Avan Jogia has an inspiring way of looking at the world. The Vancouver-born actor is a profound craftsman and so uniquely talented in Now Apocalypse that we broke our rule of not interviewing the same person twice and spoke with Jogia a second time in less than a year (the last time was in support of Rebecca Addelman’s Paper Year). This go-round was so thoughtful and so easy going that we decided to broach some challenging topics. We were surprised (in a good way) by many of Jogia’s responses, and we gained some newfound perspective on Gregg Araki’s new series Now Apocalypse (starring Jogia, Tyler Posey, Kelli Berglund and Beau Mirchoff).
The following is a condensed and edited version of our conversation with the uniquely-spirited Avan Jogia.
Brief Take: What was it like to bring Now Apocalypse to Sundance?
Avan Jogia: I mean incredible. I had been once before with these 2 movies that were there, in I think it was 2015, one with James Franco, and one with Ethan Hawke and Emily Mortimer and Hailee Steinfeld. To go back again a second time with something at the festival was really cool, and to go with Gregg Araki, who is a Sundance darling. It’s cool to be mostly on the journey with Gregg as he’s exploring and going back to all the places that made him as a filmmaker. It’s really cool.
BT: I heard that once you read the script, you stopped everything else that you were doing.
AJ: Yeah, that’s exactly right, and it’s such a voracious read. You know what I am so impressed with, is the script that we read is the script that we shot, and it’s the show that you watch, and that very rarely happens. It’s an uninhibited vision of a really great filmmaker and being able to do exactly the show that he wants to do, and that’s incredible, it rarely happens. So to be a part of that in any capacity is really, really lovely.
BT: What do you feel like when you are inhabiting Ulysses. Is he a lot like you?
AJ: You know, I think that he’s a lot like me. He’s an explorer and he’s infinitely curious about the world around him. He’s the first character that I have ever played that doesn’t have an active ambition. So that’s interesting, he’s not trying to do anything, he’s trying to be. That’s interesting, as an actor, I try to attack the roles as trying to identify what the character wants or needs out of any given situation. So of course he has wants and needs – he wants to be loved – but he’s sort of moving lazily through life. I’ve never played a character like that, so I think that would be our major difference.
BT: And the series has aliens in it as well!
AJ: You know, it’s the very rare half an hour of comedy that has a drumbeat, like an alien conspiracy in it. I think that makes it completely unique to anything else. I think that is also attractive to me about it is that aspect, that this is different than what most comedies are trying to pull off, and it gets really surreal and sort of spooky and otherworldly at times as a show. It’s just cool that those two things can live within the same universe.
BT: Telling queer stories on screen like this project feels like a bit of a game changer, doesn’t it?
AJ: I don’t disagree with you, I think it totally is, without spiking the camera and saying “this is how you should feel, this is how you should go about this”. It’s very regular, it’s very every day and that’s a testament to Gregg and Gregg’s approach to art and to his message. It’s a scalpel, not a hammer, and I’ve always thought that—I’ve always really admired that about his work.
BT: When you’re doing a series such as this one, does it feel like a theatrical experience?
AJ: I’ve been lucky enough, and this is incredibly embarrassing to say, but I’ve been able to lead four shows up to this point, I’ve been the lead on four shows. And I’ve really seen a lot of television and see how a lot of television gets made, you know. I’d say I’ve been leaning away from traditional TV models and more towards TV that has a film quality to it, production-wise. This is all by the same director, all by the same writer—we had all 10 episodes before we shot the season, we shot all 10 like a big movie. So as far as the experience, experientially it felt very much like film, felt very much like a film. I think that ultimately it’s because he’s an auteur and he’s a filmmaker. I think, ultimately, that the show itself has a very film quality, not just the production of it but the actual film itself. So yeah, I think it absolutely does have that.
BT: Have you discussed with Kelli Berglund that you both have a background on shows for a slightly younger audience?
