[EXCLUSIVE] Inside Scoop: Chat With THE EXPANSE’s Cas Anvar

If you haven’t read The Expanse sci-fi novels by James S.A. Corey, there’s still time to do so before the show debuts on Syfy in December. Just be prepared that you won’t want to do anything else until you’ve finished reading them. They’re what space crack must be like in the future.

Fans coming to San Diego Comic-Con this weekend will have the chance to see The Expanse pilot in its entirety and attend a panel discussion with the cast and creators. OHSOGRAY caught up with series star Cas Anvar, who plays Alex Kamal, and got some inside scoop on what fans can look forward to.

For those attending Comic-Con, Cas will be on hand for The Expanse and will be there Thursday through Sunday signing autographs at a table in Artist’s Alley.

(Photo by: Chris Haston/NBCUniversal)
(Photo by: Chris Haston/NBCUniversal)

For those who are unfamiliar with The Expanse novels by James S.A. Corey, can you describe your character and the world he lives in?

My character is an East Indian, Mars born, fighter pilot with a Texas accent. His name is Alex Kamal. Alex is part of the Martian colony that has existed on Mars for 200 years. So he’s probably third or fourth generation Mars. The Martians in our universe are people who came from Earth. There was a very specific group of people that our creators felt would be the ones who stride out to populate Mars and it ended up being—who would be those pioneers? Who would be the people to brave space travel and leave earth and go out and forage and strike out create a new world on a new planet and never come back? In our world those people were the East Asians the East Indians, Pakistanis, the Asian population and Texans. So everyone that came out of that is a fusion of those cultures. So Alex Kamal is from the Mariner Valley on Mars, which is a big rift on Mars, and those people all have very strong Texas accents cause that’s where the Texans resided when they first got there.

This is a very racially, ethnically diverse world, in addition to the planetary diverseness. Is that something you found interesting?

It’s a very real – I’ve coined the Expanse as “terrifyingly real.” It’s not a fantasy in the traditional sense where…we don’t have artificial gravity and faster than light travel. It takes a crapload of time to go from one place to another. Traveling in space is brutal. It’s physically brutal on little human beings. We’re basically bags of water. Trying to go at 20Gs from one planet to another has a devastating effect on your body to the point where in this universe they had to come up with a concoction called Juice. Which is just a cocktail of steroids, blood thinners and painkillers and stimulants and endorphins just to keep you alive and keep your brain from stroking out and your heart from stopping and keep your lungs from collapsing while you’re in space flight. That’s the reality of space flight in this world. That’s actually the reality of space flight now. You’ve heard about this Martian trip that’s happening? The real thing?

It’s a one-way trip.

There’s no O-zone layer on Mars. There’s no protection. There are a thousand people right now vying for these, I think, two dozen positions for a Mars trip. That’s really happening, right now. And these people are buying a one-way ticket to Mars. They are not coming back. Who are these people? If they are successful, they’re going to establish some kind of colony there. They’re going to build some kind of habitat. They’re gong to create some kind of self-perpetuating system—hydroponics and who knows, there’s a light gravity there so they can hopefully breed animals and plants, and plant seeds. If everything goes well, they start a colony and they have babies and those will be the founding members of the Martian colony. The personality choices that are made in terms of who those 20 people are will be the defining factors of what that new society is going to be, because there is not going to be a lot of exchange between Earth and Mars because it’s just too physically impossible. Can’t even get ‘em back. This is the reality. This is what real life is—it’s harsh, it’s brutal, it’s dangerous, it’s terrifying, it’s cold…it’s just a massive vacuum out in space. There’s very little in between. It’s called space for a reason. Because that’s basically all it is.

The main characters form a family unit on the ship. What is Alex’s role?

Alex is the glue. I mean, he’s a Southern style…he comes for that Southern kind of stock. He’s the big brother of the ship. Everyone on his ship is damaged . Everyone has something they’re running from. Everyone has a secret, including himself. He’s a little bit older and a little more experienced in life than these guys. These guys are all hotshots. They’re all exceptionally gifted at their jobs. They all have incredible skill sets. Whether it is as a commander, as an engineer, as a mercenary—who has a lot of experience working in covert operations…Alex is experienced in life. Alex is experienced in human interaction. He’s kind of the big brother, the glue that holds everyone together when they start to fracture. He’s the one who tries to keep everyone smiling and laughing with his wisecracks and his Southern expressions. He’s got an expression for every thing. Any time shit hits the fan and there’s some kind of stressful situation, he’s always got a one-liner that kind of gets people to double take and maybe take a breath and not get so stressed out.

