Sunday, June 16, 2024

Warrior Nun Cast Talk Characters, Gush about Fans and Reminisce about Season 1 at ClexaCon

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After a one-year COVID-related hiatus, The Fandomentals was able to tune into 2021’s ClexaCon in a completely virtual format. The con brought together a diverse group of actors, creators, and their fans, made more accessible than ever thanks to their online platform and their rates (something we think they should continue to offer even when they are able to have an in-person event again in the future).

Warrior Nun became a hit not long after Netflix released it in July 2020, and it has since become one of our favorites here at The Fandomentals. Last Sunday, some of the cast met up at ClexaCon Virtual to discuss the show and their characters.

Warrior Nun follows Ava, an orphan who wakes up in a morgue one night to discover that not only can she now walk – she has been paralyzed from the neck down most of her life – but she now possesses special abilities. Eager to embrace her new life, Ava latches on to a group of friends she meets, including the fabulous and kind Chanel.

Ava soon discovers she was brought back to life when a nun placed an angel’s halo on her back in order to hide it, making her the new Warrior Nun, de-facto leader of the Order of the Cruciform Sword. The order fights demons with an bunch of Sister Warriors, including Sister Beatrice, and with the help of Shotgun Mary, who hasn’t taken vows but goes around kicking butt. Ava, desperate to finally be free and have her own experiences, resists their call.

During ClexaCon, Kristina Tonteri-Young (Sister Beatrice), Toya Turner (Shotgun Mary), and May Lifschitz (Chanel) joined moderator Lyra Hale for a chat, and shared thoughts about their characters and their relationships, reminisced about the filming of season one and gushed about their fans.

What were their first impressions of their characters?

Prompted by the moderator, each actress addressed their first thoughts about their respective characters.

“It’s that nice dichotomy between someone who is very reserved and doesn’t come out of their shell much but also cares so tremendously for other people, so much that it’s too much to handle sometimes.”

Kristina Tonteri-Young about her character, Sister Beatrice.

“I thought, ‘this girl is lavish’,” shared Lifschitz of when she read for her self-tape for Chanel. Her character is one that crosses paths with Ava very briefly, but shows her a kindness that not many have, especially at that point in the show. Lifschitz saw that in the character, noticing her as “someone who uses whatever experience they have to benefit other people and it’s a strength for them instead of something that could potentially grow into a weakness.”

Meanwhile, Sister Beatrice is “very straightforward, she’s very reserved, she’s very intelligent, she’s very caring,” said Kristina Tonteri-Young, who plays her.

Beatrice is certainly one of the most competent and “bad ass” members of the order, but Tonteri-Young also sees a side to her that is more vulnerable.

“It’s that nice dichotomy between someone who is very reserved and doesn’t come out of their shell much but also cares so tremendously for other people, so much that it’s too much to handle sometimes,” she explained.

Kristina Tonteri-Young as Sister Beatrice.
Kristina Tonteri-Young as Sister Beatrice.

Finally, Toya Turner gushed about her character, Shotgun Mary: “They had me at the name”, she said as soon as she got her mic working. “I thought she was incredible, I thought she was really bad ass […] I just had so much fun at the audition, I had so much fun playing it.”

Toya Turner cried when she read the pilot

When asked to elaborate on her character and what it meant to her, Turner admitted to having cried when she read the pilot episode. She looked to Serena Williams, Pam Grier and Kobe Bryant for inspiration.

She said, something she loved about Mary is that “she would probably be like a good Warrior Nun […] because she’s going to go all out and she’s going to take it to the end. But I just love the fact that she’s like ‘nah, I don’t want that’”.

“It’s something just about her grit, her swagger, her attitude that I was just like […] I’m all about that, going against the grain. I just fell in love with her instantly.”

Us, too.

What Kristina Tonteri-Young likes about ‘Avatrice’ and what Toya Turner thinks about Mary and Shannon

Of course, the panel wouldn’t be complete without discussing ‘the ships’. Relationships between characters and ‘shipping’ have long been a large part of fandom.

