I recently got a chance to chat with Cas Anvar of Syfy’s, but soon to be Amazon’s, series The Expanse.
If you’d prefer to listen to the interview, you can hear it on one of our podcast episodes.
Rob: I do want to talk about The Expanse, for sure, but there are some other things I definitely want to touch on as well cause you’ve been in the industry for over 25 years now with very consistent work.
Cas: I’ve been working, I’ve been working. Let’s not date the poor man, but yeah I’ve been working.
R: So one of the things that I was really curious about is when you finish a project, what are the feelings that wash over you as an actor? Do you start reflecting on that project right away, do you have the heartfelt goodbyes, or do you immediately start going, “Where’s the next role coming from?”
C: That’s a good question. It really depends on the project. I’m an old theater guy so I’m from a background and a training that we will work our asses off for weeks and weeks and months and months and months on a show and get completely invested in it, blood, sweat and tears, and then run it for a few weeks and then finish and then never see it again. And the whole process takes 2 to 4 months and then we have a big wrap party where we emotionally purge ourselves because we all got so close and it was like a big emotional roller coaster and that’s where I’m from so I do get emotionally attached to the projects I’m on.
It really depends. There are some projects in which I did not have huge contributions in there and so I was just in and out in a few days and then there’s other shows like The Expanse or The Strain or Neverland or some other shows that I’ve done in the past where I became very attached to the people and very attached to the project and saying goodbye was very difficult. The Expanse is, probably for obvious reasons, the most difficult for me. I’m very attached to the entire team. It’s really a family. I’m completely in love with the material and my character. It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing anything on screen. So when the show was cancelled for that few brief moments that was a very, very emotional time for me and the entire team.
R: We see these campaigns happen like every other week now because with the power of social media, everyone’s like, “Alright, we gotta rally together and get this happening,” but it actually worked this time. So when you get the news, is it immediately calling everyone else in the cast and being like, “Oh my God, it’s happening, it’s happening!”
C: Have you seen the video that took place at the event where Jeff Bezos made an announcement? So yeah, it was a magical night and luckily most of the key people were at the event with me so I didn’t have to tell them. They got to witness it first-hand with me and that was really actually wonderful because sharing that with some of my co-stars was incredibly rewarding. But then, that news literally was on the internet and released to the trade papers in less than 10 minutes after it happened. There were people in the audience videotaping and Skyping and everything they could do, and tweeting it out there, so that just got blasted out within minutes. I sent one group text to everyone on my WhatsApp that was part of the show and then my phone started blowing up. Everyone knew within a few minutes and it was absolutely euphoric. It really was. It was a Cinderella story or something you would see in a movie; it just couldn’t have been written better.
R: How much do you know about what’s going to be happening moving forward? Are there any big changes because you’re moving to Amazon?
C: It’s still really new territory. I’ve already asked. I said, “Is there any differences between our old home and our new home?” and the writers’ room says, “Not yet, we don’t know.” There was no real impact noticeably. What I know, just from being an Amazon Prime fan, I know that we’re going to have a little bit more freedom and I know that we’re going to have less restrictions on the content and on time. Like, when you’re working on a cable station that is designed for commercials you really, really are bound by that act structure. Cliffhangers right before commercials, 47 minutes (whatever the exact timing is) and you sometimes have to cut really nice material just to fit within your framework because your show ran a little bit long. Once you’re streaming, your show can be 50 minutes, your show can be 60 minutes, your show can be 45 minutes, depending on what the story demands. There’s much less restrictions on you. I think Shohreh is probably going to be ecstatic once they kind of take the muzzle off Avasarala and she becomes a little bit more the character that was written in the books, the truck driver that she is.
R: I imagine that’s gotta be creatively exciting, knowing that you’ll be able to get into some new areas.
C: Yeah, but let’s be fair. We have to be fair to Syfy because Syfy took a massive, massive project and put out three excellent seasons. This is a huge undertaking. This is a massive book. “Game of Thrones in space” is what they call it and it’s huge. We blew up five ships in the first six episodes of Season 1. It was a massive undertaking financially and artistically and transforming those books into television. Huge challenge. And we did it. Syfy did it and I think they did it beautifully. Yeah, maybe we couldn’t swear as much as we wanted. Maybe there was a little bit of a restriction here and there on time or language or things weren’t quite as rough and tumble and gritty as they could have been, but all-in-all it was extremely faithful to the books and very professional, very beautiful, very authentic, and very much honoring the spirit of the novels. So, I think we need to be fair to Syfy cause I think they did a great job. And Season 3, let’s not forget, that was under Syfy’s watch and Season 3 is kicking right now.
