The Freeform TV series Shadowhunters has returned for its final 12 episodes, in what is sure to be an emotional roller coaster ride. While everyone is dealing with the loss of Clary (Katherine McNamara) and are trying to move on in their own ways, the Shadowhunters face a new level of evil, with the arrival of Jonathan Morgenstern (Luke Baines). At the same time, Simon (Alberto Rosende) is determined to get rid of the Mark of Cain, Clary is desperately trying to find out how to escape her current situation, and Magnus (Harry Shum Jr.) is learning to adjust to living with his mortality, all of which are bound to have consequences.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Harry Shum Jr. talked about just how much these remaining episodes of Shadowhunters will explore, the incredible fan support they’ve had for the series, how he dealt with the news of the cancellation, saying goodbye to Magnus, the challenge of playing his character without his ability to do magic, the dance scene with Magnus and Alec (Matthew Daddario), his favorite upcoming moment between the characters, seeing more of the father-son dynamic, what he got to take home from the set, and the relationship that he’d like to have seen explored deeper. He also talked about his experience being a part of Crazy Rich Asians and his hope for the sequel, along with taking some time to enjoy the birth of his first child.
Collider: Obviously, I’m sad that these episodes coming back means we’re that much closer to the show ending, but it clearly looks like there are lots of things in store before that actually happens, which is a good thing.
HARRY SHUM JR.: Oh, yeah! There’s so much that happens, that I think it’ll keep you on your toes, episode after episode. It’s some of the best work that the writers have put together, along with the cast and just everyone, collectively. We’ve explored a lot of interesting things, especially the height of the threat with Jonathan, and Luke Baines does wonderful job playing the villain, in these final episodes. Along with that, there’s the thing that people love about the show, which is the relationships, like Malec, and Clary and Jace, and also possibly a new romance of two characters that you’ve loved, who come together, as well. There’s a lot to explore.
When you signed on to do this, to essentially play a centuries old bisexual warlock, could you ever have imagined that the show and this character, specifically, would gain the incredibly devoted and loyal fan base that it’s had?
SHUM: Well, there was a devoted fan base for the books. But even having it based on those books, and bringing the things over that were so great about the book that people loved, and then having this team put their spin on it, I don’t think we expected this. You can do something like that, and fail incredibly. It might not work because stuff happens, with anything that’s based on source material that was so loved. So, to have this happen, and to have this kind of visceral fan reaction, in such a positive manner, has really been an outpouring of love. And what those fans have done, putting billboards up themselves, and the awards, and the fan letters and fan art, it’s overwhelming and incredible to be a part of this phenomenon.
It’s always hard to say goodbye to a show that you love, but this show did get three seasons and it’s going out on a creative high, which is not always the case. How did you find out about the show’s cancellation, and did you go through a process to deal with that news?
SHUM: Yeah. It was a shock because everyone was expecting it to go on. Everything was great. I guess the silver lining, with anything that happens in life, where you always have to look at the silver lining and go, “Okay, this is a thing that I wasn’t expecting, that I would have wanted to go on,” is that the fact that we have these two final episodes. It’s 12 episodes total, but two episodes after we found out about the cancellation, so we basically got to make a movie. So, it was a bittersweet process of everyone being devastated about the show ending, but at the same time, knowing that we get to end it, in the way that we want to end it. We were together, and we had this process to do the things that we wanted to do. We had the opportunity to do that, when a lot of shows aren’t that fortunate. They hear, “You’re completely done,” and there’s nothing they can do about it. If they have any regrets, they think, “Oh, I wish I would have done this or that.” But, we had the opportunity to do that. There are a lot of shows that don’t even have one season, let alone three, and we got to do 50 wonderful episodes, plus. I’m glad that the audience gets to see them. They’ve had a long wait, and we’re finally here.
When you play a character that is as cool as Magnus is, is it hard to say goodbye to him?
SHUM: Yeah. When I first started, I wasn’t used to putting make-up on, a costume on, having my nails painted, and doing all of those things. I’m a very simple guy. I put on a t-shirt, jeans and shoes, and I’m out the door. So, this prep work was something that I had to get used to. I have this routine, and with anything that you’re not used to, it’s gonna always be hard for the first 20 days. After that, it just becomes something of a habit. But I feel like this character will live on, as long as he’s lived, in the artwork that people put on, and in how it affects a lot of people’s lives, with just how much they’ve loved the characters. Even on this long wait for the episodes to come out, I felt like he was still around. There’s something really special, as an actor, when you play something that’s not forgotten as soon as it’s done. Sometimes characters are forgotten while they’re still on. So, I’m very fortunate that I have this, where I think this character will live on. I’ll miss him, but the good thing is that I feel like he will always be around, and he’ll be in the hearts of a lot of the fans.
