen Webster
- Suit Salvatore Ferragamo
- Shoes Aquazurra
- Ring Bulgari
How did you end up reading for the part in Shadow and Bone to start with?
I was in Serbia at the time filming another fantasy series and my agent sent me this tape forward. It was from the same casting directors that got me the job that I am doing right now and they thought I’d be pretty good for this part. I read the character description and saw fan art of what Inej looks like – and instantly, I was so intrigued. So, I did my tape with the short scene that they sent based on the books. I thought my tape was awful because I wanted the role so much. I thought no matter what I could have done, it wouldn’t be good enough. But luckily, I heard back pretty soon, went into the audition room, met the casting directors in real life, and got the job after that. It was a really short audition process. I was expecting it to be rounds after rounds, and chemistry reads, because there were so many people to bring together – but it was short and sweet.
And you were chosen by the author, Leigh Bardugo, herself, right? I know that the author said that they felt that you were Inej. Did you feel that you were the character?
It was really weird with this audition. Something just felt right. I had goosebumps every time I was auditioning or thinking about the part. I’ve never really had this experience with any other auditions. I think it just would have felt wrong, or the world wasn’t quite right, if it didn’t go my way. That’s not saying in a big-headed way that I was the only person that should have got the part. There are so many other amazing actresses out there that would have been incredible for the part as well. But I just felt this weird connection to Inej and that it was meant to be. I don’t know what it was, but it was a sixth sense – I can’t quite describe it. It was a mystical feeling, I guess.
Was it strange having all the fandom behind the character?
Netflix had their own plan of doing a cast announcement, but the fans already found out that I was cast as Inej way before – and none of us quite know how. The fans always know stuff before we do. It’s really funny, but that’s how dedicated they are. I think it’s amazing to have such an incredibly passionate fan base. It’s so worldwide, it’s so multi-diverse and everyone has their favourite character. Everyone also loves the world and the storytelling in it. To start your journey from that, and to have this incredible purpose already was a great place to start filming from.
- Earrings Aquazurra
- Jacket Alessandra Rich
Did you follow what the fans were saying online at all? Or did you try to stay away from that?
When the fans found out that I was cast and then were suddenly going crazy on Twitter, I literally almost sh*t my pants because I thought: Oh my gosh, have I done something wrong? No one was meant to find out yet. But the response was so positive and everyone was so happy. I was so relieved. Once I knew that, that was it, I really didn’t need to go looking for anything else. Since the show’s been coming out and we’ve been tweeting a lot about it, it’s really nice to see the positive response. But that’s as far as it goes, I’m not gonna lie!
Because the show is a prequel to the book, I was wondering how much of the character did you have to decide on yourself or invent yourself? And how did you go about doing that?
From my personal point of view, I really wanted to find the beginning of Inej. I wanted to find who she was before she made her first kill, because that’s such a huge journey for her. But the book was the Bible – there is so much character information, it’s so beautifully written, and Leigh’s done such an incredible job. That’s why we have the fandom there. I always use the books as my foundation, with the end goal of becoming the Inej that you read when Six of Crows starts. It was really nice to have this opportunity to find the beginning of her, to put my own mark onto it, but also to discover why she becomes the Inej that you meet in Six of Crows. So, when it comes to Six of Crows, I think I’ll be even more informed, and even more comfortable in who Inej is – fingers crossed!
Do you have any good stories about the stunts that you had to do?
All of the stunt lessons were literally my favourite. We had the most incredible team teaching us how to do it. Ruben and Felix taught me all my routines with the fight sequences. They taught me all the basic stances, how to tumble and how to take punches back and forward. That was so much fun. Their instincts are killer. I remember one time, we were just finishing one of the seven sessions, and I wanted to make one of them jump, so I crept up behind them. Their instincts were so fast. They got in a fight stance, but stopped because they realized this was just a joke. It was like one of those moments on TV, in Star Wars with Rey Skywalker. I was like: Oh my god, this is so cool.
