The office of Master Lin is full of wonders. As the dean of Kings Dominion, an elite, shadowy school for the criminal underworld, his bookshelves are stacked with titles like The ABCs of the Human Body, as well as katana blades, gold dragon statues, and a violent taxidermy mongoose ripping into a serpent. According to actor Benedict Wong, who plays the ruthless headmaster in Syfy’s Deadly Class, “When you’re summoned here, it could be either good or bad.”
All this once belonged to Lin’s grandfather, who founded the academy to train the disenfranchised to rise up over their masters. Fast forward to the 1980s, when the show takes place, and the school’s gone corporate. The next generation of the cartel, yakuza, and even hillbilly neo-Nazis now walk the halls dressed in prep school attire that would make the Warblers of Glee drool. It’s like Hogwarts but for assassins-in-training.
As Wong explains from the Vancouver set of Deadly Class, based on the Rick Remender comics of the same name, the results bring “John Hughs’ sweet and spikiness with a pissed off Ferris Bueller.” At the center of it all is Lin, acting like “a graceful swan paddling like fuck” to stay afloat.
Joe and Anthony Russo, who directed Wong in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, executive produce Deadly Class, which is showrun by Remender, Miles Orion Feldsott, and Mick Betancourt. Walking the halls of Kings Dominion from the bustling Canadian production stage, Wong pulls back the veil on the mysterious school, how the show expands on Lin’s backstory from the comics, working with the Russo Brothers again, and juggling his responsibilities with Marvel and Syfy.
I know you recently wrapped Avengers 4. Did you have to travel back and forth between that production and this one?
BENEDICT WONG: Yeah there was a time when I was doing Avengers 4. Normally it would be a logistical nightmare with the hair and negotiating that, but it’s great. I’m grateful to be on a double Russo Brothers production. It was streamlined.
I’d imagine it helped being that the Russos are involved in both projects.
WONG: Yeah, it did. They made a very expensive silicon wig [for Wong in Avengers: Endgame] that they glued on because they wanted to keep me with hair more for Lin.
I’m curious what the Russos’ impact on the series was. Obviously we have Rick Remender. Were the Russos involved day to day?
WONG: I think they added that cinematic tone. They’re omnipresent, as well. I think Mick and Rick and Miles, everyone’s all in touch with each other ‘cause it’s something the Brothers were really into doing. It’s amazing to have someone who created the comic to be the backbone, showrunner. The transition of this, nothing’s gonna be amiss. Everything is just gonna be even more expanded, even with Lin in some cases ‘cause as he chimes in and out of the graphic novels, you don’t really necessarily know what’s going on with his history and that’s what we’ll find out with the TV series.
What can you say about how much of Lin’s backstory we actually do get to see in the show?
WONG: Yeah, we’ll see it all. It’s the giant onion, as I call it, and watch it just unfurl. He’s, again, got an unusual moral compass, obviously, as we know and he just leads a very hard line. That discipline dean, he just despises weakness… all for something that’s gonna loom much later really.
I think the pilot sets up a really interesting conversation about this whole generation of people who were marred by violence and how that impacts their lives. Even just in a general sense, does that also apply Master Lin?
WONG: He grew up in this family business. I grew up in a chip shop, a takeaway business. I was lugging a large colander of potatoes into this machine and at a very young age told to “mind your fingers,” and that’s all new. In some ways, we’re seeing this is someone who grew up in this school that was really started by his grandfather, who came over as a peasant, hardened by many traumatic experiences that made him build this school where peasants are allowed to empower themselves against their masters. All of a sudden, you probably got an influx of early cartel, early yakuza that now through the 70 odd years has become super corporate really. In a way, Lin now is in a school where he’s not really upholding that ethos anymore and now you’ve got the elite criminal underworld’s offspring here at this academy, these legacy kids. The only one who really upholds that ethos about the peasants is Marcus, someone who is spat out of all these institutions and has no one, doesn’t trust anyone anymore. He’s the outsider, connects with only ‘80s indie music. That is the outsider’s music of choice, isn’t it?
I think we just have a motley crew. This rabble of outsiders have had to unite and become a family apart from all these various different cliques that are around. It’s a heightened world. Let’s not link it into the reality that we are in. Let’s all get a grip. It’s about more so the repercussions of violence rather than the acts of it. I think what you see now is he’s an open book. There’s such a vulnerability about Marcus. When someone’s got nothing to lose, he’s got everything to say. If anything, what’s very interesting about this show is that there’s a real sensitivity about that and a male sensitivity. We’re always taught to man the fuck up and suppress it and this is why you’ve got people so suppressed that their lids are blowing off and that’s something to talk about.
Going back to the line you mentioned about how the purpose of the school was meant to give power to the disenfranchised. The current school as it is has a neo-Nazi group. I’m curious how you think the material reconciles those two things. How does that affect your character? What do you think including those two aspects together is saying through this story?
WONG: Yeah. Fuck, Nick, you’re right. I haven’t really thought about that, but they are there. They have been accepted somehow by the Guild. That’s not to say that they don’t get their comeuppance and maybe seeing that on TV is a bit more healing. No one’s gonna shy away from that, that it doesn’t exist because it does. It’s looming and it’s here. What are we doing? What can we do? It’s palpable that it’s all thrown into this melting pot, that all of these people are thrown in together. Everyone is in a school where no one is allowed to kill each other, but everyone are from these factions. We’re looking at really high tension so the steaks are always raised at such a level. Why they’re part of this we’ll find out. Everybody exists here.
What’s been your biggest resource when navigating this material? Is the comics? Is it Rick? Is it the Russos?
WONG: Rick. Rick is on my speed dial and he will answer you at 1 in the morning. You just want to touch base with the writer and you want to delve into the graphic novels, of course, but now we’re into this medium now. Just touch based with him all the time. All the guys are great.
What were some of those conversations like, just expanding the character of Lin outside what we see on the page?
WONG: It’s just like you’ve gotta give me a heads up. We’re shooting now and I like to know way before that I know where my arc is going. Meanwhile, it’s like, “Here we go! What are we knocking up?” But there’s a huge trust there that those guys and I think the story line, the way it’s going to unravel, the way Kings Dominion is just one of many schools and just the amount of pressure that he’s under really. He’s like a graceful swan paddling like fuck. It’s always the way, isn’t it? I love those roles where you’re holding on. Even you’d say about the tension of hillbillies, nazis, the cartel, the yakuza, the CIA element. What is going on? How are all these people thrown in together?
The pilot for Deadly Class is available to watch now online through Syfy.