I recently got the chance to talk to Shyaam Karra about his role in ‘The Host’. Here, Shyaam talks about how he got involved in the project and gives a great little anecdote about Andrew Niccol and shirts…
Thanks for having me!
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
Without giving too much away, a species of parasitic aliens known as “Souls” threaten to take over Earth because they feel humans are undeserving of the planet. Souls invade their host’s bodies and erase the consciousness of the original owner, leaving only their memories. Wanda is an altruistic and sympathetic Soul who is just interested in enjoying her new life. She is placed in the body of a hot-tempered and strong-willed girl named Melanie Stryder, one of the last humans to retain her cognizance. However, Melanie is able to block Wanda from intercepting her consciousness, and retains control of her mind, for the time being. The story is her struggle to protect the people she loves from the imminent danger that pervades Earth while simultaneously trying to retain her individuality and freedoms.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
The character I play is called Soul Anshu. He was formerly a small businessman who, with the help of his wife and little boy, owned a vegetable stand in a bustling bazaar in India. However, his body was invaded by a Soul and he is no longer conscious and in control of his mind. He symbolizes the consequences that await human beings on Earth if the Souls are successful in their mission. Melanie has to fight to save the minds of people like him throughout the world.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
Being new to Los Angeles at the time they were casting the role, I did not have any theatrical representation. Therefore, I submitted my headshot and reel with the hopes that it would reach the hands of a casting director. Luckily enough, this transpired and I was able to go for an audition. Mr. Niccol saw my tape and I heard later that he hand selected me to play the role!
How would you say this film is different and unique?
Everything about it is so unique. The storyline itself is so fascinating. Although there have been many movies about aliens and invading bodies, this film has a unique take in that Wanda, a parasitic alien, is actually the protagonist who allows Melanie to grow. The value of the Soul is imperative for humans to value faith, forgiveness, and understanding. This is a film where every actor and actress is just so talented and dedicated to their craft. They all bring a unique energy and authentic sense of self to their characters and it shows on screen. Director Andrew Niccol creates a unique world in this sci-fi thriller, meticulously arranging scenes to give a sense of a changed environment, but one that is still so familiar. A quick example is the bright blue rings around the eyes of people whose consciousness have been taken over by the Souls. You know they are humans, but the eyes create a sense they are not in control. It is truly a movie worth seeing to lose yourself in a different world.
The film stars Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, Jake Abel, Rachel Roberts, your good self, Jhil McEntyre, Diane Kruger and Stephen Rider – with Andrew Niccol onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
As I alluded to before, it was great seeing everyone so immersed in their work, bringing out unique interpretations of their characters and really making a science-fiction story come alive in a believable way. I learned so much in that sense.
Although it was nerve-wrecking at the time, I can now laugh about a story from my first day on set. You have to first know that Mr. Niccol worked on ‘The Truman Show’, which is one of my favourite movies, so I was extremely eager and nervous to meet him. It was a few minutes till we had to shoot, but wardrobe had not decided on what they wanted me to wear. I had four people standing around asking me to try various selections on. Mr. Niccol came over and wanted to take a look. He shook my hand and greeted me and then took a look at what I was wearing. He was not satisfied so he asked me to change my shirt. One of the wardrobe ladies gave me another shirt on a hanger and asked me go ahead and change into it, so I took off my shirt, took the other one and put it on the hanger, and then handed it to Mr. Niccol. He took the shirt and hanger without a word, and then all of a sudden the wardrobe people gasp. One of them looked at me and was like, “You do NOT give the director anything to hold!” I was terrified and apologized profusely. I had never meant to disrespect anyone, but apparently there was a protocol there. Mr. Niccol just laughed and I remember smiling, but inside I wanted to hide in a corner. After the shoot, before I left for the day, he made a joke asking if I needed anything carried. That made me feel better. He’s such a nice guy.
Let’s talk a bit about you Shyaam. What made you want to get into the acting industry in the first place?
Quite honestly, I had never thought about pursuing a career in acting until 2011. I had graduated magna cum laude from the University of Virginia with a dual degree in History and African American and African Studies. I was working at a contracting firm in Virginia as a research analyst. I enjoyed the people I was working with and had a comfortable lifestyle, but at the same time I was bored. As Yann Martel writes in ‘The Life of Pi’, “A tie is a noose, and inverted though it is, it will hang a man nonetheless if he’s not careful”.
