‘First Kill’ creator, stars sink their teeth into lesbian vampire love affair

This article includes spoilers for the first season of “First Kill.”

When Victoria “VE” Schwab set out to write “First Kill,” a short story about two star-crossed lovers — a vampire and a vampire hunter — that was adapted into a new Netflix teen drama, the New York bestselling author York Times wanted to create a fictional world it desperately needed.

Growing up on fantasy dramas including ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, Schwab said she never saw herself in the queer characters at the center of the narrative and, in turn, didn’t realize she was gay until she was in her mid-twenties. .

While the entertainment industry has made significant strides in queer representation over the past two decades, “it almost always feels like, for us to be the main characters, the show needs to be about our homosexuality…and it’s a quietly malicious thing, because it basically tells us that’s the only reason we’re worthwhile as protagonists,” Schwab told NBC News. “So I was like, yeah, I want to write a lesbian story, but I want to not talk about their sexuality.

Produced by Schwab, Felicia D. Henderson and Emma Roberts, “First Kill” tells the love story of Juliette Fairmont (Sarah Catherine Hook), scion of a powerful matrilineal family of “inheritance vampires”, and Calliope Burns ( Imani Lewis), the youngest child in a family of professionally trained monster slayers. As the two young women search for their first murder, Juliette and Calliope find themselves inexplicably drawn to each other, leading them to question everything they thought they knew about their own destinies and their families.

“When they see each other, they kind of see what they’re missing in themselves, and I feel like they’re capable of yin and yang,” Lewis said. “Both [are] have trouble finding their identity and who they are outside of who they were predestined to be, so I think they’re just able to confide in a way that they don’t feel the same comfort or same security with their own family.”

“First Kill,” which premiered on June 10, hit Netflix’s Top 10 in 60 countries, including the United States, within the first three days of its release. During the week ending June 19, the series was watched for a total of 48.8 million hours and was among the top 10 shows in 82 countries, according to Netflix data.

Sarah Catherine Hook and Imani Lewis as Calliope in “First Kill”.Courtesy of Netflix

The show also reignited a larger conversation about how romance between women is scrutinized for being “too toxic,” “too cheesy,” or “too sexual.” When asked why she thinks Sapphic representation is still held at such a high level, Schwab attributed it to “a very complicated ecosystem” of homophobia, misogyny, and fetishization.

“I think one of the reasons ‘Heartstopper’ is palatable is that it’s about two white gay men, but also it’s extraordinarily pure,” Schwab said of the coming-of-age drama from Netflix, which has been renewed for two more seasons after making the Top 10 list in 54 countries. “It’s stripped of any sexual connotation, and that’s what makes it almost acceptable. My show is not that.

Among the most annoying reactions to the series, Schwab recalled, were comparisons to “Carmilla,” a gothic short story published by Sheridan Le Fanu in 1872, and the implication that no one needed another vampire story. sapphic.

“I’ve seen these comments like, ‘You already have ‘Carmilla’.’ ‘Carmilla’ is a 150-year-old work of literature,” she said. “Can you imagine telling ‘Twilight’, ‘Vampire Diaries’ and ‘True Blood’ fans, ‘You already have ‘Dracula’, why do you want more of that stuff?’ Critics come from so many directions, [but] I don’t think lesbians are the source of the criticism.

First meeting

Netflix ordered an eight-episode first season of “First Kill” in October 2020, a month after Schwab’s short story appeared in the “Vampires Never Get Old: Tales With Fresh Bite” anthology. After an intensive audition process, the producers cast Hook and Lewis, who both said they immediately “fell in love” with their characters and acknowledged the responsibility of telling a queer love story in a genre that marginalized these narratives.

In their Zoom chemistry read, Hook and Lewis read the scene where Juliet and Calliope meet for the first time — and Hook said sparks flew immediately.

“Imani gave me this look, and I just molten in a little puddle,” Hook said with a smile. “At the end of the scene, I ran away, put my head in my hands and was dazed, blushing like, ‘It’s Calliope!’ It was just a done deal right after that look.

first kiss

At a high school party in the first episode, Juliet and Calliope kiss in a pantry, which was changed from a closet in the short story.

“What we see is this line between attraction and violence: what starts out as pure sex appeal – two girls bumping into each other in a pantry – really hangs on this sharp edge between danger and lust,” Schwab said. “There’s a point in the first half where Cal starts to reach for the stake behind her back, and then she becomes more interested in the moment, and she lets go.”

The scene is an early turn: it’s the moment Juliette bites Calliope, and Calliope kills Juliette, not realizing the repercussions.

“Juliette enters the pantry to kiss Calliope; Calliope enters the pantry to kill Juliette. They’re not on the same page when they walk into that pantry,” Schwab said. “What we’re supposed to ask ourselves is, if Juliet hadn’t bitten Calliope then, would Calliope still have killed her?”

Before shooting this pivotal scene, Hook had “a lot of conversations” with Lewis and director Jet Wilkinson about establishing the “equal” power dynamic between Juliet and Calliope, because “people always want to decide who the figure is. dominant in a relationship, and we really didn’t want there to be a dominant in those times,” Hook said. “I felt like we accomplished that with the more intimate scenes of showing us all both in charge or in turns.”

First victims

Despite being ordered by their parents not to see each other again, Calliope and Juliet – in the style of Romeo and Juliet – are unable to separate. This then leads them to testify to each other’s first murders. When Juliette kills and drains her first human in episode four, “all her thoughts are gone from her head, and her vampire instincts take over, and it’s almost like she’s passed out,” Hook said.

“Although Calliope is well aware of what Juliet is, she has never seen Juliet in this form. She has never seen her be violent or harmful in any way, so this is definitely a game-changer for her,” Lewis said. “Although it’s nothing new to her, and she lives in a world where she sees things like that, it’s different to see the one you have feelings for, someone. one who always looked so sweet and shy and sweet, to be that thing you were taught to fear and trained to kill.

Imani Lewis and Sarah Catherine Hook
Imani Lewis and Sarah Catherine Hook in “First Kill”.Courtesy of Netflix

The reverse is also true when Juliette watches Calliope kill her first monster — a zombie who ripped out the spine of one of their classmates — in the fifth episode to protect the rest of the school, Hook and Lewis.

“It almost takes them out of the fairy tale for a second, but I think that’s the tug of war of this whole story – fighting to stay in this fairy tale,” Lewis said.

According to Schwab, what’s more important that Juliet and Calliope finally get their first kills is the aftermath of those milestones.

“We put these moments in our lives on pedestals: if we can just play the way our families tell us to play, we’ll feel secure in who we are,” she said.

But while Juliet and Calliope, for the most part, follow their parents’ orders and get their first kills, they “don’t fundamentally change as people,” Schwab noted, and the viewer realizes that these two young women are “on a different path”. of their families of vampires and monster slayers.

First betrayal

When she first signed on to the project as executive producer, Schwab knew she would have to give up some degree of creative control in the writers’ room, but she said there were a few narrative elements for which she felt pretty firmly on the verge of a fight. . One such point comes in the finale, when Juliet reveals that, to save Calliope’s older brother’s life, she turned him into a vampire without his consent.

When she first read the script, Hook had a “very difficult time” understanding Juliette’s intentions, even though she knows that “her character’s intention is always to do the right thing”, she said. “But sometimes we don’t really know what the right thing is. I didn’t know if she accidentally turned him into a vampire or if it was intentional.

The revelation “completely shakes up Cal’s world, especially because Juliette was someone she trusted,” Lewis said of her character. “Juliette was her outlet to turn to when she couldn’t be honest with herself or be honest with her family.”

Although she admitted the ending made her “really sad,” Schwab said the writers left the star-crossed lovers in the same place they announced in the pilot.

“At the end of the first episode, Calliope says, ‘You’re a monster and I’m a hunter, and there’s only one way to end this story.’ It’s hopefully not the end for them, but we’ve promised this whole show exactly what you’ll get in the end,” she said.

First renewal?

While “First Kill” has yet to be renewed for a second season, Schwab, Lewis, and Hook all have their hopes and ideas for a second season.

Schwab said she would like to see how the families of Juliette and Calliope “pick up the pieces, because things have now happened in both the Fairmont family and the Burns family, which means they cannot continue. as they are”. She would also like to see Juliette “get into a blood fight” to rebel after the heartbreaking turn of events in the finale, she added.

The last thing Calliope says to Juliet in the finale “kind of sets the tone for the kind of person Cal thinks she’s become,” Lewis said. “That fire that we saw in her initially to prove herself and be a monster hunter, I can only see that 11 times” next season.

As for Hook, she “really hopes for some kind of dark side of Juliet.”

“Hopefully there will be some sexy fights between Calliope and Juliet, and of course by the end of the season we want them back together,” she said. “That’s the goal, of course, but there has to be a bit of a fight here and there.”

“First Kill” is now streaming on Netflix.

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James C. Tibbs