The wait is over! FX has kept us waiting long enough for all the answers to their highest rated sci-fi television show filled with vampires and human endurance for survival from “The Strain.”
For those who may not know about this fantastic series, let me catch you up. Guillermo del Toro’s hands decided to bring the novel to series and enlisted the help of Chuck Hogan. In 2009 fans were introduced to “The Strain” followed by “The Fall” and “The Night Eternal” in 2010 and 2011.
Bringing the story to FX was an incredible idea that brings this storyline – a jet landing at JFK International Airport is filled with people who are infected with a parasitic worm. Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Dr. Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) investigate finding four people alive. What they don’t realize is that in the cargo hold is a large mysterious box that holds the key to everything.
Enter Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), an elderly man who informs them that the bodies on the plane must be immediately destroyed as well as the intricately carved box that was found in the cargo hold. That isn’t about to happen as far as Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel) is concerned as he takes control of the box.
From that moment on the city and the people begin to change as a fight for survival begins. A race of vampires are on the lose and no one is safe as it becomes every human for himself. That includes Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) a very sick man who will do anything for immortality and makes a deal with Palmer and The Master, an Ancient vampire who is out for revenge and the world.
Eph and Vasility Fet (Kevin Durand), a vermin terminator, begin a quest to save who they can and find a way to destroy The Master and all vampires before there is nothing left of the human race.
Cas Anvar is returning to reprise his role as Sanjay Desai, right-hand man to the evil freaky eyed blinking Eichhorst played by the amazing Richard Sammel. Sanjay is a character who knows how to get the job done in bringing world domination to the vampires. This is a character that is hard to read because he keeps his emotions away from the vampires staying in survival mode every step of the way.
This actor has been keeping the pace with roles in both film and television. In film he began in 2000 as Zakir in the film “Seducing Maarya” with his most recently film as Deep Panday in “Miss India America.”
In television I first saw him in 2010 as Omer Jarrah in another series I can watch a million times over with “Lost.” This year he has been doing double with is role as Alex Kamal in the series “The Expanse” and now his return as Sanjay Desai in the FX final season of “The Strain.”
I had the opportunity to speak with Cas about his role, returning to finish the job (so to speak) and all things “The Strain” and a bit of “The Expanse!”
Jeri Jacquin: Hi Cas, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, especially since you are doing double duty between “The Strain” and a new season of “The Expanse.” You are a busy man.
Cas Anvar: Yes, it has been a very good year and I’ve been very fortunate. I’m enjoying it all.
JJ: You have to tell me how did you get involved with “The Strain”? I am really a huge, huge fan of the series.
CA: Yes? You are a little bit of a dark horse are you?
JJ: Yes, really dark. I have the Masters head on my desk does that tell you anything?
CA: Oh my gawd.
JJ: But he’s next to Yoda so it’s kind of a yin/yang thing, good and evil you know?
CA: That is so weird, I don’t think even Guillermo has the Masters head on his desk.
JJ: Well, there is Darth Vadar, Buddha, Yoda and the Master all lined up.
CA: Buddha? What! Oh my gawd.
JJ: See how it evens out?
CA: The duality, no I get it. I actually don’t really want to know what’s going on in your head; it’s kind of scary <laughing>
JJ: Here’s the thing, I’m 56 years old but I’m young and twisted at heart.
CA: You sound definitely, definitely…something <still laughing>
JJ: So you know with Comic Con coming it’s the light of my life.
CA: I can only imagine.
JJ: Back to business sir, how did you get involved with “The Strain”?
CA: I was very lucky. I was working on “The Expanse” and April Webster, a casting director that knows me very well casting me in “Lost” and a few other things. She knows my work and they were looking for someone to play this character in “The Strain.”
Desai wasn’t originally the character written for the show and they changed it for me. She pitched me to the producers Carlton Cuse and the gang. I don’t know how it happened but they offered me the role without me reading for it. They saw my work and by the time they got to me they changed the character from what ever it was to Sanjay Desai. They modified it and customized it for me. From what I understand the character is a copulation from a couple of different characters from the books. It was suppose to be a completely different name and they thought I could do a good job of this and the rest is history.
