Following on from the enormous success of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper, Netflix is continuing to push the ‘queer teen romance’ genre forward with First Kill, albeit with a bit (a lot) more blood, gore and slayage – the literal kind.
The series, created by Victoria Schwab and based on her short story of the same name, follows teenage bloodsucker Juliette (Sarah Catherine Hook) as she prepares to make her first kill to take her place among her powerful family of “Legacy” vampires. Her initiation becomes all the more complicated, however, when she develops feelings for the new girl in town, Calliope (Imani Lewis), who happens to come from a long lineage of monster hunters. (Think Heartstopper meets Buffy.)
Speaking with GAY TIMES, Imani – who rose to fame in television dramas such as Hightown and The Equalizer – praises First Kill for excluding elements of homophobia and its normalisation of the LGBTQ+ experience. “I think it’s important [for viewers to] see a story where queerness is not the point of conflict in this story,” she says.
“The story is that they are supposed to kill each other, but they fall in love with each other. That’s the bigger problem here! I think that it’s important that we see these families where they normalise, accept and celebrate their child’s queerness. It’s not something that’s up for debate.”
Here, we speak with Imani about the tumultuous first season of First Kill, why she resonates with Calliope’s ‘tenacity, discipline and diligence’ and her hopes for a potential season two.
How have you found the reception to First Kill so far?
Oh my god, it’s been so love-filled, it’s been so supportive. It’s just been the most wonderful response. I knew this show was awesome, but it just hits a little different seeing people that haven’t seen all that I’ve seen and to see them enjoy it! They tell me how represented they feel and how they wish this story was told sooner. It makes me feel so good and it was so worth it. I’m so honoured and I’m so happy.
It’s funny isn’t it, how in 2022, we’re still saying, ‘How have we not had this yet?’
Yeah, absolutely. It’s time to shine a light on these beautiful communities that influence our lives in ways people have no idea about. I knew it would be so important and that it’ll be done correctly. I’m just so happy that we had the opportunity to do it.
Imani, we have to talk about that ending. Twist after twist! I won’t lie, I had tears in mine eye when Calliope threatened Juliette.
Reading the script, me and Sarah Catherine were emotional messes! We were in the trailer like, ‘What is this show? What are we a part of? What do we do?’ I didn’t know what to do with myself. We were a mess. Like, how do you not cry when Talia cries? I’ve seen it and it still makes me cry. She’s like the mother of your dreams. She just loves and cares so deeply.
What originally drew you to the role of Calliope?
As soon as the audition came in, I saw that it was action and it was right up my alley. Selfishly as an actress, that was something I have been wanting, to check the box on the list of different roles and genres that I wanted to try as an actress. When I saw that she’s a young, Black teenager monster hunter from a lineage of monster hunters, and she falls in love with everything she’s trained to kill and taught to hate, how can I not want to be part of that? Once I realised how important it was, representation wise, and seeing just how diverse this cast is and all the different communities of people that the show would represent, I had to be a part of this.
Do you have a thing for vampires, because you also had a small bit in Vampires vs The Bronx?
Personally, I am not one for the scarier genres! I am not a big scary movie person, when it comes to vampires and stuff like that, but I grew up watching Blade religiously. I just took a liking to things like Blade where he’s more of a monster hunter but there’s a level of egalitarianism to it, like there is a measure of justice to what he does. It was so dope to see somebody that looked like me in the supernatural realm. I did grow up watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch, that was more my realm. The vampire stuff, it really scared me.
I won’t lie to you Imani, Wesley Snipes was one of my sexual awakenings…
Yes! In the long black trench, the black boots, the muscle shirts. I was just like, ‘How?!’ How do I want to be you?’ I didn’t know what to do with myself. When Trinity came, and became part of the cast I was like, ‘Yes to all of this!’
Calliope, Blade or Buffy. Who wins in a smackdown? Spill!
Maybe Blade, sorry! Only because at some point he turns and gets the fangs. We can’t battle that. You’re a hunter, you have the training. You’re equipped like the hunter but then you also have these supernatural powers, the things that you hunt. To combine these two things is a dangerous thing in the supernatural world. I don’t know if Cal wants that.
I’m not accepting this answer. Surely Buffy and Calliope team up?
I didn’t know we could team up?! If I knew we could team up, my answer would be different! A thousand percent.
How do you personally resonate with Calliope’s story?
There’s so much about Cal that I resonate with. If anything, when I see Calliope, I see a young woman that is tenacious, disciplined and diligent that is on this mission to prove what she knows to be true about herself to others. I feel like I resonate with that so strongly because I feel like in this industry, at least as an actress, every time you audition you are fighting to prove that you are talented and you are capable of embodying these characters that you’ve done in the mirror eight million times. I definitely resonate with that constant fight to prove yourself and show the world what you can do. That, and just feeling like there are one hundred of these auditions that you do and you maybe you get one, maybe you don’t, but you get back up and keep going. I see that in Calliope. No matter how many times she fails, she never allows it to keep her down. If anything, she goes harder. I definitely resonate with that.
