Cas Anvar loves playing the bad guy….as long as they are richly textured, complicated and never two dimensional. This week on NCIS Los Angeles, Anvar gets to play exactly that kind of character as he guest stars as Haakim Habib (the Amassador) on the latest episode Lokhay. We had the pleasure to spend some time getting to know Cas and finding out more about his time spent on the NICSLA set. Although playing the villain is fun, Cas really has a yearning to star as the heroic, unwilling action hero. Very shortly….this wish will come true. Let’s welcome Cas Anvar to the NCISLA familia and get to know more about this talented actor, director, writer and producer.
Can you tell us what drew you to a career in acting?
I used to teach acting when I lived in Canada and I used to tell my students if you can imagine doing anything else in life that will make you happy other than acting…do it. The only way to thrive in this industry and this craft is that it has to be your one sole passion. It has to be able to get you out of bed in the morning.
I got started in high school…I played the lead role in Hamlet…the first role I ever played and I was completely terrified. My English teacher threatened to fail me in English if I didn’t try out for the audition so I was basically extorted into auditioning! I’m a bit of a geek and comic book, science fiction lover, video gaming and because I was so into this world, Shakespeare kind of came naturally. I really loved it and did really well. Once I got bitten by that, it’s kind of hard to go back to normal life. I tried to make my parents happy. I tried to go into the sciences, I tried to go into psychology, or to become a doctor, biochemist, chemical engineer and all that stuff which I love but I couldn’t stop thinking of acting and I couldn’t get off the stage. Finally my parents said “Look, if you are going to do this, you may as well do it right” so they let me go to the best school in Canada. It’s called the NationalTheatreSchool. I started my own Shakespeare company after that and I acted and directed and did a lot of movies and shows and came out to LA and the rest is history.
Like Anthony Azizi, another NCISLA alum, you come from a very exotic background…can this help or hurt a career?
Anthony is a great friend of mine. It is a double edge sword. Anthony, myself and probably about a half a dozen guys are all each other’s competition. We’re all going up for the same part or the same project. That’s kind of a blessing in LA in the sense that the average blond, blue-eyed American boy is going to be going up against hundreds of others who are their competition. But because we are a small niche market we all know each other and the completion isn’t that fierce. But the other side of that sword is that there are not that many roles. When we get a nice role that is written for us then we have a great chance of getting it. One of the things that is hard is to try and break down the stereo types and try to get in there and play some characters that are Middle Eastern or Asian and I do a lot of East Indian roles as well. And they are not always terrorists or bad guys or corner store owners or doctors. We’re romantic leads and leading men, but it takes time for the ethnic minorities to work their way through the general media.
The good news is in the last ten years, after 9-11, the media had to pay serious attention to the stories that it was writing and it became incredibly in-depth, textured, layered and real. Since there is so much focus in that part of the world (Middle East) everyone wants to know what’s going on. For actors it’s a kind of artistic blessing because we are now getting roles that we never thought to have before. Even the role I’m playing in NCISLA is a sophisticated, intelligent, complicated role. Regardless of what type of character he is, he’s not a two dimensional character.
We’ve seen the pictures you tweeted when you were on the set of NCIS Los Angeles and you look ominous! Can you tell us a little bit about your character….who did you work with on screen…
This is my second NCIS show. I did the original one with Mark Harmon. But on NCISLA, I had a tough crew with me, and he (The Ambassador) is pretty bad ass. I worked with everyone on screen, but mainly with LL Cool J. He was the one I had the most action with. I got Chris coming in and we had a bit of an altercation and Daniela and Eric come in at the end of the scene.
There is a difference in working on NCISLA versus NCIS. Although both were great, the team was great, and the people were great. When I went on NCIS it had already been around twice as long, so you had a little bit more of a well-oiled machine going on and Mark Harmon is a seasoned tv guy. He kind of runs that ship with a velvet glove. When I walked on the set, I hadn’t met Mark Harmon before, so I was kind of nervous and he looks at me and says, “Hey, Cas! How ya doing? I hear you ran a Shakespeare company.” I don’t know how or why, he had completely researched me! He was shooting the breeze with me talking about Shakespeare, talking about acting, and he made me feel like totally one of the family. Which was such a smart thing to do because my nerves disappeared instantly and when we were rehearsing scenes he would say “Come here Cas, when we’re rehearsing this scene, here’s what we want to do.” He totally brought me into the scene and asked me how I envisioned it, and that rarely happens.
On NCISLA it’s a much younger vibe. All the leads are much younger, vibrant feel. It had a much different feeling like being with your friends at school. There is a lot of creativity, energy and fire. Everyone is trying to top one another, and they are doing a great job but there is definitely a different energy.
Can you tell us any stories about your time on set?
When I went into the meeting with the costumers and the stunt coordinator, Troy popped his head and said he was wracking his brains because he had to find a stunt double for me and LL Cool J is a big guy and he said you don’t want to take that hit yourself. I told him though I was really comfortable doing all my own stunts and everyone was raising their eyes because I don’t know if you have ever met LL Cool J but he’s a big guy, a very well built guy and apparently he enjoys the action scenes and they were advising me to let the stunt guy do the scene because he has to kick me in the chest…so I thought maybe I will let the stunt guy do the scene!
How do you prepare for a procedural show like this?
