Kubbra Sait is a force of nature. Be it her stint in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy to her critically acclaimed performance as Cuckoo in Netflix’s Emmy-nominated show Sacred Games, Sait is known for leaving a lasting impression in the minds of her audience. This is why fans were thrilled to find out that she is a part of Jared Harris and Lee Pace-starrer Apple TV+ show Foundation. She is essaying the role of Phara, a supporter of Harris’ Hari Seldon who–based on the award-winning novels by Isaac Asimov–predicts the impending demise of the Empire. The thrilling and emotional sci-fi saga promises to chronicle a band of exiles on their monumental journey to save the fate of humanity amid the fall of the Galactic Empire. And if the first few glimpses are anything to go by, it looks every bit promising.
In fact, the first few episodes are out, introducing Phara to the world and Sait is full of nerves. In a recent interview, we caught up virtually with the actress to talk about everything Foundation. From how she cracked the audition to becoming Phara, Sait laid it all out. She also spilled the beans about being somewhat star-struck while working with the team, including director David S. Goyer and yet sticking her ground as the only artist with a blue passport in the entire ensemble. We naturally covered South Asian representation and pondered over how the first thing people still ask is “Is it a big role?” Read excerpts from the conversation below:
Everybody woke up to a surprise when they spotted you in the Foundation trailer. A few episodes in, Phara is here. How has the reaction been so far? How are you feeling?
(Smiles) I don’t know, I’m just waiting for everyone to just like, tell me how they feel. To be honest. Part of the show itself for me was a larger-than-life experience. So I’ve had my time to revel in the experience and be like, ‘yes, this has finally happened.’ For the longest period of last year, people assumed I was on vacation cause I was posting a lot of pictures from travel. So they were like, ‘dude, are you ever coming back to India? Are you still on vacation? Is your life one big holiday?’ I think now the holiday begins! That’s it’s pretty awesome in that sense.
When I was cast for this show, I was the first person with a blue passport from the Southeast Asian subcontinent. To be a part of Apple TV+…(pauses) It seems like yesterday, but it was the 11th of Jan when I got that phone call and it was a call from the agent saying right then, so congratulations and I went like, why am I the only one listening to this? Why isn’t the world to it just now? And I was making my coffee and there was this big blob of hot sweat that just went from like, the crown of my head down my back. And I was like, wow, I can sweat. It was a pretty relieving moment for me. Thereafter I have relived every single moment, you know, being a part of the show, working with stalwarts and thespians, Terrence Mann who has won over two Tony awards. He’s like the blue blood royalty of Broadway in America. You’ve got Lee Pace who has been a part of Lord Of The Rings. Nobody needs to introduce Jared Harris because the family is the bloodline of legends. And you are this underdog from India and you’re like, ‘yes, I’m gonna be badass now and beat you up (laughs)!’ So the first thing that people like reached out to us was not like, ‘Hey, how was the experience?’ The first question was, ‘so do you have a big role, small role, but what is this?’ How does one define what a big role means? You know, so don’t worry. I got paragraphs, we’ll leave you with that!
I’m glad you pointed that out because that’s how the conversations begin…’Is it like a blink-and-miss appearance or is it like a meaty role?’ People forget to acknowledge the big win it is for South Asian representation.
Yeah and while the is 100% true that, you are an actor who is representing your country, your fabric at a global platform, Apple TV takes the show to over a hundred countries and as many subscribers. And if you are, you know, if you are someone who’s loyal to the brand, then, you are loyal to the brand. And for us to embark on this mammoth journey, a story that has taken 50 years to actually make, and in the term of these 50 years has inspired movies and series and series of movies. I think just to be even the tiniest part of it is nothing less than an accomplishment. And I will not take that away from from me. I wouldn’t take that away from the makers of the show for having the belief that they set out to create every single planet, having a flavor, voice sound, texture, look, of its own unique kind. As Phara, I am somebody who is not from India, not from earth (laughs) but a part of that universe.
How did you come on board and what was the selection process like? Also were you aware of genre king Isaac Asimov’s works? And if yes, what was your first impression?
This is too many questions in one question, and I will try to answer as many as many questions (smiles). So, let’s begin from the end…No, I actually did not read Foundation as a series. So, the first question would be like, do you miss out on reading the series? I think, no, because, I am someone who reads in general, but Isaac Asimov’s work was introduced to you while you were in school. (While) I did not read his incredible epic saga of work, I am someone who goes about collating things that make a difference to you. Yes, of course, he wrote fiction but he’s no less than a philosopher. He’s no less than a guide. He’s no less than a future thinker and the kind of things he said that impact humanity even today..for him to create a dystopian interstellar universe. And to see that that is the dystopian life we are living in right now. And the fact that I’ve had incredible luck on my side (to be) a part of something like this. This is my second, Magnum Opus, of books being made into a series. The books don’t have my character (laughs). So yeah, I didn’t really need inspiration through the lines of the concept of what Isaac thought of Phara as a character. But I had to come up with who Phara really is. And that was really helpful, like as a journey, as a process, because the lines were so deliciously written, they were so mouthful.
