EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Luke Tennie on his first big role as Willie Lewis in ‘Deadly Class’
Plus, everything about his character's new romance with Gabrielle!
Having only a few small roles on his resume, Luke Tennie’s found his first big role in Willie Lewis on SYFY’s Deadly Class, bringing to life the well-loved character from the graphic novel series by Rick Remender.
Willie Lewis is a student at King’s Dominion, a school to teach teenagers the art of killing. He’s the leader of the Final World Order (F.W.O.) gang, and therefore a Legacy. As an orphan brought in off the street, Marcus is a certified Rat. Hearing about his killer reputation, Willie asks him for help on a class assignment to kill someone who deserves it. Marcus finds him the perfect candidate, but when it’s the time to pull the trigger, Willie can’t do it.
Now Marcus knows that his persona is a lie, but instead of making them enemies, the two teenagers quickly develop an honest and trusting friendship. They have each other’s backs, and Marcus keeps Willie’s secret. But after everything that happens in Las Vegas, rumors start to spread at school about Willie’s inability to kill, spelling trouble for his reputation.
We got to talk to Luke Tennie about what it’s like acting on Deadly Class, Willie’s romance with new character Gabrielle, and how the showdown with Chester might affect everyone.
This interview contains spoilers for this season of Deadly Class. Tread carefully.
PURE FANDOM: How did you get the role?
Luke Tennie: I’m what people would refer to as a nobody, which means you didn’t do anything cool and haven’t, and don’t really plan to do anything cool soon. So when you’re that kind of actor, it means you’re new, and you just kind of hope you get a job, and you also don’t get to audition for anything really stellar.
But if you’re lucky, like me, the audition for Deadly Class comes in and you read it and it’s really good. You get really excited when you go in for the audition and you try your best, you memorize all your lines, and they think that your best is enough. So they call you in again and then they give you the pilot to read, and then you obsess over the pilot and flip out over the fact that it’s a graphic novel. And then you do your best to bring the character to life once they bring you on board. Yeah. So that’s how I was for me.
What’s it like being on your first TV show?
It’s pretty cool. Just like kind of how people would assume like, oh, acting seems like a cool job. It is. You say words on camera. It’s really exciting. And particularly with this show, it’s really, it’s just honest. It seems to avoid cliche. The characters seem to communicate, not necessarily like normal high school kids, they speak intelligently, they speak honestly. And that’s really cool. So for me, being on TV is cool. What’s cooler than just being on TV, is being on Deadly Class.
Willie is a pacifist and has a strong sense of right and wrong. Do you think he’s the moral center of the show, or at least for his group of friends?
Well, it’s interesting. He’s definitely moral, but I don’t think he’s center, more like a moral corner. You know, he’s like a moral edge, because he’s been really distant from the central pod of group of kids at at King’s Dominion. So yeah, he’s definitely moral, but it’s also something that he’s struggling with himself.
So I don’t know that he is an example to follow, but he’s definitely somebody who judges people pretty harshly. As we saw in the last episode, he came back pretty hard on Marcus, calling him a narcissist, telling him that he always have to be the center of attention. It’s pretty judgy.
What do you think his strengths and weaknesses are?
It’s strange because I think one of his strengths is his morality is unyielding, his decision to just maintain his morality. He will not partake in violence. The one time where it got pretty gray is when he defended Marcus at prom when Chico was coming at him. But even then, all he did was push Chico off of Marcus, he didn’t engage in any combat. He was struck in the face and he didn’t even retaliate. So that’s definitely a strength of his.
Also, he’s big, like people don’t really want to mess with him, so it makes a good shield, up until people are attacking and the shield isn’t enough. But definitely his weakness is the same thing. It’s the same thing. I mean when he had the gun in Chico’s face, why couldn’t he shoot him in the leg or something? Or just try to prevent him from doing any more damage or harm to Marcus, but he just couldn’t do anything at all. So I think his strength is his weakness.
Gabrielle came in and she’s not in the comics. So what does she mean for your character and the story going forward?
