A character can leave a lasting impression from the second they appear, whether we know it or not.
Sometimes it is about the story that the character is involved in, but in this case, it it was about the energy that character brings that helps The 100 stand out differently. Ilian was that character; from the moment he appeared on the show, it changed expectations.
Chai Hansen delivered a touching and epic performance as a person who found himself a bit lost but used that to motivate himself.
It wasn't only about how Ilian played a role in other people's stories once he crossed their path; it was also about the peace he could find in himself after struggling towards redemption.
Chai took the challenge of introducing a new character and made it an unforgettable experience that the audience spent with Ilian. It was so easy to root for Ilian because his journey was about him doing better for himself and those around him.
It became a joy in seeing Ilian bring something different to those around him, even if it was unexpected and ended in chaos. The other characters weren't prepared for his perspective, but it was worth exploring, and it still stands true to this day.
It was a real loss not getting to spend more time with Ilian, but the essence of the character still stuck for many fans in the most meaningful of ways.
Taking some time out to answer our questions, Chai Hansen shares his thoughts on drawing out different sides of Ilian throughout his time on the show and what it was like on his first large scale TV show.
Chai also talks about getting to meet The 100 fans in person and how working on the show was different from other projects in-between.
What was it like being on a show like The 100?
The 100 was one of the first large scale shows, in terms of Hollywood or Western projects I was on, and it was quite overwhelming at first. I auditioned from home, in New South Wales, Australia, and got it. Then, within a week or two following that audition, I flew to Vancouver to shoot on the show.
I had heard about that show a lot prior to the self-tape. I got really excited, even just being a part of the audition process.
So then when I got it, I was freaking out a little bit. That was the first large scale show that I did, apart from Mako, which was quite big, but it was more of a kid show, where this was venturing into the teenage, darker genre.
How did you approach playing Ilian?
Right from the self-tape, I knew he was going to be pretty dark, starting with killing my parents with my bare hands.
That wasn’t easy to do, especially because the audition was the scene where I was still under the spell, waking up from having killed my Dad and brother, to transitioning to see my Mum there after what I had done to her. Waking up from the spell was a complete shift.
That's hard to do because you have to, you have to go from a daze to heightened emotion. I prepped quite a bit for that, listening to music to get me to that emotional state.
And then once I was ready to do the scene, I just let it go and did it. It’s hard to explain it because you have to take everything as a comes right there and then and forget about everything else -- the pre-planning and what you have to do here and there -- and you try to catch the beats.
You have to let all of that go and ride that wave. I did that audition in one take because [laughing] I didn't want to do it again. I hoped that take was good enough. I sent it off, and they really liked it.
From that audition, I had a bit of an insight into how I should play it. I would sit outside of my hotel in Vancouver and listen to sad, solemn music all day.
It was quite hard because I wanted to have fun. This was the first time I was in Canada, and it was amazing. I'm thought, “God, this is so cool. Wait, I have to be serious because I’m on a serious show now.”
Ilian was very chaotic and unexpected, but he was very emotionally vulnerable, as well. What was it like getting into such a layered character and balancing his different sides? He did have some very dark moments but also some light moments, although not many.
I wanted to bring a lot of heart to the character and vulnerability. He was so dark, so he needed to be balanced out with some love.
So, I tried to find something that he needed to believe in. And initially, the scripts indicated revenge. They were right; he was after mainly revenge.
But I needed to see from him love overpowering the revenge. So that's why, in my mind, he fell in love with Octavia. When he saw Octavia, it was almost love at first sight, but he didn't want to show it.
He needed to go from so much hate to love to balance it out. Otherwise, he’s just a hateful character and not likable, in my mind, anyway. So, I was just trying to find something to love after he had done something so repulsive and dreadful to his parents.
Ilian did have the strongest connection with Octavia, who was played by Marie Avgeropoulos. In a lot of ways, those two characters impacted one another the most that season. What was it like playing off of Marie as most of your scenes were with that one person?
It was really good. I learned a lot from shooting that show because it was such a professional environment.
Mako was just quite chummy. It was a very family-oriented environment where we just had fun most of the days. The content allows for that because there's a lot of content.
But, my first day on set was at Polis. I was quite overwhelmed with the scale of production like that with such a big set. I've never stepped foot on a set that big before, even to this day.
