After a starring role on Sy-Fy’s recently wrapped series, Olympus, Cas Anvar stars in The Expanse, the bold, new series everyone’s talking about. Set 200 years in the future, after mankind has colonized the solar system, The Expanse is cable TV’s most expensive show to date—$5-6 mil per episode—each shot as a stand-alone feature film. The stunning new series follows police detective Miller (Thomas Jane), ship’s officer Jim Holden (Steven Strait), and his crew as they unravel a conspiracy that threatens peace across the System and the survival of humanity. In this one-on-one interview, Anvar reveals what drew him to the role of Alex Kamal and the various challenges faced by the cast and crew in bringing this epic series to life.
What attracted you to the role of Alex Kamal?
Cas: I get to play an East Asian, Mars-born fighter pilot in space with a Texas accent. I’m a huge advocate of diversity in TV/film or theater. I like to see humanity properly represented. It was wonderful to be offered a role where my ethnicity has nothing to do with the character or the story. Plus, he’s a hero, one of the guys trying to save the universe.
What’s the most challenging aspect of playing Alex and being in this series? What’s the most enjoyable?
Cas: He’s a guy who is always kind of cool as a cucumber even when he’s not. I’m the opposite, very impassioned, vocal and demonstrative. I’m very didactic. I speak, act and move my hands a lot. But Alex is a guy who communicates with his eyes and subtle head tilts, chewing on a toothpick. He’ll make a wise crack with a southern expression to sum up what everyone’s feeling but can’t explain. He’s a man of few words, but what he says has a lot of meaning. And that’s a departure for me.
Fans of the books will ask how closely the SyFy series follows the vision of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.
Cas: Very closely. We have those two gentlemen on board. They’re showrunners, have written one of the scripts and are part of the entire season as consultants. They fought for certain aspects of the show to honor the original vision and they’ve won most of their big battles. Fans of the books will be very happy to see a TV series coming off a successful series of novels that are very authentic and honors its spirit and energy.
As pilot of the Rocinante, you also manage the ship’s fire control system. Will you engage in combat and with whom?
Cas: There’s plenty of action, battles and evasive maneuvers for our ship and others. Space travel is not easy and not safe. There’s no artificial gravity in our world—its terrifyingly real. We also don’t have faster than light travel, so it takes a lot of time to go from point A to point B. And if you want to go fast, you have to put your body through an immense amount of stress. We don’t have inertial dampers; instead, we have “juice,” a cocktail we inject before going through a high G burn. Juice is full of steroids, blood thinners, anti-coagulants and stimulants to keep the brain from stroking out, your heart from stopping and your lungs from collapsing. In a high G burn, you can barely move, so instead of big joysticks to control the ship, we can only move our fingertips half centimeters at a time to navigate the ship.
When the crew of the Rocinante discovers a derelict vessel, will we learn then about its devastating secret?
Cas: The show is brilliantly written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Children of Men and Iron Man 1) and features an amazing, talented cast. All will come together to uncover this incredible, dark conspiracy that threatens to destroy all of humanity. So the conspiracy won’t be revealed right away, but following the book, will slowly be unveiled.
The series is set 200 years in the future. Will viewers be brought up to speed on the tech speak?
Cas: One of the beautiful things about the Expanse is that there will be lots of cool tech but it’s completely background. Like Blade Runner, which had flying cop cars and sentient robotics amidst a gritty, Chinatown vibe, The Expanse will have a gritty, real vibe that doesn’t flaunt the tech, but it’s all there.
What cultural aspects of humanity will the series explore?
Cas: So much of The Expanse novels deal with the diversity of the humane race and how integrated it will be 200 years in the future. Look at what’s happening already with the current Mars One manned mission. They’re picking the most qualified people who will serve to immediately homogenize the gene pool. Once they’re up there, they’re not going to have a huge variety to choose from—you’ve got 50 men and 50 women. So those people will start colonizing and they will become the culture of that planet. You’ll have an entire population of heroes and adventurers, people who will never see a blue sky or green forests and ultimately be buried on Mars. That’s what The Expanse takes into account: Who would those people be? In The Expanse world, the adventurers and pioneers are Asians, East Indians and Texans. So you have these ethnically diverse people that speak in a Texas drawl.
So the Series Explores Diversity and Different Types of Conflict?
Cas: It enjoys exposing the frailties of the human species. So while traditional racism is gone, as a species, we’re always looking for an enemy. So what do we have? “Planetism,” in which we create tensions among Earth, Mars, lunar, and asteroid belt people—called Belters. These people live in different gravities and atmospheres. Some complain that they can’t return to Earth because their bones are weak from living in zero or reduced gravity. This gives them something to fight about, since they’re part of the Earth’s underclass, which is being denied enough air and water.
Will the series adopt a dystopian stance or will there be hope?
Cas: Regardless of how bleak, greedy and selfish humanity becomes, there will always be those unheard people who work toward peace and prosperity. Ultimately, the more honorable aspects of the human spirit will prevail. We’re survivors, we always have been.
Fans have been asking about Thomas Jane’s hat—was that a personal choice or was it in the script?
Cas (laughs): The hat is important to the story and to the character. It’s a significant aspect and intimate part of Detective Miller’s character. That hat goes through a journey during the entire season.