One of the benefits of doing a guest star role, by the time you audition, you have gone through all of your scenes during the audition. So once you get the role, you have worked your butt off to get it and you have made all your choices and decisions then you put it all out there in an audition. So if you get the role, you know you performed the way they envisioned. All your homework is done by that time. In order to prepare to do a bad guy, I have to find something inside me that I could feel as passionately about and do the things that this character has to do (in the role). If this character is doing something religious or for a cause, normally those things would not affect me to the point where I may commit an extreme act. So I have to find something inside me that would make me behave in that way. What would make me sacrifice my life? What would make me act in such a way that my life wouldn’t matter? So it’s really deep and dark and personal and then you find that one little thing that you could possibly grab on to and fan that fire and turn it into a flame. So you have to constantly try to find out what my character is passionate about or not passionate about. I then use the lines in the script and go from there.
What type of roles do your gravitate towards?
I have been very blessed in my career because when you are a minority it’s so easy to be slotted as a terrorist or East Indian store owner and I got a lot of those roles to be honest…and I have fought really hard. I’m lucky because I don’t have an accent but I can do all sorts of accents. I’ve done doctors, and lawyers, and I’ve played a Kramer-type character once in this piece, Are you Afraid of the Dark? I love comedy and I don’t get to do comedy anymore because I guess I don’t look funny when I walk into a room…but I am! I won’t lie…because I love playing villains and bad guys as long as they are rich and textured and have a lot to do. I love the character in NCISLA because he was a really tasty character to play. I didn’t get to be just two dimensional and evil. There was a lot of layers to him and shades of gray and I love that!
I am working on a film that is in development right now where I want to play an action hero. I want to play a kick ass, every man; unsuspecting guy who gets thrown into a world that he has no idea about and has to rise to the occasion to become a hero in order to save the world. That kind of character, the heroic, unwilling hero, that’s my next objective. I want to play the unwilling action hero.
Director or actor…what role are you more comfortable in?
It goes in stages….each one of those things requires a different part of your brain, and is all consuming. I go through the stage where I’ve had enough acting, I can’t handle anymore rejection, I can’t handle any more of putting my heart out on a chopping block…I just want to tell a story. So I’ll write and I’ll direct and that uses a completely different part of your brain. It gives you control and you have way more control and power to realize your vision when you are behind the camera. And then after you do that for a few years you are completely drained from all the money procuring and the long hours and you just want to get up there and be a character. I don’t want to have to worry about anyone else’s lines, the schedule, the story. I just want to worry about my character and do it as best as I can. So for me it’s a beautiful kind of balance…a dance that goes back and forth. Sometimes I do it all at the same time like this movie that I am working on now which I am acting, directing and producing. Sometimes it’s a tough balance but it’s exciting as well.
How did you come up with the idea to produce a feature film of the hit video game series Assassin’s Odyssey?
It’s based on my experience with Assassin’s Creed. I did the voice for Altair who is like the Captain Kirk of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. When I took over the role from another actor, the creators of the game told me, that gamers are really crazy cats. They hate change. They are going to be all over you and I said am I not doing a good job? They told me you can be doing an Oscar winning performance and that doesn’t matter, they won’t care because they hate change. And you are going to get mobbed by them until they play the game and see that you do a really good job and it will pass over. So I was kind of freaked out. People were either loving or hating me. My buddy said to me, ‘You better watch out Cas, one of these gamers is going to put a hit on you’. I thought that would be a really good idea for a movie! So we wrote this script about this guy who is an actor who plays the voice and becomes a huge video game character and changes something that was blasphemous to the gamer world and they put a hit out on him. So the highly trained, highly fanatical gamer assassins come after him and he has to run for his life across the city and he discovers that he has absorbed the powers from the video game characters that he playing…he has to become a hero and collect a team of people who are going to take down this evil organization that is so bent on world domination because they are so obsessive about world order and will do anything to keep order in their video game universe and even kill people.
It’s about 60-70% done and we have a bunch of production companies that are interested in it and they liked the trailer and they also liked that Altair is playing the lead. It should be done in the next couple of months. But the gamers are fantastic…a great group of people.
We would love to know what you are doing next? We hear you are going to be playing Dodi al Fayed in a biopic about the late Princess Diana?
Diana is going to be pretty fantastic. It was directed by Oliver Hirshbiegel who is the Oscar nominated director of Downfall. Naomi Watts is playing Lady Di and she is spectacular and she captures her mannerisms, her voice, her movements and everything about her. She is bang on. It’s about the last two years of her life and all the drama that took place. It really shows her off as this incredible woman, complicated woman. She really was an amazing woman with the biggest heart and the best intentions. That’s coming out at the end of the year and I play Dodi.
I’m also going to be at the San Diego Comic-Con and Wonder-Con meeting all my sci-fi, gamer and comic book fans. And there is another film I’m for that is shooting in April, so I’m just waiting to get the green light on that and I have other Comic-Con in New Zealand and Australia that are coming up later in the year that I’m looking forward to as well.
It was a real pleasure to speak with this versatile actor and we want to thank him for his valuable time in answering our questions regarding his career and time working on the set of NCISLA. We look forward to his upcoming feature film, Assassin’s Odyssey based on the hit video game and the Diana biopic which will be in theatres later in 2013. Make sure you check out Cas’ future guest appearances at upcoming Comic- Con festivals by going to his web site: www.casanvar.com and following him on Twitter @casanvar.