“You have to listen to fear and then lean in and move past it because without fear then you can never be brave.” According to Dublin-native actress, Danielle Galligan, this is the best advice she has ever received. In Shadow and Bone, Netflix’s latest dark-magic-drama, Galligan certainly embraces this advice as the “unapologetic” orphan-turned-solider, Nina Zenik. “I learned what it was like to live with no shame… it was a very freeing feeling,” elaborates Galligan about her experience playing the character. The actress gave MOD all the details about her experience on Shadow and Bone, as well as what she is working on next.
Sandy: Tell us where you are from and where you consider to be home.
Danielle: I’m from Dublin, born and bred. I believe home is where the heart is. I know that’s a massive cliché but my heart is always with my family, so wherever they are will be home for me. But most likely always Dublin. Dublin is class.
Sandy: What is your favorite place on Earth and why?
Danielle: Tough one! I’m not sure I’ve found it yet, as I think I have a lot more traveling I want to do, but generally when I’m swimming in the sea I’m at my happiest. Over lockdown, I started doing it more regularly in Dublin. I think it’s so great for your mental health. And I would always go with a friend or two, or my Auntie and her friends, so there was always a lovely sisterhood around me whenever I’d go.
Sandy: Describe your perfect day.
Danielle: It’d probably have to include acting in some way. There’s nothing better than the feeling of working on something you care about with other creatives. So, something creative for sure. A good hit of Vitamin D at some stage as well is essential. Definitely moving my body in some way to get the endorphins going. And if it could finish off with a pint of Guinness with someone I care about then that’d be perfect. And maybe an episode of the Sopranos!
Sandy: What is the most bizarre thing you have seen or heard lately?
Danielle: To call this bizarre is an understatement, but I saw something on BBC about a supplement called Dangerous Curves that promised to give women something called a “slim/thick” body, and I just thought this was the most bizarre thing ever. Apparently, by taking the supplement you only gain weight around your bum, boobs and thighs. No science to back it up of course, and social media is promoting the hell out of it while women are experiencing horrible side effects. It’s absolutely toxic and just another way of giving women complexes about their bodies and then exploiting these insecurities for monetary gain. I’m so exhausted with it all. Leave us alone. Let us be beautiful the way we are.
Sandy: How would you describe yourself in three words?
Danielle: Well tactless, reckless and confused has been my tagline for years now. But lately, I feel like a well-meaning disaster is more accurate!
Sandy: If you weren’t an actress and writer, what would you be doing instead?
Danielle: I would very much like to be a psychotherapist and counselor. I have this idea that it’s similar to acting in ways—it involves empathy, compassion, non-judgmental understanding of a person and their history, and why they do what they do. Trying to solve a character’s arc and get them to a place of resolution could be similar to trying to help a person heal and move on in their life. I could be way off though!
Sandy: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Danielle: My mom has always told me to “feel the fear and do it anyway” and that’s something that I’ve always held onto. I think it moved fear from a negative emotion to a necessary one. You can’t ignore fear because it keeps you safe, like, “oh that’s a bus.” You have to listen to fear and then lean in and move past it because without fear then you can never be brave. I’m not condoning taking on a bus, but like going on stage or a first date!
Sandy: Did you read Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows Grishaverse fantasy novels?
Danielle: I’ve often said I didn’t read them, but I inhaled them. I couldn’t stop. I mean, I am biased though, but I did love them. I loved Nina. Again, biased. But for me, it was the characters that hooked me rather than the fantasy. They were all battling something internal and defying preconceived expectations of themselves and I thought it was so compelling.
Sandy: What was the casting process like for Shadow and Bone?
Danielle: Suzanne Smith is a boss. It was quite simple. I did a tape, I got a call back but couldn’t fly over as I was in a show in Dublin, so they did a skype interview with me. Eric and Lee were sitting on my ironing board in my living room. Pre-pandemic also, so my zoom-literacy was non-existent. But they made me feel very calm and like what I had to offer was worthwhile, so I actually really enjoyed it. And I never thought I’d say that about an audition. But that has very much been the vibe ever since!
Sandy: Tell us about Shadow and Bone in your own words.
Danielle: Shadow and Bone, for me, is about a young girl’s fight to step into her power. Alina Starkov is a bit of a misfit, an orphan and soldier who is pretty much treated like cannon fodder. We find her in the fictional country of Ravka that is on the brink of civil war, as it is being plagued by ancient dark magic. One day, Alina discovers that she has the power to save her country. No pressure. But thus, ensues a battle between Alina and those that would control her, capture her, betray her and love her. So, we meet criminals, soldiers, Grisha, royalty and runts of the litter—all trying to survive in this world.
Sandy: What is your favorite thing about this show? And least favorite thing?
Danielle: I think my favorite thing is the wealth of varied experience that we see portrayed through each character. All the characters are so different, coming from different backgrounds and living different lives but they’re all tied together thematically by these inner demons they’re battling. I think that’s a nice message over all. Everyone’s got their own shit to deal with and no matter how polar opposite you may feel to someone else, you’re probably overcoming similar inner struggles. My least favorite thing is that I’m in it, so I can’t enjoy it in the same way as everyone else because I know what happens!
