“You don’t always have something incredible to say” – Freddy Carter chats to Shadow and Bone co-star Kit Young
Film+TV | 26 April 2023
Photographer Fabien Kruszelnicki
Stylist Keeley Dawson.

Donning his neo-noir overcoat and trilby for Shadow and Bone season two, British actor Freddy Carter returns as Kaz Brekker: the anti-hero leader of the Dregs, a gang of charismatic thieves. Within this escapist landscape – an adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling Grishaverse fantasy book series – Carter conjures Brekker to the screen, much to the delight of fans hooked worldwide. Just scroll through the many fan-made Kaz Brekker YouTube compilation mixes: ‘Kaz Brekker being an entire mood’, ‘Kaz Brekker being tired of everyone’, ‘Kaz Brekker and Jesper Fahey being an iconic duo’. We thought we’d make that last one happen IRL, bringing Freddy Carter and Kit Young [aka Jesper in Shadow and Bone] together for this conversation.

Kit Young: How’re you doing, what’re you up to?
Freddy Carter: I’m very good, I’m calling to you from the countryside, which is delightful. I’m looking out over fields and greenery, which I’m realising is more and more important to me.

KY: Happy belated birthday, you’ve just turned 30.
FC: A lot of people are asking like it’s this big daunting thing, “Did you wake up and feel different?” No, I think I’ve basically been about 45 years old for the last ten years. [both laugh]

KY: Old soul.
FC: Old soul is the generous way of saying “likes to stay in and is a bit boring.” [laughs] You’ve got a few years before you hit 30?

KY: I have two years. So I have a few questions for you that I’ll ask. For people who don’t know, when and how did we first meet?
FC: Someone said to me recently that we actually met before at the National [The National Theatre of Great Britain], but I don’t think either of us remember it. Do you?

KY: Oh really? Did we meet at the National?
FC: Someone said to me, “Oh yeah, you and Kit met ages before the chemistry read.” But the chemistry read is the time I think we met, because at your final audition Amita [Suman] and I had already been cast and you’d come in and we had to do a really strange catwalk.

KY: That weird catwalk, exactly. Where the three of us were facing the back wall and had to turn around and walk towards the camera.
FC: I can’t remember who told me that, but if neither of us remember it then it doesn’t feel true. [laughs]

KY: I’d say that chemistry is the first time we met. You were very polite but also smartly kind of removed, if you know what I mean?
FC: It’s a tricky thing when you want to welcome someone with open arms but not get too attached. The casting director was there, and Eric [Andrew Heisserer, creator] and Leigh [Bardugo, author] were on Zoom, and as soon as you were out the door, Leigh and I did a look at each other and then a comedy double-take back to the Zoom, like, “That’s our guy.” So we did get attached. But it’s very hard, you don’t want to convince yourself that’s the only person who can play that role.

KY: Of course not. I also remember you had this slight air about you, because the job was pending, it was like two weeks until we started, I could feel you were like, “I’m going to have to uproot my life and move to Budapest.”
FC: Yes. Amita and I knew a little bit about what was going on, I think that day we’d been sent some places to stay, or some information about Budapest. But I remember thinking that you had no time at all.

KY: Yeah, I had zero time. It was almost two weeks to the day after that chemistry read that we had to go. Here’s a question, so moving to Budapest, we went for six months the first time, pre-Covid, am I right in thinking that’s the longest stretch of time you’ve been away from home for a job?
FC: Yes, I’d done longer things but they’d all been UK-based, so I’d been able to go home every weekend and it didn’t feel as daunting.

KY: We were somewhat locked in, they didn’t really want to let go of us.
FC: And I appreciate that because schedules are always changing. But it is quite daunting when you land and they say, “This is you for six months.” Especially the first season, they were getting us up to speed with any stunts, costume fittings, props, it was much more intensive that first time we went to Budapest because they had a lot of stuff to figure out, but it was nice to be involved in that. Sometimes you turn up and they’re just like, “Here’s the coat you’re wearing.”

