Pakistani actor Ahad Raza Mir on playing Arj in latest Netflix adaptation of zombie game series Resident Evil

The first Pakistani actor to be cast in a Netflix Original, the actor about his latest web series and how OTT is helping artistes break geographical and conventional boundaries

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Somya Mehta

Published: Thu 14 Jul 2022, 7:31 PM

While there’s a flurry of new films and series added to the OTT-verse every week, one to keep an eye out for is the renowned video game and movie franchise Resident Evil, the most recent Netflix original to be added to the streaming list. After the pathbreaking success of Stranger Things, the OTT platform is all set to resurrect the Japanese horror game series, adapting it to the modern-day context.

While the classic characters that define the core essence of the survival horror series are brought back to life, there are new players that have been introduced to the plot, giving people who perhaps are not familiar with the story a chance to form their own unique connection to the franchise. And popular Pakistani-Canadian actor Ahad Raza Mir will be seen playing one such newly-introduced character in the world of Resident Evil.

Becoming the first Pakistani actor to be cast in a Netflix original series, the show marks the second time Mir, famously known for his television roles, will be seen in the OTT realm. After the roaring success of his portrayal of Hamlet as part of The Shakespeare Company, the actor who's currently shooting for the second season of BBC's World on Fire in Ireland, believes he’s ready to take on even greater challenges and be as unconventional in his choices as possible. “OTT gives you this avenue to explore anything and that’s actually quite freeing for an actor,” says Mir, 28, in a conversation with wknd., ahead of the anticipated release of the Netflix premiere of Resident Evil on July 14.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

What are your anticipatory thoughts leading up to the release of the series?

I’m very excited. It’s been a long process because we wrapped up the shoot this time last year. I’m a huge fan of the series. I played all the games as a kid. I’m very fortunate to be in it but even if I had not been in it, I would’ve still been just as thrilled to finally see this rendition of the show. This will also be the first time that people from around the world will be watching me since OTT has such a huge reach. So, I think that’s why I’m a little nervous. I don’t usually watch my own shows but the problem this time is that it’s a show I would’ve watched regardless, even if I wasn’t in it. So, I’m going to have to watch it.

Why don’t you watch your own performances?

I don’t really know how to answer that. On one hand, I feel a little uncomfortable watching myself and on the other hand, I feel like if I ever watched myself, I might mimic myself. And I don’t ever want that to happen. But this show was something I was looking forward to even before I got cast, so unfortunately and fortunately, I will be watching it.

What are some key affordances streaming platforms have allowed new-age actors in comparison to films and television?

It’s a good question. For this show in particular, it’s the scale. But I think as an actor, it allows you to explore concepts without any restrictions. Sometimes, when you’re working on TV, there are obviously certain things you can or can’t do. But the nice thing about OTT is that it gives you this avenue to explore anything. And that’s actually quite freeing for an actor. Also, the best part about OTT is that it’s global, you can watch it from anywhere. That’s why platforms like Netflix are really valuable for everybody. As an actor, it’s exciting for people to see your work but I think it’s also great for the audience to engage with each other from different parts of the world, viewing the same content.

The pandemic has also escalated the viewership on OTT...

For sure. It’s good to know that even when there’s something as daunting as the pandemic that is unravelling, people and production houses are still willing to push, with all protocols, to continue making content for people. When things got really dark during the pandemic, it kind of saved a lot of people, keeping people sane, entertaining them and making them feel less depressed being at home.

What attracted you to become a part of the series?

The franchise and the name itself is enough. I think it’s something I might have just blindly done because of how much people have loved the game series. But the other part was that I wanted to know who this character is, what role he’ll be playing in the grand scheme of things. You kind of think selfishly as an actor and get enticed by the journey and the arc of the character, where it will travel. Also, as an audience, you get to follow these people on a very long journey.

Can you tell us more about your character? Where does it fit in with the wider universe of Resident Evil?

The best part about the show is that they’ve taken the background story of the games and have developed it further. They’ve turned it on its head and created a new-age version of it. There are these new characters that have been introduced that people haven’t watched in the films or the game , which is what attracted me to the role of Arjun. It will allow people who haven’t watched the films or played the game to also forge a new relationship with the series.

Is there a conscious effort to not stray too far away from the essence of the original plot?

