The internet loves to ‘ship’ fictional or real individuals together, and right now social media is divided on one of the greatest debates of 2021: should Shadow and Bone’s Alina, played by Jessie Mei Li be in a relationship with Ben Barnes’s Darkling of Archie Renaux’s Malyen ‘Mal’ Oretsev?
In case this is the first time you have heard anything about this great debate or the latest Netflix smash hit TV show, take a seat because there is more to this drama than just relationship statuses. The fantasy adventure, Shadow and Bone – based on Leigh Bardugo’s Grishavers young adult novels – follows an orphan Alina as she discovers she has a super power, gets kidnapped, comes into contact with a rather sexy Wizard AKA Ben Barnes’s Darkling and is used as a weapon to heal war torn lands. Alina’s childhood friend, Mal is left looking on and goes to dangerous lengths to be reunited with her, discovering in the process his feelings for his pal may be a little more than platonic.
The world of ‘shipping’ and super powers is worlds away from Archie’s home town in Kingston Upon Thames where he was working as a jobbing labourer before landing his role in the hit Netflix show. And there is plenty more of the 23 year old Brit coming to our screens soon, as he is set to star opposite Lily Rose Depp in the sci-fi movie, Voyagers.
Here Archie opens up about overcoming an intense AF training regime, farting horses and stints on building sites to reach Netflix stardom, his hopes for Shadow and Bone season two and why Mal and Alina is the relationship that makes the ‘most sense.’ Not that he is biased…
The success of Shadow and Bone has been amazing – what has been the craziest thing you have seen fan wise?
It’s been pretty surreal! We’ve been waiting so long for this to come out – we started it in 2019 not it’s 2021 – and so much has happened in between that time. There’s been a lot of really cool artwork and it’s been great that the fans of the books, for the most part, are very happy and that we’ve done the books justice.
What’s changed the most for you personally between filming to now?
My god, quite a lot! It’s funny watching it now and being like, ‘wow, you have no idea what’s coming! You have no idea about what is going to happen to this world in a couple of weeks! There’s no pandemic going on, you can go out, you can see people, you can hug people and there’s nothing to worry about!’ That’s honestly how I look at it now – everything was so simple!
You looked like you had a blast with the cast whilst filming this. What was the funniest moment for you on set?
I am fairly good at keeping my focus when it comes to the visual effects and they use a tennis ball on a stick or just a green screen. But the funniest thing was – I haven’t been around horses that much – we had to do a scene in the stables with all these horses. One of them started farting and then it was just a choir of horses farting and crapping! It’s silly but it cracked me up as it kept on happening!
Mal has to overcome his fair share of obstacles in Shadow and Bone but in your own life what are the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome?
I’d say getting into the world of acting was one of the biggest things, because I didn’t go down the ‘Orthodox’ route as I didn’t go to a full time drama school. I started off doing air condition engineering, which is what my granddad did. Acting seemed so far away because of how uncertain it was so taking the dive was probably the biggest thing and overcoming that fear and going into the unknown is quite a scary thing. I quit the apprenticeship I was doing and there was quite a lot of self doubt but as soon as I did, I had a tunnel vision of, ‘I’m going to go out and do this and that’s it. There’s no other option!’ I was still laboring on building sites on the side to make ends meet, too.
You had to do a lot of training for the role. What did that teach you about mental, physical strength and your body image?
I’ll tell you what, if you want a good body you have to work for it and it comes at a cost! That was the best shape that I’ve been in, in that show, but the meals were boring and bland – apart from the Tabasco that I was covering it in! I trained five days a week so it’s a lot of maintenance and normally I don’t eat like that, I like to eat a pizza! I don’t look like that at the moment but it’s nice to know I can do it. It was a challenge that was a big ask but I managed to do it. I am back in the gym at the moment to keep in some kind of decent shape – just having a little bit of muscle – and if I need to get ripped I can do it but I’m not putting too much pressure on myself and making (my) life a bit of a misery by just eating bland food!
Friendship is such a central part of the Shadow and Bone story – how have you leaned on the cast?
They became my family away from home because we were all out in Budapest and essentially we were a bunch of strangers to each other. But they very quickly became my best friends. That made for such a nice work environment, everyone there I love to bits, and honestly I have got my fingers crossed all the time that we get to go and do it again because it was just such a fun, enjoyable atmosphere to be around.
What do you think the experience and playing Mal taught you about yourself?
Persistence! Mal goes through so much stuff, but he does it so selflessly and that speaks to me quite a bit. You can use that in day-to-day life, going above and beyond to do things for people, especially now, when we could do with a bit of help here and there.
What would you love to see happen in Shadow and Bone season two?
I’d like to see new lands explored and new countries within the Grishaverse. I’d also like to see the characters get split up and mixed and matched a little bit. So maybe we see Alina and Edge go out on a mission – that could be quite interesting or at least do it for a bit!
The internet is certainly trying to ship Mal and Alina together…
I think it’s pretty even between Mal and the Darkling. I am flattered that people think Mal and Alina are the ‘ship’’ because in reality that’s the one that makes the most sense because the other guy is a bit of a worry!
I love the layers you give to the masculine character of Mal – was that important for you to not play to stereotype?
I just wanted Mal to be relatable. I know when I watched films as a kid, I think the ones that I always enjoyed the most are the ones where I could relate to the characters, learn something or find something in them that speaks to me. I think it’s essential in this world where it’s full of magic to have someone very human who is just so earnest, with such a big heart and such big courage. Hopefully it’s something that people enjoy watching, learn something from and take a bit of bravery from him and think, ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’
Shadow and Bone is available on Netflix now.