- Film & TV
- 24 Oct 22
Returning for a second series, the stars of Netflix’s rip-roaring fantasy Fate: The Winx Saga – filmed in Ireland – talk about why it’s proved such a hit.
Fans of fairy show Fate: The Winx Saga are in for a rollercoaster ride this month, as the Alfea College students return to a school more closely resembling a military dictatorship than a place of learning. Located in Solaria in the Otherworld, Alfea is famed for training Fairies and Specialists, but Wicklow and Dublin – specifically Killruddery House, Ashford Studios and Powerscourt – were chosen as filming locations for the Netflix series in 2020.
Sprinkling magic onto our screens for a second time are Abigail Cowen as protagonist Bloom; Hannah van der Westhuysen as Stella; Eliot Salt as Terra Harvey; Elisha Applebaum as Musa; Precious Mustapha as Aisha, Leah Minto as Kat, newcomers Paulina Chávez as earth fairy Flora and Lír Academy graduate Éanna Hardwicke (Normal People, Smother) as Sebastian.
Fate: The Winx Saga follows the coming-of-age journey of five fairies attending a magical boarding school, where they must learn to master their powers while navigating love, rivalries and the monsters that threaten their very existence. From creator Brian Young (The Vampire Diaries), the series is a live-action reimagining of the Italian cartoon by Iginio Straffi.
This time around, school’s back in session under the fascist authority of Alfea’s former Headmistress, Rosalind. When fairies start to go missing in the night, Bloom and her friends discover a dangerous threat in the shadows – one they’ll have to stop before it wreaks havoc.
Speaking to the show’s bright young stars, we start off on a lighter note – namely, how it felt to return to Ireland to shoot the second season.
“It was absolutely gorgeous filming in Ireland,” Hannah declares, enthusiastically. “It was so great to come back and see old faces. The Irish are absolutely phenomenal to work with. The place really has the most beautiful landscapes and people, we’re very fortunate.”
“We got to film in the summer this time around!” Eliot jumps in, grinning. “We could suddenly see more than a metre ahead of us, so we appreciated the landscapes even more.”
Irish audiences in particular may recognise Eliot for her turn as Marianne’s friend Joanne in the hit BBC Three/Hulu series Normal People, based on the cult Sally Rooney novel. Winx newcomer Éanna Hardwicke and Leah Minto are also alumni of the cult show.
“I love being in Ireland, so it was great news that both shows were filming there,” Eliot smiles. “For season one, I wrapped on Normal People and got straight in a car to Fate: The Winx Club’s welcome drinks. It was a total continuation, and it never really felt like going away and returning. Getting to come back for season two was so lovely. Especially once the world opened up a bit more and we could get out and about.”
“All the locations were so pretty, but Powerscourt was phenomenal,” Paulina remarks, warmly. It was her first time in Ireland, having joined the cast last year. “My mom always asked me what was real when she was watching the show. Even the set design was gorgeous.”
“We all love Dublin so much, it’s like a second home at this point,” Precious jumps in.
“There was a lovely day that we had on top of a mountain,” Elisha recalls. “When we were filming a big scene, you couldn’t actually see anything other than the clouds, but this white wild horse just walked through the sky. It was stunning. Ireland is an amazing place.”
“For season two, there was a very strict lockdown and to be able to shoot during Covid at all was amazing to pull off,” Leah, who plays the role of Kat, describes. “Between filming, they had to be strict on their down-time. One of the drivers of the show took Theo Graham, who plays Dane, out of his apartment one day and brought him to Newgrange in Meath to show him a little bit more of Ireland. That really meant a lot to him. For some of the British cast, when they could hop in the car they could go over West for a few days.”
“It was pretty strict so we didn’t get to go out and about much,” Éanna Hardwicke agrees. “A few of the guys would rent a car and go to a few different parts of Ireland. They were really good at using their time. After two seasons, Dublin must feel familiar to them now. There’s definitely pride when you get to work with people visiting here. You can show off as the inside guide!”
