Peacock is entering the world of the vampires with the new series Vampire Academy. Based on the popular young adult novels by Richelle Mead, the series follows the adventures of Rose Hathaway (Sisi Stringer) and Lissa Dragomir (Daniela Nieves) as they navigate love, politics, and killer vampires at St Vladimir’s Academy.
Vampire Academy will look to become another breakout hit for showrunners Julie Plec and Marguerite MacIntyre, who previously worked on The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, and Legacies. In an interview with Digital Trends, the Vampire Academy cast speak about the pressures of depicting beloved characters, the appeal of portraying vampires, and what they would say to fans of the books who are skeptical of the series.
Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: Kieron, Dmitri is an intense, disciplined guy who ,over time, reveals a more sympathetic side to his persona. Why did this role appeal to you?
Kieron Moore (Dimitri Belikov): I think, for me, the surface level is, of course, this lethal, disciplined, bred-to-protect vessel. It really sort of transcends most other things. But it was the element of trying to find the sincerity and the vulnerability underneath that I think makes us all human, and it comes in the form of Rose Hathaway.
I’m super-excited to tell that story. It’s been such an honor. I hope I’ve managed to achieve that, and I think as the show goes on, people will maybe find the trouble I had, which was that in opening up and finding vulnerabilities, you often find conflict. That was really rich for me to find, as well as the physical stuff.
Rose is a badass guardian-in-training. Sisi, does this type of role excite you as an actor?
Sisi Stringer (Rose Hathaway): Of course. I read the books. I was a huge fan as a kid. I watched the movies. When I got the audition, I was so excited. I was like, “I know this girl. I know this woman.” Then as soon as you get to set and you start playing her in real time, you just relate even more. But I think the scary thing is how similar we are, actually. Truly, it’s honestly scary. She’s very fiery and outspoken and strong-willed. She’s never a doormat. She stands up for what she believes, and she’s really passionate.
But she can be volatile, explosive, and mischievous. Where Lissa always has a kind word and an open shoulder, Rose is not that way. However, all of the fighting she does and all of the aggression definitely come from a place of passion and love for the people and the things in her life. At heart, she’s a lovely girl.
J. August and Jonetta, what attracted you to these roles? Did you want to play vampires?
J. August Richards (Victor Dashkov): I always wanted to play a vampire. That’s probably from years of being on Angel and watching the actors who play vampires have all the fun. I wanted to try the other side and quickly I realized that this is probably one of the most human vampires. But the interesting thing is I think all vampires, ultimately, are about humanity and what it means to be human. It’s just a metaphor in the same way that sci-fi or futuristic movies are never about the future; they’re always about the present. This character is very committed to finding justice within this underground vampire society, and that’s what drew me to the character.
Jonetta Kaiser (Sonya Karp): Well, I love vampires. I love Julie Plec. I love the books. I read them as a kid ,so I was already in when I saw that and realized what it was. I feel so connected to her [Sonya] because I’m a very shy person. I grew up very, very, very shy. It was very easy to step into that. You’re right about the different personalities because she has to go with her dad, sometimes, to his royal things and I have to act accordingly, which is different from when I’m in my library, handling my books and talking to birds. [Laughs] So, yeah, it was interesting. It was fun.
André, what can fans expect out of your portrayal of Christian?
André Dae Kim (Christian Ozera): I think fans of the book will hopefully see that I’ve tried to keep the essence of Christian from the book. A snarky, but walled-off kind of persona that has a lot to do with resentment and a lot to do with protecting himself from the treatment that he’s received. But, I hope they can also find some surprising things in seeing Christian in other states that we don’t see in the book, like Christian by himself and Christian without the perspective of a Rose or Lissa. I think those parts might be really interesting for book fans as well.
Because the show is based on a beloved novel series, did you all feel an added amount of pressure to satisfy fans who love the books?