I walked in and was excited about the role because it’s the antithesis of what I’m doing on “The Expanse.” Everything about it fell into place, the shooting seasons were completely opposite so as one show is ending the other begins, the characters are the opposite and the shows are very different. It is a wonderful gift as an actor to play these totally diverse and different characters.
JJ: What did you think when you read not only your role but the part he plays in this crazy world that is “The Strain?”
CA: I was excited because I think this is one of the darkest roles I’ve had to do. I’ve played a lot of bad guys but this is a very fleshed out, very realistic bad guy, not some two dimensional villain going on a killing rampage. This character truly believes in survival and will do what ever it takes to be on the winning team. What’s scary about it is how realistic it is. If you look at our world right now, we are surrounded by examples of self-serving individuals that will do or say what ever they have to to get what they want.
JJ: Palmer is a prime example of someone we all know <both of us are laughing now> that will say one thing to one person and do something different to another. Anything to get that one thing that he wants – in his case immortality.
CA: Absolutely. He reinvents history in every different situation to just suit their own selfish needs and agenda. It is an important show in that respect. Sure it is a horror genre and fantasy world but the issues they are dealing with and the people they are dealing with are very realistic and very much based on the world we are living in today.
JJ: The thing about the way the cast works together is that not only do you see this survivalist mode, whether good, bad or indifferent, but you see that they also haven’t forgotten how to be human. Like when Eph is dealing with his drinking and the traits before all of this went down.
CA: Yes, they’ve kept all their human flaws.
JJ: Exactly. For your character, were you surprised when they said “Hey, come on back”?
CA: I was both surprised and excited because it ended in a very questionable way and we didn’t know what was going to happen. I think they just liked what I did and they gave me a complex character and I attacked it. I mean I loved doing it, I loved the people and working with Richard Sammel who plays Thomas Eichhorst. That combination of the writers, directors and producers and co-stars was very inspiring and I had a really good time. I put my heart and soul into making this a very-well fleshed out nasty three dimensional character. I think by the time we came to the end of season three there was room for him to come back. I think there are things in the book they decided to merge with my character.
JJ: Sometimes that’s a really good idea because not everything translates really well from book to screen. You have to be willing to compromise.
CA: I think in a book it is a lot easier to have more characters for a reader to follow a more complex story line. On television you tend to consolidate a little more by having a cast of characters a little more manageable.
JJ: I know you can’t tell us anything about what is going to happen but for you and your character, do you feel like everything is wrapped up neatly for fans or is there a little opening?
CA: Lets put it this way, we all knew season four was coming and the last season of “The Strain”. The writers had free reign to have the best story possible while honoring the characters. They are no longer restricted by the restrictions of an ongoing series; they have the books as a guideline.
JJ: There is something freeing about that don’t you think?
CA: Yes, it allows you to take it and push the boundaries of a story and what ever happens to the characters happens but it honors the over all story. It allows for you to do some really amazing dramatic work. In the case of Sanjay, man oh man, they took him on a roller coaster. What I can tell you is that this character is based on and what excited me about this character in the beginning was it was based on real people that existed during the World War II. They were called “collaborators”; these are people who worked with the Nazi’s to set up what would become Nazi Germany, the Reich and the concentration camps. These are people that betrayed their own people for their own good, their own survival, wealth and status. Fifty years later when they are interviewed, these collaborators who were never put in the camps, they can’t face what they did. They won’t admit that they did anything wrong and somehow have managed to convince themselves they did not wrong.
JJ: A mental survival mode.
CA: Yes, they have somehow told themselves they made the best of a bad situation. They attitude of ‘at least I saved a few people’ but they participated in it and betrayed their own people to survive. That to me fascinated me, this character who can go there and do that staying that completely oblivious – a willful oblivion. Sanjay is a highly intelligent guy; he’s a smart man who is driven and passionate.
JJ: But you also can’t see on his face what is going on. For me it was hard to know what he was thinking or planning. Some characters you can see on their faces the hamster turning the wheel and you go along with a characters thought process; with Sanjay I couldn’t really do that because he showed … nothing!
