It’s rare to watch a show set after the fall of human civilization and see oneself as the hero of that story. Most of us are not Mad Max, as much as we may fantasize. What I’m describing is the aimless, unsure “everyman” who grudgingly helps people not because he is a loner and a rebel, but because he is too aware of his own flaws and limitations to accept such a grave responsibility.
When I watched Station Eleven I felt an instant connection to Jeevan Chaudhary, played by the charming Himesh Patel. This factotum steps up to help an abandoned girl at the start of a pandemic not because he’s heroic but because there is literally no one else. I was captivated watching him fumble his way through impossible situations while navigating a relationship with a grieving child. This was a hero, true to life.
I had the absolute pleasure to speak with Himesh about his work on Station Eleven and ask him why he accepted the role to begin with.
“Jeevan’s such a great character, especially in that first episode. And it was just such a brilliantly written hour of TV, you know, and it’s the kind of TV that I love watching and then to read something and go, ‘Oh, my God it’s a brown guy at the center of this.’ And I get to audition for this role. Amazing, so thrilled to even be in in the running. And then I flew to LA and auditioned for him and got the part. And then I read the book, just after I read the pilot episode. And I love the book, of course, it’s a really masterful bit of literature.”
What drew Himesh to the role of Jeevan mirrored my connection to the character. He was able to pull from the self-doubt and fears he had in his own life.
“That confusion and sort of aimlessness was something that I certainly had experienced before. And was something I could bring to the to the character immediately. And then it was sort of doing what I often do, which is just building a life for the character and going ‘okay, who, who is he?’ Who are his family, which, you know, we get to have them in the first episode. He’s got his girlfriend that we meet briefly. So that starts to build out the world. He tells Kiersten [played by Matilda Lawler] where he’s living in Chicago. I looked that up on the map that gave me an idea, ‘okay, he’s living all the way out there’, that says something. So then you start to build an idea of it, a sort of character bio, which informs inhabiting the character.“
One of the highlights of the show is the relationship between Kiersten & Jeevan. It is rare to see the complex dynamic of a man caring for someone else’s orphaned child. Jeevan is Kierstan’s friend, but also parental figure, and sometimes sibling, or Uncle, depending on the situation. Their relationship defies easy definitions.
“Yeah [Matilda’s], she’s something else. I’m so excited to see where she goes from here because she’s just a really incredible actress, of course, and a really incredible person. She deserves the world at her feet. She was a joy to work with. And it was easy, you know, and yet exciting. Because she was just so tuned in to everything. I never thought of her as a child actor. She she’s got the an adult brain and an adult’s intuition when it comes to her craft.
And building that relationship, talking about the characters, we all sat around, you know, myself, Matilda, Hiro Murai, Patrick Sommerville, as we sort of went through the script and sort of fleshed out those beats and those key moments of how we build the sort of journey that they go on in that first episode. I think we were led by what Patrick had written, but also by what we were discussing, led to that that moment in the in the parking lot of the supermarket as being the turning point where it’s the ‘Sliding Doors’ moment.
The decision that Jeevan makes to tell this white lie. And the fact that she knows it’s a white lie. That moment became a really key thing. There was just something organic, about about the way that I interacted with Matilda, as me, and we could feed some of that into into the relationship between Jeevan and Kiersten, and it was really playful. She was really fun. She would kind of be listening at all times. So she could respond. She was up to being playful in that way.“
What sets Station Eleven apart from other post-apocalyptic shows is a balance of the profound but also the silly. The Sock and the Buskin. Drama and Comedy. No other episode of the show captures not only that tone but the theme of renewal, rebirth and hope than Dr. Chaudhary. Jeevan finds himself injured and rescued at a grocery store converted into a maternity ward where he is forced to pose as a doctor and assist in the births of dozens of women, all delivering on the same day.
“And all those actresses were incredible. I think it was a 50/50 split, half of them were pregnant, for real half of them were not pregnant. I had a kid myself at that point, I really, just, I was in such admiration of them, because I it was so fresh in my mind what it is, for someone to be pregnant, and it be at that stage of pregnancy, the vulnerability that you feel the physical sort of challenge of just carrying a child around, and what that can do to your body into your mind, to your, you know, general energy levels, and for them to come to work every day and be fully committed and be creatively engaged, is it was just astounding.
And to be doing it in what was ultimately it’s still a quite a scary time, you know, when none of us had been vaccinated at this point. And we were all still masked, and maintaining social distance. But they really came with a wonderful vulnerability. It’s a collaborative process. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I needed to get to with my performance. And so, you know, I’m very thankful to all of them.“
Station Eleven had only filmed two episodes before the pandemic shut down production. The challenge of dealing with a pandemic while filming a show about a pandemic left its mark on everyone involved.
“The show is always going to mean more to us than just being a job that we did. Because it was there with us throughout a profound moment in everyone’s life. But then, so many of us ended up going through profound things in our personal lives, in very interesting ways. As I said, I became a father during that period. So from three years ago, when I auditioned for the show, to now being nominated for an Emmy, everything has changed. And the show has been there. And the story and the journey has been there for the whole period of time. And to have made a show.
During that that period, when we went back, we were all looking after each other, we all had to protect each other by wearing PPE. And not only then protecting each other on set and adhering to the rules on set, we had to promise each other to some extent that we weren’t going to go out partying on the weekend, and doing stuff that we shouldn’t be doing. Because that would bring COVID into the situation and shut everything down and take jobs away from people, we had to make sure that we were being responsible and caring for each other in that in that way.
And it sort of reminded me of something that I think is true of any time when you’re making anything, which is you’re never making a TV show or film on your own. There’s hundreds of people who are taking care of each other and making it happen. And so nothing I didn’t mean was never highlighted to me more than making this show.”
Watch Himesh Patel’s emmy-nominated work on Station Eleven, now streaming on HBO Max.