- Warning: Spoilers ahead for “The OA.”
- Actor Kingsley Ben-Adir joined “The OA” cast for its “Part Two” season as Karim Washingston.
- In an interview with INSIDER, Ben-Adir spoke about crying after watching “Part One” for the first time, how Karim’s costume could have a deeper meaning, and his reaction to the mind-melting “Part Two” finale.
Netflix’s original sci-fi/drama series “The OA” is hard to describe. Even the show’s stars, including newcomer Kingsley Ben-Adir (who plays Karim Washington), have a hard time explaining succinctly what is happening with the inter-dimensional travel, body switching, and spiritual symbolism.
“It’s unguessable, and fascinating,” Ben-Adir said in an interview INSIDER when asked about the latest season finale. “What can I say about it? It’s just something I don’t think anyone would have been able to guess.”
We spoke with Ben-Adir about how he joined “The OA,” his reactions to the various twists and turns of the series, and trusting in co-creators Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling.
Kim Renfro: How did you come to the role of Karim Washington?
Kingsley Ben-Adir: An audition came through, and it was like, “Get this tape done ASAP – you have 24 hours.” So it was a big rush to get it done. Karim felt like a really cool character on the page. He had attitude without attitude being his whole thing. He was cool, he was intelligent, he was sharp, he was trying to work out this problem [of the missing girl]. It just felt like a really intriguing part.
I didn’t know what the show was. I quickly Googled it, but I just decided to spend most of my time just getting the lines under my belt and try to hone in on the character.
Then Zal and Brit invited me out to LA to hang out with them in Silverlake in the writers’ room. I watched [season one of] the show before I flew out for the meeting.
We hung out for an afternoon, we spent about four or five hours together just chilling and talking about the character and life and their journey into the business in Hollywood and their movies and how I got into it. We just really f—— clicked. They offered me the part, and that was it.
Renfro: When you watched the first season, what was the biggest thing that surprised you? The show unfolds in really unexpected ways, and I’m curious as to what your first reaction was once you understood the scope of the story.
Ben-Adir: By the time I got to the end, I was in tears. I was really moved by that final scene when the kids all come together and get to do the movements. It was this eight-hour build up, where we don’t know if she’s crazy or if she’s real, if that story is something she’s making up or it’s not.
She’s trying to recruit this team of rejects and misfit kids and the teacher to like trust in her and believe in her, and then the situation comes up and that trust finally kicks in and they do it… it was so powerful. It’s a really nice feeling knowing you’re going [to have a part in] something that has that kind of power and to be in something that you were moved by.
That scene in the hospital when she doesn’t recognise her parents, all the hairs on the back of my neck just stood up. I was just like, “What the f— is going on?!” That’s just constantly happening throughout [“The OA”], you’re just like “What the hell is this? What is going on?”
The wonderful thing about “The OA” is that it really requires your creative involvement as well. It requires you to like trust in it and be with it. Like a novel, you can go back and every time you go back you see something else and people are interested in like, “Oh, did you see that in the set? Did you see that in the costume?” People get really into the show and that’s a beautiful thing.
I was fascinated by the story. I was engaged emotionally in this character and the story. It sounds simple but it’s not always the case, you know? Sometimes you just gotta do the job.
Renfro: Talking about those details, one thing I noticed was the T-shirt you wear on episode two, in the scene with Karim and the two women in a bar. The shirt is from The Virgil, a venue in LA, but “Virgil” pinged something in my brain because of the character Homer. Homer and Virgil were the two ancient poets who wrote “The Odyssey” and “The Aeneid”. I was wondering if you know if that name was intentionally referencing Virgil the poet.
Ben-Adir: It might. Knowing Zal, it probably could be. The costume was something we really spent a lot of time working out. I think we had seven or eight outfits to play with and we tried to really refine each one of those to feel different.
We wanted Karim to feel stylish, but in an effortless way. We wanted him to feel colourful without being too flamboyant. We just wanted him to stand out, like a P.I. that we hadn’t seen before. The process of the sizing each one of those looks was ongoing, and Zal was very much at the forefront of that. He let me have my creative input and it took a while to find a balance.
If you see something in that T-shirt, that could well have been a plant of Zal’s because often he’d fight me for certain things that he wanted in, costume-wise. Sometimes I won and sometimes he did, but I think we found a good balance together.
Renfro: Can you tell me a little bit more about Karim’s relationship with Mo?
Ben-Adir: The audition process for that character was going on as I arrived in LA, and Zal let me take part in that with him. We met different people but Zoe [Chao’s] tape, hands down, there was just something about it, something about her energy that was just, to me, “That’s Mo.” No one came close.
She was so natural and charming and different. We fit from the beginning – the way she played Mo just felt like someone who Karim could have been with for seven years. They were together for a long time, but she wanted to have kids and that thing happens where you just drift apart and want different things but they’re still able to kind of find this little bit of friendship in their relationship.
Renfro: I’d love to talk with you about that final scene and the rose window, and the dove and Michelle/Ian. What was your reaction to reading that script, and how did you interpret it?
Ben-Adir: I was like, “Wow, it’s genuinely going to an unimaginable place.” It’s unguessable. And fascinating. What can I say about it? It’s just something I don’t think anyone would have been able to guess. I certainly didn’t.
My focus was really about Karim and what he was going through emotionally, who he was, what his journey was and how the guy we met at the beginning gets to where he gets to in the end when he sees [The OA] and what’s happening there. It’s kind of like a spiritual awakening […] finally he trusts what he sees. It’s so wild and I don’t even know how to sum up how I feel about or what it means but yeah … it’s out there.
To be honest with you, I still need to watch [the last three episodes]. So I’m just going off the script and what I remember from shooting. I’m in New York on a job, so I’ve just been on set filming something else. I want to sit down and give the final three or four hours of “The OA” my undivided attention.
Renfro: Do you and the other cast members talk about your theories as to what’s going on and what would happen in a potential part three?
Ben-Adir: No, not really, actually. I trust [Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling] and I think it’s good for us as cast members that it’s a secret and a surprise. There’s this urge to want to know, like, “Where do I go? Am I gonna be in it? What’s going to be happening in next year? January? Am I gonna be filming?” The whole show is a practice in letting go and just going with the flow.
I don’t know where it’s going, and I trust them and I stopped asking questions. I think [both Jason Isaacs and I] know some bits and pieces, but we were speaking about this the other day and it’s like, those guys have plotted this out. They have got five seasons in mind, they spent two years really carefully piecing the whole thing together, so they know what they’re doing.
Like all these American shows, they sign [the whole cast] up for five years for their safety and it keeps them in a secure place so they have creative flexibility. You could be signed up to something for five years and not be used in [every season]. So we’ll just see. I’m excited to find out but I’ll leave it to them, I’m sure you’ll find out, too.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
“The OA” is streaming now on Netflix. You can read all of INSIDER’s coverage of the series here.
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