Danielle Galligan is the Irish actress who personifies Nina Zenik in the newest Netflix mega-production: Shadow and Bone. This well-expected TV show premiers today, and there is no better way to celebrate it than binge-watch the series and enjoy this exclusive interview with Miss Galligan, one of the wittiest and most lovable actors of this adaptation of the saga written by Leigh Bardugo.
Danielle Galligan | Exclusive Interview
VT: For this photoshoot, your fellow actor, the multitalented India Mullen, was the photographer. How was that experience of working together on this photo session?
DG: India’s a real artist, in every sense of the word. She came full of vision and inspiration. She really had her work cut out for her though! I’m a bit of an awkward fish when it comes to taking photos as myself, without a character to hide behind. But Inds has an uncanny ability at creating a safe and playful space wherever you are. I feel she approaches the work with a joy and curiosity that is kind of infectious. It mostly just felt like hanging out with my pal for the day!
Long live the theater
VT: Over the years, you have been almost unstoppably acting in theatre plays; therefore, what is it like for you been involved with this ancestral form of art? Also, what do you think about the challenges of the theatre after the pandemic?
DG: It’s hard to narrow down into one answer, to be honest! Theatre is magical and uncompromising. It demands all participants to surrender to each other, agree to listen, and experience. I could go on for days with wanky phrases like this but my favourite thing about theatre is about holding space for the collective experience. To laugh and cry as a collective and to hold space for that kind of catharsis or release or connection is essential in my eyes. We are never alone when we are at the theatre. I think, even pre-pandemic, theatre has been facing challenges but it’s still standing. Even Dublin Fringe Festival still went ahead in 2020. The theatre artists that I know are far too passionate and tenacious and imaginative to let it die post-pandemic. They are visionaries and I know they’ll envision a way for theatre to keep going in some form or another. Whether it’s behind glass or on the street, they’ll make it happen.
VT: I am a classical philologist, so when I knew you were part of productions like Hecuba, and The Odyssey: A New Version, I got really excited. According to you, why do you think every generation feels attracted not only to experience but to enjoy classical Greek and Latin literature?
DG: Okay, cool! I had never heard of a philologist until now! You’re probably better equipped to answer this question than me! Again, hard to narrow down into one answer but I love the struggle with determinism. I’ve read, that as humans, we receive all our programming before the age of 7. I feel we spend the rest of our lives just wrestling with it. So, because of that Fate vs Freedom theme that crops up, I think we relate to these stories on a subconscious or cellular level or something. *Disclaimer: I have no degree to back any of this up* I also think they gave us the OG anti-heroes! We need these flawed protagonists because we’re all just flawed protagonists in our own narratives. When it comes to women, Greek society is incredibly problematic eg. not classing females as actual citizens (facepalm), but I do love the female characters. They’re so complicated and rebellious, and I fully support this message!
Being Sarra and Enaj
VT: More recently, you also have been very active with films and TV productions; thus, what can you tell us about other previous acting experiences in shows like Game of Thrones and Krypton?
DG: Well, I was on Game of Thrones for a hot minute but it was so incredibly special to me. Honestly, watching Game of Thrones really kept me going for a while. I was a total nerd, just dreaming of being in something like that. Then for it to actually happen, well I still can’t really get my head around it, to be honest! I’m just very grateful! Krypton was special because of the bond I formed with my scene partners. Our storyline was contained in flashback episodes so we were a kind of splinter cast and we all just fell head over heels for each other. I’m still so glad they’re in my life! Every job that I’ve done to date carries the same significance to me as these two, but all for different reasons. Every job has challenged me in some new way. Which I love. I like to try and feel like I’m learning or levelling up with every experience.
Find the reason to keep you going
VT: I have been told you also write, not only because you wrote Strangers in the Park alongside Mark Lawrence, but because you have a special interest in poetry. That being said, what do you think about the importance of reading and writing poetry?
DG: Ah yeah, Strangers in the Park; I still love that script! That was devised with the Director in a very collaborative way. I love a good collaboration! I think to read and write anything is always important, whether you’re an artist or not. We’re all creative at our very core. Honestly, I don’t know why poetry for me! It just kind of happened. One day I wanted to celebrate my mam, and I just wrote a poem. Kind of spitballing here, but maybe, because often (not always) a poem is distilled down into fewer lines, the reader has to work harder to derive meaning from it. The reader uses their own experience to try and understand what the poet is getting at. I think it kind of makes you look inward while reading. I always feel more connected to myself while reading poetry and also connected to the poet. So I’m kind of seeing myself, being seen. Does this make any sense?
