Interview: Navid Negahban Talks Acting, The Shadow KingMarch 28, 2018
Recently we had the chance to talk with actor Navid Negahban about his love of acting and his role as the Shadow King in the upcoming second season of the amazing TV show Legion.
Was acting something you always wanted to do or was it an interest that grew gradually over time?
Navid: Acting was something I loved since I was a kid. I still remember the lines from the first play I did when I was eight years old, that was my passion, I always wanted to do it.
You’ve done a lot of work in movies and television. As an actor, do you have a favorite or do they both have their own individual charms?
Navid: They definitely have their own individual charms. With film, you have more to time to kind of massage the character and just delve into it where with TV it moves so much faster, you have to be ready, you’re always on the edge. You just go and it’s unpredictable and you’re always taking chances and your decisions happen must quicker than with film. You have much longer prep time when you’re working on a film whereas on TV you can be shooting an episode and at the same time you’re getting the script for the next episode. On Legion, I was so behind when I came in so I was working fourteen to fifteen hours a day and you just have to go for it and there is a free fall that happens and it’s very joyful.
Can that bring out something special for an actor, when you don’t think about it but instead just do it?
Navid: That’s beautiful and that’s what we do sometime in everyday life, those beautiful moments that are being created that you cannot re-create. It is like being on stage, I started on stage and it was unbelievable, I remember standing behind the curtain on stage and praying, please God, don’t let me forget my lines (laughs). Then when you step on stage it’s like you are teleporting into completely different space, it can be a truly wonderful experience.
How do you deal with that fear, especially when you are on stage, where there are no second chances?
Navid: Yeah, it’s hard to explain. The fear can be very motivating, very positive and you just get into a place where you don’t allow yourself to doubt what you are doing when you are up there. Like you said, it’s one take, that’s it, so you just go and don’t second guess yourself, you just do it. I think that kind of fine tunes you as an acting instrument, you become quicker and faster and that is really a beautiful feeling.
The life of an actor can be very difficult. Was it hard starting out and was there a time that you ever thought about doing something else?
Navid: Ok, so I left Iran when I was twenty. I lived in Turkey, Bulgaria, Germany and there were even nights that I spent on the street. Everyone would like to tell me, where I was coming from, I needed to be a doctor, an engineer, a dentist, I needed to apparently have some sort of title. Being an actor was like being a dreamer or a failure so I had to swim against that stream, I had to convince myself that I couldn’t hear any of these things and just keep moving forward. I was a working actor in Germany and when I came to America I couldn’t get a job. I was doing small plays here and there, jumping from one class to another class, but I couldn’t get a job anywhere and finally I did a short film, it went to Slamdance, won the Grand Jury Award there and I got nominated for Best Actor at another festival and that kind of opened doors for me. You just need to keep at it, don’t give up, don’t listen to all the negativity and just believe in your heart what you are and above all, don’t lie to yourself. That was one of the most important things I learned as I knew what I was capable of, I knew what I could do and I saw myself for who I am, not what people say I am. I was sleeping in my car in Los Angeles at one point and I had a wooden curtain rod in my car, where I could hang my clothes as I slept in the back and to this day, eighteen or nineteen years later, I still have that rod in my car to remind me where I came from, to help keep my feet planted firmly on the ground.
Do you enjoy switching things up, say from doing a short film to a movie to now a TV series in Legion?
Navid: I love doing that, yes. I love to do short films because you don’t have time to fool around, establish the character, everything has to be very precise in a short amount of time. There are multi-layers of emotions happening simultaneously and you have to be able to capture that, hit all those notes correctly if you want to portray the character correctly. I think a short film is a great intense workout session, that’s how I look at it and I love the challenge of doing it. Sometimes I go back and say ok, let me see what I can do, let me see if I can still do it. I work with a lot of grad students and to me, it’s a way of giving back when I do those short films. I knew what I could do and not do when I started this career, many people didn’t take me seriously, so I had to be my own support system. It is also very gratifying to give back, to help out people just starting out, as it reminds me why I started this career in the first place and it’s one of the big reasons I do short films.
So how did the role of The Shadow King on the TV series Legion come about?
Navid: I was in London shooting Aladdin when I got a call from my manager that Noah wanted to talk to me, Noah Hawley, and we had this great chat about the project and he said this character is available, what are you doing and I told him I had just wrapped and he said ok, can you be here Monday, meanwhile it was I believe Thursday or Friday. I said ok so I flew back on Sunday, Monday I was on set and they handed my nine scripts and it really scared me. (Laughs) It was basically a crash course, I watched all of the episodes from the first season and Aubrey and Dan were truly amazing. Bill Irwin, I’ll never forget, the first day he saw me, he walked up to me and saw all the scripts in my hand and he asked me, do you have anyone to run lines with you because I’m free, and I’ll never forget that moment. Aubrey jumped on board and gave me her crash course, then Dan jumped in and did the same, it was like they babysat me through it all and it was really a joy working with them. I took it very seriously too because you think oh, it’s just a comic character but the fans, to them it is a real character, someone they know quite well so it made me a bit nervous, a bit anxious but hopefully they like what I did with the character.
As an actor, what did you find attractive about playing The Shadow King?
Navid: Oh my gosh, he is so full of surprise, has so many layers and at the same time the journey that he has, how old this character is, how old his spirit is. This character already has a life of its own that the creator has put in so you have to go back and study the words that are coming out of his mouth because they have a huge history to it. It is a long journey, to figure out just who this character is but it was wonderful, so much fun.
Do you have a certain way you approach each role or does the role itself change your preparation?
Navid: I try to create a blank canvas with each of the characters, then I can let them take over. I don’t want to copy myself on what I’ve done in the past so I investigate each character, find out about their journey. Each of the characters that I’ve played has something about them, personality, past, that helped give birth to the character. That is the journey really, to let the character take over, I kind of sit back and say ok, I’ve done my part, now you can do whatever you want to do.
You mentioned you were thrown into the deep end so to speak, in terms of playing The Shadow King. Being so short on time, did you improvise a lot and is that something you enjoy doing?
Navid: I was improvising and that was the best blank canvas, I had no time to put anything together. The only thing I had was the first season and watching Aubrey and Dan being taken over by him and how their behavior changed. I mean, the character is fascinating, he speaks four different languages and the history behind it, by itself, helped create this mad sort of changing that had no rhyme or reason and as an actor, it was a wonderful experience. It was really crazy, I mean crazy but oh, so much fun.
So what projects do you have coming up next?
Navid: I’m going to Morocco to shoot a German project called Seed of Terror, which is inspired by true events. After that I’m going to London to do a film called London’s Arabia and who knows, maybe I’ll be back to do season three of Legion, we’ll see. I love this gift that I’ve been given and sometimes I just let go and see what comes next because sometimes it just feels right to simply trust what is coming your way.
I want to thank Navid for taking the time to talk with us
Season two of Legion airs on FX April 3rd at 10 pm EST