How is the cast chemistry?

It’s a privilege. It’s a gift going to work every day. The Expanse is really a unique structure in the sense that it’s three separate storylines that gradually converge as we get near the end of the season. For the first part of the shoot, we’re completely isolated. It’s me and my team—Holden, Alex, Naomi and Amos. That’s our little cluster on the ship. Then you’ve got Detective Miller, played by Thomas Jane, who’s like the space version of Columbo. He’s like this damaged, quirky, detective that’s on this mission to track down this missing girl that he just finds absolutely fascinating. And [he] slowly starts to unravel this huge mystery around her disappearance that leads to a conspiracy that eventually involves everyone.

Then you have Shohreh Aghdashloo, who if you remember was nominated for an Oscar for House of Sand and Fog, she was winner of the Emmy for House of Saddam, and she was on 24. She’s like the Queen of Persia. She gets to play this amazing character called Avasarala, who is this hawkish, intelligent, fiercely driven, manipulative, brilliant politician—the Undersecretary of the United Nations—and she’s desperately trying to figure out this conspiracy that’s existing in the solar system. Somebody somewhere is trying to start a war and no one knows who it is. It’s threatening to destroy everything we’ve worked on in the entire solar system. She has, as her mission, to figure out who it is and stop it. […]

Then us, who are these misfits on an ice hauler, which is kind of a space equivalent of an oilrig or Most Dangerous Catch ships. We’re all working in the middle of space, hauling ice and making money. We get caught up in this whole conspiracy and this war starts around us. We get blamed for it, and then we start running for our lives—trying to stay alive and figure out who’s really responsible. There’s one other mystery. There’s this global threat to the entire population of the solar system. This very terrifying thing that’s threatening to destroy all of us. So all three of these storylines go separate until halfway through the season and then they all converge. We really start to discover what is actually going on.

Are you all caught up on the books?

No, I’m halfway through the series. I’m just finishing Calaban’s War.

I haven’t finished Nemesis Games, yet.

I hear Alex has some good adventures in that one, so I’m looking forward to it.

How do you balance in your performance the knowledge of where Alex is now, in the series, versus what’s going to happen to him down the line, as shown in the books?

I’ve only gotten two books in, so I haven’t really gotten to see Alex’s journey. Because they focused a lot on Holden in the first two books. What I’m told is that books 3 and 4 have a lot of fun take outs, some pretty wild adventures. When you’re writing a TV series, though, you’ve gotta change stuff. For example, I don’t think this is really a spoiler, in the books, everybody kind of knows each other for a long time. They’ve all been working on the same ship together. They have a relationship and they have an understanding of each other’s personalities. On a TV show, because you have viewers, it’s infinitely more interesting that your viewer discovers things as the characters discover them. So we kind of start the first episode when our characters are thrust together. They really don’t know each other that well. They’re just going to get to know each other on their adventures. So you create that environment of newness, freshness, discovery, so the viewer gets to go along on the ride with you. And you get to discover all these things. Because in a book, you’re able to tell the reader through narrative flashbacks and memory all the history of the characters. You don’t have that privilege in a TV show unless you’re doing an infinite number of flashbacks. That drives people crazy. The only show that’s ever kind of gotten away with that is Lost. But you just can’t do that and flashback non-stop to inform people about [the] characters. Instead, what we’re doing is we’re going to re-introduce the viewer as if they have no history with these characters. We get to discover every little nuance about these characters as the episodes go on.

The show doesn’t come out until December 2015, have you finished filming all ten episodes?

Yes, we have. The first season is done. It is heavily into post.

Still too early for word on season 2, so that gives you a pretty long break.

It’s a long break, but they’ve started writing. Season 2 is in the writing room right now. So it’s looking good.

Ten episodes feels short considering all of the material you have to get through.

Game of Thrones is 10 episodes, right? 10 or 13 episodes? I will tell you that the way these 10 episodes are written, the way shot it and the way it’s acted—it’s like a 10 hour feature. It’s epic. It’s beautiful. It’s completely serialized. If you binge watch this, your mind will blow. You will blow circuit cause it’s so huge.