CA: Because he knows who he is dealing with and he knows how incredibly perceptive the Strigoi (the vampires), especially Eichhorst are. Sanjay is such a survivor so he doesn’t show his cards because he knows the Strigoi can smell it. If he is scared he knows they will smell it. If he is planning his own thing he knows they will smell it. He knows he has to keep everything close to his chest and only give them bits and pieces so nobody knows what is really going on in his head. The Strigoi are too smart, they are too perceptive.
JJ: Absolutely, that’s what makes it all so difficult.
CA: Yes, he has to protect himself. In season three when Eichhorst demonstrated the inefficiency of the machinery using my assistant, that was a very brutal scene.
JJ: Absolutely brutal!
CA: If you watch that scene again you will see a bit of a reaction, you can see some stuff going on but by the end of the scene when Sanjay realizes who he is dealing with because he hasn’t had a lot of experience with Eichhorst up to that point. He hasn’t spent a lot of time with him or really seen him demonstrate his true power till that moment. So being a survivor is like being in prison right? They tell you ‘don’t look scared’ or ‘don’t make eye contact’ – you have to look somewhere in the middle so that people don’t target you. You have to learn this language of survival that makes you not a threat but not prey either. Sanjay is a survivor, Sanjay is the guy who knows how to read people and keep himself outside of the zone where people are targeted. He had to think really quick in that scene as to how to interact with Eichhorst so as not to show weakness and not lose his sh*t because of what just happened.
JJ: That’s an amazing way to sum it up because with these characters by the end of each season you become aware of their strengths and weaknesses, every one of them. To have Sanjay come back it’s going to be ‘great I have to figure him out for sure now’!
CA: Exactly, you are going to get a lot. They gave me a gift in season four in terms of what they gave Sanjay to do. You aren’t going to like him, far from it, but you are going to understand him a lot better.
JJ: That’s going to be fun, I’m excited.
CA: He gets put through the ringer I can tell you that.
JJ: And I’m okay with that! If I’m going invest my time in a series, it better be dang well worth it. I’ve met Guillermo and he is one of the most amazing people you can sit and talk to about creativity. This series didn’t surprise me and he was first talking about it, but to see how far it’s come from concept to book to series has been just an awesomely fun, intense and gruesome ride.
CA: You’ve like it I see.
JJ: Absolutely, anytime you can get something that’s original and filled with talented actors giving every bit to a storyline that is just plain jaw dropping? Oh yea, I’m in. I know there is horror and gore, and it may sound strange for me to say this but Guillermo puts it in “The Strain” and it isn’t senseless gore – wow that does sound strange.
CA: No, you are right, absolutely, it is a violent and dark show but it’s surrounded by an amazingly rich crafted story. It’s not just gratuitous stuff, the violence in his shows … it’s very poignant in that it’s all there because it’s meant to shock and it’s meant to be difficult. The world is not as pretty as we want to believe and sometimes that’s an important slap in the face that we need to feel. You don’t want to be facing that 24/7 but it’s not necessarily a bad lesson.
JJ: It’s an amazingly crazy world that has been created that’s for sure. I’m going to be sad to see it go.
CA: Yes, I know, but it ends only for something new to take its place.
JJ: And we still get to see you on “The Expanse,” how is that going?
CA: Amazing, we just finished the first few days with episodes one and two. We are already stoked and nervous because season two went really well and we delivered a powerful season two finale. The show is a big show and it’s really hard for us wondering how to top it. I mean how do we go to the next level?
Season one is an introduction to all of the characters and absorbing all the information and feel the universe and provide action that doesn’t overload people’s brains. Then season two was nice because it was all character and explore them and further the action in the plot.
Now in season three we have built the universe and really explore the characters because we have got the plot going. How do we take it to the next level? Season three is going to be about the characters everyone has fallen in love with and being metaphorically split apart. We have fought to stay alive and fought to stay together and we needed each other to survive. Now we are all grounded and rooted in our life and in our world. We are surrounded by chaos but we are no longer fighting just to breathe and survive, we are actually going to make choices for ourselves. Everyone has individual believes and personalities and they are able to come into play in terms of the direction the characters take. It’s not just about the family that has come together to survive but individuals in the group who have a voice.
