Sacha Dhawan

Playing the Right Roles

Sacha Dhawan began as a child actor, but hit his first dry spell when he reached adulthood. At 18 years old, he unenthusiastically worked in his father’s clothing store for ten hour shifts, writing poetry to pass the time and keep up his morale. So when he received a chance to audition for the play, The History Boys, Sacha decided to perform a poem he wrote, referencing the work of the playwright, Alan Bennett. Sacha was familiar with Bennett’s work from his studies in school, and Bennett later went on to say that it was Sacha’s poetry that made him a standout. Sacha ended up booking the role of a lifetime as part of the original London and Broadway cast of The History Boys, as well as playing the role on-screen in the feature film.

Sacha then hit a stride, starring in Britain’s Channel 4 feature length drama, Bradford Riots, based on the real, racially heated riots among Pakistani Muslim populations in Bradford, England. As a result, Sacha won the Royal Television Society’s Breakthrough Award for his emotional performance. His succeeding television and film credits are incredibly varied, with a leading role in Channel 4’s Not Safe for Work and British prime time favorite, Mr. Selfridge, as well as a significant role in BBC’s Sherlock. His most recent score has landed him in the Marvel universe as the villain, Davos, in the Netflix series, Iron Fist, and a starring role in the upcoming feature film, The Boy with the Topknot. Sacha’s less than enthusiastic performance as a store clerk in his father’s shop was merely a miscast in his life, because as he’s proven time and time again, Sacha stands out when he’s given the right role.

Playing the villain, Davos, in Iron Fist, are there any humanizing aspects you want to bring across?
At end of the day, his human aspect is his relationship with Danny Rand. I wanted them to be more like brothers, which they are. The heart of the story is not that Danny Rand became the Iron Fist, it’s that he became the Iron Fist and then he abandoned their world. After growing up together and living together, and being prepared to risk their own lives for one another, his best friend and brother to him suddenly leaves. I actually love playing villains, because you’ve got to work on their reasons for why they do what they do. Once you do that, I think the character becomes really interesting.

As an actor of color, has there been an evolution over the years in the roles you go up for?
Yeah, I think the evolution is always happening. Specifically now, I think something quite exciting is happening with fellow artists of ethnic backgrounds—Mindy Kaling, Riz Ahmed, and Aziz Ansari. What I really appreciate is hearing stories regardless of what background you’re from. In order to be part of this evolution, to make change, it’s actually the projects you don’t do [that are important]. I’ve had to turn down quite a lot of stuff, which is really difficult because I’ve got to make a living. But in the long term what it’s meant is I’ve gotten to play an array of different characters regardless of color. From doing Iron Fist, which is part of the Marvel universe, and getting to play a superhero from a different world, to then playing The Boy with the Topknot, and being able to play a lead role in a primetime drama.

How did you prepare for your intense role in Bradford Riots?
Bradford Riots was this key moment where I was really interested in this idea of telling interesting stories. I’m actually from Manchester, which is quite close to Bradford, so I spent quite a bit of time in Bradford just to understand not only the community, but the guys who live there. I felt like I had a duty to give the community an identity. And I think it relates to now. People are so eager to generalize at the moment, particularly about Muslim men. I’m really keen, when the right opportunity comes along, to give a voice to that community. To not generalize, and to make people realize that each person is unique and different, regardless of their ethnicity.

Text Zee Chang
Photography Leigh Keily