Interview: Cas Anvar Talks ‘The Expanse’October 6, 2018
Recently we had a chance to talk with Cas Anvar about his experiences working on the brilliant sci-fi show The Expanse and how the show was saved from cancellation.
First of all, congratulations on The Expanse being renewed for season four.
Cas: Thank you very much.
What is it like to have such a dedicated and loyal fan base supporting your show?
Cas: It’s incredibly inspiring, fulfilling, touching and to feel the love and support from your fans when the chips are down, it’s a very rewarding experience. It just makes you feel like all the hard work is worth it and that you’re a family and everyone is in this together.
Amazon stepped up to make sure The Expanse lived on. Had you resigned yourself to the fact that the show might indeed be done or was it fight, fight, fight all the way?
Cas: That’s a really interesting question because for me personally, it was a rollercoaster. I’m in love with the show, I love the family that we became creating the show and when we got the news, it literally came out of left field. We were on episode four of season three and at that point, the fans, press, everyone was just going ballistic over season three. After the success of the first episode, the second and third got even better reviews so we were just going up so we were on episode four, we had eight more to go and then we got the news that we were cancelled it was kind of mind-blowing, nothing made sense. We then got called into a meeting at the production company and they explained the situation and the explanation didn’t really make sense to me, I didn’t understand. I couldn’t figure out how something that was hitting its stride, getting all these great reviews and going great, couldn’t be making it work on the network. We all kind of cried, we all hugged and said goodbye and everyone kind of resigned themselves to the truth. We all went to the parking lot, got into our cars and that was it, that was going to be it, that’s how we were going to say goodbye to each other, in a parking lot. On my way home I kept thinking, this doesn’t make sense, and I think everyone had given up on it, like it was done, actors were contacting their agents to look for work, writers were packing up, it was sad.
It was different for me though, I have this personality trait, if I believe in something I just can’t let it go and so I called the guy at SyFy who was in charge of making this decision and I asked him, can you explain to me what happened and he said, I’m so glad you called, that you’re not giving up and fighting for this, and that shocked me. Then he explained the situation to me and after he was finished it made perfect sense. The show is not a traditional cable network type of show, it’s an epic space opera, not a show that is designed for commercials, to tune in live and see it every day it’s on, this is a show you want to binge. You want to watch this show streaming, three or four episodes at a time because it’s a very complex and layered show, not one that is designed to be interrupted by commercials so consequently, the fans weren’t watching it like that. They were recording it, taping it, streaming it so the network was losing money on it, on a consistent basis and when he explained that to me it was like yeah, that makes sense. I went to my production company, Alcon, and said ok, can you explain to me about ratings and they explained they have ratings for the day when it’s live and ratings for seven days when people DVR and wouldn’t you know, our show had double the ratings for the seven days than on the actual day it went live. I went home from that meeting and went on my social media and basically told the fans everything I learned. From there, I created this battle plan and said watch the show live, DVR it, watch it again because all those viewings count, and low and behold, with that battle plan in place, the next episode saw our ratings go up in double digits. All of sudden, there was all this buzz, SyFy was talking, Alcon was talking and although Amazon had passed on it, with all this buzz and the fans flying the banner over Amazon, they suddenly started talking again. Amazon did pick up the show but the fans, when they knew what had to be done they went ape shit and basically moved a mountain.
So what do you think it is about the show that’s attracted such a dedicated fan base?
Cas: I think the show is unique in multiple ways, I think it’s a show whose time has come. First and foremost it’s a great work of art, with great writing, stories, compelling characters so basically, from an artistic level it’s on point. However, even more important than great storytelling, it is presenting a world that is representing our world in a very accurate way, it is also one of the most scientifically accurate science fiction shows on television, Cal Tech has given us an A+ for our accurate science. Also, we are one of the, if not the most, diverse science fiction casts ever, in the sense that we have women and people of color in compelling and pivotal roles and it represents the mosaic of the world that we now live in, let alone the world that it’s going to be in three hundred years. You look at our leading ladies, Avasarala, Naomi, Bobbi Draper, Drummer, in our new season we have Clarissa Mao, all strong, powerful women, none of whom revolve around a man, they’re all pivotal to the plot and none of them are white, they’re all women of color, let alone the rest of the cast who are actors of color. It’s a really important sho
w in terms of both its racial and gender diversity.
