Cas Anvar, a graduate of the Canada’s National Theater School, has gained considerable acclaim for his performances on stage, as well as the small and silver screen over the years. Though recognized for his lead roles in two top-rated programs, Anvar had made appearances in numerous popular shows including Lost, CSI, Castle, Leverage and NCIS: LA and featured in the films Room, Argo, Source Code, The Terminal and Shattered Glass.
Known for his memorable performance as Martian born hotshot pilot Alex Kamal in The Expanse, Anvar also jumped head first into the frenzy that is The Strain, as Thomas Eichorst’s top lieutenant Sanjay Desai. With two prime roles – one a fan favorite and the other, a villain we love to hate – on equally entertaining yet tonally disparate programs, is there anyone right now who has it better than Cas?
Project Fandom was lucky enough to discuss both The Strain and The Expanse with Mr. Anvar, the potential push-pull in working such a tight schedule, the joy of creating such contrasting characters, what we can expect from both shows… and why in the hell is Zach Goodweather the world’s worst kid.
Project Fandom: First off, congratulations on wrapping up season four of The Strain, and then kicking off season three of The Expanse!
Cas Anvar: Right? We’re going to start airing season four of The Strain July 16, and I’m going to start shooting season three of The Expanse on July 12. In shooting seasons three and four of The Strain was exactly the same kind of situation… the last day of my shoot on The Expanse I would start shooting The Strain a week later. And then I would wrap on The Strain and start shooting The Expanse the next day. [laughs] So it was like a perfect storm, a match made in Heaven and my bosses were exceptionally gracious in allowing this little actor to do his job.
PF: I could see it being a little bit difficult to go from one character then you have to rustle up a Texan accent…
CA: [laughs] Nah, you know what? Honestly, it might seem that way but I love it. I don’t know about anyone else but you challenge me… I find that so exciting and so thrilling. This is what I trained for! This is what I have been chomping at the bit to do, just to tell stories and play different character, and you couldn’t get two more different characters than Alex Kamal and Sanjay Desai.
That’s what I really love about doing both of these series; it really shows that I’m not being typecast because you could not get two more different characters than my Mars born Texas fighter pilot, and the completely mercenary and self-serving Sanjay.
PF: Which brings me to my first question – and I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot – what first intrigued you about The Strain?
CA: Guillermo Del Toro obviously was a big factor in that, because I’m a huge fan of his work. From Hellboy to Pan’s Labyrinth, I love his darkness… it’s almost like a kid’s nightmare the way he writes! It’s like Peter Pan gone dark. And I love that stuff! It’s always done with such quality and such integrity and such artistry. So working on a project that has that level of fear as well as creative genius was exciting to me.
And then the cast! The cast of the show is really, really good. A good friend of mine, Kevin Durand, is on it and I got to do almost all of my stuff with Richard Sammel who plays Eichorst, who I love. I love his work but when I met him, he is such an amazing guy. Such a generous, gracious actor and became a really good friend of mine! So there were lots of great motivating factors… and it was shooting in Toronto, everything was lined up, everything was perfect.
PF: Since you mentioned this lovefest, in the promos we see Sanjay interacting with Dutch. We knew it was inevitable that Desai would confront some of, if not all of the heroes. So how was that dynamic between you and Ruta [Gedmintas] and the others?
CA: Me and Richard have a great working relationship. Our characters are so… interesting, our dynamic is interesting because it’s almost like I’m like his Mini-Me! [laughs] Because his relationship with The Master starts to become my relationship with him. The student becomes the master in that dynamic, so that was very fun to explore. Getting to work with Ruta was great, very, very emotionally vulnerable. Very intense, very honest and authentic; her and I had great chemistry. We love to hate each other!
As the season goes on I get to work with most of the heroes, Kevin being one… I love working with him. I worked with him on Lost, actually! It was our second time working together. We had a great time on Lost and had an even better time on this show, and we got to do more stuff together. He is a powerful, powerful, fantastic actor. And I actually got to work with – big surprise – one of the Martian fireteam in The Expanse ended being someone who was on set with me! I didn’t even realize it. I had a scene where I was blindfolded then I heard a voice behind me and it was one of my actors from The Expanse. So yeah, small world!
PF: Speaking of small, since you mentioned how Desai is Eichorst’s Mini-Me, we’ve barely gotten a hint of his personal motivations or his history between Palmer and Eichorst. In your appraisal, what is Sanjay to you more: A survivalist? An amoral opportunist?
CA: The very interesting thing that we approached season four with is the writers based Sanjay on – and this really fascinated me – some real documentary interviews of collaborators from the Second World War. And these were people who until their dying breath didn’t think they did anything wrong. They helped the Nazis implement their various stages during the Holocaust and basically betrayed their own people, in return for favor and safety and status. And in their minds they convinced themselves that they were doing the right thing. And when they were confronted with it decades later, in the interviews you could see they were desperately struggling to not face what they had done. And they would they argue that to their last breath.
