Kubbra Sait makes a grand entry into the television adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation is a story with layers of themes, an interaction of technology, religion, and government. Modelled on Edward Gibbon’s classic The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in Asimov’s series humanity battles against a galactic descent into thousands of years of barbarism, giving way to a story that’s relevant even in the era of “big data” society. It’s always been a complicated project for Hollywood but finally it has made it to a screen near you… in your living room, via Apple TV+. Foundation is one of the most richly mounted shows on TV, at times appearing too ambitious but the next minute it’s intriguing.
Asimov’s essays and books had a lot to say and so does this show. And helping it shine and stay engrossing for TV audience are moments when showrunner David S. Goyer departs from the source material, like with the character Phara, played by none other than Kubbra Sait, who makes a brilliant entry towards the end of the third episode with a simple but effective line: “Easy. Drop your weapon.”
“As a concept where anything is possible and the grandest things can be achieved with the littlest or the maximum effort, I think that was something conveyed in the script to me and I think that was good enough. When you receive a call from Tess Joseph (casting director) saying, ‘I need you’, you really don’t ask too many questions. You go prepared to deliver at your audition. She was really tight-lipped about it and said: ‘Well, we can’t tell you what it’s for, but I just need you to do well.’ We did well. We got a call back and the next thing I know is that this is the Isaac Asimov Foundation. Then there was more — David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman have conceptualised it. Then when we started shooting, I got to know that I was working with Alex Graves, who directed (a few episodes of) Game of Thrones,” Sait said over a video call.
‘We are still the people that we are’
For Goyer, the worlds created by Asimov in the novels are startlingly timeless. Empires are falling all the time. At the moment, in the midst of a global pandemic, the world is going through these absolutely massive upheavals. It’s something that clouded the mind of the 38-year-old actress. “I would read these lines sometimes and just chuckle. I’m like how, how? There are some lines that have obviously been devised to kind of say what’s going on in today’s world. So there’s a beautiful bridge, a seamless bridge between 50 years ago and the times today. And to say we are really not that different because we are some sort of humanity that exists or that survives after the great downfall. We find ourselves in a different galaxy but we are still human beings, we are still the people that we are.”
Sait has achieved several milestones with her work on streaming platforms, Sacred Games to Illegal, while her career on the big screen has been equally enviable. But the Apple TV+ show puts her on a global footing, something she is well aware of.
“I love how people think going to the West and working there spoils you. I think it’s an experience, right? I can’t go to an Indian restaurant and eat Chinese food. It just doesn’t make sense, so when you go to a Chinese restaurant, you enjoy Chinese food. You need to have the expanse in your mind to experience both. Instead of being spoilt, if you can learn something, and then blend the two… I think that’s what builds a repertoire; that’s what adds to one’s confidence and that’s what adds to one’s experience. If I had the time, resources and means and had gone to an acting school or a drama school, just to learn this craft, I probably would not have learned as much as I did while doing what I have on the job. Here I was working with nothing but the best,” said Sait.
Bringing her uniqueness to the stage
Though the show adheres to the crux of Asimov’s literary creation, to appeal to contemporary audiences and better reflect the world as we know it today, some changes have been made. In early science fiction, women tended to be ancillary characters. So, gender flipping has taken place to an extent while Sait’s role is not there in the literary work, which has also helped her.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate that I’m a part of this mammoth adaptation but thankfully my character hasn’t been in any of these books. So I could get around to not necessarily reading the books but to answer what’s sci-fi for me like, I don’t think I was ever the person who was instantly drawn towards sci-fi. So not having like a plethora of knowledge around the sci-fi universe actually helped me perform because I was able to bring my uniqueness to this international stage… to this set up. I think, more importantly, it brought in a degree of individuality, which is exactly what David intended to capture. He wanted every planet to look different. He wanted every dweller of the planet to look different, sound different.”
And after working on this show, she is in awe of Asimov’s works more than ever before. “So many films have been inspired by his books… by Isaac Asimov and his thoughts around how robotics should work in the world we live in and its implications on our lives… he wrote all of this so many decades ago. He was truly a forward-thinking writer.”
The few episodes of Foundation that have aired have been met with praises from fans of the sci-fi genre. Praises for her role in the show is rolling in. “What is interesting to me personally as an artiste and as a performer on the show is that the writers, producers and the network itself has so much confidence in the content they have created, that they’re like: ‘We know it’s worth everybody’s time.’ I know that everybody is going to watch it, understand it but, more importantly, absorb it and I think with the recent times when we’ve been sitting at home and binging things mindlessly, even this allows you to simmer.”
And it helps that a new episode of the show streams every Friday instead of all the episodes arriving together. “Personally, I’m old school and I love the old-school TV format. It’s exciting when it’s Friday and I want to watch a new episode of Foundation. I want to watch the next episode and it becomes something that you do with your friends or you do with your family and you’re like: ‘I’m looking forward to it.’”
Foundation is giving Sait as much global attention as Sait’s presence is giving Apple TV+ to hold out a promise, a promise of having more stars from Asia feature on its unique programming mix. And she is open to working on the web as much as in films. “Foundation is probably one of the biggest shows made when we speak about the web itself. And to be supported by Apple TV+, which is the carrier of this show, it’s been an incredible journey. Why should I put myself into a box when I can be fluid? We’re all human beings and art is fluid, so if I receive the opportunity to do a big film, I’ll jump on board. And if I’m doing something that is on web and is a great story, then I will jump on board. I think that’s the spirit, I want to be associated with great stories.”
After all, change is constant and though it can be frightening, we’re continually going through cycles of revolution, a theme discussed on the show. Humans have been successful not because they are the fastest or the strongest, but because they are the smartest. And to continue to be successful, we have to remain smart, something Kubbra Sait knows well.