When you think of the post-apocalypse, the lush greenery of the Irish countryside probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but for Into the Badlands Season 2, it’s the perfect setting to expand the world of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar‘s vibrant martial arts series. While fellow AMC series The Walking Dead paints a portrait of a grimy, urban post-apocalypse, Into the Badlands is set in a world regressed to feudalism and power earned through combat, complete with fortresses and courtly style.
For the second season, Into the Badlands picked up production and moved from New Orleans, Louisiana to Dublin, Ireland, where I had an opportunity to visit the sets, speak with the cast and creative team, get an up-close look at the Widow’s (Emily Beecham) gorgeous gowns, and see them in action as we observed filming on one of the series signature fight scenes. As with all things in the entertainment industry, the move was partially driven by financial incentives, but it also offered the right landscapes for Season 2’s expanded story, which takes us out of the Badlands and deeper into the show’s world as Sunny (Daniel Wu) struggles to make it back to Vail (Madeleine Mantock) and their newborn child. According to Wu, the new locations give the show a “grand and epic cinematic feel.”
Indeed, the Badlands team sees the first season as something of a primer on the world of the show, and with Season 2, Into the Badlands can be fully unleashed as it explores that world with much more depth. “It was six episodes for people to understand the world and the tone and the characters. There was a lot for people to understand,” he said. “This season, with the move and with more episodes has allowed us to really expand the show and make it more of a journey show, which was always our intention. It was never supposed to be a ‘stuck on a plantation’ show. But you need to understand the world and that’s why at the end of Season 1, we sent Sunny in one direction and M.K. in the other direction and left the Badlands in kind of a mess.”
“I almost look at Season 1 as the backstory or the extended pilot, where it sets up the world and this season we start to see the outlying territories and inside the Badlands,” said Wu, echoing Gough’s sentiments on the show’s newly expanded world. “We added some elements like Nick [Frost] that adds levity to the show that helps compliment the martial arts and all the other stuff that happens. But this season, things are much more broken up and all the characters are spread out. Everyone’s got different storylines going on and it’s kind of a way to set up the climax of the end of the season. We’re all trying to get there and there’s a real journey this season and a real quest to make this happen.”
For Sunny, that quest is deeply personal and one that puts him in the kind of dire straights he’s never faced before. A trained fighter since his youth, Sunny has lived as the right-hand man to his Baron as a fearful warrior known as a Clipper, with all the luxuries that accompany such a status. But Sunny was captured in last year’s finale and starts off the new season as a slave in the territories outside the Badlands.
“There’s a real journey for him too because now you see him — last season he was a noble assassin and he hit rock bottom at the beginning of this season,” Wu explained, “He’s a slave. He’s never been in this position. You’ve never seen him in this position, and he’s going to try to climb out of the trenches to reunite his family.”
“Sunny was kind of invincible,” said Gough. “This season he puts up with a lot of adversity. Like he gets stuck chained to Baije [Frost] in a fight and how do you get through that? There’s another fight earlier where he’s a slave and he’s fighting with wooden stocks on. There are things that make it much more difficult for Sunny to kick ass and not as easy as last season.”
The Widow, Beecham’s ferocious but ever-charming and fashionable Baroness, remains intent on claiming control of the Badlands and bringing an end to the caste system of feudal law. “She’s still driven by that same rhetoric that she was in the first season, but things are advancing for her and she’s gaining more power and traction with her forces becoming stronger.” Said Beecham, “People are starting to take her more seriously. So she’s trying to break that division between herself and Barons and Cogs and Clippers and trying to help people recognize that there could be a different and alternative future and system.”
New this season is Nick Frost‘s Baije, a bit of a tricky and slippery fellow who has, quite literally, strong ties to Sunny in his new life. “I think the first time we see him is [when] Sunny wakes up and he’s chained to this man, which I think is always a lovely way to build a character,” said Frost. “He’s difficult to scale. We don’t know what his motive is. He’s funny and charming, but he’s also clearly slightly sketchy. He’s not the kind of man you’d want to introduce to your parents, but I think if you did, he’d do it very well. He has that kind of odd charisma. Then as the show progresses, we’re not sure whether he’s using Sunny or he’s being true or honest, and it just grows from there. I think after about episode five or six, we start to realize that this guy has a big secret.”