One of the most popular aspects of the show in fandom spaces is the pairing of Kristina’s character, Sister Beatrice, and Ava Silva, also known as ‘Avatrice’. Though nothing explicit has happened between them as of season one, there is clearly a special connection there.

“I think it’s because they’re such opposites,” Tonteri-Young said of the two when asked about their bond. “Ava has qualities that Beatrice maybe doesn’t.”

Kristina Tonteri-Young as Sister Beatrice and Alba Baptista as Ava Silva.

Even less explicit was the suggestion of a possible relationship between Mary and the previous Warrior Nun, Shannon (Melina Matthews), though many fans read it that way. Toya Turner agrees, and says she saw it in the text.

“They never show them being romantic with each other,” Turner said, but explained she read up on the comic and found mentions of Shotgun Mary being a lesbian. Added to that was the differentiation of the way Mary talked about the Sisters and Shannon.

“They kept saying in the script ‘she’s my friend, she’s my friend, she’s my friend’, but everybody else she calls sister; Sister Beatrice she calls sister, Lilith she calls sister,” she observed. “So I was like, ‘these two are lovers. They are lovers. She has drawings of this woman in her room’, you know what I mean?”

Turner said she felt like she had to explore this, and that she couldn’t “let it slip away”.

Speaking on Mary’s sexuality, she added that “I think that should definitely be explored more, I don’t know if it will be explored more with Shannon’s character, necessarily.”

“They kept saying in the script ‘she’s my friend, she’s my friend, she’s my friend’, but everybody else she calls sister; Sister Beatrice she calls sister, Lilith she calls sister.”

Toya Turner on Mary and Shannon’s relationship.
Toya Turner as Shotgun Mary and Melina Matthews as Shannon.

“If there was a Shannon and Mary flashback, what would you want it to be?”,  the moderator, Hale, asked as a follow up.

Turner described a loving scene where Mary and Shannon would kiss and embrace, “I think it would probably be a memory of them having their happiest days, when they’re laughing, or the best day they had.”

Toya Turner would love for Mary and the Sisters to “run off and get into some trouble.”

A lot of things happened in season one of Warrior Nun. Not the least of which was a series of revelations about the Church, the Order, and the secrets they both keep. How will the characters navigate this moving into season two? While we don’t know for sure what will happen, the actresses did share their thoughts on how it might develop.

“I think Shotgun Mary’s done,” Turner said. She believes Mary would rather take her sisters and run away, “go rogue and do their own thing.”

It might not be so hard for Mary to say bye-bye to the Order. For Beatrice, though, whose relationship with the church and her vows is very layered, it is another story.

Kristina Tonteri-Young thinks what happens at the end of season one “throws everything that Beatrice has relied on to be her pillar of support into chaos.”

The cracks that Beatrice has refused to see “at have now been blown wide open,” she posits, and Beatrice will have to deal with the fallout.

“It’s probably not going to be easy”, Tonteri-Young podered, though she confesses she would also love for the girls to run off and “run into some trouble.”

“[…] The cracks that have always maybe been there but she hasn’t looked at have now been blown wide open. So, it remains to be seen how she deals with that fallout.”

Kristina Tonteri-Young on Beatrice’s relationship with the church moving forward.

If that were to happen, Lifschitz thinks Chanel would be willing to lend a hand. “Even if she didn’t have that Warrior Nun training… yeah she would definitely do that, she’s fearless, bring anything on,” she declared.

As for Chanel coming back next season, Lifschitz said she doesn’t know. Though, imagining her ideal scenario for coming back, she described an “undercover Warrior Nun” situation that should perhaps inspire many a fanfic.

“Now I’m just spit balling but, wouldn’t it be awesome if she had been a Warrior Nun all along and she was just out there to watch over Ava?” she said.

What’s it like to get into some Warrior Nun action?

