Aliens, Shakespeare, and Diversity: An Interview with Sci-Fi Star, Cas Anvar

Eric Gasa

THE STRAIN — Season Four – Pictured: Cas Anvar as Sanjay Desai. CR: Russ Martin/FX

Cas Anvar’s career is part occupation, part dream come true. Not very often does a Sci-Fi nerd grow up to become a Sci-Fi actor but for the rising Anvar, he enjoys the best of both worlds. Anvar can be found in a number of roles in big titles, from Argo and the Oscar-nominated ROOM, to the galaxy’s top fighter pilot in SyFy’s, The Expanse.

I had the opportunity to chat with Anvar one afternoon in preparation of the latest episode of his FX show, The Strain, where he plays the part of the nefarious Sanjay Desai. The Strain airs this Sunday, August 6, at 10 pm EP. Though our time was brief, Anvar spared none of it when sharing his excitement for his work and what lies on the road ahead.

EG: How did you get into acting?

Cas Anvar: I’ve been doing it my whole life since I was in high school. I was introduced to acting through Shakespeare actually. Started in theatre. Went to the National Theatre School of Canada. Started my own Shakespeare company after that and have been acting ever since.

Who were some of your inspirations as a young actor?

That’s an interesting question. I really admire Liam Neeson, Hugh Jackman, and Robert Downey Jr.

Was starring in a Sci-Fi program always a dream of yours? Were you a huge Sci-Fi fan growing up?

I’ve always been a huge nerd. I grew up with sci-fi, fantasy, and horror games, comic books, and all that stuff. I went to Comic Con as a kid and never imagined that I would be on the other side of that table signing autographs one day. Playing in something like The Expanse where I get to play a Han Solo character with wisecracks and one-liners, is a huge thrill for me.

This is the fourth and final season of The Strain. What are some of your fondest memories on set? How do you feel about the show ending?

I’m a huge Guillermo del Toro fan. He’s the dark Peter Pan of this world; the kid that didn’t wanna grow up but did. His stuff comes from a dark, somber place, like a fairytale. All of his work is very poignant and meaningful, and always have a dark tongue in cheek, twisted sense of humor. The Strain is similar. A lot of very important messages, but it’s still great entertainment.

I think that he had a vision for the show and if he decides that he’s achieved that in four seasons, then I trust that. You never wanna watch a show that goes beyond its potential and eventually wear thin. You want a strong ending.

Personally, one of my favorite aspects of the show was making friends with Richard Sammel, who played Eichorst. He’s an old theater guy, like me, and we really bonded and had a great time. Outside of that I really enjoyed getting to play with all the other lead characters in Season 4, especially Kevin Durand, whom I met on Lost. I really like Kevin but we never really got to play opposite so it was really nice to work with him. He’s a very talented very solid actor. I had a great time.

What is Sanjay’s role in this Sunday’s episode of The Strain?

Sanjay is a very dark character, he doesn’t really lend himself to laughs or joviality. In this episode, you’re gonna see Eichorst he’s put the pressure on him. Sanjay is a survivor and a hustler; he’s never been challenged by something that he didn’t think he could do. You’re gonna see Eichorst put the screws to him, and Sanjay is gonna be tested, physically, ethically, morally. People are really gonna be surprised.

Your character in the Expanse, Alex Kamal, is a Martian fighter pilot. What attracted to you to this role?

Cas Anvar in The Expanse

I haven’t read the books yet which are amazing and I chastised myself as a Sci-Fi fan. But when I was given the breakdown of the role, “Martian fighter pilot of Eastern Indian descent with a Texas accent,” I was like okay, sign me up. Just based on that one description alone, I knew I was dealing with something special.

Then I read the script and it was one of the best pilots I’ve ever read. I finally read the book too and just said wow. The scope of those books is immense, like a Ridley Scott feature film. So, what we had to do is just go big or go home, and we went big.

So, the new trailer for Season 3 just dropped. What can we expect from Alex this season and the show in general?

If Season 1 was about building the world of The Expanse, Season 2 was about the characters of the universe. We also learned the sides and factions of this world so now we’re seeing which side each character is on. In Season 3, a new element gets thrown into the mix that makes people sit up and say, ‘You know all these wars and political stuff? We have bigger fish to fry.’

It makes everyone do a reality check in terms of all their petty political squabbling. Season 3 will introduce the perspective shift dramatically. People wondering about this mysterious proto-molecule are gonna get a lot of questions answered about it.

What I especially like about the Expanse is the diversity of the cast. Alex for example is of Pakistani descent. As an actor, how do you feel about being a part of this new wave of diversity in entertainment today?

Diversity has always been a huge part of my reasons of doing this vocation [Sci-Fi], which is to bring a new voice to the world; to represent a realistic portrayal in the arts.

Let’s be honest, what we see on TV has not really caught up to what is happening in the real world. It is not as diverse on TV. You will see some riskier shows, Netflix is certainly doing some great work. Shows like Sense8 and a couple of others. But the diversity in this world is being neglected and ignored.

So, to be on a show where five of the leads are non-white females is extraordinary and refreshing. All five of the butt-kicking women on The Expanse, are all diverse, mixed, women, and none of them are reliant on men. So, we get ethnic diversity, gender equality, and an incredibly modern take on Sci-Fi.

But to be part of a show that is cutting edge, that is not white-washing, that is not patriarchal, I am very proud of it. We get to see a world full of color, diversity, and equality.

Last question, before we close, is there any new projects coming up for you down the road?

I’m part of a show called Star Trek Continues which is in its final incarnation. Very popular show. I get to play an alien, which is a dream come true for me.

It’s sharp and looks a lot better than the 60s original show. It looks amazing.

I also do a lot of voice work TV shows and videogames like for Assassins Creed, Call of Duty, and Archer. I’m coming out in a new animated feature with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They’re teaming up with Batman to take on the Shredder and Ra’s al Ghul. I have the honor of playing the voice of Ra’s al Ghul, which is something I’ve always wanted to do since Liam Neeson killed the part in The Dark Knight.
It’s a role I’ve always wanted to play.