During “The Hunters of Shadow 2” convention in Paris last month we got to chat with Matthew Daddario, who plays Alec Lightwood on “Shadowhunters”. His character has been a fan-favorite ever since the very first episode, partly because of the significant character development Alec has gone through. In the following interview Matthew talks about that character development, possible tension in the Malec relationship and his own ideas on how Alec’s story could come to an end.
SDN: For the past 2 seasons and a half, we have seen Alec grow confident in himself, his leadership and his worth as a shadowhunter on his own. However, some of us felt like he went back a few steps toward the end of 3A. Did you have the same feeling and will we see Alec realize how impactful he is with his actions? Some of the growth that he’d gone through seemed to have been taken away from him.
Matthew: Probably some of that is taking on a new position. A new job kind of limits what he’s able to do outside, so he has new responsibilities. Generally, I think that self-growth is limited by real-world responsibilities. So for example, I can’t become a better pianist if I have a job where I have to go to work and I can’t work on those things. Just as if you do that, work is required for all areas of your life including emotional growth or any kind of wellbeing, your ability to be accepted by others or feel accepted by others, the ability to feel social with others always seem to require work. It’s all work. And people sometimes, they think about “Oh no, it’s a psychological thing” as though it doesn’t have any tangibility. There’s nothing real about it. But the reality is that all of that, everything we think about, how we feel, how we experience emotions, all of it is a product of work and experience. People are basically sometimes been working at those things for however old you are. If you’re 28, you’ve been working on those things for 28 years and if you neglect to work at it, it’s going to fall into disarray, or if you refuse to work at it, in the case of Alec in season one. In season three, it’s more of him putting in the work but it’s early on. He’s an infant when it comes to these kind of things. He gets a new job, has this amount of responsibility, he feels that responsibility to others, he limits his own self-growth because there’s no time to put the work in.
SDN: But showing that was intentional, right?
Matthew: There was definitely a goal that this is the repercussions of. It’s not all simple. You don’t just say “Okay, I’m going to this now and it’s going to be good, I’m great.” No. Again it’s work. So, obviously there’s going to be steps back and you’re going to stall. Mostly stalling.
SDN: Alec is now the head of the Institute, has been offered a promotion on the Clave Council and has been called the jewels of the NY Institute. He seems to have all the cards in hands to try changing the Clave’s ways using his political influence. We saw Alec going against his superiors before (2×13 with the chip, downworld cabinet meeting). Any chance to see his career take this path of rebellion in 3B?
Matthew: Rebellion against the Clave? I think that Alec is consistently rebellious. I think it’s in his nature to want to avoid authority and the instructions of authority. He’s willing to follow instructions if he feels they’re either necessary or morally right. He can easily, as all of us, be tricked into feeling it’s necessary to do something because an authority figure told him to. However, when he’s able to evaluate them or he’s able to stand back or he’s put in a position that allows him to make these judgment calls, he is, by nature, slightly rebellious. I also think it’s likely that in general, Alec is unwilling to participate, going forward, in any kind of Clave interests and I think his primary interests are going to be localized going into the future.
SDN: In the mid-season finale, Magnus gave up his magic and immortality to prevent Alec from having to kill his parabatai. Knowing how important those two aspects were for Magnus, how will Alec react when he learns about Magnus’ sacrifice since we know Alec, by nature, feels guilty about literally everything that goes wrong in his life or in the lives of the ones he loves?
Matthew: Yes. Alec doesn’t like to have things done for him. He feels like he needs to take care of other people. It’s his job, it’s innate to him. He cannot be happy if other people are sacrificing themselves for him. In this case, how will he respond? “Why did he do that? I appreciate that I’m alive but I can’t be happy with that fact because I’m guilty.“ You’d think that’s where he’d go but the reality is more complex, interesting. We’ll see. He’ll take steps to right the issue that’s for sure. Alec will do whatever to right this in his mind even if what’s in his mind is not correct. He wants to return it so that the person who gave him or gave up something, never gave it up at all. That’s actually an admirable quality but it’s also stupid. It’s an error that people make. They believe that if they care about other people so much, they try to do things right, so that they never really get anything done for them, they’re actually good but really what they are is selfish. They’re trying to feed this some sort of narcissistic quality, god-complex almost.
SDN: The end of season 3A had you acting on all sides of the spectrum; from the (somewhat) lighthearted moment with Simon to Alec’s talk with Lorenzo Rey to his fight scene with Owl!Jace and then ultimately where we left off – on the brink of dying after said fight. What has been the most rewarding scene for you to film this season?
