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Warrior Nun showrunner on the Netflix series and its future - Exclusive interview

Warrior Nun rolled out on Netflix in July of 2020, with creator and showrunner Simon Barry at the project's helm. The series features Ava Silva (Alba Baptista) as she navigates a new lease on life (and some nifty supernatural abilities). While Barry loosely adapted the show from Ben Dunn's Warrior Nun Areala comic series, he also made sure to make the series his own, adding twists, turns, and everything in between. 

Barry is no stranger to the TV world. In 2012, he created the popular sci-fi show Continuum, airing for four seasons. Just one year after Continuum ended, Barry went on to executive produce the show Van Helsing for 26 episodes. Following his work on the successful vampire series, he worked on Ghost WarsBad Blood, and Creeped Out before launching Warrior Nun. While wearing his creator and showrunner hats, he also takes up writing and directing every now and then: he's responsible for writing and directing the epic Warrior Nun season 1 finale

In an exclusive interview, Barry spoke to Looper about his plans for a possible season 2, the show's Buffy similarities, navigating the nuances of technology and the church — and the risks that came with it. 

Finding the right cast

Jumping right into things, what was your vision when you came on to Warrior Nun?

Well, my vision was to make a kick-ass feminist superhero show, I guess you'd say. It was to shake things up a little bit and take the title and do it justice.

What challenges did you face when you were filming?

When we were filming? Well, I think the challenge of filming was really making sure that we had an amazing cast. Making sure that we cast the show correctly because, as you can see now, the show's strength is so attached to that and that you need special women and special actors to pull up these parts. I think we were just really grateful that we found such a diverse, unique group of actors who have all made their mark on the show. That was probably the number one challenge from my perspective, but also I think making sure that we delivered a universe that was unique and fresh to the audience, something they hadn't seen before.

Did anything go wrong when you were filming — anything with the set or that kind of thing? Because Spain provided a really, really cool set.

Well, no. I mean, we were very well prepared, I've got to say. We had an amazing production team in Spain through Fresco Films, who were the company that managed all the Spanish shooting for Game of Thrones. We had one of the most professional and most experienced people on our crew. Our crew is 99 percent Spanish, and we had some of the best people, I think, in the world, working on our show that are Spanish-based. We were very, very lucky and we didn't have any real problems or anything go wrong. I think directly because of that relationship, we just had real pros and very experienced, very nice people who made every day a pleasure.

Fighting for season 2

What do you look forward to doing in season two that you couldn't do in the first season? If it does get picked up again, that is.

Well, I guess we were holding back so many secrets in a way in season one. The fact that we now have the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, in terms of the mythology of the show. I think it'll be really exciting to take that journey and unpack what we've revealed.

The appearance of Adriel, the relationship with Father Vincent, and also as the stakes have changed for Ava and the other sister warriors. For me, it really is building on what we did well in season one — and hopefully doing a better job at season two, if we get it.

That crazy cliffhanger at the end, that was wild.

Yeah. That needs to be resolved.

It can't not be resolved. You have an ending like that, and then it just has to get picked up.

No, that would be just rude. As a viewer myself, an avenger, I would not be satisfied with that if I didn't get a resolution and a conclusion.

The Buffy correlation

Warrior Nun has been compared to Buffy the Vampire Slayer quite a bit. Did you draw any inspiration from the movie or the TV show?

Well, when we were in the writing room, we... We're all nerds. We all were aware of the show, of course. We're all fans of the show. If we're going to be compared to Buffy, I think it's probably the best thing possible. There are some things you can't avoid, and of course, Buffy looms large. We weren't really worried about it because I think given our mythology in the context of our show and the situations we were dealing with, we weren't really concerned about it.

It was something that, given our connection to the church and this female sisterhood story that was really driving a lot of our emotional anchors, we were aware of it, but it was never something we really discussed in the writing room. We never said, "Oh, this is too much like this storyline" or whatnot. It was just something that in our minds existed. We weren't consciously or unconsciously honoring it or not honoring it. It was just it's there [and] you deal with it. But I'm happy to be compared.

If there's any show to be compared to...

Yeah, I have no problem with that. If the Buffy fans find our show and get out of Warrior Nun the same joy they got out of Buffy, then I would be thrilled with that. I have no issue with that.

Exploring science and religion

The mashup of technology and religious and ancient weaponry is prevalent in Warrior Nun. And you really explore the nuances of having science and tech exist in the same space as religion. Can you talk a little bit about finding that balance and any inspiration or real religious iconography you drew from to carry out those mashups?

Yeah, well, we were doing a show that had a mythology that was thousands of years old, and we wanted to honor the connection to that. But at the same time, it takes place in 2020, and it's about a group of young people. We wanted to at least open the universe up to both realities and not make it exclusive to one or the other.

The idea that science and religion were two sides of the same coin was fascinating to us because we were dealing with mystery and supernatural elements already in our show, which are things like the halo and the mythology of the halo. It seems like a natural fit for the existence of the halo in our show to be something that could be a steppingstone for scientific speculation regarding what it is and how it connects to religion and whether those two things are exclusive or not.

I liked just the idea that we could have a debate, to be honest with you. I wasn't really set on making one thing more relevant than the other, but the idea that we could have a debate about it in the framework of our own supernatural component felt like that was something that if we didn't have religion connected to the show, and we had a mystical, magical object, like a halo, we would have already done the scientific thing.