One of the interesting things about these episodes is that you get to play a huge, dramatic change with Magnus, which doesn’t often happen, three seasons into a show. How was the experience of playing this character without his magic? Was it hard to adjust to him being very different?
SHUM: Yeah. The reason it was a challenge is because you have this idea of this guy who does magic, and that’s just how he lives. It’s like someone who can’t live without coffee, so they have coffee, every single day, and they take it a certain way. He’s never really had a routine, like brushing your teeth and washing your face, because that could be done with a snap of fingers. You’re almost watching this child wake up and not know how to do anything, or getting frustrated so easily when he tries, because he’s had instant gratification, right there in front of him. It was really fun to play that, and there’s a humor behind it, but there’s also this tragedy behind not being able to take care of yourself in the real world. You’ll see the struggles of that, and you’ll see his frustrations from trying to even explain that to someone like Alec, so you’ll see that fight. Also, he’s not able to save himself, or to fight off any enemies with his powers. You’re gonna see a training sequence, which is a really fun sequence that’s hot, heavy, fun and dangerous, with Magnus and Alec. The writers did a really great job of progressing the story while also having fun with it, as well.
We also get a glimpse of the Magnus/Alec dance scene in the trailer. What was it like to shoot that dance, and did any funny bloopers come out of that, especially with you having much more of a dance background than your dance partner?
SHUM: Cris Judd choreographed that number, and he’s friends with Matt Hastings, our director. Cris Judd has danced for Michael Jackson, and I’ve been friends with him for a long time. He’s amazing, but he couldn’t be there, so he choreographed it through video and sent it to Matt [Daddario] and I. He would Skype in, and we’d be in this room. I was shooting a film, during that time, so I was only able to come back for one rehearsal, to do it with Matt. How his mind works is very interesting because he’s an athlete. Matt Daddario is a great athlete. He’s played baseball and basketball, and he’s very athletic, so it’s tough to say that he’s not able to have coordination, but the idea of dance is very different. You have to have a different rhythm, and you’re having to go with an outside source, which is music. When he was learning it, he was completely frustrated, but when we started putting it into sports terms, he started to understand. He was like, “Oh, the rhythm is here. It’s just like doing the crossover, when you’re warming up for football. Okay, I know that move.” And he would extend his leg a little further and make sure to do it on his feet. So, constructing that and putting it together, he became a pro, instantaneously. It was really amazing! When it came to putting the layer of acting on it, which is 50% of dancing, he was right there with me. I didn’t really have to do much. He carried everything, himself. It was a really great experience to see that, and to see the quick growth. He can go dance now. He could do a dance job.
So, it sounds like nothing too embarrassing came out of that.
SHUM: I’m surprised because he was like, “Oh, my god, why do I have to dance with Harry Shum?,” but he’s just got this confidence. At a certain point, instead of having fear, in every single take, he was actually having a lot of fun. That’s what made that scene, and I hope that comes off in the dance sequence. I haven’t even watched it yet, so we’ll see.
How will things continue to evolve for Magnus and Alec, in these remaining episodes? Do you have a favorite upcoming moment between them?
SHUM: There’s a lot. With this relationship, one of them is always trying to make the other one feel better. One of them is always trying to not have the other one feel pain, sometimes to the detriment of the relationship, or detriment to themselves because they might be doing too much. It speaks volumes about their love for each other, but it also speaks volumes about not letting things just happen and feeling that they need to be pro-active. With that, consequences come into play, and they’re gonna have to deal with how to fix it. And my particular favorite thing that’s coming up, I can’t really talk too deeply about because I’ll spoil it. They definitely get into a heated argument, and there are consequences that’ll happen, that will hurt more than just each other. We’ve never done anything like that, and it’s a dramatic scene, but not overly dramatic, but in the sense that the world of Shadowhunters is dramatic. I’m looking forward to seeing how that comes out because I think it’s really great work from Matt, and it was really, really fun to bounce back off of him.