“We filmed the pub scene in Whelan’s, which was amazing,” Leah grins. “That was great craic. I saw so many amazing bands perform there - and my mam worked there as well. Filming this Netflix fairy show there was surreal.”
“We got to sound really wise when we walked in and could point at posters and say, ‘I was at that gig, I was there!’” Éanna laughs. “I was drunk in that corner!”
Éanna and Leah were permitted to maintain their Irish accents in the show.
“I remember for Kat’s audition, I taped in my accent and then an RP accent,” Leah offers. “I was told that I got the role, and I arrived on set that first day and still had no idea where she was supposed to be from. I had to talk to Brian but he was happy to keep Kat as an Irish fairy, which was lovely.”
“I always have mixed feelings, because you just want it to be truthful to the character,” Cork native Éanna posits. “You want that to be what leads the decision. I tried a few accents during the auditions, and my own one seemed to sit in that place. You’ve still got to tailor it to the person you’re playing. Hear the broad variety of accents in the show, which feels right for the fairy world.”
“There was never any guarantee that the second season was in the bag, though,” Leah, who is due to appear in Paul Mescal flick, God’s Creatures, opines. “You’re always on your toes, because it’s the first time telling these stories. They went hell for leather with the action scenes and the directions the characters were going. It’s only later on that you wonder whether the series will resonate with audiences, and if people will enjoy it. You just never know!”
There must have been pressure for Paulina in particular, who stepped into Flora’s role. Criticism surrounding the show’s casting partially plagued season one, where Musa’s character was described as East Asian and Lainx earth fairy Flora was intended to appear.
“Representing the Latinx community was something I was super excited about,” Ashley Garcia actress Paulina nods. “It’s very important to me, because seeing ourselves on screen matters. Even though it was nerve wracking, I was delighted that my work features strong Latinas. I’d like to see more of Flora’s struggles if we get a season three, especially ending how it did. She’s going to come out with trauma, and I want to see her navigate that struggle.”
Another representational aspect that felt missing in the first season was queerness, but Terra Harvey’s revelation in season two blows that out of the water with a moving group scene.
“It was a really emotional moment to film, even though I wasn’t expecting it to be,” Eliot beams. “I felt very anxious when we shot the moment with all the girls, but the wave of warmth Terra received afterwards was lovely. I’m delighted that she comes out as queer this season. I’ve been excited about it since it was first mentioned to me while filming season one. It’s such a privilege to tell a story that I so wish had been there when I was growing up.”
“I loved watching Terra’s coming out scene, it felt very emotional on a personal level,” says Hannah. “Knowing how far reaching that is for the community that watches the show, it just felt bigger than us. It was really, really nice.”
“Some of the mistakes that were made in season one have been rectified, and everyone involved is grateful for the conversations around it,” Terra continues. “I’m very excited, privileged and honoured to be able to bring a queer storyline to the show.”
“I remember back in season one, myself and Eliot (Terra) were coming back in the car from filming and were chatting about what we knew of our roles. At one point, something clicked!” Leah beams of Kat’s connection with Terra this season.
“We kept having conversations with the showrunner, Brian, and our producer about it. Eliot’s this massive character, and her coming out is such a pivotal part of her development. What was really nice is the continuous dialogue about how this was going to be portrayed. There was never an idea that this was going to represent anything, or that this was going to show what a queer relationship and fliration looks like. It’s just two people. This is how this would go down for them, it’s what they like in each other against the backdrop of all this action happening. By the end, we knew that it felt right and very easy.”
Plenty of fresh faces bring the show’s new season to life, from the exceptional (and terrifying) Miranda Richardson as Headmistress Rosalind to Brandon Grace as Aisha’s new love interest Grey, and the aforementioned Éanna Hardwicke as Sebastian.
“The showrunners started off by emphasising how happy they were with the first batch of episodes and their hopes of pushing on forward every department,” Éanna explains of his first few days on set.
