Dominic Sherwood beats on vampires in “Shadowhunters,” but he’s taken some hits himself while filming the adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s bestselling “Mortal Instruments” book series.
The British actor busted a tooth and hurt his ankle while shooting the first season, currently airing at 9/8c Tuesdays on Freeform. He plays Jace Wayland, an angel-human hybrid called a Nephilim. He and other Shadowhunters fight demonic forces on Earth.
It’s a physical role, Sherwood told me in January at the TV Critics Association winter meeting in Pasadena, Calif., but the mishaps haven’t dampened his enthusiasm for the project. Sherwood talked about playing such a beloved character with mad fighting skills—and how in that respect he is nothing like Jace.
I hear you are the jokester on the set.
It happens. [Laughs.] I make the most pranks and jokes; that’s probably me more than anyone else. When we have a tough day and we’re physically exerting ourselves to the absolute max—I had my tooth knocked out twice and almost broke my ankle—on days like that if someone can make you laugh that’s the best thing. Laughter’s the best medicine.
How did you react to your tooth being knocked out?
I was in shock more than anything; seeing stars. I got kicked in the face and I was like, “That really hurt.” I remember circling my tongue around my teeth. I was like, “We’re good, we’re good, we’re good, we’re good. Oh no, that one’s missing.” I kind of looked around on the floor and there were little pieces of my tooth. It wasn’t ideal. But they looked after me so well and the stunt team is so good. Accidents happen; they do in stuff like this.
That’s kind of scary.
The teeth were fine. I got them replaced and it was not an issue. The ankle was the one that bothered me the most because I couldn’t walk on it for the day. I was on crutches for a week after that. It was very difficult because I wanted to be on set. I wanted to be doing it. … It killed me having to watch my stunt man do it. That was more difficult than anything else.
Have you been having a blast?
I can’t even tell you. I can’t describe it in words. … It is everything I love and it’s everything I want to do. It’s a dream job. I was there for eight months, the longest I’ve ever worked on one individual project. … It just like almost brought me to tears Day One. So it’s really fantastic.
What kind of physical prep did you do?
Fortunately I was cast first, so I had the most time up in Toronto to physically prep, which benefitted me massively because Jace is a sword fighter. He’s been training his entire life.
You have a lot of different moves.
One of them is a secret so I can’t tell you that, but we’ll count that as No. 1. Then my seraph blades, and I have throwing daggers and I have a seraph dagger as well. I have four different weapons on me at any one time.
Throwing daggers is relatively easy because you never actually throw a throwing dagger. It’s all kind of smoke and mirrors. So that’s pretty easy—just pretend like you’re throwing something. That’s fine.
The seraph blades are quite sharp and they’re quite dangerous. If you hit someone with those they’re going to get hurt. I’m not as worried about someone hitting me because if that happens you try to go on.
I’m worried about hitting someone else. I don’t want someone else to be the victim of me not being good enough. So that prep time for me was important in that way that I was good enough to keep everyone around me safe.
Do you feel being prepared physically, or with the weapons, is as important as knowing your lines.
Oh absolutely, yeah. I call it character prep and I have a book for every character I’ve ever done. I actually had to get a second book for Jace because I wrote so much down about him. I completely prep my character in every emotional way … Anything that I can do to prep the character I write it down.
That’s as important to me as the physical training. It’s such a big part of who Jace is. He’s been training as a soldier his entire life so I had the emotional stuff down and if the physical stuff didn’t look right then the character wouldn’t look right. So I think they’re as important as each other.
Jace and Alec have an interesting relationship. They’re brothers so to speak.
Brothers in arms. It’s closer, yeah.
We learn Alec has stronger feelings. How does that play out?
I don’t know how much I’m allowed to give away. In the book that’s the case. They’re Parabatai [a pair of Nephilim warriors who fight together as lifelong partners, bound together by oath, regardless of their gender]. The word is Parabatai and it means brothers in arms and they’re bonded on more than just an emotional level. There’s a physical bond between them that lets them fight as one. And they almost think as one person. They’re almost one being and they feel for each other and they can use each other to accentuate their strengths and blah, blah, blah.
Again in my research I had to compare that to real-world relationships and how that line between best friends and love interests can then be muddied. You have to kind of gray that line a little bit—because both people in this case didn’t feel that. It’s dealt with in the show with realism.
It’s interesting to see how each person deals with a relationship that’s one-sided.
I agree and I love it. Because of his training Jace doesn’t handle it as well as you or I would handle it. He doesn’t handle it as well as maybe he should have done. But it’s done with realism in context of the characters.
This has been a movie before. It’s a book series. Did that add pressure for you to inhabit this famous character?
Oh definitely, to kind of become this very well-known character. It’s almost like playing Romeo. It’s been done so many times it’s very difficult. There’s a little pressure. I try to put the movie out of my head as much as possible, especially because I have a physical representation of that character that I can see. I try to break my characters down to the level of how they walk, how they hold themselves, how would he hold his seraph blade?
You put all that down in the character books?
It’s all in the books. We have conversations about costumes. Is his jacket done up or undone and why? No decision was made lightly; those decisions are incredibly important. That’s how we developed the character into someone hopefully the fans of the book series are going to love. And hopefully even the fans of the movie are going to love. … On occasion we have people saying, “Oh I wish they could have used the movie cast.” I’m sorry but that just can’t happen.
Well you wouldn’t have a job.
I wouldn’t have a job. That’s exactly it, yeah. I’m grateful we didn’t use the movie cast.
You’re a Brit. Not so well-known here. What do you want people to know about you?
I want to tell the world that I’m exceptionally clumsy, so if you’re a fan of the show and you call me on the street and you’re from behind me and I have to turn around I’m probably going to fall down. So please don’t laugh at me on the street. Please be nice because I’m actually quite like a shy kind of insular guy. So if I fall on the street please don’t laugh at me. Maybe try and help me up. That would be lovely. That would be great.
So all the Jace agility and fighting capabilities stuff is just…
All a façade, yeah. I had to work very hard on not falling down.