I had always wanted to act ever since watching ‘Braveheart’ when I was 10 years old. I remember re-enacting scenes in my bedroom with a replica of the sword as if I was William Wallace himself, even though I could hardly hold that massive thing. Yet I was too shy and insecure to perform in front of people, so never got involved with school or regional theatre. As I got older, my movie obsession did not wane, but I focused my pursuits wholeheartedly into tennis and school. During college, I would watch my friends perform with envy, yet always having the feeling that I could really portray emotions authentically and effectively. But acting seemed a craft for others, but not for me. I told myself that I was too old and it was a dream.
After graduation, I began my job, and I would come home and immerse myself in movies and TV shows. I started studying acting from an audience’s perspective, really understanding what made something funny or romantic or scary or dramatic. The more I saw and understood the more I wanted to give it a shot. And for the first time in my life, I felt comfortable enough with who I was to be able to let myself go in front of others and not worry about the consequences. I quit my job on a whim even though I had a promotion coming up, and I left for Los Angeles two weeks later.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
I would say give it a shot! Years from now, when you look back at your life, you will always regret not having given it a whirl.
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
I don’t have an iPod. I don’t have a smartphone. I know it’s hard to believe in this day and age, but honestly I like not having them. First of all, they seem to break all the time, and secondly I think people miss out on a lot of things going on around them because they are too busy immersed in their toys. As long as I get a text telling me when and where auditions are, I am good to go.
But some of my favourite bands and artists are Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Drake, Bon Iver, Band of Horses, K’naan, Eminem, Sigur Ros, One Republic, Tracy Chapman, Secret and Whisper, Tupac, XX, Mogwai, Blackmill, Coldplay, Ray Lamontagne, Drive-By Truckers, Death Cab for Cutie, The Beatles, M83, Imogen Heap, Birdy etc. I am sure I am missing a few.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
- Emma Watson: because she is beautiful, intelligent, and seems to be grounded despite her celebrity status. I think we would get along as long as I could put two words together in front of her.
- William Wallace: you have to understand that I know every line of ‘Braveheart’ by heart, and it is a three hour film. Even though a lot of it is fictionalized in the movie, the man himself was extraordinary in reality. He had the charisma to unite feuding lords in opposition against the most powerful army in the world. The guy had the courage and intelligence to break the line in battle and storm a few feet in front of his soldiers so that they would feel the need to fight harder to catch up and protect him, therefore setting an unprecedented speed of attack that the British had never seen before. And Wallace had the conviction to be tortured to death for his beliefs. Badass all around.
- The Pope: I want access to the Vatican’s secret library. It is a history buff’s dream come true.
Which film was your favourite of 2012 and why?
I loved ‘Argo’. First of all, the fact that it actually happened is remarkable. The great part of that movie is I knew the ending before watching it, yet I was just as engrossed in the film from the beginning. That is a testament to the great job of all involved in the making of ‘Argo’, particularly the directing. Speaking of which, another reason I liked the film was it really sealed Ben Affleck’s comeback. I loved ‘Good Will Hunting’ growing up, and have been rooting for him since. It has been great to see him become the man he is.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
I’ve actually just booked a supporting role in the upcoming film, ‘Flexx’, starring James Duval and Steven Michael Quezada. I play Adar Faruk, a liaison to the Russian mafia. It is a great project and I am extremely excited.
I have three independent short films coming up. One is a dramedy called ‘Flick And Burn’, which is about a ragtag group of musicians that have to prove to themselves that they deserve respect as musicians. I play the role of Saeed, a socially awkward member of the band who erroneously believes he is a gift to women. The other film is called ‘Venus In Furs’, and is about the interaction of a male prostitute and his congressional solicitor. I play the prostitute, a very conflicted individual named Severin. My last film coming up is called ‘Clean Slate’, a story about a depressed young man who is given a second chance at life. My character is his roommate, Aviv, a Muslim stoner whose only care is making sure he has weed in his hookah and a blunt by his side.
I also have two test pilots coming up as well. One is a comedy called ‘The World’s Greatest Show’, about a young man who is trying to create a show that illustrates a lot of the issues this world is going through, from poverty to environmental decline to famine. He encounters stiff resistance from his benefactor and producer, an old perverted Hollywood executive who just wants to sell the show based on sex and violence. My character’s name is Ibrahim, an intelligent and sociable political studies graduate who is there to help my friend create the ideal show that can help the world. The other pilot is called ‘The Accountants’, and is a comedy about an accounting firm, of which I am a part, that messes with its clients based on whether they like them or not. It has a lot of funny situations that my character, Abad, is either a part of creating or desperately wants to try to make right before they get out of hand.
Right now, you can catch me in a few commercials as well. I have Mercedes Benz, Microsoft, JCPenney, and Panda Express commercials running!
Thanks for the interview!