*Warning: the following interview contains spoilers for episodes 1-9 of Andor.*
I’ve been singing the praises of Kyle Soller‘s incredible performance as Syril Karn on Disney+’s Andor. Arguably the best part of the show, Soller develops one of the most frightening, and yet emotionally complex, antagonists I’ve seen on Star Wars in quite some time. There’s a clear emotional progression that his character faces, with a massive defeat in the third episode that leads him back to his mother (Kathryn Hunter), but something is lurking in the back of his mind that always makes him fascinating at every turn.
In approaching the character, Soller praised showrunner Tony Gilroy‘s writing as he created “the kind of villain within Star Wars who is such a complicated, conflicted, and not yet fully formed young man. It’s something I never expected. There was a certain point when I was talking to Tony about the role before I had seen the scripts. He had mentioned that he has this super big high, and a crushing low, which causes him to go home and live with his mom. And I was like, “This is fucking perfect.” I read the scenes with his mom, and they told me everything I need to know about that character.
Tony’s writing is so psychologically active. There’s a lot that lies in what isn’t said between characters. It’s really wonderful writing to play with, and I went to Tony’s words. I did do a lot of research about people in between the world wars. They were normal people who wound up getting swept up in a cause or a belief system. I think Tony was instinctively gearing that character, to go that way anyway. But Syril is so normal, which I think is potentially what’s scary about him. He is so isolated from society, and has such a particular kind of upbringing. He is searching for such validation and reward outside of himself within this fascist structure, which kind of makes him a little bit predictable, because he’s doggedly going to go after what he believes in.
His moral compass is quite strong and secure. On paper, it is actually quite valid. He’s just trying to do a really good job, by protecting law and order. It’s what he believes in. People got killed, and he’s trying to follow Cassian, because he is this rogue upstart who could be the beginning of something much larger. He’s also trying to be seen and acknowledged by his superiors, by bringing everybody up to his level. But Syril is so dissociated from his own sense of place in society, self-worth and connection with other people that he has such an emotional core because of everything that has been kept rigidly tucked in, zipped up, and buttoned in that it leaves him with a lot of frustration and anger. That means he’s primed to be used by the Empire in very dangerous ways.”
Soller also described Syril as being a watcher, because “I wondered what his upbringing would have been like. I got so many cues from the scenes that Tony had written, but I went deeper in seeing a character who grew up as an only child in that claustrophobic prison-like apartment, without many friends and just watching people a lot. He’s the kind of person who observes and keeps a lot to himself. And I tried to have fun with that.”
Directors Toby Haynes, Benjamin Caron, and Susanna White all had different takes on how they wanted the actor to approach Syril Karn. However, Haynes imagined the character as what Soller describes as a man chewing on a wasp:
“When I was originally brought to Pinewood to have a look at all the boards about how everything was going to look, Toby was trying to use different photographs of me that exist online to try and get a picture for the character’s hair styles. He chose this one photo, and told me “I really likee this photo, because it looks like you’re chewing on a wasp.” And I was like, “That’s Syril.” He spends his entire life just chewing on this wasp on the side of his mouth. All of his bitterness and frustration, the things that he can’t say to his mother or to his bosses. All of the unmet needs exist within him, and that was an amazing little bit that I hadn’t thought of, which was a wonderful way to move from one scene to the next. I would always remember the wasp.”
One of the most interesting aspects of Syril’s arc is how he connects with Dedra Meero (Denise Gough). There’s something going on between the two (dubbed on social media as “keero”), because Syril sees in Dedra “the completion of many of his desires. She works at the ISB, which would make Syril’s life if he had a job there. She has power, which Syril desires. She has control, people listen to her, and she also has an immaculate tailor, which Syril really cares about. But she I think he sees a real twin flame in that she recognizes how much of a threat Cassian is. She understands that there is something simmering beneath the surface, something larger that needs to be weeded out.
Syril was operating on a on a fringe planet in Molana One, and to be brought into the center, and be seen by someone from the ISB, to be brought into that interrogation room, even though it was unnerving and frightening, that’s like, Syril’s brain was exploding, because that’s exactly where he wants to be. He wants to be in dangerous position. And there is this real fascination with Dedra. He wants to climb into her skin in a way because he feels so recognized and acknowledged. I think he also possibly senses that, “because you share my ideals, my way of thinking and my belief system, maybe we’re stronger together.””
You can listen to my full conversation with Kyle below and see the first nine episodes of Andor on Disney+. Episodes 10-12 will release over the next three Wednesdays.
[Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity]