In the summer of 2015, Lana Condor was all smiles as she sat in a tent with press on the Toronto set of X-Men: Apocalypse. Like her character Jubilee, a mutant that fires off fireworks from her hands, she exuded pure energy and excitement. And why shouldn’t she? Her first film role, playing a comic book character in a big-budget franchise blockbuster, came for her at the age of 18 and was surely going to put her on the map.
It didn’t, though. Jubilee barely had any screen time beyond a brief arcade mall sequence and when it came time to shoot the sequel, Dark Phoenix, Condor had already signed up to do a small rom-com for Netflix. You may have heard of it. It’s only now at the age of 21, after the success of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, that she’s actually getting to do, well, anything in a comic book-based story.
In Syfy’s Deadly Class, Condor now takes up a motorcycle and samurai sword as Saya, a “deeply guarded” yakuza assassin in training at Kings Dominion, the shadowy school for the next generation of killers. She’s tasked by Headmaster Lin (Benedict Wong) to recruit and keep an eye on Marcus (Benjamin Wadsworth), a street kid and our lens into this world. Even as Condor describes the experience of playing a stunt-heavy, tatted up “badass,” she still can’t help but be her same bubbly self as she was that day in Toronto.
Below, Condor explains the experience of the ‘80s-set Deadly Class, dealing with the fame from To All the Boys, when she’s going back to work on the Netflix sequel, and why she wasn’t able to return to X-Men for Dark Phoenix.
QUESTION: I doubt you remember this because it was in a group setting but we met not that too long ago on the set of X-Men: Apocalypse.
CONDOR: Oh my God! Was that when everyone was in the tent on one of the days that we were shooting outside with a lot of the cast?
Yeah, it was the day when you were outside in front of the rubble of the X-Mansion.
CONDOR: That feels like forever ago.
It was kinda funny because you were so excited about playing a comic book character, but now going into Deadly Class, how does it feel to actually get to do something other than play arcade games?
CONDOR: I know! It definitely feels amazing. It’s funny because I, of course, love X-Men forever. X-Men was such an incredible experience because I had never worked before, I was so excited to be there. I love Jubilee and I hope that in the future she’ll get her due, but I think with Deadly Class, there’s so much more involvement. You know I love comics and working things that have pre-existing source material, so Deadly Class was a completely different experiences in many ways – but also one of the hugest ways is that I have more to do [Laughs].
Did you ever get a callback, by the way, for Dark Phoenix? I didn’t see you on the cast roster.
CONDOR: No, I didn’t end up doing Dark Phoenix ‘cause I was doing To All the Boys.
Well, that definitely takes priority.
CONDOR: I hope X-Men lives on so hopefully in the future I’ll be able to go back to that family because it’s where I feel very indebted and loyal to. Yeah, it’s been crazy because at this point, we haven’t spoken [referring to Collider], I guess that was three years ago.
It’s been a beat.
CONDOR: It’s been a freakin’ minute! Deadly Class is great and Deadly Class is so different and I think it’s just so dark and brooding, but I think there’s something really real, a relatability to Deadly Class, which is funny because in a lot of comics you think there are superheroes in comics, there’s magic. For us, I think Deadly Class is special even though it’s in a heightened world of these kids are learning to become assassins, but here they are acting like relatable characters in that audiences can find themselves in one of these characters. It’s a huge cast, so I’m really excited about that.
I got a chance to talk with [co-showrunner] Miles [Orion Feldsott] and some of the cast members about the opportunity you guys have to present new stories within the Deadly Class comics because you’re expanding on a lot of what is already on the page. Do you get to play with that material with Saya and her backstory?
CONDOR: I was talking to the writers and I think throughout Season 1, Saya’s arc, she’s very sure of herself and she doesn’t go through as much emotional turmoil and digging into the history of the character as some of the other characters do. But I think Saya throughout season 1, her whole goal is to keep track of her pledge, Marcus. So that’s what she involves herself in completely. That is her intention for every scene: whether or not Marcus is gonna fuck up her life and she’s gonna have to pick up the pieces, or whether or not she can just take care of him and stuff like that. So, I think a lot of her story arc in season 1 revolves around doing what Master Lin wants and taking care of her pledge, but I think other characters have a lot more in-depth, diving-in, breaking-down history of their characters.
If we are so lucky to get a Season 2, I hope that we will learn a little more about Saya’s history and just her personal life, but I think Miles and [comic creator and co-showrunner] Rick [Remender] and all of the writers really wanted to focus Saya’s story on taking care of her pledge and the consequences that can come with that and diving deeper into the backgrounds of other characters.
Before I got to set, Netflix released a trailer remix of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as a horror movie. Is Deadly Class basically your version of To All the Boys I’ve Killed Before?