“I was looking around the room feeling like everybody knew what they were doing except for me, but you learn fast that everyone feels the same. There’s a huge scale to a Netflix show like The Winx Saga - with all of these machines working around you and amazing things happening. You’re doing your scene with actors and relaying with them, the way you would on any other show without visual effects. When the second season arrived, I saw all of the magic that had been going on around me all the time. They’ve created this absolutely beautiful, rich world.
“I didn’t know until the second audition about the ending, but I knew there’d be a shift or reveal with my character,” Hardwicke adds, keeping spoilers under wraps for those who haven’t binged season two. “It’s really cool how they did it, because they give you the scripts as you go along. You’re never playing what’s to come, it’s just the character in that moment - which was really helpful. I wasn’t told anything wild about Sebastian until later on in the process.”
“The guys would always make fun of me!” Paulina says of her welcome to the Winx Saga set, grinning at Elisha. “They teased me all the time, but I knew they loved me.”
“Exactly. It’s British love,” Elisha quips. “We had loads of great moments. Us two especially would make a day on set quite fun, just by messing about and listening to music.”
“The director would be giving us notes and we would just be jamming,” Paulina laughs. “But we get to play a group of close female friends, which is incredible. As a woman, you always want to see that more on screen. The dynamic that they have, the trust they have, is so powerful. Women are amazing. We really know how to uplift each other.”
“It doesn’t feel forced, it’s very organic,” Precious emphasises. “We’re lucky that we get along really well. It’s basically a reflection of our chaotic nature!”
Speaking of chaotic, it must have been a challenge acting opposite veteran English actress Eve Best as former beloved Alfea Headmistress Farah Dowling, for amusing reasons.
“Are we allowed to give it away?” Eliot laughs, looking at her colleagues. “She was not there! She was busy being a HBO House Of The Dragon icon, so we spoke to a very lovely woman who was her body double. It was completely hilarious. We got quite hysterical at one point.”
“It was interesting, to say the least,” Abigail adds, with a wry smile. “You’re basically talking to nothing. It all kind of came down to just using your imagination.”
“We had voice recordings from Eve, which she had just done on her phone while on set for House Of The Dragon,” Hannah cuts in. “It was a phenomenal delivery.”
“It was surreal,” Eliot giggles. “When she ascends into the sky, she was literally a tennis ball that we had to watch leave. When Dowling delivers the long speech, there were some audio issues. They hadn’t told her to learn the lines, so she was basically saying ‘rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb’ while this emotional scene was going on. Those scenes take ages to film because you have to get shots of everybody. There were so many takes that we were increasingly in bits.”
“Eliot just makes me laugh all the time, so I had to have a word with her,” Hannah confesses. “She’s better than me at going from laughing to dead serious, but I can’t do that. I need several minutes to calm down. She’s a truly professional clown, but I can’t pull it back. But yes, Eve is utterly brilliant in House Of The Dragon. She’s such a show stealer.”
“I enjoyed my scenes with Kate Fleetwood as Queen Luna,” Hannah adds of her on-screen, ice cold mother. “She’s incredible, it was like a masterclass. Stella’s relationship with Queen Luna becomes more insidious, dark and manipulative.”
The mishandling of power is repeatedly highlighted and explored with surprising delicacy on Fate: The Winx Saga, not least by the deceptive and obsessive Headmistress Rosalind.
“It’s a very intense change, because the fairies lost a beloved headmistress at the end of the first season, and you find them in a very facist zone at the start of season two,” Eliot describes. “There’s a lot more violence and rules. It’s boot camp levels of intensity.”
“It’s about achieving the goal no matter what the cost,” Hannah agrees.
“The dynamic and tone of the school is super different,” Precious observes. “A lot’s changed.”
“There’s been a big, big shift,” Abigail concedes. The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina actress shares plenty of screen time with Miranda Richardson – how did it compare to Lesley Sharp?