KY: The amount of stunt training we were doing, you were doing all kinds of tricks with your cane [laughs].
FC: You were doing backflips and shooting people at the same time, Amita was hanging from the ceiling and throwing knives, and I was sort of just baton-twirling [both laugh].

KY: But it was very good.
FC: I was thinking about this the other day, it’s such a strange, intense experience being away from home with, at that time, a relatively small group of people. There were six of us there. You go from seeing each other basically every day for long days over six months, and then you come back and don’t see each other for months at a time.


“You don’t always have something incredible to say, and taking that pressure off yourself is a huge thing”

KY: We came home and that’s when the pandemic happened. When was the first time we saw each other after season one, during the pandemic? That would’ve been like seeing a long-lost friend really.
FC: We went to Hyde Park with Archie [Renaux]. That was maybe August. It’s very nice because I’ve done long jobs with people before, and then you catch up and aren’t quite in sync. But whenever you and I, you and Jack, especially the Crows see each other again – because we spend so much time together, it feels like fitting back into a groove.

KY: We just pick up where we left off, which is great. I wanted to ask you a bit more about your experience on the show. We’ve spoken about this before, but translating the source material from the book onto the screen – thoughts? Did you find it terrifying or was it more like, it doesn’t really matter?
FC: I think I’d read two episodes of the show before I’d read full books. So I had a TV version in my head before I got fully into the books. It wasn’t like someone handed me the source material and said, “We’re thinking about making a TV show about this, do you think it could work?” So when I was reading the book I was looking for things that would work [in the TV version]. That was helpful, but I think maybe you didn’t have that?

KY: I did read the books first as I didn’t have a whole lot of information. So I went and read all of it and then when I got the scripts I went, “Oh wow, there’s a lot here that isn’t our material,” because we had to do lots of brand new stuff. But we were always trying to put seeds in…
FC: Because we were all fans of the books and, like you say, a lot of the first season isn’t lifted straight from the books, so anything for the book fans and that fills out the world and characters, we were all quite keen to do. But I didn’t feel a whole lot of pressure taking a character from a book to screen until, and we’ve spoken about this before, when we were announced. We were together in my flat in Budapest as a big group when the photo of the six of us was released, and that’s when it suddenly became very real that a lot of people were very interested in what we were going to do with it.

KY: It was a very weird moment, I don’t think I spoke for like an hour [both laugh]. I was just on my phone looking at everything. Also this was technically before we’d shot anything. We’d been in Budapest for a month training, but we hadn’t actually done anything yet. So suddenly the pressure felt like it was on.
FC: That’s true, it didn’t even feel real.

KY: Completely, and then we’re all in your flat thinking about how we’re going to pull it off.
FC: It’s lovely to look back at us all together, not just sat by ourselves. That was the moment I felt the most pressure to get it right – whatever that means.

KY: Of course, for me I was just trying to capture something similar to what was in the source material. Other than that, I was just trying to fit with our version of the show. So we had that pressure at the beginning of season one and I felt a little bit of pressure at the start of season two because it was the first time I’d ever returned to anything, whereas I know you have. How did you find coming back?
FC: I think I felt that pressure again because people had enjoyed it and wanted more of it. So you want to justify people’s excitement and intrigue.

KY: And make it better.
FC: To go above and beyond. And I think we have, I think we’ve expanded the map and brought in all these new characters while also delving deeper into those we established in the first season. But of course you and I know that things happen in this season that people won’t be expecting. When we read it we go, “Oh, did I want that or expect that for my character?”

KY: Also I think you and I more than anyone else in the cast, whenever we get a new episode through, we immediately message each other about it.
FC: As we’re going through it [laughs]. Also having a team of writers who are so open and amenable to our thoughts.

KY: Especially this season, right? In season one, I felt, rightfully so, that I needed to be lead into making this fantasy world, whereas coming back onto it, we kind of know what it is now, at least to some extent. They’ve been very lovely with trusting us more.
FC: How long did that pressure last? Do you think as soon as you got back on set in your coat and twiddling your guns…

KY: I think that does a lot for it actually. I think you have to be there wearing the clothes. Also, in season two it was nice that our first days shooting were with you and Amita, so it was like, “Oh, it’s back to basics,” before we got into working with people I hadn’t worked with before. Also it was exciting, it was like, “Oh we get to do this again!”
FC: Yes, and it’d been a long time.

“I’d love to make art that challenges how people think, their perceptions, but I also just want to make work that people enjoy.”

KY: About two years.
FC: Some of the pressure came from that as well, like, “Do I know how to be this person anymore?” Because by the end of season one, we’d all been living so intensely together with it for six months, then you stop quite abruptly. Then the show coming out is such a different thing. It’s gone through so many different pairs of hands before it reaches people’s screens, it can sometimes feel far removed from what you did and your experience of it, which is always interesting. Did you feel that slight detachment from it?

KY: Yes. During the peak of lockdown we were in discussion with each other like, “I wonder what it’ll be like?” And being really excited about it because we’d finished it but not seen it yet. Then when we got to see it, it doesn’t necessarily match everything you remember, there are elements that really live up to that and others that surprise you. We’ve both had moments where we’ve talked it through, like, “Do you remember it being like that?” When we did New York Comic Con, that was huge. There were so many people, maybe the largest group I’ve seen in one space ever. I think that’s when it’s not really ours anymore, it belongs to other people. That’s quite a unique thing because we share it [as a cast], but they share it in a different way.
FC: It’s true, and it’s quite freeing if you can get your head around it. This was our experience of it, we had a lovely time doing it and are really proud of what we did, and now we hand it over to a very talented group of people to make it complete, and then we hand it over to a very excited group of people who want to watch it and see what they make of it. So you get to do your bit. I do want to direct and be involved at each stage in the story.

KY: So slight gear change then, you do want to direct but you also have been doing a bit of directing. How does it sit differently with you, both creatively and practically on the day?
FC: Practically, as you know, 90 percent of your day as an actor is spent waiting, and ten percent very exciting, very fulfilling, very brilliant fun work. But whenever I’ve directed something, 100 percent of your time is spent solving problems, being asked questions, your opinions on things. People want guidance, or they want to challenge you and bring new ideas, which I really enjoy. I think that always-100-percent-on-the-go style of working suits me better because I don’t have time to overthink stuff. Creatively, it’s the same thing, being involved in a story from the genesis… for example, Broken Gargoyles [a short film directed by Carter], to be sent that script so early on…

KY: You were meant to film that before season one, weren’t you?
FC: Yes, but he [Fred Fergus, writer] sent me the short play script years before that. To be involved in all the different versions and figuring out the best way, the best cast, the best producers to bring on board to make it happen, I find that so exciting. I know you write…

KY: Yes, there are different lanes you can occupy and I often find it easier to be in one for a bit and then the other. I think we both know people who are acting and they also want to do transition from one to the other. But I know I want to do this [acting] for as long as people let me, which will probably be until the end of this call [both laugh]. Working on different sets and with different groups of people is what makes it exciting and interesting. What has been your favourite set or best environment to work on? For any reason, it could be that the snacks were great.
FC: [laughs] I think about the last few days of season one on Shadow and Bone so fondly because it really was the fairytale ending to a wonderful six months where all of us were suddenly thrown together. To be there with everyone while they finished their storylines was very special. There were mystery pastries as well.

KY: There were mystery pastries! [both laugh] One day people will understand what the mystery pastries were.
FC: But also shooting my first short film and getting that taste of control and power [laughs]. As a learning curve, we shot that over a weekend and it was the most tiring few days, exhausting. But I loved it. What are yours?

