EXCLUSIVE : THE EXPANSE: Cas Anvar Interview

In Syfy’s new drama series THE EXPANSE, deep within the black void of the universe, the remaining crew of the space ship, known as the Canterbury, find themselves cut-off from those they know and being sought after for the events they have witnessed.  Not only did they discover the terrifying remains of the Scopuli space vessel, but they were there to watch the attack on the Martian vessel the Donnager and barely escape with their lives.  Having cheated death already three times in the space of 4 episodes, the skeletal remaining members of the Canterbury are the sole survivors of a diabolical political strategy intend incite an intergalactic war.  One of those survivors is Alex Kamal, portrayed by Cas Anvar, who we have now discovered is not just a pilot, he formerly served in the Martian military before joining up with the crew of the Canterbury.

In an exclusive interview, Cas Anvar talked about the mysterious Alex Kamal and where his true loyalties may lie.

Who is your character Alex Kamal and how does he fit into THE EXPANSE universe?
CAS:  Alex is a wise-cracking Martian, born on Mars, from Pakistani-Indian descent with a Texas accent.  He is a really interesting, quite a quirky guy.  In terms of the group that he is part of, he’s the wise-cracker.  He is a bit the comic-relief.  He is the one who tries to keep everyone laughing.  It’s a very intense show.  So that little element of humor and fun is actually really important.  In real life, that is what we do.  When you are under incredible duress, like soldiers at war or in some kind of crisis, when things get too much, you have to relieve the pressure by finding some sort of humor.  That’s the only way we survive, emotionally.  Even in THE EXPANSE, we look for those moments of lightness within the dark so that it provides relief from the intense kind of drama and action.  This show is kind of an adrenaline-injection.  The two writers who form James S.A. Corey, Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, their vision for the show is an ultra-realistic space show where we are not dealing with artificial-gravity or faster than light travel, we’re dealing with:  what would it be like 300 years in the future if our current Earth technology pushed in and colonized space?  We’re not flying out to other galaxies and finding alien races.  It’s like:  we’re barely able to make it to Jupiter.  We’re just getting to the astroid belt where we are trying to mine water, or ice for water and air, because it is bloody too long and far to get back to Earth to replenish — and we have brilliantly and fortuitously been able to stop from destroying the Earth and the Earth is unified as one country, basically, and run by the United Nation — and we have managed to colonize the Moon, Mars and the Astroid Belt.  But as colonies tend to do, they get a little bit restless and resentful of their home, mother planet.  As you will quickly see, something is brewing.  There’s a lot of tension that is just looking for a spark — and we inadvertently become the spark and end up being blamed for it.  So we spend a vast amount of the first season just running for our lives and trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

It seems like the Canterbury survivors are caught up in this tiny war-zone and that there is a lot going on that they did not anticipate because they saw themselves as simply an ice-reclamation crew.
CAS:  We were an ice-hauler.  We are the space equivalent of THE MOST DANGEROUS CATCH or an oil-rigger.  We’re a bunch of people making money hauling ice from asteroids to a planet where they turn it to water and oxygen and, basically, for every pound of ice that is another coin in our pocket and we are working on a tight schedule.  We want our on-time bonuses and we’re dirty and we’re grungy and we’re unshaven and unkept.  We’re working hard.  Everyone on the Canterbury is running from something.  Anyone that does that kind of a job has something in their past that they are trying avoid and stay away from — because you never get to go home.  You never get to spend time with your family.  Alex had a family, but his love for flying — his love for piloting kind of tore his family apart.  He always wanted to be this important fighter pilot, piloting those sexy Martian fighter ships.  But he just never got it together enough because his focus was always split.  So his marriage fell apart as well as his career, and that’s how he ended up in transport ships instead of fighter ships.  At the beginning of this series, circumstances conspire to force him to become the pilot he always wanted to be.

So Alex becomes a reluctant hero?
CAS:  [Laughs] I think we all become reluctant heroes.  That is the most interesting journey — people who are brought into a situation like that.