R: Also, I wanted to touch on your voice work because I am a big fan of that early arc of Assassin’s Creed that starts with Altair in the first and goes through Revelations and the whole Ezio thing and… are you a gamer, yourself?
C: Yeah, I am. Huge gamer.
R: What are the games that you get into?
C: I am an RPG player all the way. I mean, big surprise, I’m an actor that likes to tell stories. I love stories. Favorite game… The Last of Us. Dying for The Last of Us 2. Really pissed off I couldn’t get to E3 cause I was shooting a film in Europe, cause I wanted to see if they had The Last of Us 2 at E3. I don’t know if you know or not, but I wish I could have been there. Skyrim‘s my jam, Mass Effect, Fallout 4, any of those. Dishonored… awesome game. I got it for free on PS3 cause I was part of that PS3 club and I was like, “Oh, free game. It’ll be fun,” and man, it was good! Dishonored, loved it.
R: So when you took on the role of Altair for Revelations, you were already familiar with the franchise?
C: I wasn’t super familiar. I was familiar with Prince of Persia, which kind of came first, and I had heard about Assassin’s Creed but I hadn’t played it yet so I kind of felt bad about that. But as soon as I got the audition for the role I went and researched it and I was like, “Holy crap, this is amazing game, what an incredible mythology,” and now I’m a hardcore, hardcore Assassin’s Creed fan.
R: When you’re creating those kinds of voices for those characters, and especially tackling pre-existing fandoms, where does the inspiration for that voice come from for you? Do you look to other similarities?
C: I’m a huge gamer, so I kind of have an idea. I kind of have an instinct on what kind of voices work well. It’s a little bit different than doing a regular kind of acting job because you’re creating a voice that is going to be in someone’s head, not for 2 hours, but possibly for hundreds of hours. So, you can’t do the exact same kind of acting and performance and voice quality that you would do if you were doing just a two-hour performance of a film. You also have to understand that some of the lines that you say are going to be repeated over and over and over and over again so you have to come to it with a uniqueness to your voice, but you’ll have to kind of have a bit of a neutrality to you that you are not going to become annoying to listen to and then they’re going to go into the settings and then hit mute on the dialogue and just read you. It’s hard to really explain. I follow my instincts on that and I just try to make the character interesting, compelling, but not potentially annoying when he’s being listened to over and over and over again.
R: That’s interesting. I wouldn’t think about the annoyingness level of a character that I was creating in the moment, probably.
C: Oh man, how many times have you played a game where you’re playing a character and you keep dying or something and then they say the exact same things over and over again? Eventually you just throw your controller at the screen and go, “SHUT UP!” I don’t want to be that character that gets the controllers thrown at me.
R: Also, going back to The Expanse, I heard there was a bit of a gamble when you first auditioned for the role of Alex?
C: Oh, you heard that, did you? That was a big gamble, actually. That was scary. Actually, it was a lot less scary because I had absolutely no clue what the show was gonna be, so the scary part about it was that I loved the character. They pitched me a character. They gave me a couple of pages of scenes and the character’s description is, “Alex is a Mars-born fighter pilot of Pakistani-Indian descent with a Texas accent.” I’m like, “Yeah, sign me up. That is so my jam. Let me at that.” So, I fell in love with the character based on that description and then I read the scene and I’m like, “Wow, this is really well written. It’s compelling, it’s not kitschy, it’s not derivative, it’s really emotional, and it’s sharp.”
But I didn’t get to read the script. So, I was just in love with the character and then I read the pilot script and then I heard that they loved my audition which I had put on tape and they wanted me to go in for a callback in LA, and I hate auditions. I really do. Some people love them; I hate them because it’s such an unnatural environment. You get to go in with 10 pages of dialogue to present and you’ve got 4 minutes to do it. You’ve got people looking at you all over the place. You’ve got network execs, and you’ve got directors, and producers, and casting, and they’re all around you. You’re in a fluorescently-lit room, there’s a camera off to the corner and you don’t know who you’re playing to. Are you playing to the camera? Are you playing to these people? It’s such an unnatural environment and it’s so easy to get thrown off. You never have to do 10 pages of dialogue in 4 minutes. That never happens in the real world. You get to do 4 pages in 12 hours. That’s how you shoot. You never have to do all those things one after the other. It’s a formula that works against the actor to make him fail. Some actors love it. Some actors thrive on that pressure, but some of us don’t. Some of us love to work and craft our performances and work with the directors, and we don’t always get that chance.
