Amita Suman Takes Inej Ghafa as Seriously as You Do

I am not too proud to admit that I was wrong about Inej Ghafa. One of the main heroines of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels and a game changer in the Netflix series Shadow and Bone, she first wandered onto my radar when my teenage cousin slipped Six of Crows into my arms three years ago. At the time, I had recently finished reading several YA fantasy novels I hadn’t loved, and I wasn’t ready to have my heart broken again by shoddy world building. Dubious, I put Six of Crows aside.

“Read it for Inej,” my cousin demanded this year. “She’s my favorite.”

So out of fealty for my cousin and, admittedly, the pressure of needing to cover television for my job, I read Six of Crows, which was adapted in tandem with Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone series for Netflix. And—lo and behold—not only is the series good, but Inej Ghafa is also far and away my favorite character.

Played by Nepal-born, British actress Amita Suman, Inej is known as the Wraith, a silent agile spy among her cohort of Dregs, a misfit crew of criminals who embark on a heist with their leader, Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter). Armed with her signature knives, she is small and lithe, a former acrobat who can scale buildings and leap rooftops so quietly she exists practically as a shadow. But more important than her physical prowess is her reserved demeanor, coupled with a powerful moral compass—she is the most spiritual member of her crew by a mile. And she has caught the eye of Kaz, who saved her from the Menagerie, an infamous prostitution ring filled, in large part, with indentured and enslaved women.

These numerous complexities make Inej fiercely beloved within the massive Grishaverse fandom. When Suman got the role, she knew little of aerial silks or knife throwing, but she felt just as much devotion to the character as her many fans. Before of Shadow and Bone’s premiere, I asked Suman about what it means to embody a character like Inej—and what it’s like to fall for a man like Kaz Brekker.

Did you know anything about this story or Inej herself before you auditioned?

I didn’t know anything about the Grishaverse. I got a breakdown, though, for a self-tape, and there was fan art of Inej included with it. And I just had a massive smile on my face [when I saw it]. I was already so intrigued and pulled in, because it was actually a role for a Brown person, and it wasn’t for anyone else. They hadn’t changed who Inej is. And then, I read the character description, and I just instantly fell in love. So I did my tape. I thought it was a really awful tape, but luckily, I got a callback.

In between, I read Six of Crows. I opened the first page thinking, “I’ll just read a couple of chapters here and there,” but I finished it in one sitting. It really is one of my favorite books ever. It was such an incredible experience reading it.

Knowing what Inej means to the fandom, how did you deal with the pressure of getting her right?

I did feel this immense pressure, but at the same time, because I had the experience of reading the book before, I really empathized with the fans for why they loved Inej. I felt exactly how they felt about her. I had such a beautiful and strong foundation to grow from, to learn from—because when you have a character that you care about, that is cared about by so many other people, you feel as though a community is creating this as well.

Of Inej’s many characteristics, which would you say you identify with most?

I think we both have a very sweet tooth. I ate cakes for my whole six months [filming in] Budapest. It was amazing. There was this one scene where I just had to keep eating these sweet pastries, and I think I had about 17 by the time we finished filming the set. I was really happy about that.

I also relate with her. She was taken from her home and forced into this new environment, and she thrives in it. I grew up in Nepal, with no electricity, nothing, and I came to the U.K., to this modern age where you had your computers and robots and planes and cars. And you could suddenly cook your food in the oven instead of an open fire. So I understood what it was like for her to be in a totally new environment and adapt.

What’s your biggest difference, then?

I’m very giggly. I giggle at everything, and Inej doesn’t.

But she does really find the beauty in the world and in people, and I’ve learned to do that more, when being her and when being myself now as well.

You and Freddy somehow managed to beautifully manifest the deep, complicated bond Inej and Kaz have—one that fans have many, many feelings about. How did the two of you work together to forge this relationship?

We really wanted to find the perfect dynamic between those two, because this is a prequel to Six of Crows. So we can’t straight away have them have the [same exact relationship] they have in the book. So we said, they have one of those relationships where their actions speak louder than the words. They find it very difficult to talk about their feelings.

It was just this really beautiful collaborative experience, speaking and discussing and hanging out and getting to know each other and geeking over the books. Another challenge was that [Kaz and Inej] don’t physically touch. So we asked each other, “How do we still show the chemistry between them without touching?”

After you spent all this time ironing out the subtleties and developing their chemistry, what did you find was your favorite aspect of Kaz and Inej’s brewing romance? When the end product was finally there, what did you really find yourself appreciating?

There was just so much. The thing I love about their relationship is that they completely can thrive on their own, but they’re so much more powerful together—to the point that, actually, they do [struggle to function without each other], and it’s the realization and the murkiness of that. There’s just this magnetism between them, and as an audience watching it, you just want to scream at them, “Oh, my gosh, just tell each other how you feel!”

It’s such a unique relationship. Because they’re not kissing, they’re not making out, they’re not touching each other! Yet they are so magnetized toward each other. It’s one of those relationships you can’t really put it into words, I think.

What did your training regimen look like? How did you embody the Wraith?

It was all a completely new experience for me, and I absolutely loved it. My favorite training time was probably fight training. I got such an adrenaline kick out of it, and because it’s such a huge part of Inej, that was kind of my other research into finding her body movements and her flow and the quickness on her feet.

I hadn’t really gone to the gym before I started this, and then when I got the part I said to myself, I can’t respect this character if I don’t put in the training. I know we look the same, and I could potentially get away with it, but that’s taking the short road. And because I love Inej so much, I really had to completely go headfirst in. So we did a lot of training.

[Kaz and Inej] completely can thrive on their own, but they’re so much more powerful together

Then, with the aerial silks, I had such an incredible stunt team. The woman who trained me, she’s a master at it. My first lesson I could barely hold myself up, because I had no core strength, but luckily, by the time it came to film it, I could hold down a pretty decent routine. But all the cool and intricate stuff that you see, that was my incredible stunt double. She definitely elevated Inej for me.

Other than Inej, who would you say is your favorite character in this series? Who did you find yourself really connecting with, both as you were filming, and then as you got to see the final product?

There’s just so many incredible characters that go through such a surprising journey. I absolutely loved Pekka Rollins [played by Dean Lennox Kelly]. I don’t know what it was about him, but his menacing quality, this uneasiness … every time he came onto the screen, it made me really, really excited about the future with Shadow and Bone.

And also personally, I really loved watching the journey that Alina goes through. Having this power, and the pressures of everyone wanting to use it, I think the journey that she goes through and the woman she becomes by the end of the show is actually really inspiring from a personal point of view.

What do you most want for Inej in Season 2?

[Showrunner] Eric [Heisserer], the way he’s created these characters and stayed so true to them—I just know that, no matter whatever I come up with, Eric’s going to do it a hundred times better. So I’ve said to myself, “I’m just going to leave it in his court with the ultimate trust.”

But, I would love one scene. And that is the scene where Kaz and Inej meet for the first time. I remember, when reading that, it was such an exciting thing. There was just such a foreshadowing of their relationship, of, “I can help you.” From a fan’s point of view, I would love that scene to be there. But who knows if it will or not. Something even better might be there.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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