For season 3 Shadowhunters brought in a new villain – Lilith, the mother of all demons. Last week we were lucky enough to talk to Anna Hopkins, who plays Lilith, and chat a little about her character. In the following exclusive interview, Anna talks about how mythology helped her prepare for the role, what it took to get Lilith’s style just right and what she enjoys most about playing someone so evil, yet so complex as the queen of hell.
SDN: Obviously Lilith is this season’s big villain and she threatens all of the Shadow World, but beneath all that evilness she’s shown her vulnerable side as well. We imagine that this is an interesting challenge for you as an actress. Can you tell us if it’s difficult to constantly switch between her cold and evil side and her role as a grieving mother?
Anna: I think that when I first got to read a little bit about Lilith in the scripts and also in the books, and started to do some exterior research on the mythology of Lilith, she always has been wronged by – well, in the mythology by Adam and she becomes abandoned and she just really wants a son. So I think that simplicity was quite easy to handle and grasp onto and that motivation was very human in a sense. And then adding in the whole demon aspect, I think she has a bigger, much higher threshold to reach the lengths that she needs to to achieve her goals. So it wasn’t very difficult to do, in fact it’s some of the more fun stuff I’ve ever had to do. Her situation is quite human, but you’re sort of exaggerating it to the point where you’ll do anything.
And in Shadowhunters, it’s a beautiful world where in fantasy you can really push the limits of what the characters can do. I love that she’s very resourceful, she doesn’t stop ever, and I liked going from in and out. Sometimes I felt like I seemed really crazy. Matt Hastings calls me ‘creepy’ – that’s my nickname on set because she’s just very, very crazy (laughs). But again deep down, what she has to do, I think, is something that at its core is strangely relatable.
SDN: Lilith is very intimidating, that’s very true. And you play the part very well, so kudos. We got some insights on Lilith’s backstory already and the reasons why she’s hellbent on bringing Jonathan back. Did you already know all of these pieces of information when you started filming, and does it affect your approach to the character?
Anna: I’m trying to remember – it’s hard because when I think about filming it’s like one big blur of a long movie. But I remember before starting, Todd and Darren had called me and definitely told me some of the backstory, but there are some aspects to it that I think will be revealed later on to the audience that at that time it was new information to me too. So it was kind of fun, they didn’t give me everything right away, and I think sometimes writers and showrunners do that in order to make sure the actors aren’t forecasting. But they’ll tell you what you need to know for the scenes and sort of where you’re going, but there’s definitely some stuff about her backstory that you guys will probably find out about later on.
SDN: As you know, we’re actually an account that covers all things Harry and Matthew, so our next question is about Harry, of sorts. In episode 3×05, you had a scene with him where Lilith is manipulating Magnus into helping her. The scene was very charming even though the audience knows now how bad the result of this meeting is going to be, but can you describe how it was to work with Harry?
Anna: I was really happy that I was able to get to work with him. Lilith is in her penthouse, she’s in the church and she’s with Jace but Jace is the Owl, so she really never gets to play around and be with other people that often. And then when I heard that it was going to be with Harry, I was so excited because I’m a big fan of his. We had a really good time – he’s so easy to work with, so kind. And then we just kind of had this little, almost like a ping pong game so we were just going back and forth. On my end it’s all this deception and on his, he’s curious about who Lilith is. It was definitely as you said, the undertone is pretty sinister when we find out what she’s up to, but it did sort of bring some levity to the episode, at least at that point. So yeah, it was really great.
SDN: We always love to hear how people experience working with him, because it’s always so interesting. As for Magnus and Lilith, they do share some common roots with Edom and Magnus’ father especially. Obviously we know you cannot tease anything about him so we’re not going to ask that, but can you tease if this information will come to light later on, like that there is a connection, and if we can hope to see your characters face off again? We truly loved the dynamic between the two of you.
Anna: I’m quite new to Shadowhunters, I mean I joined the cast in the third season, and so when I was doing my research and trying to figure out where I fit into this world, and I saw when that episode aired obviously the audience is very knowledgeable and so they all know that there is obviously some sort of connection because of Edom and his father and me. That being said, I can’t really say anything about it specifically, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
SDN: That’s enough of an answer for us, for sure. You shared this amazing video from your makeup trailer last week, and we saw that you did your own nails as part of your preparation in becoming Lilith. You certainly do get to wear quite stunning dresses and makeup, and Lilith seems to have quite the sense of fashion. Do you have a favorite look that you got to wear or is there like a dream look for you that you envision for her? Please don’t say the dragon!
Anna: But I love the dragon! (laughs) There wasn’t a ton of time, at least for me. With a TV show, it’s quite quick between the time that they cast the actor and then you start. But they had been doing so much preparation for the idea of how she would look. That being said, when I got cast we did do some makeup and hair sort of tests. I actually posted something today because I actually have really light brown hair, and we were going to keep that and they sent the photos to the network and they thought I was Ally Ordolis who plays Ollie (laughs). So that was a huge problem, and I actually know Ally from outside the show and people always think that we’re sisters, so we both thought “Oh no, this is going to be a problem.” So Matt actually said “Well why don’t we just dye your hair black?” and then that sort of was like going to be the beginning of her look.
Once I had the black hair, Brian amped up the makeup and then Shelly who is the costume designer – and is so incredible – she basically scoured these incredible consignment stores here but also internationally. Like the purple gown that I have is a vintage Alexander McQueen and I will be wearing these insane Balenciaga boots. My idea was that Lilith basically comes and snaps her fingers and it all ends up in her closet, and she’s just like “Urgh, it’s just easier to do it”. It’s always like she doesn’t work that hard, she just wakes up and goes “This is my human look and that’s what it’s going to be.” So I have to say, I like every outfit. I have never worn anything like these dresses before, they’re so beautiful, so every outfit was just so special and such a thrill to wear. I think they found the right balance between feminine and pretty – pretty dark (laughs). And scary. Which I love.
