Starring in the book-to-screen adaptation ‘Foundation’, actor Kubbra Sait gets candid about playing intergalactic extremist Phara Keaen alongside Leah Harvey and Lee Pace, and the gory prop she kept as a souvenir
A far cry from her terrifying character in Foundation, Kubbra Sait is a bundle of energy, smiles and anecdotes as she speaks of her work on the Apple TV+ latest sci-fi adventure series that is an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s famed books of the same name. “It’s always interesting to get into a world that is unknown to you; as an actor, you’re constantly stepping into minds and psyches you’ve never experienced,” she says over a video call from her Mumbai home, “What you see on screen is drawn from the real world anyway; it was exciting to perform these lines that were conceived in the 50s.”
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The series follows a thousand-year saga of The Foundation, a band of exiles who discover that the only way to save the Galactic Empire from destruction is to defy it. The show taps into some wild but probably not impossible themes of genetic dynasties, time travel and intergalactic politics. The show stars Jared Harris as Harry Seldon, a mathematician and developer of psycho-history, Lou Llobel, his protégé who has left behind a life of prayer, Leah Harvey as Salvor Hardin a famed warrior who has a connection to the future, and Lee Pace as a series of genetic clones who rule the universe as Empire.
Playing an Anacreon extremist leader Phara Keaen has been an exciting challenge for the Bengaluru-born actor, who is no stranger to OTT projects; she starred as Kukoo in Netflix’s Sacred Games, as Rajini Tacker in Prime Video’s Waqalat From Home and as Meher Salam in Voot’s Illegal.
Phara makes her entry at the end of episode three, lurking in the shadows wielding a bow and arrow aimed at lead protagonist Salvor Hardin.
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“It’s do-or-die for her; she knows exactly what she’s doing and why. In single-mindedly leading this army, she is pursuing something that means a lot to her and her people,” she describes. “In that sense, you can draw a lot from Phara, when she speaks about conviction. For me, playing her was about understanding the non-judgement of who we are. It’s been monumental growth working on Foundation; I’ve learned I shouldn’t judge anybody.” While portraying Phara had been a philosophical and physically strenuous role, she looks forward to audiences learning more of the character’s complex backstory which informs a lot of her ongoing mission.
It blew Kubbra’s mind how strikingly similar our world today and the universe of Foundation are, particularly in politics, the debate between science and spirituality and the deeply divided societies. “It’s a humbling experience, ” she adds, “because, through art, you’re able to merge your sensibilities, enhance your exposure and tell a new story. I learned a lot and I believe I’ve grown a lot.”
Actor Kubbra Sait | Photo Credit: Janak Panchal
The rhythm of Foundation is quite diverse, something that is reflected in its international cast. That said, Kubbra had a dialect coach to help with some pronunciations for words like ‘repercussions.’ She adds with a chuckle, “I don’t know what I said before, but now I finally say ‘maintenance’ correctly. I also had to speak Anacreon, which is a whole other language. But the film team was also respectful to keep my accent authentic to who I am, where I come from and my portrayal of Phara.”
While Phara certainly does not back down from a fight, she is just as much a soldier with her words. Toting armoured gear and countless weapons stowed away with a rippling scar on one half of her face, Kubbra truly stepped into Phara’s world.
“There was not one single scene where I truly wanted to break down, it’s the whole journey of being Phara,” she explains. “I used to be someone who used to rattle off words without thinking or understanding the meaning behind them; Phara taught me, in her own way, that two wrongs don’t make a right,” Kubbra explains. “It was hard to not judge her while reading these lines and I would think ‘gosh, she’s horrible!’ In school, I hated karate; but now at 37, I’m being asked to throw punches (laughs). So I went from one end of the spectrum to the other where I’m beating people relentlessly – that’s growth! (laughs).”
Changing perception of fame and power
- In earlier interviews, Kubbra had been vocal about how her move to Mumbai was to be famous and make it big as an actor. But having worked on Foundation, where the true pressures of being Empire (as Lee Pace’s characters are) or Phara’s position as a leader are exposed, she realised there is a lot more to any position of power.
- “I was conditioned to believe that I had to be famous when I moved to Mumbai, that that was my goal ultimately,” she recalls, “but there’s constant movement, responsibilities, accountability, the need to be well-read with rich experiences. That a position of power or fame is not unilateral or one dimensional.”
Probably one of the most gruesome scenes of Phara’s is one where she rips out her eye inside which is a bomb – and Kubbra pumps her fist in the air as she proudly says, “I got to keep my eye!” She rushes off to get the prop and shows it off, carefully unwrapping it from cloth. The iris is an exact shade-match to her own green eyes, and even comes with a sliver of veins out the back. “It was red and wet when I got it,” she chuckles. “But it wasn’t easy to wear that; it was okay while shooting on sets, but on location in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, which means ‘strong winds’, it was tough. And I had to fight while wearing that!”
An on-set family
Filming during the pandemic meant careful measures and plenty of isolation; and, like her co-stars, Kubbra deeply missed her “food, friends and familiarity.” But she found a family of cast and crew members all going through the same motions on-set, everyone, not hugging, would fist-bump as a means of embracing.
Does she wish she had more scenes with any particular actor? “Lee Pace!” she answers instantly, “But I’m also so scared that I would’ve probably been invisible around him. He’s so large and visible, there’s so much theatrics going on there in his pause, breath and joy. Lou has done a terrific job, too. I think for me, my greatest growth was with Leah; I think 80% of our scenes are together this season.”
Kubbra’s tone and expression shift to one of deep love and warmth for Harvey, as she recalls a special memory. “When I went to Ireland to screen-test for this job – and I hadn’t secured the role yet – David Goyer told Leah that I was staying in the same hotel. She slipped into my Instagram DMs and asked if I wanted to run lines with her and she’d be happy to help. She just broke my heart in the most beautiful way because that is something I never experienced in this country. There is a hierarchy you follow in the industry but Leah shattered that myth. We went through the same journeys of anticipation for our roles, we ate our first meals together, ran lines together, and celebrated when we got the jobs. When I was leaving, David would say, ‘That’s a good one but you haven’t got the job yet’ but Lea said, ‘I’ll see you soon back here.’ There was so much to bring back home.”
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