Julie Plec and Marguerite Maclntyre are bringing their experience with vampires to Peacock for the new original series, Vampire Academy, an adaptation of Richelle Mead’s novels. Sisi Stringer and Anita Joy-Uwajeh portray Rose Hathaway and Tatiana Vogel, respectively, two significant members of vampire society.
With Vampire Academy set as one of the most highly anticipated new shows, Sisi Stringer and Anita Joy-Uwajeh discussed what to expect from the show and what separates it from the continually growing vampire genre.
Culturess: What makes this vampire series unique from other supernatural shows?
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: This vampire show, unlike other vampire shows, is you are getting a look into what it’s like to live as a vampire.
Sisi Stringer: In a vampire society.
Anita Joy-Uwajeh: Exactly, in a vampire society. So we’re not hiding from humans. We’re not trying to protect ourselves from humans coming to get us or us trying to camouflage and live in their world. No, we are existing in ours. So fans, new fans, people who have never watched a vampire show before will get the opportunity to experience what it’s like to live as a vampire in a vampire society.
Sisi Stringer: Outwardly, openly, with the issues that vampires suffer, the way they eat, all of that stuff, and there’s also three different types of vampire, which is kind of a different concept to most vampire stuff. So there’s the good ones.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: The Moroi.
Sisi Stringer: The Moroi. And there are Royals and Non-Royals, and they drink blood, and sunlight burns, irritates them, but they’re not immortal, and they live longer than humans, but they do eventually die. And then there’s the bad vampires.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: Strigoi.
Sisi Stringer: Strigoi. Evil, undead, immortal, killed by sunlight, blood-thirsty, rabid, feral, and the only way they can be killed is a silver stake through the heart. And then,
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: And then there are the Dhampirs, who are the guardians who protect the Moroi vampires that live in our society, and they are half-vampire half-human. Their existence is there to keep us safe, to keep the Moroi safe in this society that Vampire Academy exists within.
Culturess: You have a lot going on in the show, so what excites you the most about the world you’re building?
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: The fact that it comes from the amazing books which has given us an incredible foundation, and I think Julie and Marguerite, they built on that, and they’ve taken all the delicious stuff that exists within these books and just stretched them for us to play and that’s just been such an amazing, phenomenal experience. And then getting the opportunity to film it in Spain, and that was just like epic because we had these,
Sisi Stringer: Real castles.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: Real castles, real monasteries; everything was there for us to work with. Nothing was green screen or anything like that, and these amazing landscapes, so that’s what I would say.
Sisi Stringer: I would probably say all of that and the fact that, so we come from books, and then there was one movie, and they didn’t do any more movies, and now we’re doing a series, and I think one of the best things about doing a series is that we now can really have fleshed out characters and we can explore every single character and all of their relationships and dynamics much more deeply, and it’s not just from Rose’s perspective as the books are and the movie kind of.
So we get to see all of these different perspectives and class structures and systems of oppression and people working through all of that stuff, and rumblings of revolt and all of that kind of stuff, so it’s a much deeper portrayal of the story, I think.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: Just to piggyback off of that, what’s amazing is that we are exploring at times some quite heavy issues but in this pure escapism-like way so the audience members can learn stuff from it but won’t be beaten over the head with it because you’re getting to experience it in a vampire world. You’re getting to experience it in this fantastical universe.
Culturess: You have a lot of these intelligent, strong, three-dimensional women at the forefront of this show. What is the importance of that representation?
Sisi Stringer: It’s so important for women and young women to see strong characters, strong female characters, and complex characters as well. Not tropes or a Mary Sue or anything like that. Characters that have a lot of depth and they’re authentic, and I know, for us at least, it’s especially important for young black women and young black kids to see us and see us doing our thing and see us as strong characters and stuff because now they can look at the show and say I look like her or this person represents me and look at all the things that they’re doing, and that’s really important, and the fact that fans have also spoken to us about how important it has been for them, and sometimes you read those comments and those messages, and you tear up because you’re just like this is something I never had. I was watching television growing up in the 2000s, and I barely saw myself, barely.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: I think it’s all of what you said, absolutely. I think it’s very inspirational for people; that’s what they’re getting from it now. I’d also say that I think for like men, young men, men of all ages, I think them being able to see strong women portrayed on the screen is also really important because they’re hopefully getting to see reflections of women that they know in their lives being fully realized on the screen now and represented on the screen now and know that actually if they come across a strong woman, it’s nothing to be intimidated by but to embrace. So, I really hope that that’s what’s taken from this show.
Sisi Stringer: Definitely.
Culturess: You mentioned class structure; how is that playing a role in the worldbuilding of the show?
Sisi Stringer: Well, there’s a system of royalty, basically, so the good vampires, the Moroi, they have a class structure even within their own race. There are Royals and Non-Royals.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: And depending on that, you get different benefits.
Sisi Stringer: Obviously, the Royals have a lot more privilege, and they’re able to do more things, and they have more social mobility.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: Then you have the Dhampirs.
Sisi Stringer: And then you have the Dhampirs, and you see they’re essentially a race that exists for servitude like they, from birth, they are conditioned and socialized and taught that their role, as a race of people, vampires, is to serve and protect another race of people.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: It could be physically. It could be either through protecting the Moroi vampires, or it could be through breeding in order to create more Dhampirs that will go on to protect or breed more. No matter what they’re doing, they’re serving.