SDN: That is the look they aim for, definitely. We have to agree, Lilith’s outfits are always on point. So far, Lilith has been able to work her evil magic without crossing paths with the Shadowhunters, besides Jace of course. Can you tease anything about what their first encounter will be like? If it’s going to be really dark, or if it’s not going to happen?
Anna: The thing is that Lilith is like the most powerful demon, but then you also have the Shadowhunters who are working together and do manage to pull off some pretty badass stuff. It’s going to come down to them having to sort of think outside the box in order to deal with Lilith upon first encounter and as the season goes forward. So I think it’s going to be less obvious how to deal with Lilith, but she does have her weaknesses. Maybe we don’t see them yet, but just like with any dimensional character you’ll see that there’s definitely going to be holes in her strengths and it’s up to the Shadowhunters to sort of navigate that. I mean, do they or don’t they? We’ll find out.
SDN: Yes, we will but the thing is they’ll have to figure out that it’s her first, and that’s probably going to take some time still. For now, Alec’s Parabatai is being possessed by Lilith’s owl to do her bidding, but we can assume that sooner or later Alec, who’s played by Matthew Daddario, is going to discover the situation and try to help his Parabatai. We know it might be a long shot to ask this question, but can you tease if we can expect some scenes between you and Matt?
Anna: Lilith is way bigger than anything that they’ve ever faced and that they’ve ever tried to combat, it’s not going to be just one of them, and so I think it’s safe to say that Alec is going to be involved. But I think that’s kind of all I can say. It’s already very clear it’s not going to be something that Clary can do on her own, and so there’s going to have to be some real thinking and planning, and good old team work.
SDN: Well they’ve proved before that they actually can do that, so hopefully they manage to do it again. So, Lilith despises Jace because he killed her son, obviously. Whenever one of her disciples or demons die, she feels physical pain. Despite all that, she’s taken life after life in order to carry out her plan. Do you think that all that killing affects her in any way, or is she too focused on actually bringing back Jonathan to care about the lives she’s taking?
Anna: Sadly, she doesn’t have any humanity, she doesn’t care for humans. When she feels physical pain for any of her demons or disciples, it’s because they are sort of on the dark side and therefore more of her. She also is able to conjure up these demons and in a sense they sort of become her children, and that’s the theme of Lilith – she is in a very, very dark, inhuman sort of way very motherly. So when it comes to the carnage that she causes, all she sees is that they are just tools in her plan that she believes is completely justified, which makes it all the more disturbing and important to stop. But she’s certainly not affected by the things that might affect people in this realm.
SDN: Yeah, we kind of got a taste of that during the last episode already. But Lilith is such an interesting character, right? Like she has so many layers it’s actually kind of insane. We can’t even imagine how it must be to dive into that character, but for now, when you look at her she’s a leader, she’s a real boss. How does it feel to portray a character with this type of power over others, being the one in charge all the time and in any situation so that every action goes her way?
Anna: It’s amazing. It’s really fun, I’ve never played anything like that before and it’s because of the genre since it’s almost like in a theatrical sense, like you can take things pretty far, and it’s been one of the best projects I’ve ever worked on. Not only because she’s the boss (laughs), but because they gave her a lot of dimension. So yes, she’s the villain and she’s a really, really bad one, but we get to really peer inside of why she’s doing what she’s doing. As an actor […] it gives me more confidence to maybe pursue roles that are in that direction. So all in all, it’s been so fun. When I auditioned I wasn’t sure if I was necessarily right for the role and Todd, Darren and Matt put their trust in me and helped me and the cast has been amazing, so it’s just been a big learning experience and I feel like now I have a dark side in me that I know how to tap into.
SDN: That’s amazing though. It’s really nice that, on Shadowhunters especially, we have so many powerful women on that show, and it’s just amazing to see and to follow that. So thank you for joining the ranks, of course. Our last question is about the cast, nothing about the show per say. Since we all know that you guys always have a good time on set and we have heard from so many people how welcoming, caring and entertaining everyone is. What did you like most about getting to work with them, and are there any particularly fond memories involving them you could share with us?
Anna: Thankfully I got to meet the cast before, outside of shooting, because again I didn’t work with a lot of people while, other than Dom, and Dom was fantastic. He welcomed me right away. And so I have to say shooting the finale – I have to be careful what I say (laughs) – I got to know more of the cast, and you’re working these super long hours and at a certain point you just get giggly and the vibe is kind of loopy. And I don’t want to say specifically who because that will reveal something from the finale – not to be too general but everyone was so welcoming. Kat especially, she’s just like such a special person. It blows my mind how young she is and how hardworking and mature – she’s just amazing. Dom was really my scene partner the whole season, and he is super fun, he’s super jokey, and I think that that helps because the subject matter between us was pretty dark, and we would be cracking jokes and laughing between every take basically because I think you can just go to a dark place. And I have some photos that eventually I’ll share that I think are hilarious of Dom.
SDN: We’re excited to see that, of course. We had so much fun to talk to you about all of this. We are meeting most of the cast in Paris in June, and hopefully we will meet you at one of those conventions one day as well. We would really love that. For now we just want to thank you so, so much for taking the time to answer all of these questions.
Anna: It was really awesome to talk to you too. I’m sure one day down the road at one of these conventions we’ll definitely cross paths. It’s awesome what you guys do, and the fandom of this show is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Thanks for the support!
Anna Hopkins may be our main villain on the show, but as you see, in real life she couldn’t be nicer. Thank you so much for answering our questions, Anna, we’re excited to see what’s ahead for Lilith and where your own career will take you next.
Oh… it looks like the whole team took part in creating this article!