Based on the name alone, Warrior Nun sounds a little like an oxymoron — after all, you wouldn't necessarily expect to find a secret league of female badasses tucked away within the walls of the Catholic church. But you get that and so much more with Netflix's latest fantasy series by creator Simon Barry (Continuum, Van Helsing). It's based on the comic book series Warrior Nun Areala — whose legacy plays a big role in the overarching mythos of an ancient military arm known as the Order of the Cruciform Sword (or OCS for short). The OCS has been tasked with not only protecting the world from demonic threats, but also supporting the one nun chosen to be the "Halo Bearer," who, thanks to the power of the divine artifact embedded in her back, possesses all manner of special abilities.
Enter Ava Silva (Alba Baptista), who wakes up in a body bag to discover that she's become the latest recipient of the Halo and must decide whether she's ready to embrace a destiny she was never prepared for or try and ditch the responsibilities that have been suddenly thrust upon her. With that in mind, Warrior Nun as a series hits the ground running and doesn't stop to take a breath — and when I spoke with the cast days before the season premiere, it turned out the same held true for them as soon as they arrived in Spain to start production.
"We all got thrown into training literally the first day when we came from the airport," said Kristina Tonteri-Young, who plays Sister Beatrice, a member of the OCS with a quiet strength who becomes a supportive presence to Ava as she navigates her new role. "Basically, a lot of us were in the stunt warehouse. ... So we all did some group exercises on how to cover a room and how to go into a room with weapons and how to make sure it's all secure and safe."
For Baptista, the training wasn't necessarily as intensive, but it didn't stop her from showing up to support her co-stars at every opportunity. "I arrived a couple of weeks earlier, but I didn't have a lot of physical training, because the character didn't demand any sort of specialty. So they were kind of letting me loose with physical training. But when the girls arrived, I remember I was there as often as I could, because it was so exciting to see them all in line and being actual ninjas. I was fangirling them from day one."
According to the cast, each character had a unique version of martial arts that they were expected to learn before filming commenced — but over the course of the first season, they also focused on building their dynamic as much as they could off-screen, something that's clearly reflected in the relationships that are tested and later strengthened as the OCS prepares to tackle its biggest threats.
"Everyone really wanted to get along and wanted to create bonds, not only for the characters, but for between the scenes, just to become friends and become real-life sisters, which was something that happened throughout the shoot, I think," Baptista said. "And my bonds with each of the girls came a little bit later, but it made perfect sense for the character — as well as seeing that [the others] were already so bonded right from Episode 1 and Ava comes after. In a way, it kind of developed in real life just as it did with the characters."
"[Alba and I] didn't really get a chance to actually spend a lot of time with each other until Episode 6, which is when our characters get close anyway," added Toya Turner, who plays Shotgun Mary, a member of the OCS who has a particular affinity for firearms and a deep connection to Sister Shannon, the previous Halo Bearer. "So it worked out, and we were able to get to know each other as well. So that was really, really nice."
On the other hand, it's not all smooth sailing for the nuns — Sister Lilith (Lorena Andrea), who had been next in line to receive the Halo, is none too pleased that it's ended up inside a non-believer and becomes something of an obstacle for not just Ava but her fellow Sisters to counter at multiple turns. When Lilith and Shotgun Mary come to literal blows over how to deal with the Ava situation, it produces some of the most kickass fights of an already action-packed first season.
"We had a lot of fights," Turner said, "and we were pretty adamant about learning every single thing and at least giving it a go a couple of times. A lot of it is actually us doing it and not our wonderful stuntwomen." But being thrown into intense fight sequences also afforded them the opportunity to develop confidence in one another, as Turner also revealed: "Of course there had to be a huge, huge trust between me and Lorena. We just bonded really, really quickly, but it was because we were training together a lot."
But the cast didn't just have intense stunt sequences thrown at them to master in a quick period of time — the same held true for their scripts. Without spoiling anything major, the first season of Warrior Nun boasts a surprising number of narrative twists and turns, many of which happen over the course of an already-intense finale and reassert to this group of women that the only people they might be able to truly rely on are each other.
"I remember very clearly collectively, at certain read-throughs, having so many questions and being so surprised," Tonteri-Young said. "And there were these unexpected things coming out of left field, and all of us were bombarding Simon [Barry] with questions about where this is going."
"We were like, 'Oh, this is a lot happening. Okay,'" Turner added. "But it kept us on our toes."
Warrior Nun is a show about larger-than-life circumstances — so it only makes sense that a series that leans so heavily into its mythology and a lineage of badass women sworn to protect the world from supernatural threats would need gorgeous filming locations to serve as the backdrop for these epic battles.
"It was just incredible to be able to film in these locations and have an idea of what it would actually be like to be in a church and live in a church and be in a medieval town," Andrea said. "So it just helped me get into the character and into the world a lot more, just being on these incredible sets."
"And it just adds something special to the show itself and to the quality of the show. Of course, the aesthetics are essential, and had we done this all on a set, we could deceive the spectator with it, but seeing those beautiful sceneries ... the sensations of the Spanish culture are very present in the show, I think," Baptista added.
Now that the cast is a year out from production, it was clear they had nothing but fond memories to share of their time shooting Season 1 in Spain — but chatting with all of them felt like one fun reunion, a clear element of sisterhood that came across in how readily they praised both each other's work and this complex, kickass series as a whole.
"I think just the fact that all these different women have unique strengths and weaknesses, but they come together and they're just a completely unstoppable force ... that's amazing. That's very unique. This is not a script that comes to you every single day," Andrea told me.
"There's not just one badass woman in this story. There are five, six ... so many badass women," Turner said. "It's a dream, to be honest."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Warrior Nun is currently streaming on Netflix.