What have you enjoyed most about both playing Alex and working with the other actors on the show?
Cas: When this role was presented to me, you can imagine an actor who is a visible minority like myself, I get typecast a lot, presented with a lot of roles that are just two dimensional, cardboard bad guys whose parts I don’t even consider. Then I get offered this role, which is Alex Kamal, a Mars-born fighter pilot of East Indian/Pakistani descent with a Texas accent. I was like ok, sign me up, I mean who doesn’t want to play a swashbuckling, Han Solo type character in a multi-million dollar high production value space opera? With all the racial diversity in this show race is never mentioned or referred to once in the show, it just is. Alex, and we’re not hiding it, his last name is Kamal, he has an East Asian background but it doesn’t matter, it has nothing to do with who he is or what he does. I love his personality, his fusion of cultures, his dry and laid back witticisms and perspectives on life. He is the heart and soul of the Roci, he loves the family and tries to keep it together, when all the shaving cream is hitting the fan, he’s trying to keep the team together, I mean, everyone else is trying to save the world and he’s trying to save this family, I love that about him.
In terms of the other actors, I’ve never worked with a group of actors like this who are this fun, generous, hard working. In television it’s very rare to have a group of actors who want to rehearse and this might not be obvious to the average fan but with a show like ours, with the complex kind of scripts, layers, and interweaving stories, these are really complicated scripts and if they’re not prepared properly by the actors, we don’t have the time during the day, the shooting goes very fast so rehearsal is absolutely critical to deliver a very powerful and layered performance. The chemistry and relationships we have in the Roci crew exist because we work hard on the rehearsals. On our days off, like every Sunday, we get together and rehearse for about two or three hours at someone’s apartment and then go out to dinner as a group and we hash through the script. There’s a real collaborative energy between us that I’ve never experienced with a TV cast before. I come from the theater, I come from running a Shakespeare company for a decade so that’s what I’m used to and I love that, I’ve never had that before in the TV world so that’s one of my favorite parts of working on the show.
Back in 2015 when the show was first coming out, I talked to you, Steven and Florence at Fan Expo here in Toronto. From those first days of promoting the show to where you are now, how has the journey been for you?
Cas: It’s been a wonderful kind of upward ride, each and every year. The first year was challenging because no one had ever heard of the show, it was a big show, a challenging show, kind of like Game of Thrones in space, it’s not a cookie cutter kind of show. It was hard at times to present it because it was brand new and it really had no reference points. However, one the second season, when I came back and started doing the comic cons, then I have something to work with. I had people coming up to me and going oh my god, what’s going on, what’s happening with Miller and I was beginning to see all the nerds and sci-fi geeks who love hooks, mysteries and surprises, who love the epic space operas, those people started mobbing me at the tables and I said oh yeah, we’ve got something here, people are loving the story that we’re putting out there.
So besides The Expanse, what other projects do you have coming up?
Cas: I’m really excited, I did three feature films this year. The first one was at TIFF in Toronto, it’s called The Lie, it stars Peter Sarsgaard, someone I’ve worked with before on Shattered Glass and I’m one of the leads and I’m very controversial. It’s a very exciting kind of thriller, written and directed by Veena Sud, who people might remember from directing The Killing and she also created Seven Seconds on Netflix. The other two features will be coming out next year, one of which is called The Operative, with Diana Kruger and Martin Freeman, a very intelligent action thriller and I’m one of the leads in that as well.
I want to thank Cas for taking the time to talk with us