Speaking to The Expanse‘s Cas Anvar and Dominique Tipper in a downtown Toronto hotel during the international press junket for the Amazon series was a uniquely memorable experience.
We had previously spoken with Anvar, and unbeknownst to us at the time, the timing of that one-on-one interview was pretty unfortunate. In addition, this was our first time getting to sit down with Dominique Tipper, and Miss Tipper is a riot. They were extremely well paired and we were lucky to get the inside scoop from the portrayers of Alex Kamal and Naomi Nagata. The following day, we went to the set of The Expanse and interviewed Frankie Adams, Cara Gee and Shohreh Aghdashloo. Adams spoke super highly of the mentorship that Tipper has provided, Gee spoke very highly of Tipper welcoming her to set as well, and Aghdashloo had the highest of praise for Anvar, which is extremely meaningful coming from such an acting powerhouse.
The following is a condensed and edited version of a sit-down intimate and exclusive interview with Brief Take following a separate roundtable with the hilarious Cas Anvar and Dominique TIpper of The Expanse.
Cas Anvar: Nice to meet you!
Brief Take: We’ve actually spoken previously. I met you at a tv station and we walked to a nearby cafe during a snowstorm.
CA: In Toronto?
CA: Oh yeah, I remember that. When did we do the interview?
BT: April 2018.
CA: So that was right when the cancellation was pretty much happening, and we were right in the middle of it.
DT: Bad time.
CA: Yeah, that was a very volatile time. We got cancelled around episode 4, 3 or 4 of season 3.
DT: Of it airing?
DT: Oh, right!
CA: When it aired, because I remember we had eight more to go and that we had eight episodes to get the ratings up.
DT: [whispers] Riiiiight.
BT: When you were cancelled, it was like packing up the apartment and…
DT: Yeah, I was in London…no! I was in L.A. when I found out that we were definitely cancelled. I was already auditioning for other shows. I was tested, having callbacks for shows, so it’s probably a good job that I didn’t book something [laughs] because yeah, for me it was like a thing like onward, really. It was devastating, but…
CA: We had our big meeting at the production house, where the producers explained what had happened.
DT: Oh, that was so sad!
CA: They were taking all of the posters and everything from the writing room.
DT: And I burst into tears at the lift.
CA: Yeah. [laughs] You burst into tears and we took souvenirs. There were dolls and comics and I took a whole bunch of the Roci…
DT: I burst into tears because I was like: “I don’t know when I’m going to see you guys”. [chuckles]
CA: We all were going our separate ways and we hugged and cried and I think that I went home. If it wasn’t that day, it was the next day, and I did the broadcast on all three mediums at the same time because I was so upset about it.
DT: That was a sad time. But…[doing a drumroll and singing] Do do do, do, do! It doesn’t fuckin’ matter, because we’re back!
CA: [laughs] The rest is history!
BT: But shows usually do not come back, the #saveshadowhunters campaign….
DT: My friend’s in that. It doesn’t happen. There’s two things. First of all, I’m not surprised, because I’m surprised, but I’m not surprised in the sense of this show has always been weird in terms of how it comes together in a good way and it’s always felt a little magical and a little special. And I don’t know if everybody feels that way about their shows, but I don’t think they do, and I especially feel like we had this knowing between us, like all the creators, not just the actors, people who were writing, people in the crew, everybody felt like they were making something really special and worthy of airtime and important. So things used to happen that were like “course”, because it’s The Expanse and things come together this way. And so I was devastated when it got cancelled, and I was like: “Okay, it’s the end of that run”, [laughs] but when there was speak of it happening and it was starting to build up and it was looking like it was going to happen, it was like: “Oh my God, this show never fails to surprise me”.
Even up until now, there’s still people that cast on the show that are such a good fit for us, and I don’t know, it feels like this entity that’s kind of like a good version of the protomolecule, it absorbs things and grows and takes over, but in a good way! It would be pink maybe, instead of blue.
BT: I discovered that neither of your characters are narrative Point of View in the books, at least at this point in the series. Do you actively play aspects of your characters as hidden?
DT: I think as the character, it’s always been a case of hiding it. I don’t think Naomi has ever really wanted anyone to know about her past because essentially, she’s very ashamed of what happened around that time. I think that apart from having her son and him, she’s ashamed of the rest of it. I think naturally when you’re with people and you spend a lot of time with people, stuff comes out. Because you behave a certain way and people ask why and then with all the situations of jeopardy in which we have been as a crew, stuff will come out more than in a normal situation. [laughs] It gets revealed bit by bit, but I think as a character, she tried her best to keep it hidden. But it is exciting to explore more of her past, whenever we do in the show, because that’s where is all the real grit and gore and mess, and that’s gorgeous to explore as an actor.
CA: I think one of the interesting things about Alex, relative to all of the lead characters on the show, Alex’s backstory is probably the most relatable to the audience, like he’s the most…I don’t, every time I say this everyone makes fun of me…
DT: I know, I mean I’m like: “Really?”
CA: [laughs] He’s the normal in terms of he doesn’t have these childhood traumas, he doesn’t have all this nightmare horror, he doesn’t have this massively character-defining ego…
DT: Abnormal. [laughs]
CA: Events that…maybe you’re right, actually, relative to the rest of humanity, his backstory is: family life, military life, civilian life and his big arc is very, very human. He’s trying to find out who he is, he’s trying to fight and search for an identity, and so I think his role in terms of the function in the team is rather than hiding his past, because he doesn’t have tons to hide, he’s trying to discover himself through the rest of the team. The way Alex responds to the protomolecule, the way Alex responds to missiles coming at us or whatever is very much how the audience is going to respond. Because he’s kind of wide-eyed about everything, and it doesn’t make sense to him and he’s discovering it for the first time, whereas Holden has seen planets being genocide, he’s seen billions of people die, he’s been in contact with the protomolecule. Naomi has had a massively different backstory and she’s seen things that Alex hasn’t seen yet and obviously, Amos has had…
DT: He’s a bit green, isn’t he Alex?
