Chaos begets chaos in the Badlands, where ruthless barons reign and the only way out is a fleeting myth you can’t hold on to. In the third season of Into the Badlands the story is only getting started—there are worlds beyond the wall and we’re about to see them collide. To craft such a rich story takes time, hard work, and faith; for lead actor/executive producer Daniel Wu and co-star Ally Ioannides the filming of S3 has been exhausting but the payoff is immense. The cast are nearing the end of an intensive nine month shoot in Ireland but Daniel and Ally took time out to reflect on their whirlwind year and look at what’s coming for their characters.
When we last saw Daniel Wu’s character, Sunny, he defeated his nemesis and former baron, Quinn (Marton Csokas), but it cost him. Sunny lost the love of his life, Veil (Madeleine Mantock), in the battle. Now he’s left alone to raise their baby boy Henry. “He’s kind of in a state of depression, he’s holed himself up, he’s living on the edge of the Badlands, trying to stay away,” Daniel explains. But when Henry gets sick Sunny’s forced to venture out and is pulled back into the civil war between the Widow (Emily Beecham) and Baron Chau (Eleanor Matsuura)—such is the sadistic nature of the Badlands. “This thing that happens to his son causes him another panic, another mission he has to go on, so he has to fight through all those emotions to deal with the day to day. Kind of like real parents,” Daniel jokes. But, humor aside, Sunny’s in for an even worse time. “It’s very emotionally draining…he doesn’t wanna fight anymore. He wants to leave all that behind. And the world is forcing him to get back into it, so he’s also dealing with that struggle and again, trying to erase those tattoos off his back but then those tattoos start to weigh down more and more on him as the season progresses.” Through that journey, Daniel says, Sunny begins to find out more about himself and his past. “There’s a point where he kind of has to accept his fate, and so from that point on he has to charge forward and try and save the Badlands from the chaos.”
Tilda (Ally Ioannides). Photo: Aidan Monaghan/AMC
Family has always been an intrinsic layer of Into the Badlands, where forged bonds and blood ties are equally important. For Ally Ioannides, what her character Tilda went through with her mother, the Widow, has been hard but forced her to grow in the new season. “Tilda has bounced back from her fight with the Widow, and now she’s off with Odessa (Maddison Jaizani) and she’s living among her Robin Hood vigilante group called the Iron Rabbits. They’re really cool, they’re kind of punk rock, they wear cool eyeliner,” she says. The Iron Rabbits become Tilda’s new identity in S3, allowing her a chance at redemption by stealing from the Widow and Chau to provide for the civil war refugees. “She’s in a really loving, amazing relationship [with Odessa]…she’s away from all of those roles like ‘the Baron’ and ‘the Regent’. She doesn’t have any of those labels anymore,” Ally says; she thinks it’s exactly what Tilda needs. “In order for her to become her own person, she needed this time to be separate.” She compares it to moving out on your own for the first time with your first love. Tilda has become such a big part of Ally, so this new character arc has been exciting to take on. “I’ve grown up with Tilda. And it’s just thinking like ‘okay how am I going to approach this?’ I know exactly how she feels. It was really fun to dive in.”
“[Tilda’s] living in her own world and this relationship kind of figuring out who she is.”
Even when her character isn’t exactly like her regular life, Ally relates (or likes to think so). “Mainly her amazing martial arts abilities, the way that she can fly, the way that she goes zero gravity, I totally relate to that,” she jokes, “we have so much in common really.” But Ally explains that while her role as an Iron Rabbit is fun to play and good for Tilda’s growth, she’s still out for revenge. “She gets a little bit too selfish with the cause and she really just wants to go after the Widow.” Watching how Tilda holds her own in battle it’s easy to forget she’s still just a teenager trying to find herself. “She’s living in her own world and this relationship kind of figuring out who she is.”
There are still many mysteries to uncover from previous seasons, including the “dark gift” characters like M.K. (Aramis Knight) possess. Daniel promises we’re about to learn more, “We find out that lots of other people have it—that becomes a danger to the Badlands.” With the new character Pilgrim (Babou Ceesay) opening up the “dark gift” storyline to new possibilities, it’s both frightening and fascinating to see how far M.K.’s abilities could take him and whether that’s the right path for him to be on. The beauty of Into the Badlands is it’s hard to guess which side a character will end up on when chaos strikes and upsets the playing field again and again. For Ally, it’s refreshing to have Tilda navigate her relationship with M.K., the Widow, and the others now that she’s not “one of them”. “In the Badlands anyone can be on any side at any time. So when [Tilda] does get back in contact with M.K. and the Widow will she be on their side? Will she be fighting them? …Anything could happen.”
“The fights have to keep going, they have to be interesting every time, and we have to keep pushing the boundaries of what we know we can do.”
What we do know is there’ll be plenty of fight scenes to marvel at. Being so heavily action-based, shooting Into the Badlands means a lot of time and training. After a long day of filming you can hear how tired Daniel is. “It’s been a tough season…it’s definitely the longest shoot I’ve ever done.” The choreography and fight scenes alone take hours, and with a sixteen-episode order for season 3 they’re stepping up their game. “There are a ton of fights, and all of them kind of top each other. All of them are great for each character’s style, which is what we try to do to keep it live and fresh, because it’s an episodic show, it’s not like a movie where there’s just four or five fights and it’s over. The fights have to keep going, they have to be interesting every time, and we have to keep pushing the boundaries of what we know we can do.” He explains they either use themes from the storyline or they pay homage to kung-fu from classic movies so each fight drives the story forward.
