‘She-Ra’ Showrunner Noelle Stevenson on Season 5, Adora & the Many-Faced Horde

     May 15, 2020

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With the fifth and final season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power now on Netflix, we had a chance to chat with showrunner Noelle Stevenson about the all-new adventures streaming today. As part of our ongoing Saturday Mourning Cartoons interview series, Stevenson talked about all things She-Ra, including the show’s production process and whether or not it was affected at all by the ongoing global pandemic. Regarding the show itself, we talked about Adora’s arc this season and in the series overall. Stevenson teased the ultimate resolution of Adora’s story, the epic conclusion of the series, and praised the fantastic voice performances of Keston John as the many faces of The Horde.

Listen in, and stay tuned for Part 2 of our talk once you’ve had a chance to check out Season 5!

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Image via Netflix, DreamWorks Animation

Collider: First of all, before we jump into all things She-Ra today, how are you holding up during the quarantine?

Noelle Stevenson: I am doing my best, which is all that any of us can do. I feel very lucky. We’re fostering kittens right now. They have proven to be a very good distraction from the news and everything else that’s going on. I recommend this if you can, adopting or fostering animals. They are the best thing in life.

Yeah, the one silver lining. Staying on the theme of this quarantine, has this affected your team’s production schedule at all or did you guys pretty much have everything in place before it hit?

Noelle Stevenson: We’ve been wrapped up productions for a while. My last day was back in early December. Aside from the promotion side, which fortunately managed to get a lot of that done before the lockdown went into effect, the show itself has been wrapped up well before this started happening.

That takes me to my next question, kind of a nuts-and-bolts question, but was the plan always for a five season run to bring She-Ra to a close? If so or if not, were there any major changes along the way?

Noelle Stevenson: The plan was only for 52 episodes. I don’t think we knew from the start how many shows would be in each season. But for us, it was basically a two season order, so two seasons of 26 episodes. Basically, when I pitched the show, I pitched it as if it were 52 episodes. Netflix had already picked up the first 26 even before I pitched it. And then, I pitched them the second chunk of 26 episodes and they picked up that second season. All that happened years ago. It was really great to be able to just have this roadmap in place to know where the show was going and where the characters were going in broad strokes. There definitely were still surprises and evolutions along the way.

Noelle Stevenson: I always just try to stay in tune with where the characters are, where it feels like they’re going. Some of the characters are… It feels that they always surprise me or they end up doing their own thing in a way that I didn’t expect. I feel like Shadow Weaver’s always one of those characters. I never really know what she’s going to be doing in any given season. Just trying to follow those threads into the most interesting places we can.

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Image via Netflix, DreamWorks Animation

I feel like that definitely comes across from a fan perspective, too. Because anytime Shadow Weaver shows up on screen, I focus in just a little bit more to just be like, “Okay, what kind of craziness is coming up next or what direction they are going in now?”

Noelle Stevenson: She’s our wild card, for sure.

Exactly, which you have to have one, at least. You mentioned talking about how long you’ve been with the show in pre-production and going through your pitch process and all that. It’s a little crazy to me still that we’ve had all these episodes play out in just the space of 18 months. Has it set in yet that everything is coming to a close, everything’s wrapping up?

Noelle Stevenson: The feelings definitely set in in lots of ways. I think it will continue to happen. There’s always like… It’s interesting being a showrunner because you have a little piece of every part of the production. For me, the show has been ending for almost a year now. I think our first crew started rolling off at the very end of 2018. I’ve been having to say goodbye to crew members as their roles on the show wrap up and they roll off. Realizing that you’re doing it for the last time, that has just been happening for a while now for me, which is pretty bittersweet because it’s always like it’s great that everyone [involved in] the show that they’ve managed to make it that far with us and stay and be able to make the thing that we’re also proud of together.

Noelle Stevenson: I think it’s a lot of a bittersweet feelings like that where I’m so proud of how far we’ve come and what we’ve managed to make. It’s also sad. It’s sad to say goodbye, but I think at the end of the day, it’s just like I’m really glad that we made the show that we did. I’m glad that we’re ending it on our terms and that I think that it’s just a really succinct wrap-up of everything that we’re trying to do with this show. And so, it’s great to just be able to have made this very self-contained thing. I am going to continue to keep getting hit with moments of sadness because I realized that I’ve done one more thing for the last time. But mostly, I’m just really, really excited to be able to share this entire show, beginning to end, with viewers and fans.