CA: Yes, emotionally he is. I mean he’s got life experience but it’s very, very domestic, the life experience. He’s never seen combat, he called himself a glorified bus driver, so he’s kind of naïve, innocent and green, and he’s discovering everything for the first time in front of the audience. He provides that reference point for the audience, so if Alex thinks it’s fucked up, then it must be fucked up.
BT: As you stated previously, Cas, The Expanse has complex female characters that are self-determining…
CA: I love the female characters on our show that are so enabled and independent of any male characters. Every single one of our leads- and even our guest stars- at some point or another, they are responsible for saving everybody. Through their own innovation, their own brilliance, their own actions. And it’s not some guy telling them, “Oh, do this, do this”, they save us and I can’t really think of many shows that show that much positive imagery.
BT: Your show sets an example in terms of political tolerance and understanding in comparison with our own world.
CA: I hope so.
DT: I don’t know, I feel like there’s parallels. I don’t know if we’re doing that much better in The Expanse. We still have quite a capitalist version of the future, which I don’t feel is necessarily the best one for everyone. You have the Belters, who are still underclass, maybe as humans we’re not capable of anything else, but I like to think that we are. Yeah, I don’t know. [laughs]
CA: We’ve replaced sexism and racism with planetism and speciesism, so it’s still the human foible of weakness of having to create another, our kind of tribalistic ‘otherism’ that we do. And that I don’t think is a positive trait that we have ,and I always look at The Expanse as a finger wag to our society and saying: “This could be your future if you don’t watch out”. Because there are dangerous people in power in The Expanse that are manipulating and controlling the outcome of the fate of entire civilizations for their own personal, and in many cases, financial and power-hungry gains. And that completely relates to what’s going on in our world now, but it’s not necessarily where we want to end up. I would hope that we can go more towards a utopian type of future in which when we make the move to space, and we will make the move to space, we reinvent the rules and we put up systems in place that prevent us making these same mistakes, like capitalism being allowed to go so far…
DT: And that everyone doesn’t cry that it’s a version of Communism.
CA: Yeah! Capitalism on paper isn’t a bad thing, but it’s when it’s at the detriment of massive amounts of people and the planet, that’s not capitalism, that’s a virus. That’s a disease. It’s not a promise…
DT: Socialism isn’t bad on paper either. [laughs]
BT: What is it about the chemistry that you possess as people as actors, how does this transcend what’s on the page and why is it important?
DT: A lot of it is, actually at the core, I think that is the special thing that I can’t put my finger on that we have here is that we’re close into what you see on screen is kind of how we are off screen. We do spend a lot of time together and we’re not competitive and we’re not putting on a show for the press. Luckily, we all like being together and I think that heavily informs the work that you see on screen, and we also do our best to foster that with everyone who comes in and guests or is recurring. We want them to feel how we do as a group.
CA: That’s what we always say, we’ve never walked into such an embracing warm cast.
DT: Yeah and a lot of people walk away with saying that they had a lovely time, which, to me, only makes the work better, that’s the way I see it. I would never want people to walk away from this being like: “Dom was a bitch”.
DT: You know, it doesn’t produce good work. I think that in that respect, it heavily influences it, and I hope that we can maintain that for seasons to come.
CA: And you can see it on screen. You can see that chemistry on screen that the people that are working are friends or whatever or colleagues and have respect for each other and have good chemistry. That translates and you can also see it when it’s breaking down and people have no respect for each other and there’s no love in the group. That translates on screen as well, and I think that part of the magic, a little part of the magic is that chemistry which you’re talking about.
BT: What role does music play for you when you’re not singing or dancing as in your additional pursuits?
DT: Music? Hmm. I think music is really important to the finishing of this particular product, like I always see the show in its bare bones form, like sometimes Naren, our showrunner, lets us see without all the effects and music and the elevation that the score provides is second to none. I think it’s really important that way. I use music as well as a tool to get into certain places sometimes, so I use it in that way. But it is different to how it was when, say, I was a dancer. Yeah, it’s used a different way in this art form, but I think that it’s of equal, if not more, importance.
CA: I’ve never really had music as a big part of my life. I’m a big fan of classical music, but it’s never been, like I’m not the person with iPod and listening to that, but on this show…it’s such a harsh show, it’s such a painful show, it’s such a traumatic show, [claps] like, it’s brutal, because it’s space. Space is like the lead character of our show. Because Space is the antagonist that’s trying to kill us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and every aspect of the show is permeated by that battle, and it’s such a brutal, cold, vicious kind of environment, without that gloss and that beautiful kind of film and music that weaves together all of this pain and all of this struggle and all of these challenges, it would be a very jarring kind of emotional journey. Whereas when you put that music on there, it kind of grabs your hand, and it says “Okay, I’m going to tell you a story and I’m going to show you, and this is the kind of story that you’re going to” and it weaves you through it. And yeah, it’s a little manipulative, but that’s art. Art is manipulative, but that’s art. The artists and the creators want to take you on a journey and that’s kind of that last layer of taking you on that journey, and so I think that it’s incredibly important.
The Expanse season four is available on Prime Video tomorrow!