"First Kill" stars Imani Lewis and Sarah Catherine Hook on queer vampires and the power of representation
Most people are familiar with Romeo and Juliet. But in Netflix's new series "First Kill," Juliet and Juliet is where it's really at.
The series, which premiered on Friday, is based on the short story written by acclaimed fantasy author V.E. Schwab. It focuses on Calliope (played by Imani Lewis) and Juliette (Sarah Catherine Hook), two high school girls in love. The only problem? Juliette comes from a family of legendary vampires and Calliope comes from a family of legendary monster hunters. Both girls are racing against a ticking clock to complete their first kills. What could possibly go wrong?
The show leans into the ridiculousness of its premise, finding excitement in the stars' building chemistry and doing a standup job of building out some of its major side characters, like Juliette's feuding siblings and Calliope's strong-willed mother. Outside of the obvious familial tensions, the stars both said they appreciated the series' focus on not making their main characters' sexuality the forefront of their story.
CBS News spoke with the stars of "First Kill" about the process of making the show, and why they think representation is important, even in campy YA dramas.
CBS News: How does it feel that people can now watch the show?
Sarah Catherine Hook: Excited! But also a little nerve-wracking. I haven't really done anything like this yet, so I'm not really sure what to expect and I'm hoping that it'll just be a lot of fun for all of us. And I will just say I'm so honored to be a part of the show and to play Juliette. She's really near and dear to my heart and I just hope I get to continue to step into her shoes.
Imani Lewis: I've been excited. I'm going through a range of emotions as you can imagine, but I'm just so excited. I'm so excited for how many people this show can move and how many people are going to feel seen when they watch the show and meet these characters and hear their stories. It's just so exciting.
What are some of your favorite iconic vampire stories and series?
Sarah Catherine Hook: Well, I was a big "Vampire Diaries" fan. In high school, college, that was a favorite show of mine. Obviously loved "Twilight." "What We Do in the Shadows" is 100% one of my favorite movies of all time. I even love the show. So I think I have a nice variety of vampire content that I've devoured over time.
Imani Lewis: I definitely grew up watching things like "Blade," so I kind of manifested the whole monster hunter thing. I mean, I was watching it when you had to pop it into the VCR at my grandparents' house. Honestly, I watched it too many times but I just was obsessed with seeing someone that looked like me. He's so strong and well-trained and he's wearing this long black leather trench and it just was like — I was like, "Oh, I gotta be that." I definitely channeled that, for sure. I also grew up on Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
How would you describe your character? How did this impact what you brought to the role?
Sarah Catherine Hook: Juliette is thoughtful. She is sensitive and cares deeply for her friends and family. She's very true to her morals and her beliefs.
I [wanted to bring] sensitivity and nuance and thoughtfulness. In the description, she's shy. And I'm like, well, there are different ways to be a shy person. I didn't want it to be the stereotypical shy, awkward girl. I wanted her to have emotional depth, and just help people understand where she's coming from as this vampire who longs to be a human.
Imani Lewis: Calliope is smart, she's calculated, she's courageous. She's tenacious, she's diligent and she's disciplined. She's born into this lifestyle and is hell-bent on proving her position in her family and proving that she is worthy of the status and ranking her family holds. And she's incredibly proud to be in the family and to be a part of such a strong, trained guild.
But she's also a teenage girl who doesn't have the same normalcy that the average teenage girl has. So I had to bring both that calculated side at the same time as the side of her that's confused and is being challenged by these emotions that she wasn't expecting to have.
Without spoilers, do you have a favorite episode or storyline in the season?
Sarah Catherine Hook: This is probably the hardest question, actually, because I genuinely love every episode. But I really love episode two. I think visually, it's really stunning. It's a perfect episode after the first one because obviously the first episode is very introductory. It's like OK, these are your characters, these are the stakes. But then episode two, we get into the juicy stuff. And I don't know, it just holds a special place in my heart.
Imani Lewis: I always go back and forth with this but I think eight is my favorite episode. It gets so chaotic for so many reasons and it really tugs at the heartstrings at the same time. I think that's where we really see these characters emote, like all of them. They all go through their own journeys, and really have to ask themselves, "What do I do now? Who am I now?"
If the show gets a second season, what would you want to see?
Sarah Catherine Hook: I have been saying that I want Juliette to have kind of an emo dark side. Her version of a dark side would probably be to emulate her sister and mom's prototype, where it's kind of like scary Southern Barbie. I feel like that would be really interesting to see. I definitely want to see Juliette and Calliope battle it out a little bit. Obviously we want them to stay together, but we also want there to be some tension for a little to keep audiences entertained. Absolutely.
Imani Lewis: Where do we go from here? There's so many cliffhangers and so many loose ends that we need to tie up. I want to see the fate of Cal and Jules. I'd love to see the dynamics now because, in the families, in the town, in the relationships, the foundation is crumbling.
How do you think the show handles its main characters and their queerness?
Sarah Catherine Hook: I mean, there isn't really a show like this. The fact that Calliope and Juliette's queerness is normalized in the show is never questioned. The fact that it's celebrated through the show says it all. I hope that we will see more shows like this in the future. I'm so honored to be a part of a show that's kind of paving the way in that regard.
Imani Lewis: I think what I love more than anything is that their queerness is not the point of conflict. That is not where their struggle lies and that's well understood.The bigger fight is that they're supposed to kill each other you know. And it just keeps on rolling. It's not this big thing.
Why was your favorite part about working on "First Kill?" What do you hope audiences take away?
Sarah Catherine Hook: We had the best crew. I just loved everyone and I'm still friends with pretty much all of them because we all got very close very quickly. And I really appreciated that that the representation wasn't just on the show but also behind the scenes. We had crew members of color and queer crew members and I just loved every minute.
Imani Lewis: Everyone in the cast and crew is incredible. These producers, these directors, all phenomenal. Even the behind the scenes part that no one really gets to see — hair, makeup wardrobe. I felt like I was able to better channel and better understand the communities that I was representing because I was surrounded by them.
For audiences, I want people to feel seen and heard and respected and represented when they see this show and see these characters, and I want them to feel like it was done with care.
But most importantly, I want people to know that when you see changes in yourself that seem unfamiliar, explore them, learn them, understand them and open your arms to what they could bring. I think it's important that we allow that kind of space for change and for improvement and for growth so that we can be who we are truly supposed to be and not just who we think we are.
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