when I did the first audition, I don’t think I did very well but there was something in there. And that’s when I think I started believing in second chances because they called me for another audition. They were like, ‘we saw something in you and we want you to come back.’ So I came back and this time around, I did it apparently did it better than before. It made me fly down to Ireland to screen test with them. And then I had to wait for December; almost 45 days after that date to know if I had cracked the part or not. I think that process just had such a million emotions. ‘Am I getting it? Am I not getting it? Should I take up other works? Should I not take up? So there came a time when I was holding on really tight to self-confidence. To the confidence that David Goyer (director) had in this character that he saw me play. The fact that Tess Joseph (casting agent) was so surely calmly, comfortable sitting in her seat saying ‘it’s gonna happen.’ And then today, as they say, the rest is history.
And the beauty of this casting is that you could be anybody from anywhere in the world. It just happens to be me. (Also) I was never asked to sound like someone else speak like someone else. I was able to be authentic to who I am. There was a lot of work that went into phonetically mastering the English language. There was a lot of training that went into learning martial arts because she’s a fighter, an archer, she’s a warrior; she’s got this angst inside her and she’s furious.
What was the process like, getting into the skin of the character? Mentally, physically and emotionally?
I think it was all in all super exciting for me because I was learning so many new things. I was trying out costumes that were stitched and made to fit my body. Everything was so unique and everything was so thought over. I remember this conversation I had with my colleague, Daniel MacPherson and this is before we started filming really. He asked me, ‘do you believe you were born to play Phara? I said, ‘well, I don’t know, t’s happening.’ And he said ‘ stop, stop. When this show is done, I need you to come to me and tell me I was born to play Phara.’ And there are so many freaking moments in this show where I was like, ‘I don’t know if anybody else could have said it the way I said it.
Now, Phara has been trained since she was eight years old because this is her life’s mission, but as Kubbra, I have no such mission but I just did it. It was super high adrenaline but I think it was also mentally exhausting, more than physically because physical pain is fine. But I think it was also mentally exhausting because what she says, aren’t nice things. What she does are not necessarily things that a person would say to people. I think that’s something that I’m gonna always carry back with me.
Has it stayed with you even, even now?
I think what stayed back is what, like who Kubbra should be and who Phara isn’t! Because they, the day they said, that’s a wrap is the day when I just started crying. And then there were just people hugging. And I was just like, thank you. And I stole a hoodie from the side, which was great. When I went to Ireland, I didn’t know how to throw a punch. I remember when I would throw a punch and I would get the sequence, our stunt coach would be like, ‘I see it. I see it. But I don’t see Phara’ (laughs). And I would be like, so angry with like giving Phara that I would give her Phara! In that sense, (we were) pushing our minds, pushing our bodies, we were pushing our emotions, working through COVID.
How was it like working with creator David S Goyer who is known for Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel. Were you ever star-struck? Or did you have self-doubts?
Self-doubt? No. But was I stars struck? Hell yeah! (But) sharing these emotions together, and even if you aren’t sharing frames, you are still passing each other. Same corridors, same makeup chairs, same hair, the same guys who deal with costumes, who are dealing with them, so it just makes it a level playing ground. The only way I think then you will lose your self-confidence or you will lose clarity in your thought is if you weren’t doing a good job. I was channeling my inner goddess, What I loved most about all my interactions is that I do not have an album of pictures. I don’t have a single picture with Lee. I do not have a single picture with Jared.
They just live in the moment. And they taught people to live in the moment. Like it wasn’t like, ‘Hey Jar, can I have a picture with you? We didn’t do any of that. And I have no pictures. I remember when I got there, I’m invited by David Goyer for a meal and he sits with me, talks to me, takes me through the entire series. And then he says, ‘you’re somewhat a big thing back at home.’ And I’m like (laughs) ‘yeah, I hear the same about you.’
What can the audiences and your fans expect from Phara?
Phara is a fairly small part. When you look at it as a whole, Phara is a very small part of this big Magnum Opus. It’s been something that people have been trying to make for 50 years now. I just happened to be present in this time and moment. So, if you know me or you don’t, that is irrelevant. The point is that this show is out there to change a lot of sections of society in terms of mindset.
Sacred Games was the front runner, a pioneer when it comes to great OTT content. And now with the boom in the OTT space, do you ever look at it and go like ‘been there, done that?’
Not yet. Not yet. Because every experience is new. When I was working on Sacred Games with Anurag (kashyap, director) that was new to me, when I started shooting for Foundation with David Goyer, it was new to me. I think the best part about being an artist is that you get to absorb all these moments and make something out of it. But yes, I’m an optimistic cutlet and I’ll jump around and I will share with the world that this is what we’ve done. We’re always gonna be a part of history. I am a part of history with the show. One of the biggest show shows made in the history of the world.
The first four episodes of Foundation are streaming now exclusively on Apple TV+.