The young actor who plays The Master’s arch-nemesis of the Time Lord talks about his new role in The Great and explains how he overcame the doubts in his trailer that traumatized him.
It may have been one of the greatest moments of his career when Sacha Dhawan learned that he had been chosen to play Doctor Who’s villain, The Master. He says, “My agent was ecstatic,” “The BBC was ecstatic.” But he wasn’t. He says, “I hung up the phone and couldn’t have felt sadder,” The cause, it turns out, is a secret war with fear that for years Dhawan has been fighting.
The chance was too great to pass up, but its size felt insurmountable at that moment. He says, “I would be the first British South Asian actor to play the master,” So I don’t just represent the world, I represent my culture.
And if I screw that up, they’re not going to cast another actor in that role in South Asia.
Now, in retrospect, Dhawan admits that he behaved quite catastrophically, but his concerns were genuine. The saddest thing about this business is that if you have anything like anxiety, no one would know because on set you still have to have the confidence. No one will know that you’re sitting in your trailer, not having your lunch because you’re trying to sleep because you’re trying to switch off the anxiety. Before a scene, the heartbreak I went through was the fear I wouldn’t deliver.
Dhawan is currently starring in The Wonderful, a series just released on Channel 4.
The series chronicles Catherine the Great’s life and stars Dhawan in a comic drama that is both riotous and visceral alongside Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult. (During a sex act, one character drowns himself).
Not to be confused with Catherine’s lover, Count Orlov, Dhawan plays Orlo, who actually didn’t exist in real life.
But this brash take on the facts sounds very refreshing in an era where pundits scorn The Crown for not being a verbatim representation of past events.
Tony McNamara, who was nominated for an Oscar as the co-writer of The Favorite, wrote it. “He sees it as the story of a young woman who marries a jerk and then attempts to kill him,” says Dhawan.”
And that’s all you need to know.” One of the tidbits of the series is Dhawan’s journey from a mild-mannered courtier to something much meatier.”
Now 36, Dhawan has been acting more or less steadily since the age of 10, when he starred in Out of Sight, an ITV children’s series. He made the leap from there to The History Boys, where, alongside Russell Tovey and James Corden, he appeared. Prior to landing a starring role in the Marvel series Iron Fist, he had roles in 24 and Line of Duty. Then came Doctor Who and The Wonderful, but at the cost of his mental health, the flood of work came.
He was offered his first real opportunity by Lockdown to seek support. He says of the first move, “It was scary as hell,” “Especially because we guys don’t talk about these things very much.
And the culture in South Asia is still not very good at communicating about these things.
You are conditioned to feel like a failure in certain respects, that you are letting down your group a little bit.
It was an actor who proposed psychosynthesis from The Great, a therapy focused on dialogue that focuses on personal development. It really gets you to articulate your feelings.”It really gets you to articulate your thoughts.” “When you take that step, you realize you’re not alone. You think, ‘Why didn’t I do this before?'”
Most of his anxiety stems from his sense of identity, Dhawan believes. “It’s confused,” he says. “I spent so many years saying, ‘Okay, I’m not brown enough and I’m not white enough.’ ‘ When you walk onto a set and you don’t see anyone who’s like you, you think, ‘You’re just lucky to be here, so shut up.'”
He started to interact with other South Asian creators during the lockdown. “I’ve been distancing myself from this culture since I was a kid,” he says. “There were only two brown kids in my school – and we used to pass each other without looking up.” His first contact was writer Nikesh Shukla, with whom he made a film for YouTube: Yash Gill’s Power Half Hour, a brilliant short film about mental health in which he played the seemingly cheerful title standup.
Pressure to be a guy