Creator, showrunner, and EP Brian Young talks about crafting a grounded YA drama in a fantasy setting.
What was your ultimate goal when you decided to adapt the original animated series WINX CLUB into a live-action YA series?
BRIAN YOUNG: First off, WINX CLUB is such a beloved show with so many great characters and rich stories. Our goal with FATE was to play in that world, but also introduce new elements, characters, and storylines for an older audience. One that either grew up with the cartoon, or that hasn’t seen it, but loves grounded storytelling. I’ve always been a huge fantasy fan, and telling those big stories in a grounded, relatable way is what’s most exciting to me about FATE.
The story is a fantasy, but certain elements of it are universal. What about this story is relatable to everyone?
YOUNG: A lot of people call this a coming-of-age story, which is true, but I think the most universal question at the core of this story is simply, Who the hell am I? Everybody has to ask that question when they’re young. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what your background is, your gender, your sexual orientation, it’s the question we all have to answer when we’re that age. This is also a timely show, because these young characters have to deal with a world that’s rapidly changing, and they might not feel ready to face that reality, but they have no choice. They learn very quickly that just because someone is older than you doesn’t mean they have the answers. That’s scary, but also empowering, and it means you really have to be able to rely on your friends. Similarly, this new generation of real-life young people understand how high the stakes are in our world, and the huge responsibility on their shoulders.
Students at Alfea practice magic and live in this parallel world, but they’re also contemporary teens. How did you blend those two elements?
YOUNG: We wanted to inject the show with as many contemporary elements as possible. We wanted to create a fantasy world where students are posting Instagram stories, going to parties, making mistakes, and doing all the things that teenagers do — just interspersed with fantasy elements in a sort of anachronistic way. We have characters wielding swords and mastering magic, then checking their texts and sending GIFs.
Friendship is a huge theme in the show. What about the friendships in this show, especially between the core five fairy roommates, do you think will resonate with audience members of all ages?
YOUNG: In many ways, FATE is the origin story of a friend group. When you’re at a boarding school like Alfea, you have to grow up a little faster. You can’t escape the people you live with, and you’re forced to co-exist and find things about them to love. They become the people that you lean on, fight with, make up with, fall in love with, break up with, cry with, and then cry over — and that’s what being a teenager is all about. Those are the moments you hold onto as you get older. You look back on your friend in high school who did a really dumb thing, or sang that little song, or told that specific joke, and that’s the universal core in all these stories that audience members will relate to. The show really has two crucibles: Living together in a suite with people you don’t necessarily agree with all the time, and the mysterious, monstrous danger bubbling up outside of Alfea that could really mean life or death.
How did you find your FATE fairy roommates — Abigail Cowen (Bloom), Hannah van der Westhuysen (Stella), Precious Mustapha (Aisha), Elisha Applebaum (Musa), and Eliot Salt (Terra)?
YOUNG: We wrote all six episodes of this show before we had cast any of the roommates. And they each brought so much to their role that the characters became this great merging of both the character and actor. Abigail has brought all of Bloom’s power, impulsivity, and recklessness to life, which has been a genuine treat to watch. Hannah really showcases Stella’s emotional layers, and she also gives brilliant one-liners and nails some heartbreakingly emotional scenes. Precious has an incredible ability to control how she emotes on camera, and her dynamic with Abigail is so lovely. Elisha has a warmth that emanates from her, and can nail Musa’s quips. Eliot is a comedic genius and a delight. I actually have to leave the set when Eliot does scenes because I laugh and ruin takes. I’m excited for the audience to meet Terra because she’s not one of the original WINX series characters. I think they’re going to fall in love with her.
Talk a little bit about each fairy’s individual powers, and how you’ve kept their magic grounded in reality.
YOUNG: At Alfea, fairies use magic and the Specialists are our physical fighters. The Specialists are on the frontlines, and the fairies are the artillery. Fairies need time to be able to summon the massive amount of magic that’s required to use their powers, and the Specialists are there to make sure that they can do that. Fairy magic is linked to emotion, and each fairy’s power, the element they control, is reflective of who they are. Bloom is a wildfire; impulsive and sometimes reckless. Aisha is patient and determined, like a river that erodes obstacles. Stella is like a blinding light, but she’s really using that light to push people away so they don’t see the real her. Terra is nurturing and loving; she’s rooted and strong. And Musa is an empath so her powers seem subtle, but reading emotions is extremely powerful; both a burden and a gift. Their powers are big, and this is a big show, but the key to genre storytelling is always grounding the fantastical elements in real characters and real stories.
Season 1 of FATE: THE WINX SAGA premiered globally on Netflix on January 22 2021