'I would have felt a bit patronized as a woman of color if suddenly Chandra took us right up to the end and then became some sort of a hero,' says actress

By Joe McGovern
September 07, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT
Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

[Warning: This article contains spoilers about the finale of The Night Of.]

Anyone who watched HBO’s summer phenomenon The Night Of might have been impressed — and maybe perplexed — by the character of Chandra Kapoor. She is the young, big-firm legal assistant who is plucked from her cubicle to lead the defense of Naz Khan (Riz Ahmed) in his high-profile murder trial.

Many are still binging the show on the network’s streaming services and debating the reckless actions of Chandra, especially in the final episode, where she smuggles drugs into jail for Naz in an effort to persuade him to testify. The actress Amara Karan, 33, spoke to EW from the set of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, which she’s shooting in her native London (yes, she’s British), about her character and the series’ impact.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Has the show aired in London yet?

AMARA KARAN: It is airing. The third episode, which is where my character comes in, airs next Thursday.

Riz Ahmed said that he needed to wear a hat and dark glasses in New York after the finale because everybody wanted to talk about the show.

Oh really? I’ve actually yet to come to the United States since the show has aired there. Here in the U.K., some people have seen the whole thing because there is a box set that you can buy and binge the whole thing. But I think half the audience don’t realize that. I’ve had to tell my friends and family that you can watch the whole thing in one go.

Not sure if everybody wants to binge this show in one sitting.

Of course not! That’s very true.

That would be a dark night. How familiar were you with Criminal Justice, which aired on the BBC in 2008, and was the basis for The Night Of?

I’d heard about it, but I hadn’t see it. Actually I had watched a little bit of it, but when I heard about [The Night Of], I didn’t want to go back and look at any of it, because sometimes I think that can make you think about something without quite the same fresh eye. Obviously I knew it was written by Peter Moffat and starred wonderful actors, and I knew how well it had done. And I was very excited that they were remaking it for America, in New York, especially.

You went to Oxford University around the same time as Riz Ahmed. Did you know him then?

Yeah, we’d go to parties and see each other. We had friends of friends in common. And absolutely, I saw Riz knocking around, this cheeky guy, you basically couldn’t miss him. And we both knew we loved acting.

Your first movie was Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, and then after that you’ve done a lot of television.

And theater, too, let me squeeze that in there.

How did all that lead to this major role on The Night Of?

I must say, it really fell out of the sky. I was trudging along, and at the time that the audition came up, I had just gotten cast in a play called The Hackney Volpone in London. It’s a small French play in a small venue here in London. The audition for The Night Of came along, and I actually said to my team, “Guys, I wanna do this play.” The dates clashed, and I really wanted to get back on stage right then, so I passed on the audition. But when the play finished, the audition came back to me because the filming dates had been delayed.

Lucky for you, the show had a long development process. So you were able to do both things, and everyone was happy.

It was a long time in the making, but they took the time to get it right. And yes, it was very fortuitous. It was one of those things that worked itself out — amazingly well, I must say. I was hired around September or October of 2014. Wow, two years ago.

So let’s talk about the finale episode and Chandra. Did you do any research into cases where attorneys become romantically drawn to their their clients or did you rely more on the scripts?

The latter more than the former. I had spoken to people and we had discussed all this, and it wasn’t such remarkable big news that lawyers and clients had on occasion become romantically entangled. Often, to the detriment of both parties. It’s not exactly illegal, as such, in all cases, but it’s problematic enough to call a lot of things in question. But I was looking at the development of the story and the character’s journey.

There was a lot of conversation about Chandra’s decisions in the finale. Many people objected to how she ended up, and Jessica Chastain tweeted that you “deserved better” as an actress.

I would say that I understand why people, including Jessica, are really keen to fight for great roles for actresses. For me, the part was really interesting. It was full of contradictions, and I found that to be challenging and surprising, and I really liked that Chandra wasn’t so noble and straightforward in the end. I would have felt a bit patronized as a woman of color if suddenly Chandra took us right up to the end and then became some sort of a hero.

That seems like a fair way to view her.

Well, yeah, what was so interesting when I read it was this self-destructive naïveté of her. I was fascinated by the things that unravel her. And I think it could be seen as a comment on the system, which just spits her out in the end.

You worked for a few years in an investment-banking firm called Hawkpoint. Were you able to draw from that experience in a high-pressure office environment for Chandra’s life when we first meet her?

Absolutely. It was a pretty shark-ish culture. Mergers and acquisitions, the sharp end of things. So yeah I could relate to that corporate culture in the big city. I could easily draw on what I observed. I think it’s very interesting that it sort of echoed where everything ended up.

Maybe once Chandra left the law firm, she enrolled in drama school and became a great actress.

[Laughs] I hope so! I think that would be entirely appropriate.

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