Nabhaan Rizwan discusses Station Eleven and his approach to cinema and television
Art is the center of Nabhaan Rizwan’s family. The British actor can call on his mother’s experience in Indian soap operas, or discuss scenes with his playwright father, however he has chosen to tackle film and television with a visceral openness.
Rizwan believes that an artist’s ever-evolving depth is based on their decisions, and he remains true to the process. His dedication shines through in HBO’s latest series, Station Eleven. Rizwan plays the role of Frank Chaudhary, a disabled Pulitzer-prize journalist, in the dystopian show with a heart-felt sincerity that can captivate any audience. Station Eleven is beautifully written, and Rizwan is able to show how art and culture can transcend tragedy and be instilled in the youth.
While our conversation ran deep, Rizwan was also able to relish in the thought of travel. He looks forward to the vibrant colors of Mexico City and the street food in the alleys of Oaxaca. The time with Rizwan was brief, but it was nothing short of masterful. Just like how he plays Frank.
Both your mother and father have an entertainment background. What kind of an effect did that have on your childhood growing up in England?
I have to say I’m very lucky that the arts were encouraged, but not pushed in my family and in my upbringing. My mom put me and my brother in everything, every kind of extracurricular activity. So how I found my way there was purely by chance. I wasn’t pushed into becoming an artist. I just found my way there, and obviously, having that upbringing definitely helped.
Your mother has a history in film and television, while your father is better known for his playwriting. Who gives the better creative advice?
They don’t really give advice. They both know that I am an artist and that I have to make my own decisions. They are very much behind that because they know that process, so no, no one’s trying to coach me!
You have experience in both film and television. Both have their merits, but is there one medium that you prefer over the other?
I would say film has a dreamlike quality to it, though there’s no reason to say television can’t have the same effect. We are starting to see really cinematic directing styles in the television form, so it’s more about the quality and feeling around the project rather than the form. But, I still find there is something romantic about cinema.
Informer was a popular BBC show in the UK because the hero was you, Raza, a second-generation British Pakistani man who becomes an informant. What aspects of that role were you most excited about?
I was excited to just have a role! That was the most exciting thing. To have a platform, to bring my own take to something, to be listened to creatively and use that as a springboard to go in all different directions, which is what I’ve done since.
HBO set the standard for television with The Sopranos, and since then they have carried on a tradition of storytelling. Station Eleven is the latest tale, and a deadly flu is eerily familiar to what the world saw with COVID. What was your reaction during the first lockdown?
I tried to find a silver lining. It was tough. When we came out of the lockdown, I was able to go to Canada, but there was a lockdown there at that time, and I had to do a two-week quarantine, which felt terribly familiar and similar to what my character goes through. So, it was scary. It was a scary time. The first thing you fear about is people’s health. You want the people around you to be okay, and then, once you get past that, there are other logistical problems like getting in touch with everything and making sure everyone’s still good. It was a tough time, but I think we are much, much wiser coming out of it.
Station Eleven deals with many subjects, and the author is adamant that it is not science fiction. What parts of the show are very real, and what aspects are not?
Everything was real when it came to the emotional journey, and the physical circumstances, of course, felt very real for obvious reasons. My main takeaway when I first read the script was that this show is about joy and about people trying to find joy. Okay, we survived, so how do we find joy in a new circumstance? Within a miserable condition that is upon us, how do we find joy through that. That was the main takeaway, and that is incredibly important to me in my life, so I really resonated with that.
“You could argue that what lasts is language, but ultimately, that’s a form of storytelling. So, what lasts is art. That is the theme of [Station Eleven] for me. It’s more of a subconscious and underlying theme, but definitely the thing that I was thinking about. When a civilization dies out, art will be the only lasting thing. The fact that there’s a traveling symphony in a pandemic makes more sense than you might think, and it’s actually essential to our survival as a species.”
