Last fall we took a trip to Vancouver to sit on the rooftop of Kings Dominion, the school for teenage assassins in the upcoming SYFY adaptation of Rick Remender's comic Deadly Class. The rooftop is littered with empty cans, bird poop and other various bits of trash. It's in this place where we meet, for the first time, the assassins of the school. Well, the actors who play the assassins.
Liam James plays punk skateboarder Billy.
"Before I went to the audition, I went and bought one of the volumes of the comic books," he explained. "It wasn't the first one, 'cause at the store I went to, they only had the second one. And so, I read it. It was awesome. And, intense. But, really really had an impact on me. Very emotional. Just left you different than when you started. It moved me, I guess."
When Marcus first comes to Kings Dominion, he doesn't receive a warm welcome from everyone. But James says Billy finds something he'd been missing before Marcus showed up.
"The thing for Billy, I think, is with Marcus arriving at the school, I think it's the first time he sees almost without knowing it, sees someone who is a very genuine person who could be his friend," James explained. "I think that Billy is really looking for friendship and people who he can actually trust, and I think he sees something inside of Marcus that he can really trust. I think, for a big part, while there's a million crazy huge things happening, I think one of the things that I really like about it is it's just a story about friendship."
On the rooftop above the dorms and classrooms overlooking a fake 1980s San Francisco skyline sat Luke Tennie, who plays Willie Lewis, a gang kid from Los Angeles forced to attend Kings Dominion by his mother.
"One thing that I always, in my head, the one thing that I said that I know this to be true, about Willie, is the fact that he is extremely good at combat. He is very proficient in combat, in the skills that it takes to be an assassin, but he hates violence," explained Tennie. "That dichotomy is beautiful and I thought it would be different if he was just someone that didn't like it and was incapable of it. But someone that has the power and chooses not to use it, is a totally different person than someone without power. Cause they have no choice whether or not to use it, they can't."
But since he's at a school for assassins, Willie has to feel okay with killing in some situations, right?
"Willie doesn't tell very many violent stories because of his perspective of violence. But we know that he is capable of it, so I wouldn't be surprised if we see Willie coming into protect someone he cares about, or maybe standing up for himself," said Tennie. "But I don't imagine that he would be the type of person to give into violence merely to protect himself. I feel like he would only do that if his friend was in danger. Which is more than I can say for myself, so I admire him for that."
Michel Duval's character Chico isn't quite so opposed to violence. He's perhaps the most antagonistic character. While many of the others avoid violence when possible, Chico seems to seek it out. Duval explained how he decided to approach this type of character.
"When I was building the character, it's really easy for you to just be like, 'Oh yeah. I'm going to do a cold-hearted villain. An assassin that has no love for everyone. He enjoys killing' but I was talking with the director and he told me and that's like a key, 'Yeah, man. That's all correct. But they're kids.' And at least my character's been killing since he was like seven years old," explained Duval. "That's something traumatizing for a kid. That's a life, that is not normal. So you can prepare, like, physically, stunts and all that stuff but mentally and emotionally what it means, every time they kill they're killing the kid too... It's just like heartbreaking.'"
Much of Chico's storyline is characterized by his tumultuous relationship with Maria. Duval discussed the importance of having two characters speak Spanish to each other and how it's portrayed in the show.
"And that [representation], for just like, the Latino community, is like a stand," he said. "'We're here. We can fight... We have talent. We raised from each other.' From Colombians, Venezuelans, Peruvians. And when we speak Spanish, it's just like going back home. It's really well written. The Spanish that they write, it's awesome. So it's always good to meet with another Latino [Maria] and just let it go."
Maria Gabriela de Faría plays Maria, whose mood swings make her a constant wild card. But Maria is dealing with demons both internally and externally. Externally in the form of Chico and internally, Maria battles with mental health issues, something de Faría takes seriously in her portrayal.
"I worked with an acting coach in L.A. and I'm working with one now, here in Vancouver, and they both helped me to get more into that mental health issue because it's the first time for me [portraying that]," she noted. "But also, I think everybody deals with some sort of anxiety right now. And I think we can all relate to that fear, to that not knowing what's going to happen and I'm so glad that I got that role because it's something that I wanna show to people. I wanna portray her in a very relatable way, I want her to be human, I want people to feel for her."
For de Faría, the process of creating the character of Maria has been collaborative, which she feels gives her more authenticity.
"The showrunners and the directors, they all want us to be a part of the creative process, so they keep texting us 'So I have this idea for this scene, do you think Maria would do that? Do you think Maria would have this in her room?'" she explained. "And I would say yes or no, or I have this idea, I feel like Maria has this little red notebook where she writes this and that, and that I have in my dorm. Like, a log so Chico won't find it. And those are things that the audience won't get to see, but it gives us so much to work with. And it makes it more real, more honest if that makes sense."
Deadly Class premieres January 16 on SYFY.