10 Things We Learned From The Set Of 'Deadly Class' [Set Visit Report]

If you've seen the commercials for SYFY's new series Deadly Class, in which young misfits are trained to be assassins in a school called King's Dominion, then you've probably already determined that this show is going to be ca-razy (in the best way ever). But beyond the switchblades and the characters' devilishly deceptive private school uniforms, the show—derived from writer Rick Remender and artist Wesley Craig's comic book series of the same name—seeks to confront resonating themes of morality, antiestablishment, and mental health that present a conflict among the characters in this 1987-set narrative.

The series also boasts a large young cast of mostly newcomers who take on the roles of diverse youth living on the fringes of society who must fight Battle Royale-style for the acceptance of headmaster Master Lin (Benedict Wong). The story is told through lead character Marcus Lopez (Benjamin Wadsworth), who's half Nicaraguan, as he enters King's Dominion after living on the street for two years.

Here are 10 things we learned from the Vancouver set.

At its core, Deadly Class is a coming-of-age tale that’s set in a dark landscape.

Though it has an unusual premise, Deadly Class is ultimately about youth trying to find themselves while being pushed to the margins during tumultuous times," showrunner Miles Orion Feldsott explains. "The theme that I'm most interested in exploring is the ungarnished truth of that time in our lives when we're teenagers, how messy it is and how difficult it is to evolve into an adult person, and everything that ties into that. All the kind of self-exploration that you do with yourself, our characters are doing in a very heightened world."

Each character will have their unique backstory told using 2D animation.

In the midst of the ass-kicking and general badassery, you'll learn who each of the students at King's Dominion were before they became violent assassins, much of which is not delved into in the comics. Best of all, their stories will be revealed through awesome animation by Titmouse in the same style as the comic books. That means, you'll learn more about how Marcus became homeless, the truth about Southern Belle Brandy Lynn (Siobhan Williams), how Maria Salazar (María Gabriela de Faría) became a member of the Soto Vatos cartel, nonviolent Willie (Luke Tennie), how Says Kuroki (Lana Candor) became a force to be reckoned with, punk rocker Billy (Liam James), and Chico (Michel Duval), who's also a part of the Soto Vatos. The added narrative is something that Duval, who plays an antagonist, is especially excited about as it makes for more well-rounded characters: "Instead of just making Chico a villain, he's a human being. [I ask]: What drove him to this school? What makes him be who he is? At the end of the day, everyone in this school is a broken kid. They don't want this for a life. They're no more than 20 years old and they're doing horrific things just to win approval."

Though the main characters are divided into culturally segregated cliques, they do not rely on stereotypical narratives.

This is something Feldsott and Remender, who's also a creator/executive producer on the show, was very conscious about as they further explored the characters for the series. They wanted to be truthful but also not resort to stereotypes. "I think most of us went to a high school where there was some type of segregation or cliques," Feldsott reveals. "That exists in the world of Deadly Class. It just so happened to be the cartel, the Yakuza, the IRA, the CRA, and the Russian kids. What's cool about Deadly Class is that while we do mine a certain amount of story from the clash of the cliques, we also mine the story from the other side: you can find that you're much closer to the person from this other clique because they love the same music or the same movies that you do as opposed to the person in your clique that you have actually nothing in common with. That is certainly something that I found existed in high school where you find these uncommon connections."

King’s Dominion was established to empower the oppressed.

Unlike the "Amblin '80s," as Feldsott calls the trend of middle America 80s films like E.T., Deadly Class will bring to the forefront the stories of the kids whose lives weren't shown as much on the big screen then—the poor, the mentally and morally conflicted, and those who were left behind in the Reagan era landscape. "I think that Rick wanted to take the characters and the friends that he had growing up, that he knew intimately, and make them the heroes of this story. So, he wanted the punk kids, the metal kids, the hip-hop kids to be front and center in this story. That's a version of the 80s that you don't get to see very often." Wong adds that this political period was heightened by serious mental health cutbacks that affected parents and their children no longer able to receive care, and many people who became homeless which in turn contributed to the unchecked rage reflected in the series. "The repercussions of 1980s U.S. reverberates through the whole show," he says. "The mental health cutbacks led to people wandering the streets, and Marcus' parents were killed by someone that was left on the streets and homeless." Wadsworth explains, "A suicidal schizophrenic jumped off a building and flattened his parents. He blames Reagan and plans to assassinate him." In enters Master Lin and King's Dominion. "We bring Marcus, someone who's been an outsider, into our school. Master Lin is embedded in the school's ideology to empower the oppressed to take on their oppressors."

Marcus and Maria suffer from mental illness and cope with it in very different ways.

The mental health crisis is primarily a backdrop to the story, but it also affects both Marcus and Maria. Not only were Marcus' parents killed by someone suffering from mental illness, Marcus (and Wadsworth) is afflicted by it as well. "Marcus is depressive. I am as well. He's okay with talking about his mental health and how he thinks his friends are doing," Wadsworth says. Trouble is, though, that is seen as a weakness at King's Dominion where only the strong—both physically and mentally—survive. But it comes harder and harder for Marcus, who's prides himself on telling the truth, to conceal it. "It comes out in violent tendencies, bad coping strategies like cigarettes. He's a chain smoker. What he also does to cope is journal. That's really important to him. It helps him a lot."