Peter C. Yeh, VRW Publicity
I had the opportunity to interview Himesh Patel, Jeveen on Station Eleven. And, while he could not reveal too much about Station Eleven he really wanted to talk about the importance of art. What is the theme of the show that you would like to put emphasis on?
It reminds me of the question: when a civilization finally dies out, what will be the lasting thing? You hear different theories about what the most important thing to them is, like what their biggest buildings were, but actually, what lasts, is in a museum, like with the Aztecs and the Incas. These people were incredibly successful civilizations once upon a time, but right now they are in museum exhibits. Maybe you could argue that what lasts is language, but ultimately, that’s a form of storytelling. So, what lasts is art. That is the theme of the show for me. It’s more of a subconscious and underlying theme, but definitely the thing that I was thinking about. When a civilization dies out, art will be the only lasting thing. The fact that there’s a traveling symphony in a pandemic makes more sense than you might think, and it’s actually essential to our survival as a species.
Your character, Frank, on Station Eleven has many layers that are slowly peeled away in each episode. What did you enjoy most about his arc?
What I enjoy most… Not pretending. I think Frank is the guy who’s quite frank, as his name suggests. The irony was not lost on me when playing the role! There’s a kind of cutting honesty to his character. And then, there are all the things that are unsaid. My favorite part of the character was when I didn’t have dialogue. That was where all the creativity and ideas came into it. Lucy Tcherniak, the director of episode seven, and Hiro Murai who directed episodes one and three, were a great sounding board for those ideas.
Frank’s demeanor has a profound affect on the young Kirsten (Played by Matilda Lawler). Was it difficult to share the screen with someone so young, about a subject so deep?
Not at all! Anyone who’s worked with Matilda knows that she took the job like a fish to water. Not only that, but she really excelled and taught us. Himesh, Mackenzie, and I were talking at the premiere, and we all agreed that our best scenes were with Matilda. She’s incredible, and we learned so much from her. It was a shame when they had to take her away because she was only allowed to work certain hours on a set as a child. When they took her away and we had to just act with a dot on the camera, it really wasn’t the same. We were so blessed to be able to work with someone of that much talent.
Are there any found memories you care to share?
Loads! I was really happy in my working environment to find people that were able to acknowledge the bizarre circumstances we were in, find light in them, and make fun of them. There were countless! I can’t pick out some. Matilda taught me hand games! I told her I missed out on hand games in school, so she taught me some really good hand games like patty cake. She taught me TOO many things that I could remember, and she will quiz me the next time I see her.
“My favorite part of the character was when I didn’t have dialogue. That was where all the creativity and ideas came into it.”
Home can be so familiar, but as Station Eleven shows, it is difficult to define. What do you need for it to be “home”?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. As actors, we are whisked away to film things and work abroad quite often, so I am lucky just the way I am in my job. Home is wherever I can lay my head at night, where there’s shelter. Aside from that… Good cereal. Good books. And I’m good!
Omicron has slowed the world’s recovery down, but if you were given a choice to vacation anywhere, where would you go?
Oh man… Oaxaca and I’d like to go to Mexico City as well. Probably those two places in Mexico. I’m really into surreal art, like visual art and surreal artists of every discipline. Mexico is the place where, historically, a lot of artists have gone to reinvent themselves and find something really unexpected and colorful in their discipline, so between that and the food, I just HAVE to go to Mexico.
I really, really enjoyed Station Eleven. Everything about it, I thought, was done so well. From the storytelling to how much time they give each actor to show their art, I think you did a fantastic job. It’s just a great show to watch and I think it’s pretty close to the original story too.
I’m really happy with the team on this one. It takes so many people to make any kind of production, and I was really fortunate to work with them. Really, really fortunate.
What sort of projects do you have coming up in the pipeline?
I can’t give anything away. But it will be really interesting. I’m trying to take this to unexpected places. I mean, I just did a pandemic short, so like, why not?
All episodes of Station Eleven now streaming on HBO Max and HBO GO. Watch the trailer below: