We here at NextMovie are as YA-curious as the next guy, and after paying a little visit to the Toronto, Ontario set of "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" we're thinkin' that maybe Sony's gotten itself that much-fussed Next Big Thing on its hands after all.
Yep, we trekked right up to Hollywood North and took studious notes while chatting up author Cassandra Clare and the film's shockingly gorgeous cast members: Lily Collins (that ruby-tressed heroine du jour, Clary Fray), Jamie Campbell Bower (main hunk Jace Wayland), Robert Sheehan (BFF-with-a-crush Simon Lewis), Kevin Zegers (the adoptive brohan with a 'tude, Alec Lightwood) and Jemima West (whip-wielder, Isabelle Lightwood).
So, what did we learn from this trek into the Shadowhunting world? Gobs, and here's a rundown!
1. Costumes matter
In case you haven't already noticed, those Brooklyn demon-slayers wear some pretty rad threads. And apparently, all that leather and lace definitely lent favor to these actors getting to fierce mode.
"I love leather, and there's a s**tload," Jamie Bower told us of his gnarly wardrobing. Also beneficial? "The tattoos, I love tattoos ... hell, it makes him look badass."
For Jemima West, whose character is celebrated in the series for her sartorial selections (in the costume design room, Isabelle's ironically delicate white frock with a thick black waistband stood out among the rest), she found the "avant-garde" work of costume designer Gersha Phillips to be of "massive, massive influence" for her mindset. "The second I put my leather on and really high boots, I feel like I'm someone else ... I'm definitely Isabelle when I'm in those heels."
This proved especially true for Lily Collins as the boho chic-to-buxom Clary Fray. "What I love about this is that you do this normal Clary, you know, kind of hippie chic artsy girl, wearing boyfriend jeans ... going into this tube top of a dress and then into the Shadowhunter leather gear."
The switcheroo was so dramatic, in fact, that she was a little off put at first garb glimpse. "When I first saw the outfits on the rack, I thought they were Isabelle's and then they were like 'No, no, actually these are yours.' And so I love it. It's really fun to be able to have this other persona of Clary brought out in the clothes ... it's very edge and very sexy and very much how it should be in that fantasy world."
2. This isn't your everyday fantasy film direction
Sure, there are nether-creatures and vampires and werewolves and angels and everything else under the fantastic sun in the mix here, but if you're gonna have a good drama, there's got to be more to it than just running from this monster or that. And for Cassie Clare, the thing that convinced her director Harald Zwart was up to the job of making her "City of Bones" a real magical movie place was the very fact that he wasn't a fantasy moviemaker by trade.
"He comes at the project from the point of view of someone who has always concentrated on the emotional relationships between characters in his work," she noted. "He's very committed to underlining that every character has a relationship with every other character, and I think it's that kind of basis that's required to make fantasy feel real."
Kevin Zegers added his two cents to say, "Harald's aware of why these movies work as opposed to other ones ... [the] difference between 'The Dark Knight' and a similar movie that doesn't work is that the characters were well-placed in that you sort of relate to them. In spite of all this weird supernatural stuff going on, they're still sort of centered in reality."
For Collins, having Zwart on board is a true boon to the franchise because "he's spent so much time on making sure that what we're doing is believable and not silly or too CGI or too heavily relying on post-production ... it's so emotionally charged and it's not relying on instant gratification — image, image, image — and it's not based on just the aesthetics."
3. Art imitates life at least a little bit
There are some inherent similarities between these actors and their on-screen counterparts … ya know, apart from all the pretty.
To West, it's "how faithful" Isabelle is "and how strong and determined" of a sister she can be that relates to most. "I share family values so I was immediately drawn to her. I thought she was really funny as well. Sometimes, she'll get pissed off about things, and she's very spontaneous ... I grew fonder of her even more so as the books [went] by, and I thought, 'Wow, there's so much to do.'"
Meanwhile, for Zegers, his Alec "definitely has a core belief system in place, and that's something I have. He's a little pigheaded in the way that he deals with things, but not in a way that offends too many people."
On the other hand, Collins, the daughter of world-renowned musician Phil Collins, found a striking difference between her own upbringing and that of our somewhat naive little "TMI" protagonist here. "I'm not necessarily saying that I would 'fit in' to Pandemonium, but I think I would maybe feel more comfortable in different situations than her because I have been exposed to different types of situations and people than her. Still protected, but less sheltered."
4. Nah, there's no pressure on these kids ... none at all
Just Google Image search "Jace Wayland" for a small sample of what fans had in mind for this one before Jamie Campbell Bower stepped into his Jace boots. Initial backlash is an increasingly common tale, after all. "Twilight" fans were outright peeved at the selection of Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen once upon a time if you can believe it, and don't even get us started on the Peeta Mellark debacle. Suffice it to say, expectations were high, and reactions were ... mixed.