Unlike Marcus, Maria is less open about her struggles with mental illness, which is something to which de Faría can relate. "She's bipolar and deals with anxiety. She thinks that if people find out that she has this mental health issue, they will see that as a weakness and it will be used against her. So she's trying to cover it all the time," the actress reveals. "I love that we tackle these things because I feel like everybody deals with their own amount of anxiety and fear these days and we don't talk about it. I've been dealing with anxiety for so long and I've caught myself lying to my friends because I don't' want them to know that I'm having a panic attack or anxiety. After starting playing Maria, I've been more open and willing to tell the truth because it's important that we acknowledge the situations that we go through in life."

Music plays a very impactful role on the show and its characters.

You can't have a show set in the 1980s without a killer soundtrack, right? Deadly Class doesn't disappoint by featuring a slew of 80s hits that are very uniquely tied to each character and how they see themselves in the world. According to Wadsworth, for Marcus it's "a lot of The Smiths and The Cure." For Willie, it's "N.W.A, Kool Moe Dee, Run DMC—a lot of these foundational rappers and originators of hip-hop in the U.S," says Tennie. "You learn a lot about what people believe, what they're passionate about in society and what they don't like, from the music. All you have to do is turn on N.W.A and you can see how young African American men growing up in inner cities felt about the government. The kind of policies President Reagan was pushing were why these kids felt so down and out, because they were left behind." Similarly, James says Billie listens to, "The Misfits and The Damned."

Lastly, Maria's playlist is all about Latin music, and she even uses it to manipulate her prey as she dances up to them in her signature Day of the Dead costume and fan with hidden knives inside. "I think that's the reason why she has this very specific way of attacking and killing people with a little dance," de Faría says. "It's very distracting for the opponent. She also has posters of Latina singers in her room."

While Marcus is fighting to conceal his violent urges, Willie does not want to kill at all.

How do you end up in an assassin school like King's Dominion if you don't have a taste for blood? Well, for Marcus, that comes down to a yearning for a sense of friendship and unity. "He sees the potential for true friendship, especially with Willie," Wadsworth says. But Willie, who is not violent at all, has found a space where he can rely on the notion that he is to be feared because he's a black man with really good aim and a scary reputation (which we'll learn more about as the series progresses). "My character is the absolute opposite of a stereotype," Tennie explains. "He's capable of violence and a skilled combatant, a sharp shooter. But he will not partake in violence." The two young men hit it off because their vulnerabilities complement each other.

Billy uses humor to navigate King’s Dominion.

It can't be easy to be the comic relief at a place that function on a do or die motto, but James says that Billy seems to always be in on his own joke and keep smiling, which could also be a coping mechanism. In fact, that's part of what attracted him to the role. "He's positive even when he's talking about negative things," James describes. "There's a lightness in his voice and he's always thinking about something funny and humorous. [The role] came at a time in my life when I needed more of that." James also adds that Billy, an outsider like all the other assassins-in-training, has resolved himself to his life at King's Dominion and has become numb to him. "Billie doesn't feel like he deserves better than this. He gave up on that a long time ago."  So he uses humor to deflect. "There's some comedy in the fact that he's used as a dummy a little bit. People keep hitting him, slapping him around. Billie cares more about other people than himself. So when people hurt him, he doesn't really mind that much. But when people he like or loves gets hurt, that's when he starts to really get angry."

The women on the show are among its deadliest characters.

Not that we're ranking the murderers on this show, but we hear the women are pretty badass. Take for instance, Brandy Lynn, a cheerleader who has a very specific weapon of choice. "I have pom poms with claws in them, 4-inch razors that stick out," Williams shares. "Everybody has a different fighting style that it's that's their strength but the other person's weakness. Brandy is unpredictable. She plays very into the Southern Belle, ditzy stereotype. But she uses it to her advantage." De Faría and Williams both feel empowered to be playing formidable women who are also leaders of their own cliques. "It's really empowering. I have new skills," de Faría reveals. "I know things that I didn't know before. Playing Maria and living in her experiences has given me a lot of confidence and strength as well as vulnerability. She's a very complex character who makes me feel like I can do anything." Williams adds, "All these characters have a certain amount of confidence. Playing opposite all the other female characters is so great. We're not just bitchy or best friends. Their relationships are so complex."

The characters are raging out against the government, not unlike today’s young audiences.

There's a heavy antiestablishment gaze throughout the series that will certainly resonate with modern audiences today who now use social media to interrogate government decisions. The students at King's Dominion use violent retaliation in a world where they're otherwise unheard. "When you look at that time, the kids at that time were experiencing the political landscape in a similar way to the kids right now," Feldsott confirms. "There was a lot of anger towards the establishment. You're seeing some of that in the time that we're in right now. If kids are experiencing that now, I'm sure they'll draw those parallels to their own life."