CONDOR: [Laughs] Oh my gosh. I mean, it’s definitely the foil to To All the Boys for sure. I have seen a couple people saying, “Oh my God, Lara Jean snapped.” I couldn’t have gone further from Lara Jean than Saya. So, I guess, in a sense it’s kinda cool to have that really intense foil of these characters. It’s funny ’cause we had this screening last night and I was watching the final version of the pilot and I felt like I wasn’t even watching myself because Saya is so angry and different and intense.
Speaking of that, you’ve done To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, we know you’re coming back for the To All the Boys sequel. What helps orient you into the world of Kings Dominion and your character?
CONDOR: I think the biggest thing that made such a change for me was the cut-offs on my hair and they gave me tattoos, so that was a major change for me. I honestly think that the design of the character from cutting her hair to the makeup that she wears and the costumes really helped me get into character because, again, she is so different than I am in real life. The music helped me, as well, but I know some of the other cast are better versed in ’80s music than I am. I’m truly not great. The music that I listened to actually, was tribal war music. I would drive to work every day listening to tribal drum beats that were highly aggressive, but it really did get me in the mood.
Are you pretty much going right back into the To All the Boys sequel or do you get a beat to linger with Saya in this world a little bit?
CONDOR: The show is coming out on the 16th of January, so this whole month is deeply dedicated to Deadly Class and to promoting the show that we so much believe in and worked hard on, but then I pretty much go right back into To All the Boys right after the Deadly Class promos.
Do you have a filming date in mind yet or does that come about later?
CONDOR: I don’t. I haven’t heard a specific date at all, so I’m hoping that it’s sooner than later. I’ve been busy so if I’m not doing something I go a little crazy, so hopefully it’ll be sooner than later.
I saw you at the Deadly Class Comic-Con panel and in the months while you were promoting and working on the show you started blowing up because of the rom-com. What has that experience been like for you, dealing with that rise in notoriety while you’re in the midst of working on this show?
CONDOR: It’s funny because I think Deadly Class came at the perfect time for me personally. Because of To All the Boys, a lot of things changed and it was so well received but during the four months after To All the Boys when things were really getting hyped up, I was so involved in Deadly Class so it was almost like Deadly Class took me to a different world. I was so deeply invested and focused in on the show that it was almost as if I was living under a rock. I didn’t really know what was happening in that outside world. Deadly Class provided a place for me to keep my head down and do the work and not get swept up.
These things, with To All the Boys and the success that comes with that, it’s a very radical change in my personal life. For me, Deadly Class saved me from getting wrapped up in it or overwhelmed with it because I had a story I was trying to tell and my best friends are at work with me. I think it was just a world that kept me me, you know? Shooting the show right after To All the Boys was truly a blessing. I joke around about it, though, because I felt like I had whiplash because I was so focused on Lara Jean and then all of a sudden I’m with a totally different Saya and I’m all confused. Like, “Who am I?!” And my cast has been so supportive, too. They’ve been really supportive about the change in my life, but also we all just want to make the show really good. We’ve all really bonded.
In the grand scheme of things you’re still kick-starting your career, but one thing that’s been really impressive is your choice of which roles to take. Going back to when you were first reading the scripts for Deadly Class or talking with the showrunners, what about Saya made her more nuanced for you as opposed to something that can veer towards the stereotype of an Asian character with yakuza ties and a samurai sword?
CONDOR: I had first heard about the pilot months before I actually went into audition, but I had never done television before and I love knowing the ending of a story. I love features because you have an ending, so I was hesitant about auditioning for a show that could potentially go on for years. Everything that I had heard about it was really great and people were really excited even during the audition process, but I was like, “Let me give it a second. I don’t know if I’m in a place right now where I want to be committed for such a long period of time.” And that’s only of course if we get more seasons. Then months went by and my agents were like, “Lana, I think you really need to read this. It’s really really great and people are only getting more excited about it.” When I finally read the pilot script, I remember setting it down and thinking, “This is a character I would not get bored with. This is a character that I could, honest to God, see myself playing, if we’re so lucky, for years.”
Besides what we see of her being a badass — which, of course, is major for me. I’ve always been interested in physical work so stunt performing was a huge intrigue for the job. Besides that, I think Saya, she is the least expressive character I’ve ever played in my short career. That, for me, is the most challenging because I tend to be expressive and outgoing and bubbly and what you see is what you get. That challenge for me with her being more deeply guarded and not emotional and very much internal, independent, lone wolf, doesn’t rely on anyone, that was really attractive to me. I felt like that was something I wanted to learn and to challenge myself to doing. And it definitely challenged me, but I learned so much just from the first season how to keep things closer to my heart and to be a little bit more guarded.
Deadly Class’ first episode is available to watch now through Syfy until Jan. 16.