That's still one of the biggest sets I’ve been on. It was huge. It was this entire city that they filmed in, so I was quite overwhelmed with the scale of the production.
On top of that, the production was fast-moving, fast-paced, and professional. Whenever we approached the scene, it wasn't in that chummy way. It was in a very serious in a ‘let's get this done’ way.
Marie was quite intense with that. We worked quite fast, and she was quite an intense character, so it was quite easy to bounce off the energy.
It was a lot of fun too. So, you also get to fulfill the artistic desires of creating good content.
Was there anyone you wished you had more scenes with?
I do. I wish I had some scenes with Bob. I connected with him on a personal level, the most out of everyone there. And I really liked Eliza. Those two are probably some of the nicest people in Hollywood or the film industry.
Plus, he's a really good actor. He's very invested in all of the scenes that he does. I would go to set sometimes, even on my off days, and just watch. Watching Bob work was awesome.
Actually, I was so nervous. The first time I saw Bob, I was getting my makeup tests done. I opened the door of the makeup van, and I saw Bob. This is the very first day I was on set. I kind of freaked out.
So, I slowly shut the door, and I just had to breathe through it. Prior to stepping foot on set, I was watching the show back to back. I was quite familiar with all the characters. I thought, “Okay, come on, Chai. You're now a part of the cast. Act cool and act like you fit in.”
I opened the door again, walked on and acted cool, and said, “Hey, Bob, how’s it going? Nice to meet you.” Inside, I was freaking out. So, I'd say with Bob, the most for me. I would've liked to do some more scenes with him.
We knew a little about Ilian, but not necessarily a lot. Did you add any backstory or any details to the character as you played him, even if just for yourself?
I did. I did so much for that character. Mostly, I tried to bring light to a dark character. I tried to find love in that character.
What interested me about that process was we don't know where the characters go. They film episode by episode, and I think they write as they go on. They might have some kind of structure in the office, but I wasn't quite aware of that until they would release the scripts of the next episode.
I didn't know which way they were going to write my character. So, I had to guess where I was going and steer my character in that direction.
I said to Jason early on in the read-throughs that I would have liked to see my character as a warrior and not just a farmer. I saw this quote, and it really rang to me. “I'd rather be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.” I like that.
I think that planted a seed in his mind that later down the track he added in that Illian was able to fight.
So, I had in my mind that he was always able to fight, hold his own, and was quite trained. Going into confrontations, he wasn't as intimidated as someone that didn't know how to fight would be. So, there are little things like that, as well as mostly trying to find the light in a dark character.
Your character had some chaotic scenes, such as when Ilian burned down the dropship and his death. What was like for you getting to like have those plot twists?
Actually, I didn't know Ilian was going to die. I didn't know he was going to die during The 100 Season 4 Episode 10 because we weren't given the scripts until they released them officially.
But before they released the script, Jason called me and said, “Hey man, I'm really sorry to tell you, but we’re going to kill off Ilian.” And I said, “Oh, thank you so much for calling me. That means a lot.”
Because apparently, that doesn't happen very often. Whenever someone takes the time out of their day, especially Jason, because he’s so busy, to call me personally and tell me -- it just means a lot.
So, I had no idea until he called me. I thought it was quite fitting because he gave his life to make sure something that he loves, and that he was now fighting for, would carry on. That's how I played it, anyway.
Burning down the Ark was quite fun because it had an amazing set. I just had fun with that whole process, with the way that they film fire and explosions. It's all CGI, so you just have to act it out.
It was a lot of fun behind the scene activity that you might not see us do after they add in the CGI because it looks quite real, us reacting to the fire, explosions, and whatnot. It was a really fun process and a fun show to do, and I miss it.
I miss being on a show like that. It was a real dream come true.
You did mention Ilian’s death scene, and he didn't survive as long as we wanted him to. He died in the conclave that was very similar to The Hunger Games. Do you personally think he would have survived longer in the conclave?
As myself? Who am I up against? King Roan or Zach?
Yeah, I think I could hold up my own for a little bit.
What is your favorite memory from The 100?
There were so many defining moments for me.
Probably my first day on set because I was freaking out a little bit, but I felt like a little kid again. It was the first time I felt like a kid in a long time, being on this huge set. Not even, I thought, “Am I allowed to be here?” They're like, “Yeah, you’re up next! You’re in the next scene.” I still thought, “Are you sure?”