AJ: It’s interesting because she was just on Disney, you know what I mean? [laughs] And it’s been about eight years since I’ve been on a kid’s show. So we had conversations about what that’s like and what it was going to be like for her transitionally and her career and her audience. I kind of said to her what I say to myself – I think that it’s pertinent to always follow what makes you happy artistically, and anyone who is in the audience will follow you, or not. But if they don’t, that’s fine. It’s funny, nowadays I am doing less and less to find an audience and more and more to find the right audience. And if I lose people who don’t really want to roll or understand what direction I’m going into, I don’t really see that as a negative.
BT: But being a part of Victorious is still part of your narrative.
AJ: Absolutely. It was a great 4 years, it was like college. We were all very young, first – we were all like 17 years old – moved to L.A., it was incredible! It was incredible. So yeah, I don’t like that narrative either. The narrative of “Oh, that was something that I did previously and now I have to cut it down”, it was an incredible experience.
BT: I really enjoy your personal career choices recently, going from Paper Year to The New Romantic to The Year of Spectacular Men. Is there a particular medium you prefer or do the roles determine your path?
AJ: I chase the writing. I chase the writing over everything but I’ve got a lot of passions in my life, so when I am considering an acting role, I really think about it. It’s a really immersive experience and you’re really a part of someone else’s ride when you’re an actor. You have to really consider whether you want to be on that ride – with the people and for the project. I think that after ten years of this, I can say that I’m a little more discerning than I was when I was first getting into it maybe, as you can’t afford to be discerning when you’re first getting into acting. [laughs] But yeah, I follow the writing and I follow what I think is going to be a really good use of my time, and something which I am really passionate about. If I don’t really have the passion for it, then it becomes hard for me to do it.
BT: You are set to direct your own film. Which directors inform your own directorial path?
AJ: Well incredibly, Gregg Araki—hugely inspirational even from back in the day when I was watching his films as a teenager. Wong Kar-Wai I think is an incredible filmmaker, he just really paints a beautiful picture and it’s electric and it’s bright and it’s furious. That’s the kind of filmmaking that inspires me and gets me excited. And Spike Lee, I think that Spike Lee is a giant and so as to some of who I look up, those are three of them.
BT: You’ve got so much happening: Now Apocalypse, Shaft, Zombieland: Double Tap, your book is coming out…
AJ: Book coming out, I’m directing, Zombieland: Double Tap, Shaft. Zombieland: Double Tap and Shaft are going to both come out this year, which is pretty crazy. Shaft was incredible—it’s amazing to be a part of the legacy like that and just to be included in any capacity. I would have probably walked through the background if I was allowed to. [laughs] So to be a part of it is really cool, and same goes for Zombieland: Double Tap. It’s just a movie that people really loved, the first one, and I can’t wait to see how people react to the second one. It’s really funny and the cast is so good and I’m surrounded by a bunch of really talented people. It’s cool, it’s nice to feel like being able to work with incredible talents like Samuel L. Jackson and Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone and Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin, it’s very cool.
BT: You seem like a generous and giving scene partner, so who are some people with whom you’ve worked that you feel the same.
AJ: I am really lucky to have worked with people who are incredibly warm and welcoming to me when they didn’t have to extend themselves. I mean Sir Ben Kingsley’s somebody who I looked up to as a young actor, who was to me no finer actor as I wanted to be an actor. So to be able to go toe-to-toe with someone of that caliber, to be able to play tennis with someone like that, it’s an incredible gift. He was so giving and so warm and so forward and paid me so many lovely compliments, and it was a really cool experience. I’d love to do that again in any capacity. I think I’ve been very lucky, man, it’s easy for me to be warm because I’ve been given so much warmth. Even so recently with meeting the Zombieland: Double Tap people, everyone’s so warm and so welcoming, and it’s easy to give it back when it’s been given so freely.
Now Apocalypse premieres tonight on STARZ and Crave