JJ: So now you have gone from “The Strain” knowing you can go freely because it’s a final season, you are back to the other side where you are restricted a bit trying to keep the story going from season to season.
CA: I know, exactly.
JJ: What a rollercoaster ride for you!
CA: Yes, it’s an actors dream right? To be able to play these characters that are so different. I mean how different can Sanjay Desai and Alex Kamal be. Its two completely opposite ends of the spectrum.
JJ: And you are digging it every step of the way.
CA: Oh man, I’m loving it. I was so lucky because the shows shot at exactly opposite ends of the schedule. There was no overlap with “The Strain” starts Sunday and when it ends “The Expanse” begins. One is horror and one is sci-fi and I’m thrilled.
JJ: And you were meant to do both.
CA: I was meant to do both and it was wonderful and a gift for me. Now what am I going to do?
JJ: Sit back and enjoy it a little.
CA: <insert colorful outburst here> I mean what am I going to do once “The Expanse” is done shooting? Jeez
<this is the time where the laughing has gotten contagious with seriously good humor as if it hasn’t been the case the whole interview right?>
JJ: Look dude, I think playing both these roles and being seen, I don’t think you will be sitting around on your butt for too long.
CA: Awwww, that’s very sweet. I have huge aspirations for “The Expanse”. We have material for like ten seasons and there will be nine novels by the end of it. There are already six or seven that have been written. It’s like GAME OF THRONES; there is a huge bank of material and huge fan base. I think we have the potential of having a series that will last a long time.
JJ: So what are you worried about?
CA: Every year, every year it’s the waiting game. It’s like the lottery; fingers crossed waiting with baited breath waiting to hear. But that’s my hope with “The Expanse”, that we go for a nice long successful run and then – feature films! I’m talking “The Expanse” to go into feature films. Can you imagine going the STAR TREK route? We are doing amazing work, when you look at it on the big screen it looks like a feature film. I watched the premier of season two in New Jersey at the Alamo Drafthouse Theatre on this gorgeous massive like IMAX screen with Dolby surround sound and amazing imagery and I walked into the theatre and I was like this looks like a feature film! Holy moly! I wanted everyone who watches on their phones to get a huge flat panel t.v. to see the awesomeness of show at the very least!
JJ: A series like “The Expanse” and “The Strain”…the bigger the t.v. the better and put a sound bar on that puppy and crank it up.
CA: Go big or go home!
JJ: I don’t care if my neighbors ask ‘what’s all that screaming’?
CA: Yea, call the cops!
JJ: You are hilarious!
CA: So feature film, that’s my call so you come back in eight years and say, “You were right!”
JJ: Trust me; I don’t plan to go anywhere for a few years so I’m going to keep my eye on your happy little self. It was such a joy talking to you this morning and I appreciate you letting me geek out a little bit.
CA: Oh absolutely!
JJ: Congratulations on both “The Strain” and “The Expanse.” Both shows are uber-cool and you can take a bow for your part in both.
CA: Thank you so much Jeri. You have to let me know what you think of Sanjay.
JJ: I’ll make sure to do that. I can’t wait, it’s going to be nuts.
And that my friends was the conversation I had with Cas Anvar this morning filled with craziness, fun, insight, doing good work and all without spoilers – we don’t do that here folks. I’m always saying it because it’s true, talking to an actor who not only loves talking about a project and character but has a sense of humor it just priceless.
After this talk I will not only be watching Cas doing his Sanjay thang in the final season of “The Strain” beginning this Sunday but am excited about the next season of Alex Kamal in “The Expanse”. Well done sir!
This Sunday on FX is the final season of one of the craziest and not-teen-angst vampire stories with a ride through history and intensely complex characters I’ve ever seen or experiences with the final season of “The Strain.”
Prepare to get your Strigoi on because it’s going to be epic!