I think Gabrielle represents escape. The biggest problem that Willie’s been facing after Vegas is shame, I think. Everyone saw him fail. Everyone saw the leader of FWO, [one of the] biggest California gangs. He just choked. Everyone saw it. And it’s a secret that they all share now and he’s ashamed of it. And then comes Gabrielle, who expects him to be a normal person. So that helps so much because he just gets to escape.
She knows that he leads FWO, she knows that he’s a gang banger. But she expects him to be a normal kid. And I think that’s what she provides. And plot wise, I think she provides a good reminder that King’s Dominion is not the whole of the entire world. There are still regular people out there whose lives are disrupted when people are ripped from this world.
What about Willie and Saya? There wasn’t really anything before, but it seems like in the last episode they kind of had some moments.
Yeah. You know, it seems like, not necessarily there’s anything cooking between the two, but there’s definitely a fondness, or a respect. Their opinions are exchanged and considered and I think that that’s pretty cool. It’s a unique pair, for these two to become friends all of a sudden. But we know that Willie likes Saya, he talked about it when they were in shanty town in Vegas. We’ve known from the jump. Willie’s always talked about it, [saying] “Yeah, Saya’s been trying to get with me.” Like, he likes her.
Besides Marcus, what about his relationships with the others, like Billy and Maria. Are those going to develop or change at all coming up?
That’s what I’m hoping for. One of my favorite moments in the past couple episodes has been the monopoly scene we saw in last episode. It was so much fun. We got to see everyone interact with everyone. Everyone’s ideas just being flung around, open for the taking and open for critique. You got to see Willie interact with Lex kind of for the first time, where Lex was going around teasing people. That’s just how he does. And Willie was like the exception, you will not speak to me this way. He finds out that Lex actually thinks that they’re kind of similar, and you know, and Willie’s like, oh you’re wrong.
And Willie, we’ve seen him communicate with Maria, but I don’t think that they have much in common. But I definitely think that they don’t really know that each other is struggling to maintain this idea that everyone is projecting on them. And that’s tough. And with Billy, he’s just, he’s an absolute goof. And I think Willie kind of appreciates that energy, which we saw at the end of last episode, when they were talking by the water tower. So the dynamic between everyone is just being touched on in Willie’s case, but his main connection is with Marcus. Since Marcus is so connected, Willie’s getting to know all of these characters as well. But I do hope that it gets flushed out next season.
Do you think that they’ll all be able to kind of survive as friends coming through the whole situation with Chester?
I think that Chester represents what King’s Dominion really means. King’s Dominion isn’t just a place for people to come because they’re lost and neglected and they can learn to dethrone the corrupt masters, as Master Lin would say. King’s Dominion is a place to get plugged in to the dark network of society. The most poisonous people in existence.
Like the Scorpio Slasher, who’s of course in reference to the Zodiac killer, and Chester Wilson. This guy is crazy. He’s got problems. So I don’t think that they’ll come out the same, but I’d like to think that going through these dark things together would keep them together, even if together isn’t where they want to be.
What was your favorite scene or episode to shoot so far?
Well, I loved shooting five. That was awesome. But I will say, I had so much fun working with Benedict Wong, in this one tiny little scene. It was in episode three, I believe. Nope. No, I think that was episode two, where Master Lin tells Willie to stay after class. Just being able to work with that guy. It was awesome. I loved it. I love working with the greats, it’s really exciting and there’s always something to learn. They elevate you.
But yeah, episode five was just a heap of fun. I mean come on. Did you see that? That was beautiful. And I’m so proud of my team, and I don’t just mean the cast. I mean the whole team. I heard there were 12 or 11 different artists that got hired to paint the entire trip, ’cause every episode has a sort of cartoon homage to the comics and that just happened to be the one for episode five. I love it.
What do you wish for Willie in the future? Like, in a perfect world, if he could get out of there, what would you want for him?
I’d want for Willie, if he decides to stay, I’d want him to give up his moral code or change it. I would want Willie to understand that it’s necessary to participate in violence to protect those that you care about. And if he’s not willing to do that, I hope he leaves. I hope he leaves the school, doesn’t come back and lives a nice life on a hill with Gabrielle forever and ever.
Season one of Deadly Class airs on SYFY, continuing tonight, Wednesday, at 10PM!
(Featured Image: Katie Yu/SYFY)