Avan Jogia Interview – ‘Tut,’ Playing an Egyptian Pharaoh, and the Research Process

Avan Jogia Interview - 'Tut' and Playing a Pharaoh
Avan Jogia stars in Spike TV’s ‘Tut’

Spike TV’s set to air the fascinating mini-series Tut beginning on July 19, 2015 at 9pm ET/PT. The mini-series will play over three nights and stars Avan Jogia (Twisted) as the Boy King, Tutankhamun. Sir Ben Kingsley co-stars as Tut’s trusted adviser, Vizier, with Kylie Bunbury, Sibylla Deen, Nonso Anozie, and Alexander Siddig in supporting roles.

The Plot: Spike’s Tut recounts, for the first time on television, a dramatized saga of one of history’s most extraordinary rulers, Tutankhamun aka King Tut, his rise to power and his struggle to lead Egypt to glory, while his closest advisors, friends and lovers scheme for their own nefarious interests. Thrust into power after the murder of his father, Tut is forced to marry his strong willed, ambitious half-sister (Deen) in order to maintain the dynasty. In love with a commoner (Bunbury), he struggles to protect her from the jealous queen. And although Tut rules as Pharaoh, he is exploited by a shrewd Grand Vizier (Kingsley), a ruthless military General (Anozie) and a scheming High Priest (Siddig) who look down on him as someone they can control. But through unexpected twists and turns, Tut strives to overcome the odds, rising from a manipulated prince into an unlikely hero who triumphs over his enemies both from within and without leading his kingdom to glory.

In support of mini-series’ premiere, I had the opportunity to do an exclusive interview with Tut‘s star Avan Jogia. Jogia is captivating in the role and even though we all know King Tut died at a young age, his performance will leave viewers hoping for a different outcome.

Avan Jogia Exclusive Interview

What research did you into the period and into King Tutankhamun?

Avan Jogia: “I obviously delved into his life as we know it from a historical standpoint. His death has been in contention since his discovery. And then also just looking at his life and I looked at the Egyptian society, how it was structured. It didn’t change for 3,000 years, but he had a very interesting part of the story. He is born into this structure that has been in place and unchanged for a very long time and his father was probably the first person to really upset the order of things. There’s this weight upon him. What is he going to do as the next in line, the next pharaoh? So, I did as much research as I could from an academic standpoint but also just looked at the way people of power have been treated throughout different eras and what it means to be a ruling figurehead.”

Was there anything in particular in your research that really helped you get into him?

Avan Jogia: “That’s interesting. I mean, just taking the throne at such a young age and looking at the violence, how easily death comes to people of that era, whether it’s through sickness or whatnot. Just that idea that the clock is very much ticking on you and what you’re going to achieve as a ruler. It’s almost like you have to expedite your desires and ambitions and try to get them because you only have a limited time to be remembered by history.

That was always interesting to me, too, and that was something from the script that locked it in for me because there’s this character who, in the script, is in the battles with his armies. Now, we don’t know if that’s true. We don’t have that information yet. There are suggestions that maybe he rode chariots and stuff but we don’t have any firm evidence. But for our story, that’s what happened. I had to think of someone when you’re a boy and you’re going to war, what is going to keep you alive? If you’re not a very skilled warrior, what’s going to keep you alive? It’s just ruthlessness and will and I took that outside of his war life and then also took that into his palace life. This kind of ruthlessness and will to be remembered. A will to not be denied his bloodright.”

Prior to working on this project, did you know anything about Tut?

Avan Jogia: “Yeah, I’ve always been a huge admirer of ancient cultures. I was very big, as a child, very big into Greco-Roman history and mythology, and so Egyptian mythology always interested me. But I never really delved into it the way that I have done now. It’s the god structure. It’s a very interesting culture. It’s the longest ruling empire the world has ever known. It’s mind boggling.”

Was Tut something that when you first read the script or were approached about the project, you knew immediately you were going to jump into?

Avan Jogia: “Yes. As an actor I’m always looking for, and I think that most actors are looking for, an excuse to immerse themselves or bury themselves with something. I think that when you get handed this kind of script and it’s written the way that it is, you’re lucky. You’re thankful just to be given the opportunity to immerse yourself in it. I think that that’s a desire of most actors.”

What do you think about this being a mini-series rather than a lengthy series or even a 12 episode limited series? Do you think that the mini-series format is right for telling this particular tale?

