Whedonopolis had the recent pleasure of speaking with actor Cas Anvar by phone. The busy actor, most noted for his role as “Assassin Altair” from the global phenomenon Assassins Creed Revelations , has also starred in other hugely successful PC games, like Call of Duty: BO2, Halo4, and Star Wars: Clone Wars. You’ve probably also seen him as the driven if slightly nefarious Xerxes in SyFy Network’s Olympus. He’s performed on stage, in films and on TV, and he’s about to add a big, bold line item to that already impressive resume as he takes on the role of Alex Kamal, the skillful and loyal pilot in SyFy’s The Expanse.
Due to premiere in December, The Expanse takes the fantastic world building of author James S.A. Corey’s series to the small screen in a big way: the series is the biggest budgeted new series on cable ever! And when you hear what Cas has to say about his work on the sets, about the characters and about what humanity might be like in the future, you’ll be on board, too.
So sit back, grab a drink or two and listen along as we chat with Cas.
Here’s just some of what Cas shares with us:
He didn’t know what he was auditioning for when he got the role for “this spaceship pilot named Alex who was a Pakistani Martian with a Texas drawl”. He’s read the first and most of the second book, but he doesn’t want to finish them all and spoil himself for the scripts. The writers are mixing the story lines a little bit, to advance the story even as they keep it true to the books.
He thinks it’s going to be one of the most diverse shows on TV. Two hundred years from now the solar system won’t be populated by “white people” – ethnicities are constantly blending and mixing, so there won’t be any more pure ethnicity. What kept us apart in the past was distance and limits on travel, but that’s changing all the time. He can’t wrap his head around the intention now in 2015 to populate Mars (Mars One), and that humans today are willing to get on that ship and never breathe fresh air again. It takes a special kind of person to take that step. And he feels the series is 100% a possibility of what our future could look like.
Alex is in love with his ship, the Rocinante. He’s divorced, he has an ex-wife and child, but his driving ambition to pilot ships broke up his family. So the Roci is his girl now. Although he did read up on actual piloting, he mostly just went with what he felt about how Alex would behave. Cas himself is imaginative in that he gives personality and sentience to things, like a ship, much like Alex does.
He loved playing Xerxes on Olympus. He loves playing bad guys in general since they’re the most colorful characters to play. But Xerxes truly believed in what he was striving for, and all his successes were due to his words. He never lifted a finger; it was all in the power of his words. He made people follow his direction, often without them even realizing it.
He did 3 of the biggest PC games in the world, and that voice acting is quite demanding and challenging. He was doing a lot of hours, so he sometimes forgot his own, real voice. But now when he goes to film live action work, he often draws on the variety of voices and characters that he’s built up through that process.
The sets blew his mind. He’d never before been on such a huge set (at Pinewood in Toronto), as each sound stage was customized to a different aspect of the story: Ceres, the Rocinante, and Earth. Ceres has a real Blade Runner type feel to it; the Roci and the other ships are all high tech, but different depending on the ship; and Earth seems very real with offices, cabins, etc.
Although he knew the team (actors and crew) and guest stars were big names, he didn’t know until halfway through the series how big the production actually was. The sets proved amazingly impressive, and they’ve got the biggest first season production budget of any cable show in history. He’s pleased the network has taken the risk investing in the first season, rather than waiting until the first season is over and then upping the budget.
Director Terry McDonough organized a pot luck dinner before their first shoot so the cast could hang out together the week before the filming, to go over the scenes, to get to know each other and get comfortable with the process. When the day of shooting arrived, they were all ready and felt really connected to their characters and the scenes. When Terry got too busy to organize the dinners, the cast did it themselves because they loved the idea so much.
He can’t even conceive of the scale of how popular the show and the actors will be once this premieres. He’s a working actor, so he loves to have an impact in what he does, but he has no clue what’s going to happen when this hugely popular book hits the small screen in December as a series.