Warrior Nun incorporates a lot of action that required their actors to train hard, carry heavy shotguns and learn complicated fight choreography.

Kristina Tonteri-Young reminisced about preparing to do all that: “We were kind of thrown into it the first day we got there, it was straight to the warehouse. Lots of cardboard boxes, lots of intimidating-looking stunt trainers who turned out to be super, super lovely.”

During the course of the show, there are several fight scenes that were significant, whether it was for the important character beats they served, the technical challenge of them, or both.

Episode four saw Sister Beatrice displaying her fighting prowess in the iconic corridor fight scene at ARQ-Tech, a technology company that is seeking to use artifacts sacret to the Church. Though Krsitina Tonteri-Young learned the choreography, she revealed that most of the work was done by her stunt double, because “I could have never pulled that off as well as she did.” She recalls they were there for a long time, working around technical issues regarding the narrow hallway, but in the end “it turned out so beautifully.”

“At that moment it kind of drove it home in terms of the character […] It was interesting seeing myself and the character from the outside and I was like wow, she really is a bad ass,” observed Tonteri-Young.  

Kristina Tonteri-Young in Warrior Nun.

In the very next episode, Shotgun Mary clashes with Sister Lilith, who was meant to be the new Warrior Nun, about how to get Ava and the halo back to the Order.

“We were lucky because we connected so well behind the scenes, as sisters and friends,” Turner mentioned. The fight started out very “stop-and-go”, alternating between action and dialogue, but later they worked out a way where they could start talking as they started fighting.

“I was so jealous,” Lifschitz added about their stunt work and training.

By the end of the season it all comes to  a head when Ava and the Sister Warriors face off against alleged angel Adriel (Adriel), the ultimate villain of the season. Of that fight, both Turner and Tonteri-Young highlighted the excitement the cast felt to film a group scene.

“It was the last time that we were all together,” said Tonteri-Young.

Chanel isn’t a character who participates in the fights (yet), but when asked, if given a choice, who Chanel would throw hands with, Lifschitz decided to go with Shotgun Mary.

“I wouldn’t dare going up against Beatrice,” Lifschitz confessed.

Tonteri-Young added, “Chanel and I would just have a glass of red wine after.”

Costumes: feeling fabulous or feeling the summer heat?

Even though she isn’t on screen for long, Chanel makes an impression not just with her kindness, but also with her impeccable sense of style. Actress Mary Lifschitz got very into the styling of her, revealing that she was “very critical because I’ve worked in fashion since I was sixteen as well, so I was very on top of them, all the time.”

The costume department was game and “so attentive to detail, but I had a lot to say as well”. The collaboration resulted in some flawless looks.  

“I was very picky because I wanted […] when I walked on set I wanted to feel the ‘fabulousness’,” said Lifschitz.

And fabulous she did look.

Turner and Tonteri-Young were on a different spectrum with their costumes. Both sang the praises of Cristina Sopeña, the show’s costume designer, who made sure to make the perfect hood for Mary, and made sure Sister Beatrice’s fighting outfit was on point. Still, the wardrobe had its downsides.

“It was summer in Spain,” Turner started “and it was layers and layers, it was leather, heavy leather.”

Tonteri-Young commented on the iconic chain mail costume from the hallway fight scene at ARQ-Tech: “It was such a powerful feeling to put something in front of your face and just be able to kind of feel really dangerous with it,” Tonteri-Young said about wearing the costume, “It’s kind of like putting on really awesome shoes: I can stomp on you.”

Kristina Tonteri-Young ended up taking a memento from the set

Speaking of summer in Spain, the actresses spoke about what they miss most from being on set. They had a laugh about the monitoring of their bathroom times to keep on schedule. On the flip side of that, Kristina Tonteri-Young said she misses being busy.

“I miss the hubbub of it. I think also because we’ve been in our homes for a year now, I would like to be in an environment where things have to get done and there’s a schedule,” she pointed out, “kind of having that objective for the day.”