Matthew: Generally in acting, I found that you’re able to experience a rewarding quality when you see the entire picture. So, I have a point A and then I have a point Z; the final. In that, you’re able to feel rewarded form acting because you know where it’s going to end. Along the way, there’s all these parts and each leads to the ending, that’s a complete story. Alec’s story doesn’t come to an end and when I’m filming, I have no idea where it’s going, it’s not clear. It’s very difficult sometimes. You have to imagine a future of what could be and say “I’m working towards that” and if this scene makes sense, it leads to X but I don’t know what X is and that’s the unknown variable in that. So, sometimes, let’s say you’re crying about something that’s taking place or something’s happened that makes you cry, that’s a moment you’ve experienced in real life. And often you’ll do scenes in acting class where you do these things to feel more emotionally connected. In that moment the emotion is rewarding, but then is it rewarding when you review it as a whole? Did that emotion fit with what happens in the end? It’s not clear. But then people in real life don’t know. In real life, you never know what’s coming next so everything you’re experiencing is just something that leads to something else. So those pieces all eventually lead to an end that’s unknown. In acting, you get the wonderful gift of knowing the end so you’re able to do this and process this and feel like I’ve created a whole picture, not just a moment. And in real life we don’t really feel that kind of beauty from a moment of extreme sadness or something like that because we don’t know what’s coming next. We worry, we fear. So that’s what comes with it. Often, you do these scenes and there’s a moment of fear. “What if? What if this was wrong? What if i was wrong to do this in the moment and it doesn’t work with what happens later? I don’t know.” So it’s not always certain.
SDN: One of the things that the fans are really excited about is the possible meeting between Alec and Magnus’ father. We won’t ask for spoilers but how have you, as Matt, imagined for this meeting to go? Usually, when you meet the In-laws, you try to make a good impression but he’s a demon so it’s going to be different than the typical meeting.
Matthew: Okay, here’s the thing, I’ve talked about this before too. People are too judgmental. You’re judging a demon. The Clave has done a tremendous job with language and I think that one of the great failings of society and humans in general is that we lack language necessary to explain complex topics properly. We are very easy to manipulate through language. There’s little things. For example, if we perceived Earth not as a mother but as a father, we might perceive Earth as a slightly different thing. If the word changes, it changes how we perceive an event. So we say demon, we’ve applied this but the world is full of different kinds of creatures. Vampires and werewolves have demonic blood – does that mean they’re evil innately because they carry blood from something we’ve demonized, literally?
SDN: But we think it’s more than that. It also has to do with the relationship Magnus had with Asmodeus.
Matthew: Absolutely, but I don’t really know the full scope of it. Alec doesn’t really understand. Often, you’ll hear somebody say “My mother is the worst” or “My father is the worst” but they’re not. You meet them and you say “Woah woah woah. Somebody had a different kind of experience.” Maybe because of bitterness, maybe because of some sort of perceived aggression. We don’t know. So, I think that really the biggest problem in all of this is that we basically apply this word ‘demon’ because the Clave and people in the past said to call them demons but really, they’re just interdimensional beings. Honestly, Asmodeus’ experiences with things and how he views them is different from a different set of rules and to apply them is ridiculous. I mean he’s magical. He’s the Prince of Hell! And then there you go, hell. I mean come on, it can’t be that bad. He’s educated. He’s smart, he’s thinking. He has a purpose. He’s not just guided by evil, there’s no such thing. No one is guided purely by evil, they’re guided by self-interests. Does that make them evil? I don’t know! They act in a way that they think is practical. I think that people throw around these terms way too often. It’s just an easy way to explain away things that they don’t want to deal with.
SDN: If you could write your perfect end-of-the-show scene for Alec what would it look like? We don’t want it to end but just entertain us.
Matthew: Alec is sitting at the harbor in South Carolina. He has a boat, it’s a small boat with a motor. He’s wearing linen, the sun is setting. He’s happy and you can tell he’s happy because he’s working. He’s setting the boat up and everything like that and he’s going out. You can tell he’s going out to go get some fish. Magnus, Jace and all his friends are there. They’re all alongside the beach and they’re all doing different things. Some of them are getting food ready but it’s clear from what we’re seeing that all the concerns of the Clave and all these things, they’re all gone. Now they can all pursue a human life, not a life devoted to some kind of service that they don’t really believe in or a purpose that’s just there because it’s serving somebody else’s purpose. So, a life that they choose. A life that Alec chooses. It’s warm.
We hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we enjoyed talking to Matthew. A big thank you to Matthew Daddario for once again taking the time to talk to us. We can’t wait to see where his career will take him next. If you enjoyed this interview, check out the others with some of Matthew’s cast mates and colleagues or our very first interview with him from last year’s “The Italian Institute” convention in Milan.
Oh… it looks like the whole team took part in creating this article!