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Image via Netflix

Exactly. Not to put you on the spot, but are there any people on your creative team, your production team, your support team that you’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to? Big contributors that maybe don’t get to share the spotlight very often, anyone you want to highlight?

Noelle Stevenson: Oh, my God. I would like to highlight every single member of the crew. I am so lucky to have been able to work with the people that I’ve been able to work with. Shout out to Josie Campbell, our story editor. Shout out to Jen Bennett and [Christina] Kiki Manrique, our two directors. Shout out to [Elizabeth] Liz Kresin, our art director. Shout out to Phil Lomboy and Michelle McMillan, our editors. There are so, so, so, so many people I would like to thank. I could go on for hours honestly. Every single person who worked on this show and has touched it in any way, it’s like they have brought something so special and so specifically them to it and I could not feel luckier or more grateful.

It really does take a village or a small army to pull something like this off. I, to our listeners out there, always recommend watching through the credits, even if you have to manipulate the Netflix menus a little bit. Stick around for the credits and always pay attention to the crew teams and give them their moment to shine.

But, speaking of a cast member who you mentioned in a previous chat, I definitely want to carve out some space to talk about Keston John’s incredible performances this season. You teased it before and he absolutely delivered on it. What can you say about his performances for this final season?

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Image via Netflix, DreamWorks Animation

Noelle Stevenson: Watching Keston perform this season was, I think, one of the great honors of my lifetime. We cast him as Hordak because of just the amazing, beautiful quality of his voice, and the richness and the fullness that his voice brought. But, finding out just how versatile he is as an actor and how many different types of characters he can play, because he plays not just Hordak, not just Horde Prime, but every single one of those clones, he brings a new personality to all of them. Wrong Hordak is one of my favorite characters this season. I am just watching him perform a more comedic role in between being absolutely terrifying as Horde Prime. And then, oddly empathetic and strangely lovable as Hordak, it whiplashed me for sure because I’m watching the same guy who brings all of these different flavors within minutes of each other. But, it is an incredible thing to watch.

Noelle Stevenson: I think there’s one episode later in the season where Keston voices approximately 60% of the characters in the episode. It’s not just Horde Prime, Hordak and the clones, but also several villagers. The fact that he can do that and it’s just like completely different style for every single one and just bring something new to every single one. He is an incredible talent.

It was one of the absolute joys of the show overall, but specifically this season. One of the other ones that I always enjoy looking for in a season of She-Ra is which characters from the original series you and your team are going to adapt and bring it to the modern version. A few spoilers here for people listening who maybe haven’t seen this season yet, but Season 5 features Star Siblings, we get Peekablue and Melog. What can you talk about the process of maybe finding your contemporary shows version of the supporting characters?

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Image via Netflix, DreamWorks Animation

Noelle Stevenson: I think it’s really fun for us. All of the writers, we pull up… We have a couple of art books and lore books from the original Masters of the Universe run in the writers room. We’ve watched a lot of the original episodes and we just consult Wiki Grayskull all the time. And so, I think whenever we find ways to incorporate elements of the original lore that we feel like we can bring a new twist to in a way that will support our show in the best way possible, we get really excited to do that. Star Siblings were characters that we wanted to use for a long time and I think that they’re really, really cool in the original show. I think they only appear really briefly in one episode in the original show. It gives them a little bit more of the moment to shine here and just to bring them into this new version was really fun.

Noelle Stevenson: Melog, I think, was… I’m especially excited for people to meet Melog. We were very enamored of actually Clawdeen who was Catra’s pink lion in some of the original [shows and books. But, if the pink lion, which we couldn’t use exactly because it’s almost identical to the one in Steven Universe, but we really wanted to bring in some animal companion like that for Catra, especially since Melog ends up functioning as her therapy animal this season. But then, we were looking for another role to give that animal companion to. Finding Melog who was more of a golem-y, shapeshifting-type character in the original, more of a monster, and felt like it fit really well with the alien worlds that we were just touching on a little bit in the season. We wanted to give, kind of combine those concepts and create a new kind of powerful shapeshifting alien who could be an ally to them.