I wasn’t sure that the Canterbury crew gets that opportunity.  They are put in the crosshairs pretty quickly.  Are we going to see them become those sort of heroes?
CAS:  That’s the beauty about watching this story.  It’s always fun to watch people struggle against unbelievable odds as they claw their way to that summit.  You get to see these people realize their potential and it is brutal and it is messy and it is dangerous and it’s ugly.  But the show is about these people for a reason — because they are not average.  They are all exceptional in their own way and they are all damaged.  So the circumstances that conspire against them force them to test their mettle and see if they are the heroes that the world needs at that time.

Yet, they got that distress signal in the first episode and everyone seemed to not want to answer it.  It was like their instinct was to run away from it and not help somebody else out.  Is that like just their own personal baggage, or was there a six-sense going on that it was not the best idea?
CAS:  It’s human nature, right? If they answer the distress signal, they are going to lose their on-time bonus and they could be walking into a pirate trap and risking their own lives, and they are driving a 200 year old ship.  The Canterbury is not some state-of-the-art kind of fighter ship.  It’s not armed.  They do not have any way to defend themselves.  Going in there out of the goodness of their own heart could mean that 50 people on board could die if they make the wrong decisions.  So you’ve got greed and you’ve got fear.  You’ve got all sorts of human emotions coming into play. Sadly, human beings are not as altruistic as we would like.  So the show treats that very realistically, except for that one person Holden (Steven Strait).  His conscience helps him make a decision that will forever change his life and the lives of everyone around him.  Again, there is a reason that these people become the focal point of the story — each of them has a very unique experience and history and perspective that is very compelling to watch.  They navigate their moral and ethical dilemmas and there is a lot of conflict between them.  Not everyone agrees to a course of action.  

How would you describe Alex and Holden’s relationship?  Are they friends at all or do they just disagree on everything?
CAS:  Alex is a man who loves a family.  He loves belonging to a human consortium.  He lost his family and he mourns it and grieves it and blames himself for it.  So now he has a new “family.”  He is very protective of it, even when they are pissing him off.  He wants to keep them together.  He’s the glue that binds them all together.  He is the cohesive force that tries to keep everyone together.

Is that out of love or out of need?
CAS:  A little bit of both.  I don’t think it is ever purely one thing.  Alex is a little more mysterious than the others and keeps to himself a lot.  He has a lot of baggage inside of him.  He is a very private person opposed to Holden and Naomi (Dominique Tipper), where there is a lot of talk back and forth, and Amos (Wes Chatham), who he is — that is readily apparent.  Amos holds nothing back and he is a man with no filter.  So you discover a little bit more about Holden, Naomi and Amos pretty quickly.  But Alex is a bit more the introvert.  He watches.  He observes and he cracks jokes.  He is a little bit older and a little bit more experienced — he has a bit more life experience than they have.  So Alex is an observer and watches and he will come in like the big brother or the uncle and try to resolve the interpersonal conflicts and keep the “family” together.  So you see that only when it is needed.  

What do you most admire about Alex?
CAS:  He is purely and genuinely a good person and can always maintain a sense of humor, even under duress.  It is impossible for him to lose his sense of humor and I think that is an admirable and endearing quality. 

What advice would you like to offer Alex?
CAS:  “Don’t beat yourself up so much.  Learn to forgive yourself.  And if you believe in yourself, you will become what you always dreamed you could be.”

What can you tease about the show for those tuning in this season?
CAS:  This is a show for people who love really deep, rich stories and who love complex characters.  There’s so many shades of gray.  It’s really hard to figure out who is the good guy and who is the bad guy.  That’s what is so great about the show — it forces you to think about: what would you do?  

To find out what vital roles the last remaining survivors of the Canterbury crew have to play in the unfolding drama of espionage, the brewing war, and just how their one act of choosing to answer a distress call set a spark in motion that could save the human race or be the end of them all.  All new episodes of THE EXPANSE air Tuesday nights at 10:00 p.m. on Syfy this January.