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In her relatively brief career, 17-year-old Ally Ioannides has played a lot of roles — from the stages of Utah's Pioneer, Egyptian and Hale Centre theaters to a recurring role in the final season of the NBC drama series "Parenthood."

But she's never done anything quite like her role as Tilda, a teenage assassin in AMC's new dystopian future/martial arts/action drama "Into the Badlands."

"Tilda is so cool," said the former Park City resident, who lived there from the ages of 8 to 14. "It's a lot of fun to play her. She's such a complex character. I just cannot express how much I enjoy putting on that costume and being her."

One of the first things we see Ioannides do in "Badlands" is snap a guy's neck.

"She is so tough," Ioannides said. "She is so savage, almost. And then she has this really sensitive, really compassionate side. She's got a really good head on her shoulders, especially considering what she does — she kind of kills people."

"Into the Badlands," which premieres Sunday, is not like anything else on TV. It's a martial-arts show, choreographed by fight director Stephen Fung ("Enter the Phoenix," "House of Fury") and starring Daniel Wu ("Europa Report," "Protégé," "Purple Storm"), who are both executive producers. It's loosely based on the classic 16th-century Chinese novel "Journey to the West."

"Badlands" is set several centuries in the future, after an unspecified cataclysm that knocked out all technology. A feudal society has arisen, ruled by seven (male and female) barons, each with their own army of trained assassins.

Wu stars as Sunny, the top warrior for Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas, "Lord of the Rings"), the most powerful baron. Sunny is a killer who, as the series begins, rescues a teenage boy, M.K. (Aramis Knight, "Ender's Game"), who is more than he appears.

Tilda works for The Widow (Emily Beecham, "28 Weeks Later"), an up-and-coming baron who wants to take down Quinn — and who wants to get her hands on M.K.

All this is interspersed with astonishing martial-arts sequences that are incredibly cool. And, of course, incredibly violent.

"We really had a single goal of creating a show that was unique and different and really showcases martial arts," said executive producer Miles Millar ("Smallville," "Spider-Man 2," "Shanghai Noon").

Ioannides didn't exactly seem like a natural. Her background is mostly in musical theater — she appeared in PTC productions of "Annie," "White Christmas" and "A Christmas Story"; "Annie" and "Gypsy" at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City; and "The Sound of Music" at Hale Centre Theatre.

"Growing up, I was always into musicals," she said. "My mom used to play them in the car, so it was kind of natural for me to want to perform. I was really lucky that there were parts available in Utah."

Her desire to perform took her to Los Angeles when she was 15. And Ioannides landed the part in "Into the Badlands" despite being a newcomer to the genre.

"I didn't have previous martial-arts experience, but I was a dancer. So I think they kind of compromised on that," she said. "After I got the role, they taught us martial-arts stuff."

Before filming on the six-episode season began, Ioannides and the other cast members went through a five-week boot camp, learning Shaolin Kung Fu and Wushu. And her dancing background came in handy.

"Dancing helped so much with choreography," she said. "There's no improv when it comes to martial arts.

"I'm pretty flexible. I'm really good at picking up choreography. But I don't have very good stamina and I'm not that strong. So that was what I had to work on."

Ioannides was born in Atlanta but moved to Park City when she was 8. Over the next six years, she performed in local theater while attending the Madeleine Choir School in Salt Lake City.

"My parents were so supportive. My mom would drive me from Park City to Salt Lake all the time," she said. "And when you're doing Pioneer, it's Equity theater so it's every day. And some days more than one show.

"I remember sometimes when it would snow, we wouldn't even be able to see. And we were going, like, 5 miles an hour and we were super scared. But you've got to do it. You can't miss the show."

Traffic is bad in Los Angeles, but at least there were no snowstorms when she was traveling from her home in Burbank to Universal City for her role as Dylan Jones in "Parenthood." And the tough part of filming "Badlands" on location in New Orleans was that it was "very hot."

But she quickly bonded with her castmates. "I mainly work with Emily and Aramis, and I love both of them very dearly," she said. "They're both great to work with."

And she's somewhat in awe of Wu.

"Oh my God, Daniel! Daniel carries the show," she said. "He's so cool to watch."

"Into the Badlands" gets off to a very strong start, and not just because of the martial-arts sequences.

"We knew the action had to be kickass, but we also had to have a really competitive story," Wu said. "We had to have great athletes. We had to have great story. And if we didn't have that, it would be a failure."

By design, the characters are "very ambiguous," said creator/executive producer Alfred Gough. "It's really a show of killers. The star of our show, who we hope you will be rooting for, has killed over 400 people.

"It's a lot of family dynamics. It's multigenerational that way. And it's very primal. … When you strip it down, it's those things that we hope audiences can identify with on an emotional level. But it's played out on this sort of epic canvas."

Ioannides said the show presented two big challenges — the martial-arts sequences and her character.

"I definitely see a lot of myself in Tilda," she said. "I think that the training that we did really, really helped me with Tilda's tougher side.

"Because, obviously, I've never killed anybody," she said with a laugh.

Twitter: @ScottDPierce —


"Into the Badlands" premieres Sunday on AMC — 11 p.m. on Comcast; 8 p.m. on Dish Network and DirecTV.