I think the core will be there, regardless. The core is there because of the name itself. The story, the characters that people have known in the games are all there but what’s interesting is they’ve created new ways of telling the same story. For instance, if you look at Shakespeare productions, we all know the stories. We all know what happens in Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. But for some reason, we still find ourselves going to the theatre or watching new renditions of it. So, this is us taking the same story and exploring new ways of telling it.

Speaking of Hamlet, in 2019, you became the first South Asian to play the role professionally in Canada. How was that experience?

That was really an experience. It’s funny I started my career with the same company, playing smaller roles. So, when I came to this side of the world and started doing well for myself, they were very proud to see where I’d come and they just happened to pitch the idea of me playing Hamlet. Initially, I said no because it terrified me, 1,200 pages of dialogues, I didn’t think I could do it. But I always end up saying yes to things if they scare me because I feel like there’s going to be some kind of challenge that comes out of fear.

I think the real accomplishment that we had with that production was because it was a mixed-race cast, the number of Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, Afghanis, Nepalis that came to see the show was unprecedented in the history of theatre in that city. Afterwards, they had so many people of colour auditioning for productions. So that was the real success of the show. A lot of our South Asian communities go and live abroad but the kids are never pushed towards the arts or encouraged to go down that route. So, maybe by seeing me play the lead role, with my face on the poster, they could connect to it and realise that they could do it too.

We’ll be doing the same play again next year in Toronto at a much bigger scale, which I’m a little nervous about because the Greater Toronto Area has a lot more Indians and Pakistanis. I hope we get the same kind of response we got the last time.

Was the environment inclusive?

I felt very welcomed and respected. It was a very good feeling to be there and lead the show. It’s the city I grew up in and they called me back, which was a very special moment. And if you go to places like Toronto, it is extremely multicultural. There are a lot of different cultures and ethnicities. I think now colour is kind of blind. It’s the way things are moving and it’s great.

Do you think OTT has paved the way for greater diversity in characters?

For sure. Netflix has been an active part of it. It’s not just to have tokens of representation. I truly believe that I got cast in this role not because of the colour of my skin but because of the skill. OTT platforms are not just putting people into places for the sake of it. They’re doing it very intelligently and I appreciate that. If you look back, maybe 10 years ago, the token characters would always have the stereotypical characteristics of that region. They’ll have a stereotypical accent or will be doing a prayer. My role has none of that and that’s a true step forward.

In one of the series’ promo videos, an actor says that Resident Evil talks about human nature in a way we’ve not seen before. How does it accomplish that?

It’s interesting that the show has come out, in a way, after the pandemic has happened because we’ve now seen how the rest of the world reacts to such a dire event. If you set it under the context of an infection that is essentially creating monsters, which is the plot of the show, you’ll see the best in people and you’ll see the worst in people. You’ll see a side that I don’t think we recognise about ourselves. You could imagine how you’d react in a morbid situation like that but you won’t really know until it actually happens. It’s like when someone you know passes away. You’ll have a certain idea of how you would react but you don’t really know until it happens. I’ve seen it in my own life, people react in a way that you wouldn’t really anticipate. Similarly, in the show, when this event happens in the world, it changes people, their priorities, their perspectives, how they view life. Life is no longer about what we’d like to do in the next year or two years. It’s about ‘how do I survive?’. In many ways, that’s also what the pandemic has made us realise.

You’ve done extensive and notable work in theatre. Is it true that theatre is the true test of acting?

110 per cent. It’s the ultimate test because there’s no action and cut in between. You have to let go of yourself completely for a certain amount of time. When you’re on stage and the show is running, there is no room for mistakes or retakes. I’ve had moments where you’re on set and something breaks or some light doesn’t go off or a cue doesn’t work or you forget a line. There’s no room for ‘let me fix it’. You have to fix it right there. It’s as liberating as it is daunting. As soon as the curtains open, you have to forget about your own life for the next two-and-a-half hours and it’s so relaxing. I don’t have to worry about my life. It’s almost therapeutic.

Lastly, what are your future plans?

What I’m shooting right now is something very exciting that you’ll find out about very soon. There are a few scripts I’m reading. I’m trying to explore my limits as an artiste. There are always these people who fully dive into the roles and change themselves completely. That’s the kind of work I’m looking for now, something a bit more nuanced. The only thing that is confirmed is the production of Hamlet coming out in 2023. It has been delayed by three years but it’s finally happening. Last time we did the production, it was in a 300-seat capacity theatre and now, it’ll be in a 1,500-seat capacity. We’re very excited.

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