Amara Karan is a Sri Lankan-English actress who made her film début as the love interest in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. The film premièred at the 2007 Venice Film Festival. While at Oxford she directed and appeared in plays, she finally decided to go to drama school. Within a month of graduation she was auditioning for Wes Anderson’s film The Darjeeling Limited. She made her stage début in 2008 as Jessica in an RSC production of The Merchant of Venice and as Bianca in an RSC production of The Taming of the Shrew. She has been part of many movies and popular TV shows like Doctor Who, Goodness Gracious Me, Kidnap and Ransom, Ambassadors and television film Stan Lee’s Lucky Man.
Q. Tell us about your role in The Night Of?
A.I’m playing Chandra Kapoor, who is a young, ambitious lawyer. She becomes involved in the case and gets in way over her head as the show goes on. And that’s all I will say because it’s really exciting!
Q. How does your character weave into the story?
A.She comes in as a junior lawyer in a big firm to assist Alison, played by Glenne Headly, who’s a big shot attorney. Chandra’s smart but I think we also get the impression that she’s been chosen because she might help win the clients who are of Asian origin. There’s an implication that Alison has been a little bit opportunistic with what’s happening and with Naz’s parents — they are frightened and worried, being bombarded with all this legal jargon. I think Chandra knows how to be quite personable, whereas Alison is quite a ballsy, very confident woman who can terrify you. So Chandra is like the good cop to her bad cop.
Q. Does she feel bad that she’s being in part used for her race?
A.No. I think she’s got a break; she doesn’t care. This is like a huge, high profile case in New York, she is getting to work with the partner of the firm, it’s on TV, there’s a race issue as well, so it’s got all the sexy components that a young, ambitious defence attorney would be looking for. Of course, she might have felt morally compromised, but what’s nice about it is the way Steven Zaillian has directed it, those layers are there — but they’re not spelt out for you.
I’d never been to New York before so to get to go there in a show that is so brilliant, so well-written with such great crew and talent — it was a dream come true.
Q. There’s a scene with the Khan family in which you speak Hindi. Do you speak Hindi yourself?
A.I don’t, and you know Poorna Jagannathan, the actress playing Naz’s mother, trained me on the day to speak the lines — she taught me phonetically how to say what I say. In fact Steven re-wrote the line for me — and this is a perfect example of how he always wanted to include what was actually happening with the actors. So, the fact that I wasn’t speaking Hindi and I was struggling and I was training and learning — he actually changed the line so that she said something like, “I should speak it better really”.
Q. What is it like filming in New York?
A.Amazing! A dream come true. I’d never been to New York before so to get to go there in a show that is so brilliant, so well-written with such great crew and talent — it was a dream come true. When you’re filming on location you have to be ultra on your toes because there’s noise, there are other people, planes go over, and ambulances go past. Filming on a sound stage is a lot smoother, but being on location brings an authenticity; a dose of colour and life to the filming. Steven wanted to embrace the unpredictable. He wanted to be responding continually to the opportunities or the constraints of what was happening on the day. He wasn’t just, “this is the script, this is what I’ve written, it’s rigid and it’s fixed.” He was like, “the story can travel so much further when it has all these layers and all this detail.”
Q. It’s very striking visually to watch. How was it filmed?
A.It was uniquely shot. The amount of care and attention that was given to getting the lighting right and to setting the cameras in the right place was amazing. Very few directors get that freedom — Steven fought very hard to make sure that was not compromised, because he just did not want to produce another cop crime drama. He was like, “we are doing something completely different here.” We are performing completely differently. The writing is completely different. The pacing is different. Where the story goes is completely different and definitely where he placed the camera was going to be different because it’s coming out of a completely different conversation. I think that’s what makes this show separate and unique.
Q. What is it like working with John Turturro?
A.Terrifying, at least when he was in character! I was just terrified full stop on the first day to be honest! My first scene was this one on one confrontation with John, you must have seen in episode three and he was brilliant — just a force coming at you. But then my character would be terrified in those circumstances so I could kind of incorporate that. She had to bring her balls to the scene to confront John Stone so I had to act that.
Q. Tell us something about Riz Ahmed and your rapport with the other co-stars?
A.I had actually known him from university because we were in Oxford at the same time and we knew each other from then. So it was utterly bizarre that we should turn up on the same show in New York together. There are some other characters in the show that are British and yes, I did get them around to my place. I did have a few parties in my flat!
The Night Of airs on Star World Premiere HD every Wednesday at 10 p.m.