I found that to be an incredibly fascinating character to try to portray. It’s not a typical kind of bad guy or villain, it’s not someone who gets off on hurting people. Everything he does he’s convinced himself is necessary. It doesn’t matter how heinous it is, doesn’t matter how amoral it is, it’s needed. He has to do this. In his mind, it’s not to save his own skin. For anyone watching, it might be but in his mind he’s a hero.
PF: You could see hints of conflict in season three, especially in the scene when his intern was put on the meathook to speed up productivity. And you could see in Sanjay’s eyes…
CA: Oh yeah, that was a scary scene for him. That was his first exposure to Eichorst’s power and until that point, he was dealing with a normal client who had pale skin. All of sudden it was “Oh OK, this is not just another guy. This is someone of extreme power, he’s not messing around. Do as he says or you’re going to be on the meathook. And figure a way around it morally, so you can sleep at night.”
PF: Without giving much away about season four, was there a particular scene involving Desai that you can’t wait for viewers to see?
CA: There’s a couple in the season that I really love… Season four just turns the entire Strain world on its head because it’s our final season. Season three ended with such a… such a bang…
PF: Right. [laughs]
CA: You can’t really recover from that. There’s no going back from that. All you can do is deal with it, move forward and deal with that kind of cataclysm. Because of that, it’s going to reveal everyone’s true character. That kind of trauma, that kind of crisis is what reveals everyone’s true character. Season four really enjoys pushing the envelope and taking everything to its extreme because the writers knew this is it. We can pull all the stops and go for broke!
Sanjay gets to reveal a little bit more about his backstory and his motivations… if you caught it at all in season three, he wears a wedding ring.
PF: Right! Yes!
CA: So there is going to be some introduction of, in his mind, what he’s fighting for… who he is fighting for. It’ll kind of be the last thing people expect to see: something Sanjay actually cares about.
PF: Now in your opinion, who is worse: The Master, Eichorst, or Zach?
CA: OH GOD. [laughs] That little bugger! I think with The Master and Eichorst there’s a nobility to both of them. They’re both brutal, they’re both completely focused and lethal! But there’s kind of a nobility to their cause. There is method to their madness, and I don’t feel they do anything out of sheer enjoyment or cruelty. Everything has a purpose.
Whereas… … I can’t tell you what’s going on in Zach’s head! That kid… that kid has some damage. He needs a little bit of childhood therapy and work his way through that.
PF: That is if there are any therapists left in the world.
CA: [laughs] Yeah… [confronting The Master or Eichorst] It’s kind of like walking into a lion’s den. They’re deadly, they’re lethal, they’re brutal, they’re efficient …but they’re majestic and stunning. If the lion and the tiger are well fed, they’re not dangerous. They’re quite approachable, but don’t approach that same lion when it’s hungry.
PF: Jumping from one apocalyptic scenario to another, I know production for The Expanse is just warming up, but what are your initial thoughts on the direction of season three and Alex’s progression?
CA: Well they’re telling me that I’m in for a ride! They’re like “You’re gonna be so happy”… a big chunk of season three is going to be the book Abbadon’s Gate. I read it last month and I was like “Damn, Alex is in a coma for most of this! What’s going on?!” and my showrunner [Naren Shankar] laughed and said “Don’t worry, you’re not gonna be in a coma for most of this, you’re going to be very happy with the direction we’re taking Alex.” We have to deal with the effects of the end of season two. That bomb, that figurative bomb that Naomi drops on Holden… that is going to be something the each of us have to shoulder and stomach in our own way. One of our own has gone and done something none of us would have expected. How do we deal with that? That’s going to be a major part of what happens in season three, coping with that choice.
PF: I’m unsure but will you be participating in Comic-Con this year?
CA: Yes we are! We are going to be doing a panel [The Expanse] and I’ll be there signing autographs as well.
PF: Excellent! Now that you’re used to the energy of the event, how have your experiences been at San Diego so far?
CA: It’s been great! I can’t wait for this season. Season one of The Expanse it was just getting heard and hardcore book fans were there and a lot of the sci-fi fans were like “Oh, The Expanse? I’ve heard of that. What station is it on? I heard good reviews about it…” That’s the kind of response we had during season one. Season two… because season one was on Netflix and Amazon, season two had way more exposure!
So when I went to Wondercon in that time frame, I got mobbed! People were rushing my table going “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! Season TWO! HOLY CRAP!” Minds were blown and there was no uncertainty anymore, no “I haven’t heard of this of this show”. It was basically like “What happened here? What happened there? OMG, how could you do that??? What’s going to happen to Miller?!” Everyone knew every little detail, so the difference between season one and two was times a factor of 10. So I can’t wait for San Diego, the biggest comic con in the world, to see what the fans have to say about it!
PF: Well it’s success well deserved!
CA: Thank you! Keep your eyes open… July 16… Season four of The Strain. You’re gonna have to hold on your hats because your minds will be blown. Guillermo didn’t pull any punches! It’s going to be something to remember.
PF: Excellent, we can’t wait!
The fourth and final season of The Strain premieres Sunday July 16 on FX. The third season of The Expanse is currently in production and will premiere early 2018 on Syfy.