Baije also gets in on the show’s signature action, something Frost was excited to be a part of, and according to just about everybody we talked to on set, the show is also taking its already insane fight scenes to the next level. It’s fascinating to watch them in action.
While on set, we visited the soundstage where they filmed The Widow’s hideout — a mansion of the old world, partially reclaimed by nature and overgrown with Ivy, but still beautiful and an impressively decorated set, including a giant staircase to nowhere…well, maybe to awesome fight scenes. There we saw Beecham and her stunt double in action (though sadly, not on wires as we were told they filmed the day before). I’ll save the reveal of who she’s fighting for the show, but Beecham’s scene-stealing Baroness is always throwing down with someone, and for me, it was a bit of a life dream achieved to spend a solid chunk of time seeing how a fight scene gets made.
Into the Badlands is filmed Hong Kong style, which means the choreography is doled out in tiny, bite-sized pieces as they’re filming, so the actors never have to memorize any lengthy routines. They simply have to do as they’re directed on the day, one block of movement at a time, guided by fight choreographers and coordinators who watch every move to make sure it is strong and steady. Sometimes that means another take with the wrist held at a slightly different angle, or making smoother transitions, moving in one full motion. The Hong Kong style is both easier for the actors and keeps the choreography from feeling stale. The folks on Badlands never know like their anticipating punches, because they can’t.
As a martial artist an international action star with over seventy credits in the last two decades, Wu is a hardened pro who’s right at home with that choreography style, but for Beecham, a classically trained actress, there was a bit of a learning curve. Beecham explained, “You adapt to it. You become confident with it and try and make it your own and play with it more. During the first season, it was a completely new experience, so I was just trying to learn it as I went along. That was a massive challenge. It was really exciting.”
She continued, “I’ve always wanted to do some action and fighting because I did a lot in my drama school many years ago. But it was quite amazing working with the Hong Kong team. This is Hong Kong style apparently – guerilla style. They don’t really choreograph it before…We had fitness training pre-shoot, but I don’t actually know what I’m going to do next shot, ever. So I walk onto the set and g ‘What am I doing?” and they’ll show us the sequence, sometimes in Chinese, and I try and do my best and we’ll have a couple rehearsals, then go for it full speed and try not to hurt anyone and work out where in the story it is so you’re in continuity with the drama. It’s a lot to think about, especially if they re-edit it. You don’t want it to not make sense, so you have to keep your head on.”
Frost, a self-professed fan of the martial arts, took to the Hong Kong style with ease. “To be honest, it made things very easy for me,” he said. “It’s just like a dance. I was trained to be a dancer, so picking choreography up pretty quickly is pretty easy for me. I really enjoy it. So not having to learn big, long fights and long choreographies where you shoot the whole scene at once was absolutely great for me because it was like you come on the set not knowing anything you were doing. You’d watch Master Dee Dee, and Andy Chang and the other guys spend 20 minutes choreographing ten moves, and then while they were lining the shot and getting the cameras ready, you would then go up and learn those ten moves. You’d come on, and you’d shoot those ten, and then you’d learn ten more. It’s a really nice way of doing it. I think for me, I found that they only ever worked to my strengths.”
They’re also designing the fights to make sure that it’s a little bit different each time, not just a repetition of what they did in Season 1. Wu explained, “Having the same team from last season helped because we know what we did last season and what we can keep going toward this season. We try to make each fight slightly different. We had a good fight in the junkyard where we used a lot of parkour guys and did parkour integrated with martial arts. Then we did a classic Jackie Chan style fight with me and Baije chained together fighting this one guy.”
Gough similarly promised a lot of different fights and fighting styles with a lot of cinematic martial arts influences. “You get to see a lot more people fight and you get to see a lot of different types of fights. Some are more comedic. You have Nick Frost and Sunny chained together. That’s going to be a funny fight Then you have M.K. who is in the monastery dealing with things in the Crouching Tiger sort of mode. With the Widow and Sunny, it’s a combination of Kill Bill mixed with The Raid. It’s a little faster. You’ll get to see the different styles of Martial arts fighting that we’re using.”
From the narrative point of view, Gough said they were also intent on tying the fight scenes into the story more naturally, with less of a stop-start feel between the drama and the ass-kicking, “I think what we’re doing this year is the fight sequences are more intertwined with the storytelling. This season, it’s a lot more intertwined in the action and the story.”
The story continues when Into the Badlands returns for Season 2 tonight on AMC.