Daniela Nieves (Lissa Dragomir) Yeah. I mean I think it’s an honor, it’s a privilege, [and] it’s a pressure. But overall, the stories are just so good, and these characters are so good and so well-rounded. They have so many dimensions to them. I think as long as we get the themes and the characters and the world right, I do believe that the fans of the book are going to really enjoy the show. They’re going to be able to fully immerse themselves the same way that they did with the books. It’s a series of 10 episodes that they can really dive into.
The fans are so important to us. They really are the reason that this is so iconic. I’m going to play a character in these books that millions of people have read. Like that’s crazy, and it’s all because of them [the fans], so we’re very much in love with them. We’re very much involved with them. We care about their feedback.
Stringer: We talk to them all the time. They’re so supportive, so it’s always lovely, despite the fact that we may not look like the way the book describes the characters or the way they look in the movie where there’s not a lot of diversity, let’s be honest. Dani always says the essence, right? We capture the essence of the characters, and I think that’s more important than her having blond hair. Sometimes the fans get a bit upset, but they’re always so supportive. They go, “We know. We trust you, and we know that you guys are going to do a good job, so what you look like doesn’t really matter that much.” It’s nice that they have that much trust in us.
Kaiser: Not necessarily. I respect the fan base. I’m one of them, myself. But what we were able to do, what Julie Plec and Marguerite were able to achieve, is keeping the spirit and the heart of the books. It’s a lot more contemporary. It expanded on what was written 15 years ago so it’s edgier, hip, cool, and diverse, which is amazing. The worlds that we were in, the costumes that we were in, the scripts we were given. Once you have all of the pieces to the puzzle, there’s no pressure because you have everything you need. You’re fully equipped. I didn’t even think about any pressure from anything.
Richards: I usually always feel a lot of pressure, but for some reason, I didn’t. I guess because it was such a journey. We were moving to Spain, getting the scripts as we got there, absorbing them, figuring out the world, learning Spanish … There was no time for pressure.
Since many characters are great fighters, a lot of you had to train in martial arts. How did that go? What was the process like?
Andrew Liner (Mason Ashford): Yeah, any time we weren’t shooting, we were training, learning choreo[graphy], or working out, putting on some muscle. It was a really interesting experience because not only did we have to find the physicality of these characters in a very character way, but Dhampirs are supposed to look a specific way. They are protectors. They are physically dominant people, so I think finding that was great. Rigorously learning choreo, and then having choreo change on the day and being comfortable with it changing on the day was awesome.
With experienced creators like Julie and Marguerite, does their prior knowledge of the subject provide you a sense of relief, knowing you can trust their vision?
Nieves: It gives us relief. We feel like we’re safe. They definitely have a vision, and they know what they want. They know the stories they want to tell. They know what they want it to look and sound like. They are successful leading women, so it’s so admirable to just watch them work. Even being around them working feels like a privilege. I feel so blessed to even be a part of this with such amazing women.
Stringer: Yeah. Strong women to kind of model our own strengths from. One thing about Lissa and Rose’s friendship as well is that they are both very strong women. They have their pitfalls, and they have their turmoil. A turbulent relationship at times. But at the core of them as characters and the entire story is their love for each other and their friendship.
For fans of the books who are skeptical about the series, what would you say to them?
Moore: I completely understand them. I think when you cherish something as much as these books are cherished, you have a love for it, and that should be carried through. I hope that people give the show and the characters, that were portrayed in our interpretations, an open and empathetic approach. I hope they take that time to try and fall in love with these people as much as we’ve fallen in love with playing them.
We’ve talked about this word a lot, this “essence” of character, and it’s something that stuck. Everyone does bring it [esscence] from the books and adopts it in their own way, and it might come in different shapes and sizes and motives. Ultimately, the characters the fans love, we love. … Just sit tight, trust the story, and trust the writing as much as we did.
The first four episodes of Vampire Academy start streaming on Peacock on September 15, with new episodes available weekly on Thursdays.