So, it was probably that, but there's so many. I was there for a good seven months shooting, which was quite a long time.
What did you learn from your time on the show?
Hollywood is a lot more serious and fast-paced than I imagined. It’s super professional. It is so much so that it threw me off guard. Not that I wasn't expecting it, but I thought, “Wow, okay. I better swim here because these guys are so good.” I didn't want to be the nail that stuck out.
But that's also me being a perfectionist and trying to make everything that I do have quality. It was just more serious than I thought it was going to be.
When you make a show, or you're on a project, you think that with being an artist or an actor that you'd be having fun all the time. It's not always fun. There's a lot of work.
But also, it is a lot of fun in the same context, in a weird way. It opened my eyes to a lot.
You did some conventions after your time on The 100. What was it like getting to meet the fans?
It was awesome.
Honestly, I had no idea how big the show was in terms of fan following. It's huge. It's quite an honor to be a part of something so big. I feel lucky to be a part of it.
That's the main thing. Whenever someone comes up to me and says, “Oh my God, you're on The 100!” I try to live up to their expectations. It’s an honor more than everything.
You’ve had interesting roles aside from your time on The 100. You were on Shadowhunters, and you had the Netflix show, New Legends of Monkey. What was it like for you, as an actor, getting to experience all of these worlds, them being all quite different?
They’re all so different, even in the way that they film.
Monkey was quite a big production, as well. It had quite large sets, a lot of crew, and a lot of costs. But their approach was, and maybe it differs from country to country, it having been filmed in New Zealand, quite relaxed.
They had quite a relaxed attitude, which I absolutely love, but they also work really hard. So, it was a really relaxing environment that allowed for a lot of fun. Every scene that we would shoot, we would be trying not to laugh. I had a lot of fun on that production.
For Shadowhunters, we were in Toronto. But again, that was different. It was professional, but it had more of a family feel to that production. The cast were so close, which I really appreciated. I think that made for really good chemistry on screen.
So, each has their own pros and cons. But if I were to pick, Monkey was my favorite. I absolutely adored being on that show. I would love to do another season.
Fingers crossed! Is it different coming into a show that's established versus something where you start right from the beginning with the show?
I've done that now twice, being added to a show late in the process.
The 100 was the first one, which made me quite nervous. It’s quite daunting going into something that has already been established, and you have to find the tone or the theme and just go with it. There’s a lot of responsibility for you to support what's already been established.
But what really helps, and I've said this before, is when you do come into a process like that, and you get support from the main cast. And when they do give you acknowledgment, not even necessarily help, I think that eases that pressure.
At the end of the day, we’re only human. We all make mistakes. You always wish that you had more time.
I had two weeks between auditioning for the show and being in front of the camera. This is not a lot of time because part of it is just watching the show to try and get the tone and then also figuring out your character, physicality, the emotional journey. There’s a lot to do, and if you only have two weeks, that’s not a lot of time.
I had the same thing for Shadowhunters. So, when you do get the support, it does help a lot. I’m one of those people that puts pressure on myself to get things right. So, it is hard.
This might not be the most timely question, but what can you share about some of your upcoming or relatively current projects?
I just finished a show. I don't know what I can say about it because they told me I can't really advertise it.
I will say that I was recently on a show and it should be coming out soon, actually. I'd imagine it's coming out. I was talking to my Mom the other day, I said, “I feel like it's going to be out any day now.”
It's on Netflix. So keep an eye out on Netflix for my next show. I'm really excited about this one too. This one tops everything that I've done so far.
For The 100 fans still looking for some more nostalgia, TV Fanatic has a special new ongoing The 100 interview series. "Looking Back on The 100" that centers on monumental cast members and characters from the show that left behind a legacy.
We then had the chance to take a walk down memory lane with the iconic Christopher Larkin, as he talked about his time playing Monty Green. And we got to hear Aaron Ginsburg's insight on his most iconic episodes and his writing journey on The 100.
Keep checking TV Fanatic for more upcoming interviews with surprise cast members from seasons past.
The 100 airs on Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.
Share all your thoughts with us in the comments section! Stick around TV Fanatic for more features, slideshows, episode previews, interviews, and reviews of the upcoming season, and watch The 100 online if you need to catch up on the adventure.
Yana Grebenyuk is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.