So when I get to do a self-tape, that’s my jam. I love doing that. I did a really good one; I felt awesome about it. Then they wanted me for a callback, they wanted me to go in, and I said to my manager, “I killed that self-tape. I did the best I could possibly do. The only thing I’m going to do if I go in there for a callback is worst. I’m only going to do worst.” I can’t do better than I did on that self-tape, cause I took like half an hour and put it together and I did it exactly the way that I wanted and I got the accent right and everything. I said, “All I’m gonna do is undermine myself,” and he’s like, “Yeah, but they want to see you.” I said, “Well…”, cause I had been working in Vancouver and working on this series called Olympus and I said, “Just tell them that I’m doing Olympus and I can’t do it.” And he goes, “Are you sure?” I said, “I have a feeling. I can’t do better than that tape and I want that tape to speak for me,” and he goes, “OK man, we’ll see what happens.”
And then there was radio silence for like two weeks and I was like, “Oh man, what have I done?” Then after two weeks, finally he calls me up and he goes, “They gave me an offer. They want you.” and I was like, “Oh, thank god.” But I rolled the dice on that one. And then when I got to the set and I started talking to the creators and the creators were like, “We were so scared we were going to lose you, because when we saw your audition you were Alex. You were the one. We had seen all these other guys and you were the one we wanted and we were so afraid cause you were shooting other stuff that we were gonna lose you.” I’m like, “Damn, I wish I’d known that. That would have been a much better experience.”
R: Man, took the gamble and won. Doesn’t happen all the time.
C: No, it doesn’t, and a friend of mine does the same thing and I’ve lost on those gambles, too. There’s a William H. Macy film that I didn’t want to do a callback on and they said, “We’re going to give it to someone else,” so you really got to know what you’re doing and you’ve gotta be ready to lose it.
R: When you know the role is yours, do you then dive into the books to immerse yourself in that world or is it just taking each script?
C: Me personally, yeah, I do. I’m up to book 4 or 5 right now, because we’re about to enter into those books, and in season 4 we’re going to start book 4. But a lot of the actors don’t. A lot of the actors find it confusing because the books are so modified and they start bringing material from other books and they get confused by what’s actually going on in the series is slightly different in the books and they don’t want to deal with that. They like to deal with everything fresh, whereas me, I love to get everything that’s in the books and just process it, and digest it, and absorb it, and bring little tidbits from the books that may have been omitted in the screenplay, and bring those to life.
R: Is there anything that you’d like to say to the fans that were out there busting up social media with you?
C: Oh my God! I want to say thank you! This Season 4, and hopefully Season 5, and beyond is because of you. There is no question. There is no doubt. This show was buried; it had no pulse. The fans brought it back to life, revived it. It is because of the fans that The Expanse is back. You guys just started busting out, you guys broke the internet, and you made the show come back. This is to tell you guys, you can move mountains, you cracked the glacier, you broke open a pass through this obstacle and now we are going to get to finish the story the way it was meant to be told rather than leaving people hanging in some sort of a… truncated Firefly-type of an environment where we never get to actually reach fulfillment in terms of the storytelling. So, thank you. We love you, and thank you.
R: Aside from reminding people that they should be watching the season finale for Season 3 this upcoming Wednesday, Is there anything else we can plug for you?
C: We’re going to be starting this year on Season 4. I’m in Toronto right now and we’re going to be starting shooting here. I’m currently shooting a film in Europe, a really exciting thriller with Diane Kruger and Martin Freeman, which I’m very excited about. I’ve got another feature created by Veena Sud, who is the creator of Seven Seconds on Netflix and one of the writers from The Killing, and this new feature film – I think its working title is Between Earth and Sky – stars Peter Sarsgaard and I co-star with him and it’s an exceptionally exciting thriller with some really deep messages and dark, realistic undertones that I think people will like. It has a very, very similar vibe to Crash. It’s got that same kind of gritty, urban kind of vibration that deals with a lot of racial issues as well as being incredibly exciting and compelling as a thriller. So keep your eyes open in 2019, I guess, for those two films.
The two-part Season 3 finale of The Expanse airs July 27 at 9:00 PM EST on Syfy.