KY: I think our set, both times round, although there were differences with new cast, new directors, so on and so forth. Just a different time as well, it makes a difference that the first time we started in summer and ended in bleak, bleak winter, and the second time we started in winter and ended in summer, so they kind of feel different in certain ways. Also the show is just bigger the second time, there are more people. But it’s interesting to have a couple of people who you’ve always been through it with it with, such as yourself, like I can track you throughout the whole experience. That makes it feel quite unique and special because in so many other jobs you might work with someone for two days and that’s it. Having a real sense of camaraderie and friendship with fellow actors can’t help but have a really positive lasting imprint on you.
FC: It’s interesting, that ships in the night thing. The project I’m doing now in Dublin, The Doll Factory… one of the reasons I was so excited to do it was because I know 90 percent of the cast or, knew of them, have mutual friends.


“It now feels jarring if you walk onto a set and everyone is from the same place and background, it now feels like that’s the anomaly.”

KY: Of course, the pool gets smaller.
FC: It gets smaller and smaller, and again, you go from that social aspect to getting to work with them. For The Doll Factory, I’ve worked with basically one person the whole time, which has been lovely, he’s incredible, but all the people who I went out to work with, I haven’t seen. It’s something I forget, just because people are in the same show doesn’t mean that they spend time together or work together.

KY: What’s interesting is that you get to work with different kinds of people as you go on because you’re constantly meeting different people from different backgrounds, creatively as well as representational backgrounds. Representation is a massive thing today, and we’ve had the benefit of working together on a show that was very, very diverse. I feel like with everyone it’s like, “Oh you bring this.” It’s not just carbon copies. I wondered what you thought about how that can potentially get better?
FC: I think that’s something that’s getting better and better about this job. It now feels jarring if you walk onto a set and everyone is from the same place and background, it now feels like that’s the anomaly. I’ve been fortunate to work with show runners, producers and studio production companies who want to be part of changing that story. The big change will come when that happens behind the camera as well. Actually, Shadow and Bone season two was the most diverse production team I’ve been part of. I think you can sense it, the stories feel much more rounded.

KY: It’s true, I think especially when people see season two, there are some plotlines that probably wouldn’t have been done ten years ago. And the same for you, when it comes to characters who have a disability.
FC: I think those characters have been around for a while, but it’s about the purpose they serve. Leigh Bardugo put it really well, she said that when she started writing Six of Crows, she wanted to write a character with a physical disability who wasn’t immediately considered a villain because of it. He’s an anti-hero, sure. And he does some questionable things, but he’s not inherently a bad person.

KY: And he’s also powerful, he’s not weakened by it.
FC: It’s something he loves about himself and enjoys, because she said that she never saw that in fantasy or in wider fiction.

KY: The Richard III archetype.
FC: Exactly, but I do think it’s changing and I’m happy to be a part of a show that feels at the forefront of changing some of those stereotypes.

KY: We get to bring it into today by drawing on those things and highlighting them. What kind of stories are you interested in making in the future? Are you like, “Oh, I really want to do a trilogy of slapstick comedy movies.”
FC: Who told you? [laughs] It’s very difficult to say because at the moment ideas seem to be flying past me and I’m either lucky enough to grab hold of one or they sort of go. I’m reading this amazing book, Big Magic, which is all about creativity, and one of the main ideas is that your art doesn’t always have to change the world. You don’t always have something incredible to say, and taking that pressure off yourself is a huge thing. I mean, I’d love to make art that challenges how people think, their perceptions, but I also just want to make work that people enjoy.

KY: I guess what you’re hitting on is the value of something.
FC: Joy and hope are what I’m going to lean towards.

KY: I’ll do the other side then, I’ll just do really dark and depressing things. [both laugh] We always get asked whose part you’d want to play in Shadow and Bone, but whose part would you not want to play?
FC: You know the answer is your part. [both laugh]

KY: Yes I know that, but why? Because people will be curious about that.
FC: I think there are challenges as an actor you can enjoy, and then there are challenges that you would just constantly feel like an idiot. There are so many things about your character that would be huge leaps from myself, it’d be transformation on a level to which I’m not familiar [laughs]. I’d love to try, but I wouldn’t want anyone to film it.

Interview originally published in HERO 29. 

photography assistant BRUNO McGUFFIE;
fashion assistant SETH CULLEN;
make-up assistant JODIE JACOBS


Read Next