Noelle Stevenson: And then, one thing that I love about Peekablue is that the princess in the original, she has a huge peacock feathers, but those are actually… She has male peacock feathers. And so, the idea of having a male princess was very exciting to us. Of course, there’s a twist on that, but it’s been something that I’ve wanted to do since the first season, so it was exciting to finally get to do it.

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Image via Netflix, DreamWorks Animation

Fantastic. And yeah, there are some great twists and turns that come throughout the season? Now granted, I’ve only had a chance to check out the first 10 episodes, so I’m dying to see the final three with everybody else out there. What can you maybe tease about Adora’s arc in this final season? Because we spend a lot more time with Adora than we do the title character of She-Ra in an interesting kind of twist.

Noelle Stevenson: Yeah. I think for Adora, it’s very interesting because she always… Throughout the entire show, we’ve seen that she’s willing to give up her autonomy at any point in order to further a goal or to make sure that justice is served, but even just to make sure that she’s useful to other characters and that she feels like she is helping, that she’s doing something worthwhile. I think that her personal sense of self always comes last for her. I think this season, we see her learn that lesson over and over again. But, I think that there’s an integral part of her own personality that never quite gets addressed. Even when she knows that she sacrifices She-Ra at the end of Season 4 and moving into this new season, she no longer has this past set-in-stone destiny that she thought she did.

Noelle Stevenson: And so, learning to be heroic in her own way as Adora is very important for her. But, she’s still, I think, is struggling with this hero complex with this need to sacrifice herself and her own wants and desires and downplay those as much as possible in order to be this helpful person, in order to save people. I think there’s a story that I don’t think we get to see very often because it’s a tricky one to tell. It’s a little bit complicated. But the fact that … People who sacrifice so deeply of themselves, I think they’re doing it, to help other people, to make other people happier. But, if you love that person who is always sacrificing, making the deep sacrifices of themselves, that can actually really hurt people who love them. Sometimes, people who just want to be everything to everybody, they end up [not] being there enough for the people who really care about them the most.

Noelle Stevenson: I wanted to get into that with her and explore that with her. The way that she just starts… she’s always pushed herself too far and always starts breaking down in terms of her own self-confidence and her own sense of autonomy and showing that through the eyes of her friends, the people who love her the most, which is I think a story that we’ve been dancing around for the entire show. But, this is really where it comes to a head.

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Image via Netflix, DreamWorks Animation

I love everything I’ve seen about her story so far, not just this season but the entire series so far. I really can’t wait to see how it comes to a conclusion and a resolution. But, before I run out of time with you, a quick sidestep on a related Netflix note, it was recently announced Netflix and BOOM! Studios have a first-look TV deal. So I have to ask, any hope or progress on a Lumberjanes project on the horizon?

Noelle Stevenson: Stay tuned. Hopefully, we will have some meetings fairly soon, but that is all I can say for now.

Fair enough. My last question for you today, unfortunately, what are you hoping that fans get out of this fifth and final season? Do you have a farewell message or thank you to the fans of She-Ra out there?

Noelle Stevenson: I really hope that fans who have taken this journey with us and have come to love the characters the way that we love the characters, I hope that this season not only wraps up those arcs in a satisfying way, but also opens your imagination for what comes next. What I really want to see is the inspiration that people who watch this and it meant something to them can take into the future to create new stories. Whether it’s fan works or whether it’s an original story, I want to see people act on that inspiration and keep these characters in their heart as they go forward.

Noelle Stevenson: Hopefully, take a little bit of that love forward because I know that these characters are always going to be a part of me and because it reminds me of this time and the time that I spent with everyone on the cast and crew and with the fans. These characters are… They feel very real to me and I’m going to miss them very much. But, I also don’t think they’ll ever really be gone. [I hope people] remember this show fondly and that it inspires them to create something new. Thank you to everybody who’s come this far with us. It has been the honor of the lifetime to bring this show to you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Image via Netflix, DreamWorks Animation

For myself, it has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to get to talk to you through this journey with She-Ra and also to enjoy the show itself. On behalf of myself, the team at Collider, the team at Saturday Mourning Cartoons, just want to say thank you to you and your team for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Best of luck with whatever comes next!

Noelle Stevenson: Thank you so much.

Thanks again and take care.

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