How does Dominic Sherwood channel a possession that walks the fine line between pure demon and Jace Herondale? Very, very carefully.
To say that Jace Herondale is having a tough time of things would certainly be the understatement of the year. Six episodes into this season and he has risen from the dead, been possessed by the Queen of Edom, and has all but isolated himself from those closest to him. But not on his own accord.
With his parabatai running the Institute, his girlfriend off on missions, Isabelle searching for some stability and balance post-addiction, the change in Jace’s character is enough to set some of his closest family and friends on edge. However, as Jace makes promises to visit the Silent Brothers for treatment, a necessary, yet terrifying step in his conscious state, Lilith intervenes to strip him of the only thing tethering Jace to reality — his love for Clary.
The final minutes of “A Window Into an Empty Room” provides just what it describes. As Clary discovers that Jace is the Owl, it is as if she finally sees inside the emptiness that Jace has been trying to get a grip on for the past few weeks.
What has the process been like behind the camera for Dominic Sherwood? In our interview, he takes us through the shift in season 3 and how, as the writers dig in on telling complex stories in a supernatural universe, the character of Jace adapts with it.
‘Shadowhunters’ season 3: Dominic Sherwood interview
The jig is up at the end of “A Window Into an Empty Room,” but prior to this, what went into crafting the Owl playing Jace while Jace is still very much inside of there?
It’s interesting. We have to develop an ability for this character to still be sort of a spy, but still have the ability to get to the others characters, to understand the other characters. For the Owl to still be able to do his job, he has to be an infiltrator.
This is not just a straight possession, so much as it is an infiltration. Lilith has infiltrated Jace’s mind and put this persona, [the Owl], over top. One that has access to Jace’s memories – who he is, how he walks, how he moves, how he talks. He could use that [knowledge] as a torturous device to the people around him. And also against the Jace back inside this persona-shell. Which I really like as an analogy and I continue using it. I’m ashamed I’ve never used it before. That’s what I’m going to call it.
That’s such a great term, because as an audience member we’re aware that Jace is the Owl, and watching “Jace” at dinner with his family, we can tell something is off. But he still plays so well against every other character that you’re right, Jace is in there but he’s not when you know what to look for.
The idea was it was that he was supposed to be just off enough that the audience given the information that they know they see it. But obviously I’m at a table with the three closest people in my life, if it was enough off, they would be looking at me sort of like, ‘What’s going on with you, you weirdo? You’re being strange.’
It was a real tight rope to walk, because if it was too much, too Terminator-y, then that wasn’t the right way to go. But if it was too Jace-y then the audience wouldn’t be able to make the distinction between the Owl and Jace.
“A Window Into an Empty Room” adds an interesting layer to what’s been going with Jace. Coming off the events of Lake Lyn in the earlier episodes of this season, Jace grapples with Clary making the choice to bring him back. As an actor walking into season 3, what do you do to prepare to play a character so lost from himself, without any connection whatsoever to a world that he has grown up in.
You can’t go super method with this because he dies, right? There’s not a huge amount that I can do to prep for that. What we did was, and I did a movie about this sort of thing before [Don’t Sleep], look into the complexities of something called DPD, which is an umbrella term, it’s depersonalization disorder. It covers multiple personalities and schizophrenia, and different things like that.
We wanted to kind of put a version of that into this Owl/Jace scenario and have a sort of James McAvoy Spilt thing going on as much as we could. That was the kind of stuff we sort of looked at and the detrimental effect that it could have on a mind. And then, how that is reflected on the people around them. and the people they really care about, how hard that can be, and drawing light to that.
“What we wanted to do is draw a light, as much as we could, to the realism of something that’s happening in a slightly surreal sense.”
Although [Shadowhunters] is doing it from a demonic, supernatural stance, it actually is a real issue that, in my opinion there isn’t enough said about it. In many cases it’s seen as a attention seeking or a cry for help, when actually that isn’t the case. Especially, when having not only done this in my professional life, but having been I guess some of the depths of mental health issues in my personal life as well with some of the people that I really care about, what I’ve found is it actually can be overlooked. And what we wanted to do is draw a light, as much as we could, to the realism of something that’s happening in a slightly surreal sense.
Season 3 is digging it’s heels in with phenomenal writing, what is setting this season apart from other two seasons in the writing and directing style?
The biggest thing we spoke about with Matt Hastings, our executive producer, director, the captain of the ship basically, was that we were taking a bit of a departure from this action-packed, supernatural action-adventure to more of a horror-supernatural-psychosis. That was the idea with this storyline.
And obviously there is going to be action here and there, but we what tried to do is make it more of a kind of thriller. What I think you’re seeing in the shift in the writing is that we are trying to take a departure away from it being fight scene, fight scene, fight scene, and little bits of story and have it be more story with the appropriate fights put in as and when they were needed.
Can you offer one or two words to describe Jace’s story arc?
Ha… haha. Oh man… That might be it. Ohhh man. That’s going to be a difficult one to print without the inflection. Just put “Oh man (☹️)” I think that might be the way to go.
Shadowhunters airs new episodes Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET on Freeform.