But Bower rose to the challenge and aims to dispel any lingering doubts when the film hits theaters Aug. 21. He, who'd famously beefed up for the part using Krav Manga, found that it was the "physicality" involved with the character which required the most of him. "I've pushed myself further than I've ever pushed myself before." That includes ample stunt work and other muscle-y behaviors, and for him, "It's been a challenge, but it's been a challenge I've wanted to do, and I love to challenge myself."
Lily Collins, meanwhile, was lucky enough to sneak in way early on in the development process, so for her the experience was just a matter of being a fan and getting that ultimate dream role. "I was cast and it was amazing because I was so passionate about the series of books and wasn't aware of the huge fan base and the blogs and everything about that side of it until I was cast — when all of a sudden everything blew up about casting," she remembered. "Oh my God, I can't imagine if anything had been taken badly in the Twittersphere and the blogging because I had no idea about how big the books were. I just knew that I responded to the literature of it. So for me this is like I'm a fan that got to play a heroine that she admired."
Helpfully enough, too, Cassie Clare made sure to advise Collins at the outset that the part was about much more than just whether "she had the right red color of hair or the right green color of eyes" to wit. Instead, she wanted her leading lady to "try to capture what she felt was the intrinsic spirit of the character." Huzzah!
5. Subtlety is key to sticky subjects
There are certain subtexts to "The Mortal Instruments" as a book series that, in order to successfully translate onto the big screen, require subtlety in performance and depiction. One such is the jealousy young Alec feels over Jace's blossoming relationship with Institute noob Clary.
"I didn't want to create a sort of one-dimensional character based on what his sexual preference is," Kevin Zegers told us. "I think people have the expectation that you have to sort of give all his secrets away early on, but if this one goes well, we'll have plenty of opportunities to sort of lay that all out." That's not to say he won't be catty with the girl. "From the moment he meets her, he's not really a big fan and doesn't want her around. And not just because he has a thing with Jace but because I think it's more about the whole family, the structure of the way things are with them he doesn't like someone interrupting that."
6. Girl powahhhh!
For Lily Collins, her Clary Fray is definitely earning a spot alongside the likes of Katniss Everdeen among the lit heroine elite, and she's got mad respect for her girl.
"She is just amazing. She is a heroine," she gushed. "But she is a normal girl at the same time ... I love that Clary lives in our world and also lives in another universe and she goes between the two and she's fighting these demons of a fantasy world but also demons that every teenage girl goes through, and she is able to do so without losing herself completely."
"What I love most about Clary is that she is able to play that balance and kick butt," Collins added.
7. There will be stunts
With a movie like this, when the opportunity to get down and dirty presents itself, you take it. And, ohhh, they did. In fact, we watched from the dailies deck as a neighborly row went down between Collins, Bower, Sheehan and the weird Madame Dorothea (CCH Pounder).
"It's been so fun doing the action!" Collins squealed. "I was like, 'Do I get to do all this hanging from a wire and sword-fighting?' I love the action part and they're letting me do as much of it as I can."
Bower added, "I've wanted to do a hundred percent of the stunts ... There's been but one thing that I haven't been able to do. And unfortunately it happened two days ago, and the guy got a bad ding on his head, so I'm kind of thankful I didn't do it. Hence this being on my face now [pointing to bruising marks]. This isn't real; it's to match his ding."
8. Yes, Simon's third-wheel-ness will be just as awks as you expect
Rob Sheehan, whom Cassie Clare notoriously championed for the role of her Simon, explained, "We shot a scene basically where Simon declares his love ... I catch [Clary and Jace in the corridor] and it kind of crystallized what hasn't been said between the three of us for the last while since we got together. So then I kind of, in a roundabout way declare my love to her and then I storm out."
So, for those keeping track of the geometry here, that's two love triangles (and counting) at play, then.
9. For Jamie, Jace is totes a (redeemable) d-bag
As a final nugget, Bower declared openly that he finds Jace to be, frankly, "a bit of a d**khead" but avers that it's all just a big defense mechanism.
"What's interesting to me when I was discovering out who he was, was this vulnerability that exists underneath this shield of wit or rudeness ... It's scary to let someone in, and the moment he feels almost instantly he feels that he's been betrayed, he just shuts back off again, and I love that about him. I love this. I wouldn't say he's a cool customer ... I just think it's brilliant. Because you don't get d**kheads in stories anymore. That's what I love about him."
"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" hits theaters on Aug. 21.
A "City of Bones" cast and filmmaker panel offering new film footage and a discussion with author Cassandra Clare, director Harald Zwart and actors Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan and Kevin Zegers is planned for San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, July 19 at 4:05 p.m. in Hall H.