“I miss the locations, just the city,” said Toya Turner. “Just the atmosphere of Spain in the summer is something to me marveled at.”

By the end of the shoot, none of them could have imagined it would have taken so long to go back. When asked if they took anything from set, Lifschitz complained, “I didn’t get to keep any of the clothes actually, that’s rude.”

Turner said she had her eye on the sketches they had done for Shannon’s bedroom and other character design for Shotgun Mary. Though she couldn’t keep them she did manage to snatch photos of them.

“I made off with an ARQ-Tech hat,” Tonteri-Young confessed, to the surprise of everyone else in the panel. “I have worn it out in public.”

Toya Turner has fan art as her screensaver

The fan response to Warrior Nun has been overwhelmingly positive, and the show quickly begot a dedicated fan base who are always hard at work creating content and spreading their love for the show.

“That’s what I go to Twitter to see,” said Kristina Tonteri-Young. Toya Turner confessed to having a piece of fan art as her screensaver.

“I’m in love with it […] I’m floored every time I see it so I love the love, it’s great,” Turner said.

May Lifschitz remembered a fanart she saw where someone imagined Chanel as a Warrior Nun. When the moderator asked if that’s something she would like, May enthusiastically replied, “I would love that. I want that training.”

In the weeks after its premier, the show hit Netflix’s Top 10 in many countries.

May Lifschitz confesses that, as she played a minor character, she wasn’t expecting much of a reaction, and felt humbled.

“I just saw how people really resonated with the diversity and the cast and everything that we represent, and I felt really humbled and really grateful to be able to be a part of something,” she said.

Tonteri-Young said she didn’t know what to expect, “It’s been a very wholesome experience, like May said, very humbling, and I’m very honored to be a part of this.”

“It’s not necessarily that the show in and of itself necessarily gives people that support, but it allows people to get into a place and meet people who will be supportive to them, and that they can find a safe environment in which they feel that they can be themselves,”

Kristina Tonteri-Young on the Warrior Nun fandom.

Meanwhile, Turner observed all the work that fans have put into the fandom since its beginning. She marvels: “They’re writing stories, they’ve gone on and written season two, pretty much. […] they’re so involved and so supportive and so loving, even the comments. It’s just a really good vibe, I think the Warrior Nun fans are very special.”

Warrior Nun loves their Queer Fans

“People have been connecting and being there for each other when you feel like you’re really, really alone.”

Toya Turner on the Warrior Nun Fandom

A lot of the Warrior Nun fandom, of course, are LGBT+ fans who’ve connected with characters like Beatrice and latched on to relationships like Ava and Beatrice, and Shannon and Mary.

Often, LGBT+ kids find their first safe spaces to express themselves in fandom, in the following of a show with themes that appeal to them and people like them. The actresses have been experiencing this fandom phenomenon and been touched by it.

“The lesbians are the best,” started Turner. She mentioned a fan group online she keeps up with who meet every Saturday to play drinking games and catch up, and remarked how “there’s someone who reminds me to drink water every day.”

May Lifschitz chimed in to point out that it’s “a gesture for taking care of each other.”

Turner continued about the fans, “That’s just been so amazing, for me to know that people have been connecting and being there for each other when you feel like you’re really, really alone especially during the pandemic and the quarantine that we had.”

Kristina Tonteri-Young revealed she has been “moved to tears” by fan messages she’s received. She marveled at how a show can bring people together.

“It’s not necessarily that the show in and of itself necessarily gives people that support, but it allows people to get into a place and meet people who will be supportive to them, and that they can find a safe environment in which they feel that they can be themselves,” she clarified. “So that’s definitely been very heartwarming. In the beginning surprising, but also very satisfying”

May Lifschitz closed the panel piggybacking off Tonteri-Young with “Yeah, you guys are all awesome”, and after the moderator sends them off, reminded everyone to “stay hydrated!”

Images courtesy of Netflix

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