You kick so much ass in this series. What was training like for you? Did you know any martial arts beforehand?
I have been taking kickboxing for a couple of years, so I feel like I was physically agile enough. I was on a dance team for years, but I definitely had a lot of stunt co-ordinating, a lot of stunt training. We were training before we got any dialogue for Cal and Jules. The stunt coordinators were incredible and they were so helpful and patient. We did a lot of intensive training. Even between scenes, if we weren’t running lines we were like, ‘Okay, we have a fight scene tomorrow, we don’t have much time so let’s work it out.’ They were very on it and so were we. We were all just so committed to making this the best show possible.
What was the hardest part of playing a vampire hunter?
I think the hardest part of embodying Calliope had nothing to do with monster hunting. It had everything to do with the fact that Cal’s sixteen. Being a teenager is so hard! Being a teenager that comes from a long lineage of monster hunters and trying to pretend that you’re not in high school and trying to be normal is the hardest part of it; the fact that teenagers are on this emotional rollercoaster trying to find their identity and who they are in the world. Calliope in this season is ever-changing. Every episode, she is slightly more different to the previous episode. Playing a character that’s ever-changing and never knowing what is next was the hardest part, but I think more so because she was a teenager.
And on the other hand, what was the most fun part about this role?
Being with the cast. The cast of First Kill is absolutely extraordinary. It is such an honour to be able to work in these jobs where the entire cast is so lovely and they’re all dedicated professionals that come and bring their best every single day. We all get along like family. I’m an only child, so to be able to play a character with two older brothers that immediately treated me like a little sister the moment they met me… They were immediately like, ‘Don’t look at her, don’t touch her, we got her, she’s fine.’ The same thing with my parents, Jason Moore and Aubin Wise, they are both so incredible, so nurturing and so kind. Sarah Catherine, she’s such a gem, such a light. Then, outside of the incredible cast, the entire Fairmont family and Burns family, the writers, the showrunner, producers and directors. They are such incredible individuals. They were so patient and communicative and made it a safe space to express and develop these characters and to create this story. Sometimes I forget that so many people are going to see this show! It’s going to air in all these countries and other people are going to see it.
You have so much chemistry with Sarah. Was there anything you both did behind-the-scnees to make sure this romance came to life in the most authentic way?
Our first call on the phone with each other, before we met each other, we were on FaceTime for four hours. We talk! Me and Sarah Catherine communicate like you wouldn’t believe. We sit and we talk and we eat and we chat. That’s exactly what we do. We’re very communicative and we have both agreed that, as colleagues, we were going to hear each other and allow each other to feel seen and heard. It was a very communicative process, asking a lot of questions; genuinely hearing each other and understanding, listening and then being able to follow suit that way. Naturally, we got along so well. She’s so kind, she’s so funny, she’s so fun. Being able to work together like this, we really treated it like a team, like we were a unit. She’s just awesome.
The recent success of Heartstopper has proved that viewers are ready for young queer romances. What impact do you hope First Kill has on viewers at home, particularly those within the LGBTQ+ community?
I hope that they’re able to see a bit of themselves in any of these characters and take from their journeys. I think in Calliope’s story specifically, I want them to see that, even if you have an idea or have been told who you’re supposed to be in this world, if you see a change in yourself that brings more truth to you, to honour those feelings and to allow that space for change. You can authentically be the person that you are meant to be, not just who you were told you’re supposed to be. I feel like when I see Calliope, I see a young girl that’s born into something, born into a duty that she feels a responsibility for. But then, I see her accept the part of herself that wasn’t taught to her, something that she feels, something that brings truth to her. Allow space for those changes within yourself. I think it’s important that they see a story where their queerness is not the point of conflict in this story. The story is that they are supposed to kill each other, but they fall in love with each other. That’s the bigger problem here! I think that it’s important that we see these families where they normalise, accept and celebrate their child’s queerness. It’s not something that’s up for debate. I know there are a lot of households out there that don’t mirror that same image. I think it’s important that we see it, and that it is possible and that it is important and that you are loved. Every cast member can say this for themselves, we love all of the community that we are representing in this show and we are so honoured to be part of it.
Where would you like to see Calliope in a potential season two?
There’s so much I want to see. I think everyone, selfishly, wants to see Jules and Cal reunite. I think we all want things to be okay. I would love to see, hypothetically, a version of Calliope that doesn’t seek validation as much from her family. I want her to believe in her own power and embrace her own independence. I think a lot happened in season one where I would imagine she feels like she’s between a rock and hard place. She has to abide by this guild, and it kind of let her down. She has her family and that kind of went haywire, and her relationship with Jules… I would love to see Calliope not influenced by others. I pray she takes this hurt and makes it her beast. It makes her train even harder and be the monster hunter she knew she was at the beginning of the season.
The first season of First Kill is now streaming worldwide on Netflix.