VT: Which advice would you give to every teenager who might be thinking about starting a career in acting or other activities related to stage productions, films, and TV?
DG: My acting teacher always said: “if you can do something else, do it.” And to a certain extent, I think she is still right. It’s a very tough road, sometimes with very little reward. There were many times I wanted to give up. And I think, during those times, I had to ask myself why I was doing it. I found a reason that was authentic for me. I would urge people to find that reason and make sure it’s strong enough to keep you going when the rejections come in. I think you need a lot of love as well. You have to love it enough to be willing to fail. And then keep loving it!
Welcome to the Grishaverse!
VT: Let us talk about your more recent project, a new Netflix mega-production. For those who might not know it yet, how would you describe Shadow and Bone?
DG: Shadow & Bone is a new fantasy TV series based on the best-selling books by Leigh Bardugo. Set in the Grishaverse, we find ourselves in the country of Ravka (think Imperialist Russia). Ravka 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 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. We follow her as she struggles past those who would help and control her, love and betray her, capture her and kill her, in order to ultimately step into her power. And also save the world. No biggie.
VT: How do you feel about portraying Nina Zenik, knowing she is a character with an already established fanbase due to the popularity of the books of Leigh Bardugo?
DG: Certain characters find you and can help you through tough times, offer escapism, they make you feel less alone or more accepted. When I read Six of Crows, Nina Zenik did this for me. Which made me realise that she’d already done that for so many other people. So I do feel a great pressure or responsibility to ensure Nina can still be that for as many viewers as possible.
The first time I googled Nina Zenik, I discovered all these stunning artworks made by book fans. No two were the same, but they were all Nina. I’ve tried to keep that in mind. These fans felt compelled to bring Nina to life through art, and I feel that this is just my version of that. I can’t draw, so I have to act my version of Nina. Nina will go on existing in everyone’s mind’s eye when they read the book. I can’t be everyone’s Nina. All I can do is work my ass off to make mine the best it can be.
VT: Which anecdote could you share with us about your experiences while filming Shadow and Bone?
DG: I could tell you a good few of me being an absolute eejit for sure, but my fondest memory is from my first day on set. I was nervous. I hadn’t really experienced anything like this before and was just basically feeling like a tiny baby on her first day of school. I was getting my hair done, and suddenly an Irish accent called out: “I hear there’s an Irish woman in here” and it was the DOP. He happened to be from Kerry and came to introduce himself. I just felt instantly more at home. And that was kind of the theme with the teams on this production.
Eric Heisserer, Leigh Bardugo, Shawn Levy, and the others at the top running the show always made such an effort to be there for us and make us feel at home and at ease. And as a performer, I think it’s important to be able to trust and feel taken care of. It frees us up to be able to do our best work.
DG: YAZ QUEENS! Welcome to the Grishaverse! I do have to say though, whether you’ve read the books or not, I think you’ll enjoy it just as much. The writers have had to create a new backstory for some of the characters, which means brand new material for everyone. And, kind of akin to Game of Thrones, there are many seemingly unrelated characters on very different journeys, which means there’s a storyline for everyone.
If you’re not into fantasy, then there’s a gang of criminals to scheme with. If you’re more of a bloodthirsty sort, then you can get caught up in the battles and assassinations. Or, if you’re just more of a softie, then there’s a tragic love triangle that is very swoon-worthy!
VT: Anything else you would like to share with Vanity Teen?
DG: Nope, just thank you for taking the time to let me wax-lyrical about myself and Shadow and Bone!
Before we go
Shadow and Bone is out now, and we know you are going to love it. Fans of the books will not be disappointed, and there will be new followers who are going to appreciate how amazing this new TV show is.
What else could I tell you about Danielle Galligan? She is an exceptional and talented actress, but when she is not in front of the cameras, she is one of those people who make you feel so welcomed; you feel like her words give you the kindest hug everyone deserves.
Let us remember her message: love what you do. The paths we have chosen might be tough, but if we stay true to ourselves, we can find reasons to push harder and never stray from our way to happiness.