Sisi Stringer: Exactly. No matter what you do, you are putting your body on the line in order to protect a different race of creatures that you’re being told are inherently more valuable in their lives than you are.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: And then right at the bottom of that, we have the Strigoi, who are the evil, immortal vampires. who can only be killed with a silver stake that goes through their heart, and they are sort of right at the bottom of our society, and they’re the ones we need to stay clear of, and we need to protect ourselves against, and that be both the Dhampirs and the Moroi.
Culturess: What drew you to this project?
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: For me, I had never done any fantasy-like work before, and so that, for me, was incredibly exciting. Also, Julie and Marguerite, when they offered me the role, I can’t believe I’m saying it offered me the role; that’s so wild. But, when they offered me the role, they said to me this character is gonna go on an incredible journey, and I really was very excited about that and was intrigued by that, and was like okay, you know what, I’m gonna jump right in, and I’ve been acting for a long time, and these opportunities are so rare so it was such a privilege I couldn’t say no.
Sisi Stringer: Yeah, absolutely. I read the books as a kid, loved them. My sister loved them. So when I got the audition brief, I was like, no way, no way! I had no idea they would ever make it into a series after the movie. So I went through the audition process, and I went further and further along, and I had started to think because usually, you go, I’ll just do a tape, I’ll send it away, and you forget about it because why would you get that job? That’s the actor mentality. And then I got to the end of this audition process, and I was like, I actually have a chance right now. This is insane, and I know this character. I love this character. She’s so much like me.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: I literally can’t see anybody else playing Rose.
Sisi Stringer: That’s a good thing, but it’s also a bad thing. And then when I got the call saying you got it, it was 4 AM, and I was sitting on the floor in my hotel on a different job, and I screamed, cried, danced, called my agent, called my friends, and I was just like this is perfect. Imagine playing a character that you know and love so much, and the opportunity came up, and I just snatched it, and I’m glad I did.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: I’m glad you did too.
Culturess: For fans of the novels who are gonna tune in, does the show keep the essence of the books?
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: 100 percent.
Sisi Stringer: Oh, absolutely! We’ve changed some things; I mean, technically, it’s an adaptation.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: So there’s been room for interpretation. There’s been room for some development and growth. But at the same time, it definitely is the energy that exists within the books and that the fans are used to seeing or reading, as it were. It’s definitely still in the show.
Sisi Stringer: Absolutely! The essence, the relationships. The dynamics. The characters that we love. Absolutely. Definitely. I’m biased, obviously, because I’m a part of the creation of this thing, but we’ve made it a lot more appropriate for the modern audience. A lot more diverse for a modern audience.
But I actually really like the changes that Julie and Marguerite have made to the story like I think that they make it better like genuinely, I think they’re better to show off the character development, and they just took these amazing books that Richelle made, and they went how do we expand it even further because we have the time in ten episodes to do that. I think they’ve done it really well. As a fan of the books, I think it’s great.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: And it was done with pure love, right? Julie and Marguerite love these books, and it was from the love for these books that inspired them to take these characters that they fell in love with in these books and just run wild with it. I think that’s what fans will get to experience when they watch Vampire Academy.
Sisi Stringer: Definitely.
Culturess: What can the audience expect from the Strigoi?
Sisi Stringer: Terror.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: Terror, they’re going to be utterly, utterly terrified.
Sisi Stringer: Truly.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: When they appear, they are the scariest things ever. I mean, I would not want a Strigoi to appear to me at any time of the day. They are purely and utterly terrifying.
Sisi Stringer: It’s really funny because obviously, the Dhampirs and the guardians; we have all of our fight scenes with Strigoi, and the first couple of times you film a fight with someone in full Strigoi make-up, and they’ve got the fangs, they’ve got the red eyes, they call action, and this person will run straight towards you for you to start your fight and it is terrifying. Like Kieron, the first time it happened to Kieron. He literally, he could not move, and instead of ducking and doing his punch, the Strigoi went to swipe him, and he just did a reflex block but didn’t move the rest of his body.
He didn’t duck, didn’t do what he was supposed to do because it was so terrifying. Particularly like I’m a small woman, and I was fighting the first episode, I’m fighting a Strigoi that is almost seven-foot tall, and so he’s running at me full speed, red eyes blood mouth, fangs, pale, and I’m just going Oh My God, I know I’m supposed to fight right now, but I can’t remember the choreography, so I’m just gonna duck.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: There was Alberta; she had a moment where a Strigoi was coming at her, and instead of actually going to do the fight, she just went, “Ah!”
Sisi Stringer: I think that happened to everyone the first time everyone had a Strigoi run at them, it was terrifying, so hopefully, that translates on screen.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: Oh, 100 percent.
Sisi Stringer: I reckon it will.
Anita-Joy Uwajeh: A hundred percent. I didn’t fight any Strigoi, but when I saw it, I was like, that’s not coming near me. That’s not coming near me. No, not happening.
Vampire Academy premieres its first four episodes on Peacock on September 15th, with new episodes airing weekly on Thursdays afterward.