“I don’t think there’s a comparison between Miranda and Lesley,” she quips. “They’re both lovely actresses and people. I absolutely enjoyed my time with both of them, but Miranda had shoes to fill and she did an incredible job and was just a joy to work with. She knows her craft and has been doing it for a while. I felt very fortunate to be able to work with her.”
If a third season is confirmed, Netflix would presumably have to cast Bloom’s birth mother.
“I feel like Jessica Chastain would be good,” Precious says. “That’s majorly dreaming!”
“Well, I was gonna say that!” Abigail grins. “She just won an Oscar. Is she old enough to play my mother? I don’t want to offend anyone. Nicole Kidman would also be great.”
Plenty of new additions create fascinating storylines, both evil and exciting. Hardwicke tackles the mysterious but vital role of Sebastian (we won’t spoil it).
There are also new villains in the form of “scraper” creatures that steal magic and Blood Witches.
“The Blood Witches are brilliant creations,” Eliot starts. “The concept that they can control human blood and bones is a very gruesome, creepy idea. It’s quite hard in a post-pandemic world to create a villain where we’re all floored by how bad it is, but they’re very frightening. The scrapers are able to take away fairy magic, so the Winx girls are having a tough time!”
“I remember seeing sketches of what the scrapers were going to look like. I was going into hair and makeup getting all the bites put on,” Paulina notes. “You have to use your imagination a lot when shooting scenes with them - it’s fun.”
There’s also a scene where members of the group dramatically “transform” and sprout wings.
“It was crazy going up in a harness,” Precious laughs. “That was the first time I’ve ever been in one, and I’m afraid of heights so I was quite nervous. We spent one day on set in the courtyard being pulled up into the sky. Then we spent a whole day in a room with a green screen, and we did all the movements. I felt like a superhero, towering over everyone!”
Relatable characters, romance and the cathartic rollercoaster of emotions that come with teen years may explain a slice of the dedicated fanfare surrounding Fate: The Winx Saga.
“It was a combination of a lot of love going into the show, both from the original concept and the people who brought the reimagining to life,” Hannah posits of its popularity. “The timing, too. The pandemic was a scary moment where people needed escapism and the ability to step out of this world. It’s helpful being fully invested and immersed in something that has the sentimentality and nostalgia of childhood, mixed with the exciting stakes of being older and figuring out your way in the world. Conceptually, who can’t relate to that?”
“It deals with a lot of real life problems,” Abigail nods. “The fact that it was a fantasy show in a time when people really wanted to step out of reality was a big factor.”
“I’m devastated that I didn’t watch the animation series as a kid, I seemed to have totally missed it as a massive phenomenon everybody adores!” Eliot rues.
Were they leaping onto Twitter to watch the fan reaction in real time?
“I’m sitting back and just enjoying the moment,” Paulina replies. “Enjoying that we created something very beautiful, and be proud of it. Not everyone can be happy, but reading tweets from fans most of the time is heart-warming.”
“I really enjoyed watching it unfold,” Éanna smiles. “I was travelling home as it was happening. A bit of it was relief, and then joy that people liked it. For some fans, it’s been a monumental part of their lives since the 2004 Nickelodeon series. Winx was there since childhood. It’s a privilege to see people connecting with the live action show. I also felt like I’d gotten away with something, because if they didn’t like you or thought you had done a terrible job of this beloved character, you’d be finished! It was lovely to see.”
“We’re just hoping we get a season three, at the end of the day,” Elisha nods.
“I’d love to continue on the road we’re going, with the big action scenes and exploring different relationships,” Leah responds. “We have faith in the showrunners and writers, there’s a great understanding between us. They’re aware of where we’d like our characters to go, at the end of the day.”
“What the heck is going to happen next?” Paulina laughs, when quizzed on the finale. “We’re wondering the same thing, but Winx leaves fans wanting more.”
• Fate: The Winx Club Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.
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