Sunny (Daniel Wu). Photo: Aidan Monaghan/AMC
Daniel is excited to bring Hong Kong action to Western television screens; for someone who’s such a well-known star in China it’s an interesting challenge to present a show to audiences who often haven’t had much exposure to the genre. “I mean obviously I’d like them to be captured by the storyline, and then the action is a bonus. The action is this visual eye-candy that most people haven’t seen on television before,” he says, pleased they’re achieving what they set out to do. “And we’ve definitely succeeded with that but I think with season 2 we definitely matured in that we were able to integrate the story and the action much better. And season 3 just kind of rolls off of that.” With a longer season to play with the fights and storylines can take their time to meld—but it means more choreography to learn and more training. “It’s gotten easier over the seasons but it’s still not easy work,” Daniel admits. “We’re not in a situation where we have the luxury to pre-choreograph all the fights, practise them over and over, and then go shoot them. We learn bits of the fight while we’re shooting it, so you kinda have to be quick on your feet, quick in your mind.” He sees that as part of the fun. “I think of the training as a kind of way to relieve a bit of the stress,” he says, even if it means working out at night after a long shoot before a 6am work call the next day. “It keeps me fresh, it keeps me going. I think if I didn’t have that I’d be much more tired actually,” he laughs.
“It is exhausting, it is tiring, but it’s extremely rewarding when the plan comes together so that’s kind of what keeps me going.”
The crew built a training spot in the studio comprised of mats in a swimming pool. Ally credits this addition and series yoga trainer Matt Lucas for helping her stay fighting fit. “Shooting a lot of harsh movements and fast kicks can really fuck you up on your day off, so [Matt] does a lot of slow yoga, a lot of strength training with us, and I love doing that on my day off.” For her, low-impact workouts like yoga or swimming aren’t just a fun way to unwind, they’re essential. “You’re on wires doing [stunts] ten times, your big fight scenes over and over, you’re falling. It’s a lot of intense stuff on your body so it’s really important to just rest and stay healthy.” For Daniel, as a trained martial arts fighter he has always enjoyed working out, although even he needs motivation occasionally. “It takes a lot of discipline. Y’know, I follow The Rock on Instagram and he’s up at, like, 4 in the morning at the gym and I’m like: If he’s doing it, I can’t not do anything [laughs]. You gotta put in the time, put in the effort.”
The Widow (Emily Beecham). Photo: Aidan Monaghan/AMC
Starring in and executive producing the show means Daniel has to put in double the time and effort. “It’s kind of relentless [laughs]. There’s never a time where I’m, like, in my trailer just chilling out.” He’s always working, splitting his time between producing, acting, and training. The show shoots simultaneously in two separate units—fight and drama—and as an EP Daniel takes care of the fight unit, making sure they’re sticking to schedule and have everything they need. “It is exhausting, it is tiring, but it’s extremely rewarding when the plan comes together so that’s kind of what keeps me going.”
“It is a weird post-apocalyptic crazy show but what most good post-apocalyptic shows are trying to do is reflect on modern society today and I think we do that. I hope that people see that subtext and take the messages away.”
Now they’re nearing S3’s release, both actors are beginning to reflect. Ally admits she normally takes it one day at a time but lately she’s been looking back. “[I’ve been] realizing, like, all of the amazing things I’ve gotten to do and just see the world become so much bigger and so much more intricate too. So a lot of different stuff with fight unit, a lot of different wire work and weapons that I haven’t fought with before. And also just being able to interact with different cast members and being in beautiful locations, seeing a lot of Ireland. It’s been really great.”
Filming in Ireland has been a dream cinematically—even though the winter was tough on the cast and crew—and the gorgeous natural scenery succeeds in expanding the new season. “We’re seeing a much bigger world than we ever saw in the second one,” Daniel says, “with a slew of new characters, a whole different subject matter, a whole other nemesis.” Not only does Ireland’s mysticism lend itself to the legend of Azra but the new areas are straight out of a fairytale, including what was a Natural History museum before the apocalypse. The Badlands—for all of its evil—is a breathtaking backdrop that adds to the magic.
Pilgrim (Babou Ceesay). Photo: Aidan Monaghan/AMC
“Ever since I was little I always begged people to play with me and I would create whole entire worlds and just live in them with my friends and I really believed them,” Ally says, enthusiastic about what she’s helping to craft, “so it’s really fun to get to live in a world that actually exists that people are creating. I walk on set sometimes and the Widow’s wall is like…a giant wall! The poppy fields that people have individually planted, it’s like a giant playground,” she sighs. “It’s so much fun to be able to create in.”
Daniel thinks fans will be happy with the show’s expansion—there’s plenty to explore and they’ve dropped easter eggs in for those wishing to dig deeper. Because that’s what Into the Badlands is all about: Immersing yourself in a world different to our own but ultimately human. “It is a weird post-apocalyptic crazy show but what most good post-apocalyptic shows are trying to do is reflect on modern society today and I think we do that. I hope that people see that subtext and take the messages away.”
Into the Badlands returns for season 3 on Sunday, April 22 at 10pm, only on AMC.