Season 3B of Shadowhunters included not only some surprising twists and turns, but also a new villain: After Will Tudor played Jonathan Morgenstern in seasons 2 and 3A, Luke Baines took over the character to portray Jonathan in his true form – Clary’s dark and conflicted older brother. And even though his character was technically an antagonist, the fandom’s reaction to Luke joining the show couldn’t have been more positive. At one of last summer’s conventions, we got to sit down and chat with Luke about his experience joining the show, developing Jonathan as a character and a piece of advice that helps him get through the craziness of a busy convention weekend.
SDN: You joined Shadowhunters quite late, for season 3B. What was it like to join the show so late on and did you feel included right away?
Luke: It was difficult. You know, I’ve done jobs in the past where everyone kind of bonds together when you start. So it was hard to come in as the new kid, and it did kind of feel like, you know, starting a new school or something. But I already knew Dom and Kat, and they were so welcoming, and everyone was so lovely. It was just that thing of coming into a [project] where people already had formed bonds. That felt hard. But you know, we all started working together and we all got along really well together and it was really nice.
SDN: You definitely seem like one happy family. What was your audition process like and when and how did you find out you had gotten the part?
Luke: It was actually just one audition. I went into the room and met the casting directors, and I did two scenes. One of them was about this guy called Adam Kingsmill, and he was torturing his father, and in the second scene he meets this girl on the street and they just kind of like flirt with one another. I did both scenes once each, which is usually not a good sign. Usually when they work with you in the room and they ask you to do notes and whatever, and ask you to change [your performance] – it’s usually a good sign that they like you. But I just did it once and left, and I was like “I’m never going to hear about that again.”
And then I got a call like two weeks later maybe, it was from my agents and my manager, and they were like, “You booked that job on Shadowhunters and it’s a big role, it’s to play Jonathan Morgenstern, Clary’s brother.” And I was like, “What? I read for some random guy called Adam, who was going to be a guest on one or two episodes.” And they said, “No, it’s Jonathan Morgenstern.” And I was like, “I don’t wanna take over from Will Tudor. No way! He’s so wonderful.” It was exciting, but I was also very scared.
SDN: You did a very good job though, and we were very glad to have you. Harry Shum actually mentioned last year here in Paris that you were a little nervous about your stunt scenes. Is that true and if so, which scenes or moments were you most nervous about?
Luke: I think I was just nervous in general. That’s what Harry and I had talked about, he was one of the first people I talked to about stunts, because I knew he’d done a lot in the past. He really helped me, he gave me some advice on which martial artists to watch, and we talked about how stunts are a lot like dancing – you learn a move, but you add your own flourishes to it. But I was just nervous as a whole, because going in I had to challenge Jace. And Dom has had three years of training on the show and I just didn’t want to let him down, really. When you are doing a fight scene, it’s very much a dance. So if I’m not bringing up the sword in time, or if I’m not doing a kick right, he has nothing to react to, and vice versa. And that’s when it gets dangerous.
So I just wanted to make sure that when I was doing it, I was doing it to the best of my ability, but also making sure that I was being a supportive castmate to him – which is scary because Dom is so good. All the stunt guys said that he could be a stunt guy. I would say that most of the footage of Dom [doing stunt work] is Dom and not his stunt double. It’s very rare that he uses his stunt double, though he did use his stunt double for like a big flip or something. That’s such a testament to his work.
SDN: It really is. Circling back to you taking over from Will Tudor – was it challenging for you as an actor to take the character from Will and turn him into a new version, while also staying true to what had previously happened?
Luke: It was. It was really difficult. Not only that, but you know – when you approach any role, it’s all about doing your research and developing the character. And for this one, there was so much there. There was the script, there was Will’s performance, and then there were books. And then on top of that, something I was very conscious of was meeting the fans’ expectations of this character. You know, there’s so much that goes into this sort of thing. I myself have been a fan of books that have been turned into shows or films, and it’s so disheartening when the actor just messes up one of your favorite characters. I took that very seriously, I didn’t want to let anyone down. So it was daunting.
And it was so daunting to go after Will, because he’s just so good. Like he is so talented, it’s so stupid (laughs). And so I definitely cherry-picked little things that he did, and tried to incorporate it a little bit more. The thing that kind of was the tipping point for me in terms of understanding the character was – I was maybe 4 or 5 episodes into watching the show, and I was like, “he is so naturally charming and handsome and like, charismatic”. So when he plays evil, it doesn’t go so dark that he becomes completely unlikeable, because he’s so charming himself – whereas if I played the character as dark as he did, it would be a very different performance. I think it would turn people off the character a little bit. So I tried to pull it back just a little bit more because I look creepy, so if I was creepy it would be like bringing sand to the beach.
One of the things from the get-go with the writers, I was like, “I wanna know why he is this way. We can’t just tell the same story that Will told, we need to really go into this.” And they were so wonderful, they gave me all those flashback episodes and stuff, it was so great.
SDN: It was so fascinating to see you both play the same character, both bringing your own twist into it and still it felt like one and the same character. It was really natural.
Luke: Thank you! I wanted to make sure there was a transition between it, so I consciously did some things Will did. For example his posture, he has very good posture naturally as a person, and I don’t – I mean, look at me. And so I wanted to bring that in a little bit, and some of his other qualities as well, like when he jumps to aggression really quick and things like that.
SDN: There is so much to take into consideration in portraying a character that layered and that deep. Especially Jonathan – there’s just so much to him.
Luke: It was so hard! Seriously, it was the most challenging role I’ve ever done.