Avan Jogia: “For telling this tale? Absolutely. I love the mini-series format. I think that what it does is it allows us to explore the character deeper than a movie could. It allows us to explain subtleties that a movie couldn’t because you have more time. I think that it’s better than an unlimited series, a continuous series, because you’re able to trace the arc. You have a destination. You know where you’re going. I got all 500 pages of the script flopped down on my desk and I was able to work through all of it in one chunk and knowing where I was meant to be arriving at, I was able to trace an arc more efficiently than you would if you were on a never-ending television show. You have a lot more faith in the writers at that point as to how the arc is going to be on a never-ending television show where as with the mini-series, you’re given that responsibility and ability to follow that arc from beginning to end because you know both points of destination.”

Can you talk about getting prepared physically for this role?

Avan Jogia: “Well, I’d never done anything like this. The action hero thing is very interesting and it’s something I’ve never explored. We did a month and a half of just action, purely fights and stuff like that. We shot it, obviously, all on location in Morocco and when we started shooting the series, it was the end of summer. It was quite hot. 102 degrees in the noon sun and it’s coming down and you’re in an ancient town and there’s nothing around. There’s no trailer, there’s nothing. There’s nowhere to park anything. It was in the middle of this old town. It was an ancient fort that we rebuilt parts of to make look like a proper structure of the time.

The action stuff was incredibly invigorating for me. Me and my brother used to play with sticks in my backyard and imagine all these kinds of things and fight with swords, and now I’m doing it with a $40 million budget. It’s 360. I’m riding a chariot, I’m jumping off the chariot, shooting bows and arrows. It was really, really cool and something I’d never explored before.”

You’re living the dream.

Avan Jogia: [Laughing] “Absolutely, and that’s one of the benefits or reasons I got into acting. It’s just to be able to explore all these incredible fantasies or imaginative scenarios that I had as a kid and do it for real with all the props and the costumes and the swords and the fighting. It’s fun.”

Spike TV Tut Poster

Speaking of the costumes, just stepping into them must have helped you really get into character.

Avan Jogia: “Yeah. I had the wardrobe team come and dress me every morning because a) the costumes are incredibly intricate and hard to get into, and b) as pharaoh, I would imagine, the idea of not being in control. The human being, in the modern age, you get out of bed and you choose the clothes that you want to wear that morning, that you identify with and you go out and you live the life that you want. Pharaohs didn’t have the decision to wear what they wanted to. There was thousands of years tradition behind what they were wearing, so the idea of waking up in the morning and being completely controlled from the beginning of the day to the end of the day is something that was really interesting to me.

I had these wardrobe people come in and they were dressing me and every single piece of wardrobe was handmade for this. Every piece of jewelry was handmade for this. We had an amazing jeweler who was crafting these incredible things with stones, opals. It was just an incredible craftsmanship and artistry to every one of the pieces. So, yes, it’s incredibly helpful as an actor to put on all that gear and then it’s just 360 at that point. You’re looking out at this massive courtyard, everything has been built from scratch, it’s three football field lengths long, it’s 25 foot high columns and you’re wearing all this jewelry and there’s 800 screaming people in front and you’re addressing your nation. It’s hard to act at that point. You don’t have to do a lot of acting.”

Why do you think we’re still so fascinated with that era and with Tut?

Avan Jogia: “I think Tut is such a rare case. It’s such an interesting case why he’s so important. It’s a unique situation. As a pharaoh, he didn’t build the pyramids for instance. He didn’t put up the Sphinx. He didn’t commission the Sphinx. He didn’t do any of the things that are still standing today, but he had the happenstance of being discovered at a time where, in 1922 first of all, it was the first time that globally the news was able to spread in such a fast way with news reels that had just come out. This discovery in Egypt swept across the globe in a way that it hadn’t done before. News hadn’t spread like that before, especially news that wasn’t war-related. It was public interest news and then from there, especially with the curse thing and all, all these interesting things surrounding it and I think it’s just a cultural phenomenon because we don’t have any lasting examples of what it would have been like to see all the jewels and treasures of a pharaoh. It’s something we don’t have. We don’t have any evidence of that. There’s no tombs that are fully intact of a pharaoh.”

And one last question, can you discuss working with Sir Ben Kingsley?

Avan Jogia: “Absolutely. Ben was, first of all, an obviously amazing actor and someone I’ve idolized growing up and incredibly generous to me during the whole process. The structure of the script really is important to him and he did everything in his power to help me feel and put me in that place of being the pharaoh and chief of the Egyptians. He helped me get there and put me in that place and, also, he’s just a very generous actor and completely committed to his work. That’s an infectious thing. It’s an infectious thing to have someone that committed to the job. It was definitely helpful for me.”