I had the pleasure of taking a moment during Comic-Con to sit down and talk to Naveen Andrews. Most of you may know him from his time on Lost, but you will grow to know him as Jafar on Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. They picked a great actor to play the dark antagonist. Much like the character, Naveen is a very intelligent, articulate man. Thankfully, unlike his character he didn’t want to kill us all and rule the world.
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We started the interview chatting about what drew him to the role, and really, back to television since he hadn’t done much since Lost. He spoke about a made-for-TV movie he did in England about Princess Diana, and that is what really changed his mind about television. “With [television] I think you have tremendous freedom because you’re not bound by ordinary convention. Let’s say, like police dramas or doctors, you know, you’re not wearing a uniform or color. Nobody is really telling you what or who to be in that sense, so there is tremendous freedom in that as an actor.”
While he left the small screen for a while after Lost, he has taken with him what he has learned from being on the show, and being on television in general. “What I realized with Lost over six seasons was that its an extraordinary medium in the sense that you can do stuff on TV that you cannot do on film, you just can’t do it.” He further explains his point: “You go into a movie theatre, one hour and forty five minutes, two hours, maybe the occasional movies is three to four hours, but with TV there is an element of ritual. People tune in and you are literally in peoples homes. I was talking to Barbara Hershey about when [1970’s television series] Kung Fu came out and David [Carradine] at that time. That kind of intimacy with an audience was happening for the first time in the 70’s. I thought that was extraordinary. You are literally in peoples homes!”
He proceeded to tell us why he chose this show, specifically, saying “This piece itself, because its a synthesis of the ancient and the modern, it’s storytelling in an ancient sense but you’re using elements of a well-known classic — folk tales, fairy tales — and giving it a contemporary edge. If you can do that with a piece, surely you can do that with a character. We want to confound peoples’ expectations of what an iconic villain should be; Make him human.”
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It’s true that we often neglect to humanize villains, because sometimes they seem omnipotent, and obviously if it’s a villain from a folk tale, fairy tale, or straight out of mythology, it becomes a lot harder to humanize them, but that is the approach Naveen has taken toward playing Jafar.
“Who’s to say?” Naveen quickly rebuts when asked if Jafar is really a villain, “Everybody is born with a genetic blueprint in the sense that we are all affected by the childhood that we had –for better or for worse– and that childhood is an important period that kind of almost confirms the choices that you’re going to make later on –good or bad– and that goes for everybody”
We discuss some of the childhood stories that our parents read to us that we will (or have) read to our children. “I personally believe that fairy tales or mythology is like a blueprint for our lives, and without wanting to sound too pretentious, I have a seven year old and I read him Greek mythology, and the most recent book we’ve read together was Watership Down. He is reading Alice in Wonderland, but not with me. He and I connected with Watership Down because that was the book I read when I was eight or nine. That novel itself is based on the Odyssey in that its a journey that involves great tribulation, death, great hardship and there is redemption at the end. And they form us in some strange sort of way. We still need them. We needed them thousands of years ago, and we need them now.”
I’m sure we could have an entire panel about the topic, but since we are here to talk about Jafar and the show we round it back and ask him about Jafar. Obviously he is known as a villain, but Naveen’s goal is to make us really question that, so what can he tell us about what Jafar is up to so far, and he says “I can say he does have a rather dark and twisted agenda that will affect every character on the show”… okay, so… I’m going with villain.
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In conclusion we ask why people should tune in, and he answers simply: “Great acting. Great performances. In the end its about writing and acting,” adding, “If the writing isn’t there and the acting isn’t there, who wants to watch it?”
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland premieres Thursday October 10 on ABC. Don’t miss the first episode, download the free BuddyTV Guide app and add it to your personal Watch-List for a reminder.
(Image courtesy of ABC)