'Sweetbitter' star Daniyar opens up about bagging the 'gay, Russian immigrant' role in the new Starz show
He may be Russian and bald in all his roles but Daniyar says each character he plays is completely different from the others
Just a couple of weeks since its premiere, Starz's new series 'Sweetbitter' already has a huge fan following. One character from the show that has become the cynosure of all eyes is Sasha — the gay, Russian immigrant who is befriended by the show's protagonist Tess (played by Ella Purnell) shortly after his arrival in New York City.
Sasha is a flamboyant, bold, dynamic, out and proud man who is equal parts vulnerable and strong. The role is oh-so-beautifully portrayed by the infinitely talented Daniyar who claims to have jumped at the opportunity to audition for the role as soon as he heard about it.
Meaww spoke with Daniyar about his portrayal of Sasha and his upcoming projects. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
What was your reaction on landing the role of Sasha in 'Sweetbitter'? Were you aware of the book before the audition?
Daniyar: When I found out that Laura Rosenthal and Jodi Angstreich were casting a gay, Russian immigrant for an upcoming television show based on Stephanie Danler's bestseller 'Sweetbitter', I immediately called my manager and said, “This is my role and we need to do anything to get an audition”.
I wrote a letter to the casting office and explained why I should be the one to play Sasha. I read the book and absolutely fell in love with the character. The book helped me dive into the world of 'Sweetbitter' and to understand Sasha on a much deeper level.
Could you walk us through the auditioning process? Were any "chemistry" tests involved? At what point did you know that you have nailed it?
Daniyar: It was a self-taped audition. I worked with six different people on it. The casting office reached out to me with some adjustments and then another week later they scheduled a meeting with Stephanie Danler, Stuart Zicherman and Richard Shepard — the show's producers — via Skype.
Could you tell us a little bit about Sasha and his equation with Tess?
Daniyar: Sasha is a force of nature. He is flamboyant, bold, dynamic and strong, but at the same time he is vulnerable and afflicted. He is "everything". His relationships with Tess changes through the show. Like any relationship, it grows and evolves. In their case, they became very close to each other. I think from the very beginning they had an unspoken bond. Tess is the only person who sees Sasha in his grief and tries to comfort him, although it doesn't go well for her in that moment. Sasha respects and sees her for who she is — a "babymonster".
Also, I would love to add that working with Ella Purnell was a truly fantastic experience. She has the most generous, golden and vulnerable heart I have seen in a human being. She’s hardworking, super talented and has taught me a lot. We had the chance to spend time together outside of acting and build a friendship off camera. So it was easy and joyful to transfer that onto the screen. I absolutely adore her.
How did you prepare to play Shasha? How similar, or different, is his personality from yours?
Daniyar: I read the book, ate out and worked on the role with amazing people such as my coach Chris Holder and my friends Salvador Lopez Jr, Jason Stuart and Anna Gulyaeva. For this role, I had to undergo continuous change in myself and in every area of my life. I was forced to face my insecurities and my deepest fears — that helped me connect with Sasha's character. We have a lot in common, including the pain of being a gay immigrant from Russia.
'Sweetbitter' is the story of a young woman from a small town who tries to navigate the chaotic lifestyle in the big city. Do you personally identify with this story?
Daniyar: Very much so. I moved to New York from Russia when I was 20. I had no family, friends, money, work experience or any understanding of who I was as a person.
Will we be seeing you in the second season of 'Claws'? What can you tell us about the new season?
Daniyar: Yes, I will be coming back for the second season and I am very delighted about that. I will just say that season two will be wilder and more Russian.
What are the top things on your career bucket list in terms of directors and actors you want to work with, genres you want to explore and roles you want to play?
Daniyar: There are so many people I would like to work with and roles I would like to explore. Since I was a kid, I have loved fashion and I have been absolutely enchanted by Alexander McQueen’s 'The Untamed Genius'. So, to be able to play him would be mind-blowing. I cannot wait for the new documentary about him that is coming out this summer.
Directorially, Xavier Dolan is definitely on my bucket list. I admire his aesthetic, depth, emotionality, sexuality and the intimacy he builds in his films.
Do you ever find yourself getting typecast into certain type of roles? If so, it that something that bothers you? Or do you believe that, with each character belonging to a different universe, you can bring a new personality?
Daniyar: So far, I have been fortunate to play very different roles despite being Russian and bald. But, ultimately, I think it is an actor's job to find humanity in every character. Just as no two people in the world are the same, no two roles can be the same.
What was your journey to stardom like? Did you have to do the quintessential odd jobs before your big break?
Daniyar: Of course, it comes with the territory. You name it, I have done it.
You can watch Daniyar as Sasha on 'Sweetbitter' every Sunday night at 8 pm E/P on STARZ and on the STARZ app