We were filming one of the fight scenes and my fight partner had a metal buckle on her belt. She had to take my hand across. We did a couple of takes, and my hand was feeling a little bit funny, but I had so much adrenaline for this fight sequence that I just ignored it. Then my finger felt a little bit wet. I realised that there was blood trickling down and it had been bleeding for the past hour. I realised a piece of the skin was missing, so I decided to go searching for it and found it hanging off the belt – so she definitely took a part of me.
Yikes! So now you have a taste for high-action roles, do you think you’re going to audition for more?
I hope so. I absolutely love action movies. If I could be in anything similar to The Raid, oh my god, that would be absolutely incredible. Words can’t even describe the action sequence in that. I absolutely love being an action hero. It’s one of my favourite things. So if there is something going, it’s something good, and the story is also worth telling, then why not?
- Jacket & Skirt David Koma
- Boots Christian Louboutin
- Earrings Stephen Webster
Yeah, definitely. That starts to answer my next question, actually, which is, what was it like to be in a drama that centres kick-ass women?
It was a shock. I wasn’t expecting it at all, especially Shadow and Bone having two female Asian leads. It was almost a dream come true. That didn’t feel real for a really long time. I think it only sunk in when the show came out that this is what the show was doing, this is what it’s celebrating. As a brown actress, I came into this industry believing that my road was very narrow and there wasn’t really that much work. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still very true, but the world is changing. I’ve managed to have these opportunities and I really hope that this wasn’t a fluke! I really hope this wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime thing – that I will have the same opportunity that everyone else is having and people will look past my skin colour and I’ll be seen just as an actress who’s willing to work.
Definitely. What was it like shooting in Budapest and did you get to explore it while you were there?
Budapest is a really, really beautiful city – you get a really good summer but my gosh, you get a really cold winter. We went to so many different places to eat. We were brunching almost every single day. We went on boat trips, we went on a Segway, me and Kit on one together. He was so smooth on it. They go really fast. He was just cruising around. I kept thinking I was going to crash into something.
There’s so much history over there. It’s so rich and using Budapest for some of the places in the show, such as the Little Palace and the Budapest Castle, was great. I loved it. The food’s really good as well. I kept having loads of chimney cakes.
What was it like having that romantic arc with Kaz? You’re not able to kind of touch – did that have a pandemic vibe?
I hadn’t really thought of that. Maybe Kaz and Inej’s relationship was foreshadowing Covid a little bit! I think it was a lesson learned – intimacy can be more than just the physical touch. Intimacy is such a personal thing. It’s an invasion of your space and your feelings. I think the relationship is so unique, because it is the prequel to Six of Crows, so people are questioning whether there is something going on between them, or whether they are just really good friends. That’s what we wanted because it takes eight episodes for Kaz Brekker to say to Inej: I need you. Even then, she’s thinking: You need me to be a part of the dregs, or six of crows, or for missions? Or wait, or do you want me to stay for personal reasons? It’s so unclear. They haven’t touched. They haven’t hugged. Inej knows that he’s got a problem with that. All I can say is they have this magnetism towards one another. She kills for him – he saves her life. They can’t speak about their feelings for one another, but at the same time, they’re realising that they also can’t be separate because life keeps putting them back together. It’s one of those relationships we watch and you’re just screaming at both of them: Oh my God, just tell each other how you’re feeling!
You’ve also acted in The Outpost, which is fantasy and you got through the book, Six of Crows, in one sitting. I was wondering, are you just a huge fantasy fan?
I am a huge, huge fantasy fan! I love it! It is definitely one of my favourite genres. I love fantasy. I love action. I love romcoms. I love drama. Those four are equally up there. If I could have been in any of the incredible movies, it would be The Notebook, or Lord of the Rings, or Charlize Theron’s The Monster, but now it’s Shadow and Bone for me – so I’m happy with that! Fantasy is such escapism and it challenges your brain. You see something you’d never get to see before and it feels realistic seeing it on the screen. As a brown actress, I never, ever thought I would be in a fantasy show, because when have you seen a brown person in a fantasy TV series? You normally just don’t. You know when you watch a fantasy show, you go to sleep, you’re dreaming about this rich world, you’re part of it, and you wake up and you think: Ah damn, I wish I could have had a little bit longer with the dream. I love it.
Going back to the start of your acting career, you’ve mentioned that you regret copying your peers at acting school and that you wish you followed your own path or your own approach. What do you consider to be your own unique approach to acting now?
Back then the industry was still so closed with casting for brown people that I felt I needed to be as British as my peers as possible to work. It was only then I realised that, at the end of the day, it’s what you bring to the character that’s going to determine if you get the part. If you try to copy someone, then it’s not original. I’m sure everyone has had their own unique life experiences, and that has really shaped the person that I am and how I think – how I see characters on the page. Sometimes it’s not going to work at all, and I’m not going to get the part. But sometimes it is the reason why I will. Once you accept yourself, that is your uniqueness. If you are who you are, and you look at a character, it’s your unique brain that will determine what you come out with.
It’s my individualistic approach based on the life experiences that I’ve had and having the courage to do that. If you bring your own thing that’s something different then different people will connect with those things.
What made you first want to get into acting?
I was three or four. I grew up in Nepal in a small village, and someone brought out a TV. We somehow managed to find some electricity. In this small, tiny black and white box, people appeared. It was my first time seeing something that wasn’t my village. They were acting in this scenario. And then, within a second, they were in a different place, doing all of these incredible things. Because they were acting so well, I thought they were genuinely going through these things.
I couldn’t understand it, and I went up to the TV, and I was like: Where are these people coming from? I was touching it, I was looking behind it. I genuinely thought that these people were living inside this box. But somehow they were living a better life than I was in the real world. So I think that’s when I discovered that that’s where I wanted to be. But I didn’t know that acting existed. I didn’t know we had the world of Hollywood and Bollywood. Then I discovered acting along the way.
You’ve spoken quite a bit in this interview about the lack of diversity in film and TV. How do you hope the industry will improve in the future?
I think where it starts is people having the courage to start writing interesting three-dimensional parts for everyone. I’m not just speaking for brown actors here, but I think I’m speaking for everyone who is affected where the industry is closed-minded: those who see the power in representation, how you can tell so many more stories and how it brings everyone together. It’s not compromising on entertainment, and it’s not compromising on bloody anything at all. If anything, it’s making the world a better place for everyone. That’s what I’m hoping: that stereotypes will now be out the window and we’ll focus on what is really happening through meaningful storytelling.
I really hope that Shadow and Bone wasn’t just a fluke – it wasn’t the one part that was written specifically for a brown actress and I managed to get that. I’m really hoping this is just the beginning, and we carry on moving forward – because we really need to.
Yeah, definitely. You were in an acclaimed episode of Doctor Who, “Demons of the Punjab”. Were you a fan of the show beforehand and what was that experience like?
It was such a weird experience. In our family, whenever Doctor Who would come online, we we would treat it as though we were going to the cinema. We’d have dinner, everyone would sit on the floor or on the sofa or wherever they could find, and we would wait for Doctor Who to start. It would be like a Friday night movie. I grew up with Doctor Who, so to get a part on it was a really surreal feeling. And then, for that episode to be so prolific and so important in the series was a really magical experience. Having the first female doctor, Jodie Whittaker – oh my gosh, I could praise her for the rest of my life. The cast were just brilliant.
It was one of my best experiences. I had a ridiculously fun time filming it. The story was so important. I even learned so much that I didn’t know.
I think maybe that might have been the start of my journey into sci fi and fantasy. Maybe that was also my good luck charm or something like that!