Imagine Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, The CW‘s The Vampire Diaries, a relatable coming-of-age love story, and a dope Black female lead. If you put all of those things together, bake it for a while, and leave it out to cool, you’ll get Netflix‘s new original series First Kill. Starring Imani Lewis as Calliope, the sci-fi/horror series follows a teen girl who is struggling to balance her love life and the family business when she’s sent out to make her first kill as a monster hunter.
There’s just one problem – she has to kill the girl she loves before she kills her first.
“I think selfishly as an actress, I was just so ready to get into some kind of action role,” Lewis admitted to GU during our Zoom interview when asked about her decision to take on the series. “I just thought it was so dope.” She praised First Kill for being jam-packed with “so much representation for so many different communities of people,” which meant a lot to her as a young Black woman from Queens, New York. “Even then, I could’ve never prepared myself for the way this show really is so diverse and so versatile in that way.”
When she first read up on her character Calliope “Cal” Burns, Lewis was instantly impressed with Cal being a Black teen monster hunter from a family of Black monster hunters. “Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of this? That’s awesome,” she bragged excitedly about her character. Not only was Lewis drawn to Cal’s title and status, but her overall character’s humanization. “I have this connection to strong, confident, tenacious characters and strategic, calculated, layered characters. When I saw Calliope, she just hit the nail right on the head. So I just was like, ‘Yeah, this is who I got to be.'”
Below, we caught up with the 23-year-old star about how First Kill pushed her acting skills, the importance of the queer representation between Cal and Juliette, and advice she would give her character for making her first kill.
Girls United: What was your experience like filming a story with so many different layers while also keeping it in the sci-fi/horror realm?
Imani Lewis: If anything, I feel like with any job that I take, I try to handle and embody the character with the utmost care and respect. I know that [for] the people that give me these opportunities, these are their babies; this is their art, this is their story. Victoria Schwab giving us this opportunity to bring her baby to life, I was like, “I’m not going to sully this. I’m going to be patient. I’m going to be careful. I’m going to be tactical.”
Every element from the supernatural element to the monster hunter element to the fact that Calliope’s 16 [years old] and she’s still a teenager growing and changing, I covered all angles with it. I was incredibly anal in my preparation and in understanding. It was an open line of communication with all the powers that be with First Kill and Netflix to make sure that I was doing the right things and that I handled this with care because it’s so important, and it can do so much for so many people.
GU: How would you say that the love interest between Calliope and Juliette really complicates the storyline?
IL: In every way possible. I love that the struggle is that they are not supposed to be together because they’re supposed to kill each other, you know? Because of their lineage and something that was predetermined long before they were born. I love that that’s the struggle and that who they love isn’t the struggle. Their queerness is not the point of conflict in this story. It’s the fact that there was something that was going on long before they were born; it’s our lineage. I love that so much. I think that just makes it so dope because it’s not just her and I, it’s our families. It’s a century’s worth of this history that we’re battling.
GU: How do you relate to Calliope, and where would you say that you two differ?
IL: I’m not 16, and I’m not a high school senior, so I guess those are the most obvious things. (laughs) I’m an only child so I don’t resonate with her having siblings. When I see Calliope, I see so much of myself as an artist. When you’re in the entertainment industry, especially as an actress, when you audition, you are literally on this plate to prove who you are, prove that you are talented and that you are worthy of these opportunities that you want so bad that you dream of.
Calliope’s whole story from the beginning is her being on this hell-bent mission to prove to her family and her guild organization that she is worthy, strong, and a worthy monster hunter. I just resonate with that. You do auditions and sometimes you don’t get them and it can take a knock at your confidence and it can make you feel like, “Well, am I just not good? Am I just not this? Is this subjective? Am I not tall enough?” Taking that and allowing that to put a battery in your back like, “I’m just going to go harder for the next one. Oh, they’re going to see one way or the other, whether it’s this project or the next they’re going to see what I can do.” I definitely resonate with her diligence and discipline in that way.
GU: How does First Kill differ from previous projects that you’ve done like The Equalizer, Eighth Grade, and Hightown?
IL: It’s different from anything ever done period. The action element of it, the supernatural element of it, her being a monster hunter – all that was very, very new for me. Maybe she’s a little similar in the sense that I tend to gravitate towards strong characters [and] self-aware, confident characters, but no. Calliope’s a world of her own. First Kill is a world of its own. It is a whole nother dimension.
GU: Usually when we see horror or sci-fi films, the Black person’s always killed first or they trip and get caught by whatever’s chasing them. What’s it like for you to be now part of this new era where we are in control, we’re in charge of the storyline, and we’re not the first to go?
IL: It is an absolute honor and is an absolute pleasure. I think it’s so important that we see stuff like that. Even just for the whole Burns family, they are a trained, intelligent, equipped, strategic, calculated, layered family. Although they are a family, they operate like colleagues, as a team, as a unit, a united front. It’s so important that we see that the family aesthetically looks different.
They’re respected in their organization. They’re high-ranking, sophisticated monster hunters. They’re not just going out, doing it for shits and giggles. They’re like, “No, this is what we do. Do you see this house we live in? This is how we live here. We come and we save humanity, and then we go to the next location, we do it again.” They’re this strong nomadic family and it’s so dope to see. It’s so important to see that they’re in these high rankings because they work hard because they train hard and they think, and they prep.
GU: What are some of your personal favorite horror and sci-fi films to binge?
IL: Wesley Snipes is going to see this and be like, “This girl keeps talking about me.” Blade is like my ultimate fave. I love that it’s like we see the element where he’s the hunter like he’s on this hunt and just the entire aesthetic of it. I love a dark aesthetic. I love Trinity, that kind of vibe. The long dark black trench, the black boots, the muscle shirt, and the black shades. To see somebody that looks like me, it just felt so dope to see that kind of representation. He wasn’t like a villain to an extent. Maybe to some people, but I feel like there was some kind of measure of justice to what he did.
GU: If you were to give advice to Calliope about how to go about romance and tackling her potential first kill, what would you tell her?
IL: I’d be like, “Take it easy, Cal. I get it.” I always say it’s no different than growing up in a household where they speak a certain language and then you grow up speaking the language. You’re born into it. It’s like you don’t really have much of a choice there. I feel like I’d tell her, “Cal, you know what you’re worthy of. Don’t prove it to them. Prove it for yourself. Go out there, be confident, and have that confidence in yourself without it being from the validation of your family. You’re going to do it. You’re going to be great. You’re born into it. You have nothing but equipment to train around all day. You know your family will protect you in the event that you do mess up and that’s okay, too. You do not have to be so hard on yourself. You’re still 16, and even though you don’t live the average life, you’re still a teenager.”
First Kill Season 1 premiered June 10, only on Netflix. Check out the official trailer for the Netflix original show below!