Sandy: You are Nina Zenik on Shadow and Bone. Tell us about Nina.
Danielle: Nina Zenik is an orphan who was trained to be a soldier from the age of 8. She’s a deadly Heartrender who can kill you without ever laying a finger on you. But she has so many facets to her personality in direct conflict with that training, which is why I love her so much. She’s really taught me how to live more freely. She is a hedonist at heart and loves to indulge in everything life has to offer. She has literally no filter, no shame and is very in touch with her emotions. Too in touch sometimes! But, fundamentally she values human connection over all else so I think she is able to find the good in everyone.
Sandy: How is Nina similar or different to you in real life?
Danielle: I think Nina is really well connected to her feelings and emotions. She’s almost ruled by them and acts on them without thinking. I’d say this is where we differ. I find it really hard to suss out how I’m feeling sometimes! Even when I do work out how I’m feeling, it’s usually a week or so after the fact and the moment is passed to do anything about it!
Sandy: Did you learn anything new by playing Nina?
Danielle: I think I learned what it was like to live with no shame. I think Nina is very unapologetically herself and doesn’t worry about what people think about her. It was a very freeing feeling and something I’ve tried to incorporate into my day-to-day for sure!
Sandy: We understand the cast did a lot of their own stunts. Can you share any behind-the-scenes moments from filming Shadow and Bone?
Danielle: Yes! We did! The stunt team were incredible. I remember day one when they showed me what I would be doing. I had to flip a 6-foot lad over my shoulder onto the floor and I told them they were mad. But, I did it. Many times. They also taught me the difference between fighting and then fighting for your life, which elevates the stakes scene from choreography to life and death.
Sandy: What was it like filming in Hungary?
Danielle: I mean, being flown somewhere to do your job is literally the dream. Budapest is a really unique city. There’s such rich history and it’s full of varied architecture, which I really love. I spent my first few days off just walking the length and breadth of the place with a crick in my neck and drool on my shirt. Also, Palinka is dangerous, but brilliant. And I really miss chimney cake.
Sandy: You were on Game of Thrones as Sarra. How different was your experience to playing Nina in relation to your experience as Sarra?
Danielle: Completely different. Every character is different, as is every process. But I was literally only on set for one day on Game of Thrones, so I didn’t really get the same opportunity to experiment and explore an arc as I did with Nina.
Sandy: Tell us about your creative process for writing. Do you have a go-to place when you feel like you need some inspiration?
Danielle: I don’t think I’ve really done enough writing to claim that I have a process. Sometimes, I’ll have an idea sparked by something random, I’ll write it down somewhere and forget about it for a while. Then, I’ll go for a walk and literally talk to myself out loud and record my mad ramblings. Starting out loud feels better because all poetry is written to be spoken I think. Then, I’ll listen back and write down what works. I do have some god awful recordings of a very drunk me thinking I’ve had a brilliant idea which is then quickly deleted the following morning!
Sandy: We understand you like writing—how do you feel that translates or intersects with your acting and roles you take (if at all)?
Danielle: I like writing. I like acting. I like anything that keeps me creatively satisfied really. I don’t know how they intersect or how one translates into the other, I’m afraid. I don’t think I’ve been doing either long enough to have really worked that out yet! I’ll work on that!
Sandy: Where do you see yourself in a few years?
Danielle: Still acting definitely! I don’t mind where, as long as I have access to home and family and my friends I’ll be happy! Hopefully not wearing a mask anymore!
Sandy: Tell us about a goal you have.
Danielle: I’ve always had a goal of buying a house. My Nana was a bit ahead of her time and got on the property ladder early and I’ve always respected that. She’s bred it into me to own my own property, so I’ve been saving up and hopefully it’ll become a reality sooner rather than later!
Sandy: What is something your fans may not know about you?
Danielle: I’m currently learning how to cycle. Pathetic, I know. I can’t tell if me learning to cycle at this age is part of me finally growing up or trying to stay young.
Sandy: You have already worked with so many amazing people in the industry. More generally, is there someone in the industry that you really want to work with? If so, who and why?
Danielle: I have a lot of love and respect by the work that A24 produce. The films that have affected me or meant something to me in the past few years all seem to be A24. I think, industry wise, they’re bravely occupying a risky space above the really low budget films and they refuse to go up to blockbuster level, like so much of what we watch these days. I read somewhere that these two pay brackets are the only way to ensure return on your film, I’m no expert on this though! But I feel the stories they choose to tell have such heart and emotion, no matter where on the spectrum of genre they sit. I think they’re courageous in the stories they choose to tell and the styles they experiment with. I’m always invigorated and moved by their work. I often feel I’ve been given a window into someone’s life experience that I wouldn’t have had had I not watched this film.
Sandy: What are you working on next?
Danielle: Feeling very blessed to be able to say I’m working on Season 2 of The Great. I binge watched Season 1 a few times in 2020, so to think that I’m there now is a real pinch-me moment. I also just love Tony McNamara’s writing—he’s an evil genius!
‘Shadow and Bone’ is currently streaming on Netflix. Follow Danielle on Instagram for updates: @daniellegallian_
Photographs by Joseph Sinclair
Interview by Sandy Aziz