That would have been a no-brainer. But to have it connected to religion allowed us an opportunity to broach the subject of how science and religion coexist. That, for me, was just more [of] a social experiment and a dramatic experiment — and the other writers too. I think we all enjoyed the idea that we have this great mythology to build on and that we should be present in it and also present in the modern world that is driven more by science. We thought those two things could travel quite well together.

Which flashbacks will be next?

We got a pretty epic Crusades flashback in the season finale. Is there any other time period or historical event you'd like the show to explore via flashback?

Well, I mean, I haven't had a chance to discuss that with the writers, so I don't have an answer for that. I personally, other than that period in time, which really was serving us as a story point for our mythology.

I mean, look, if the halo has been around for a thousand years, which is in our mythology, there are other Warrior Nuns, there are other stories of Warrior Nuns over the course of a thousand years that could be told. Definitely, we would love to explore that.

I mean, we did a little with the story about Sister Melanie in World War II. Having the opportunity to look back at the other Warrior Nuns, I think, is a really great opportunity for the show — and will be if we're lucky enough to get a second season or beyond. Well, I think telling those stories of the other Warrior Nuns through history could be amazing and also enlightening to the present.

Is there a minor character from the first season that you'd like to explore more in the second?

Oh, good question. I hadn't really... Well, I don't think there are any minor characters, in my opinion, but I mean, I think everyone from season one has [the] potential for a great journey in season two. I would say no one, no one specifically. How about just everyone? All the minor characters and all the major characters.

Honoring the source material

Did you read the source material before taking on the project, and how did it inform your direction?

Right. Well, [there are] over a hundred Warrior Nun books if you count all of the cast characters and book characters. I did not read all hundred of them, not even close. But I did look at the original batch that Ben [Dunn] wrote.

To really get a sense of the attitude and the spirit of the books, we knew early on that we weren't going to duplicate the books as a TV show because there were just things that were very hard to pull off from just a filming point of view and also somatically.

Instead, what we did was we decided to take the attitude, and the pull no punches, speak the truth, in your face, [and] stirred up the book that I liked. I thought it was very refreshing and challenging and trying to infuse Ava with that spirit so that she was this disruptive element, and I liked that books are very disruptive in their own way.

We were really more taking, I guess you could say, a cue from the books in terms of their attitude more than anything else and the mythology obviously of the Warrior Nuns. I mean, obviously, that's a big part of it too.

Navigating controversy

Did you have any worries tackling a subject that some might view as controversial? And were you given free rein to go in any direction you wanted, or was anything toned down or censored?

No, we had no censorship from Netflix whatsoever in terms of the connection to the church. I mean, we knew that this was obviously treading on somewhat unstable ground, but because we are squarely a show about, I guess you could say, a supernatural object in the form of the halo, and the idea of the demons and angels populating our mythology — being connected to so many things in mythology that aren't necessarily strictly Catholic. We just felt like we were already announcing ourselves as a genre show, not a religious show. Therefore, if you took it seriously, you probably were missing the point.

We didn't worry about that at that point because look, the show is called Warrior Nun and teaches superpowers in a way. We were planting our flag squarely I think in a universe that is recognized by fans as something that is its own universe and that we are borrowing mythology from another place that people do all the time — whether it's The Exorcist or if it's Dan Brown writing his books. 

We were aware of it, but we weren't being consciously anti-church in any way as we wrote. We'd said, "We will have good characters and bad characters, and they will exist on both sides." That way, we're not targeting necessarily infrastructures or a culture where only characters would be representative of these things, not necessarily institutions, but you can read into it, whatever you like. I mean, I think we left it fairly open.

Have you faced any backlash or anything?

No.

Formulating the aesthetics

How much, if any, input did you have on the aesthetic? Like the sets or costuming and the combat scenes?

Well, quite a bit. I mean, my job as showrunner means I have to sign off on everything that is onscreen at some point. But I don't do the work in the sense that the... Our costume designer, Cristina Sopeña, was given complete freedom to design modern Crusader Knights for women, female Crusader Knights. Once she had that direction, she did her thing and did an amazing job, a much better job than I ever imagined. 

The same as Bárbara Solero, our production designer. When we wrote about the cat's cradle, and when we wrote about some of these places and locations, we gave her again the freedom to do her job incredibly well, which is her skillset. She came back with designs for the Cat's Cradle that were overwhelmingly better than anything we had imagined as writers.

That stuff is where I get to basically empower people who are exceptionally talented to do the best work they can do. I'm lucky enough to have it reflect back on me. But ultimately, I'm just the conductor in this situation. They're the ones doing the amazing work. 

That goes back to even the fight sequences, our stunt coordinator Cuco and Ashley, who was our fight coordinator. They designed these fights. I mean they took inspiration from the scripts because we would put in whatever details we could in terms of the story of the fight.

But when it comes down to the actual beats of the fight, that's something that they are writing themselves when they choreograph and stage these things. Absolutely this is a... It takes a village, and the show [is] good because everyone in their department is really good at what they do. I get to be the person who talks about the show in this way, but ultimately my skill set is hiring good people. People who are really good at their job — that's what I'm good at because I don't have to do any of this other stuff.