SDN: Well, we were just about to ask if that was a challenge for you or if it was just fun to play with. We suppose it was both?
Luke: Yeah, I mean it’s always so much fun when I’m working. I love my job, I love being on a set, I love acting and portraying different people and telling stories. I’m so interested in why people do things the way that they do. But yeah, it really was a challenge. It was actually funny (laughs). Sorry – I just remembered a funny story. I called my ex-girlfriend, who is an actress, and who knows me really, really well. And I called her and I was like, “I don’t know what to do.” At that point, I’d gotten a lot of notes from the network and everyone had an opinion on what to do. Like, I’m talking hair and makeup and all these details and everyone was telling me something. I was like “Oh my god, I don’t know what to do.” And she was so lovely and was like, “Luke, you know what you’re doing. Your instincts are always spot-on, go with your instinct.”
I remember that day, I came to set, tuned everything out and thought like, “Okay, who is this guy?”. And the thing that always came back to me was this sense of wanting to belong, and wanting to find his family and wanting to understand what love is. And I made that the driving force behind him, I think that is really important, because it’s something people connect to.
SDN: It is, definitely. Even though Jonathan is such a evil character, he’s so relatable, still. Like the human emotions you and Will showed, and the pain and anger he felt – you could really relate to that.
Luke: Thank you, I appreciate that.
SDN: Well, unfortunately, Jonathan died in the finale –
Luke: That we know of.
SDN: We know you think the evil was squeezed out of him. But if the show had continued, where would you have wanted his story to go?
Luke: So… I was really, really excited about season 4. How episode 3×20 actually ended was with me in a café and the Seelie Queen comes up to me – and we filmed it obviously before the cancellation. So she comes up to me, I’m drinking hot chocolate and she says, “Missing your sister, are you?” or “Lamenting over your sister?” or something like that. And I’m like, “No, actually I’m done with her.” And she goes, “What are you going to do now?” And then I say, “I’m going to burn it down”. And she goes, “What, the Institute?”. And I go, “No, the world.” And then it cuts to black and that’s it.
So season 4 was meant to be just complete and utter mayhem. It was me, transitioning into this uber demon and just systematically targeting different Institutes. Essentially what happened in the last two episodes, but over a season. And I actually was going to form an alliance with the Seelie Queen, we were going to have a strong romantic relationship and she was going to help me try and take over the Shadow World. And that would have been amazing.
[The cancellation] was annoying as well because I didn’t actually get to do that much of the fun evil part, because I was telling the backstory for ten episodes. It would have been cool. But you know, what’s that saying? Que sera, sera?
SDN: Throughout 3B, the reference of “the boy in the tower” is constantly thrown around to describe the relationship between Clary and Jonathan. Even when it came to the Seelie Queen. He was quick to know to that she only wanted him around to her own benefit. How do you think the fundamental need of being loved would have changed the course of who he is over time?
Luke: I choose to believe that there is good in everyone just as there is bad in everyone in human nature. And obviously the debate over “nature vs. nurture” has always and will forever be a mystery to everyone. But I do believe that with enough love – if he had not been given up by his mother, if he had been raised in the way that Clary was raised – he would not have been who he was. Because even given the fact that he was in hell for 10 years and tortured, and he was given up by his birth parents, and he has this demon blood – he still was trying to fight that battle, you know? He wasn’t completely evil. He genuinely was like this lost puppy and he just didn’t know what to do. And he kept falling back into this bad behavior, it’s because he had it in him. The fact that he still had that fight makes me think that there was a lot of hope in him to be good. And if he had been raised by people who loved him and cared for him and taught him the difference between right and wrong, I think he would have still been a complicated human being, but he wouldn’t have been who he was.
SDN: Probably, yeah. Our upbringing defines us, so obviously it would have changed over time.
Luke: Yeah. I mean, I would have loved that. I would have loved to see what would have happened if he was raised by Jocelyn.
SDN: That would have been a cool alternate universe. Good Jonathan, evil Clary.
Luke: Right? Like if Clary would have been the one would got injected with demon blood, and I was the Clary.
SDN: For our final question we’re going to turn away from the show now. This is your first Shadowhunters convention. Did you get any advice from your castmates?
Luke: Yes! Everyone told me that I was going to have the best time, that it was going to be wonderful and I would get to meet people and it was going to be great. And then it was actually Nicola who was like, “Listen, you’re a really caring person. You need to make sure that you keep a little bit to yourself.” You know, she was like, “Still be there, and still engage with people and talk to them and be nice, because that’s who you are. But you also have to keep a little bit for yourself cause it gets very, very hard.” And it is. I thought yesterday I was going to pass out after my first photo session. There’s just so much energy coming at you and I’m just like, “Oh yeah, tell me everything!”. So it was a lot. I had a beer at lunch, that calmed me down.
SDN: Your energy is amazing, though. And it’s always about the exchange of energy.
Luke: Totally. I think it’s about keeping good boundaries to yourself. You know, I can be like, “Okay, I can be here with you”, but I also have to keep a little to myself. But it’s just been so wonderful and so touching to meet so many people who respond to Jonathan and what I did with that character. That was my worst fear, that I would let people down, so it’s been really great.
We hope you enjoyed this interview! Thank you to Luke Baines for taking the time to chat with us and for the great talk. If you’d like to keep up to date on Luke’s work and upcoming projects, make sure to follow him on Twitter (@LukeBaines) and Instagram (@lukebaines). And if you’d like to read more interviews with the Shadowhunters cast and crew, check out the interviews section on our website.
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