I spoke with Arjun Gupta about The Magicians. Arjun brings Penny to life in the Syfy series. Don’t let Penny’s tough exterior fool you because he has probably put himself on the line, both physically and mentally, more than anyone else in the group. Arjun was wonderful to speak with. He proved that even boring shopping lists sound cool when he reads them with that velvety voice. I’m pretty sure that’s a thing now thanks to him. Check it out on Instagram. Arjun also runs the Ammunition Theatre Company and the American Desis podcast. They are both worth checking out. His podcasts are interesting and fun. The Magicians airs Monday nights at 9/8c on Syfy.
Lena: The Magicians is the best new show on television. I’m so glad that you guys are getting a second season. Looking ahead, what do you want to see more of next season?
Arjun Gupta: Thank you. That’s kind of you to say. I’m thrilled, too. I honestly haven’t thought that much about what next season is going to be. I do not envy the writers. There are so many relationships that we set up and start exploring. There’s stuff that happens in episode ten, where I go and where I’m at when I touch the button, that I’d like to see keep being explored in the second season. There are some relationships that, sort of, develop towards the end of this season that I think would be really interesting to keep exploring in the next season. For me, the exciting part of this story and these books and our show especially is about these characters and these characters developing and who they start to become as people and how they navigate, essentially growing up because that’s what they all are doing. They are growing up in these extraordinary circumstances. So for me, it’s just going to be continuing that journey.
Lena: You have a fantastic voice. You could read a shopping list and make it sound cool.
Arjun Gupta: [Laughing.] Thank you. I actually did that on Instagram. Someone tweeted at me and asked if I would read their grocery list. They didn’t believe that I would do it, so I did it. That’s on Instagram somewhere. I’m just reading some groceries out. Toilet paper sounds real sexy when you talk about it. Toilet paper.
Lena: [Laughing.] No, you do make it sound good.
Arjun Gupta: Listen, I’m loving this interview already. We can keep talking about how sexy my voice is if you want. [Laughing.]
Lena: [Laughing.] I bet when you auditioned for Penny they knew instantly that they wanted you for the part.
Arjun Gupta: There is actually a funny story about the audition. I auditioned for Penny with the casting director and then Sera brought me in, the next round was with the creator/showrunner and all-around wonderful human being Sera Gamble. She brought me in for both Penny and Eliot. I read for both Penny and Eliot and I actually responded more to Eliot, at that point in the audition process. I said that I wanted to test for Eliot. I was actually going down the path to test for Eliot, which would have been really bad for me because Hale is Eliot. There is no way that anyone should or would play Eliot as well as Hale Appleman has and does. It was a fascinating experience because a few days before the test, the final round of auditions, I got a call from my agent and Mike Cahill, who had gotten on board to be our director—brilliant man that I was actually just texting with this morning, he said that he wanted to bring me in to try Penny again. He said that he wanted to explore something with me. I went in to work with him, and I loved the idea that the director wanted to work with me on something. I loved that collaboration. As we were working on it, I realized that there was a lot going on with Penny. There was a lot that I would love to explore. It really stretched me and challenged me as an artist. I auditioned for it and fortunately, ended up getting it.
Lena: That’s great. Eliot and Penny are my favorite characters on the show.
Arjun Gupta: They are an interesting pairing. Hale and I thought about that a lot. Episode nine is the first time that we really had interactions together. There was like a rivalry, of sort, that was different than with Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Penny because I think that Penny actually has a little respect for Eliot. I think that Eliot and Penny come from similar places of pain. I think there is a respect level that they have for each other. I don’t think they like each other that much because, you know, Penny doesn’t really like people. Long story short, I’m saying that Hale and I want more scenes together. [Laughing.]
Lena: That would be really good. Penny is an intriguing character. One minute, he’s a bit of a jerk and the next minute he’s breaking your heart.
Arjun Gupta: I think that’s true about most people that come across as angry. Anger is simply a mask for fear and pain. I think that’s what was exciting for me—I wanted to build on that. I wanted to build someone that was so standoffish and so distrustful because I had to get on the same page and build that vision around it. Even in the audition process having Sera, John, and Mike Cahill say that’s where they were coming from with the character was really exciting. I was really grateful that Sera, John, and the whole writing staff, as the arc of the season went on you see more and more of putting this guy in situations where you see him vulnerable. You can see the reasons behind where it’s coming from. I appreciate that it’s having an impact.
Lena: Penny’s relationship with Quentin is one for the ages. Penny’s face, pretty much whenever Quentin opens his mouth, is priceless.
Arjun Gupta: It’s a fun relationship. Jason and I have a blast working together. I love working with everyone. Those scenes are really fun partly because of the relationship that we get to play. I think it’s a really interesting story. I’m really excited to see where that relationship goes as it continues. There is obviously some deep brotherhood between the two characters that’s unknown to either of them and hasn’t been explored yet. It’s interesting.
Lena: Things don’t work out quite so well for the animals on your show. [Laughing.] [I have a soft spot for animals that are “murdered” in shows/films. I know it’s not real! I just always find myself saying, “No, not the bunny.” I’m also looking at you Fargo and Salem.]
Arjun Gupta: Do they not? [Laughing] I guess they don’t. It’s so funny that you say that because I’ve never met a cast that loves animals more than this one.
Lena: Cancer Puppy and then that bunny. Don’t get me started on what Mike (Jesse Luken) did to that bunny before he stabbed Penny.
Arjun Gupta: [Laughing.] You’re right. That’s true. Well, we haven’t gotten to Fillory. Obviously, everyone knows that we are going to get there because we’ve touched upon it and at some point we are going to get there. Things will be different there, I think, for the animal lovers. That bunny scene was a little graphic. I hadn’t seen that. There was a lot of blood in that episode.
Lena: So, you think we’re good with the animal deaths this season? [Laughing.]
Arjun Gupta: I have to think about it now. I don’t want to say… Can I safely say yes? Yes, I want to safely say yes. [Laughing.] That’s the first time I’ve been asked that.
Lena: Penny delivers some exceptional burns, but generally there is some good advice in there. What’s the best advice that Penny has ever given?
Arjun Gupta: The best advice that Penny has ever given is coming up in episode twelve. I think Penny gives some solid advice to Quentin. Essentially, what he’s saying is go for what you want and you have to be true and real with people. You can’t act like you don’t like someone when everyone knows that you do. No one is going to respond to that. He’s basically saying that it’s time to grow up. How we grow up is that we take ownership of who we are. We take ownership of our actions and we take ownership for the type of person we want to be, for the way we want to walk and talk in the world. That’s what growing up really is. Penny still has to learn that in his own right because I don’t think that he shares his vulnerability at all, but he understands that ownership of who you are is really important. I think that Penny takes ownership of who he is, in some ways, more than most of that group. I think there’s many ways in which he is still learning.
Lena: If you had Penny’s abilities, where would you travel to first?
Arjun Gupta: I was actually just on the phone with my grandmother in India and they are having dinner right now, so that’s the first place that I would go. Someone asked me that earlier in the season and I said Cuba. I think the moon. I’d see what that’s all about up there. I don’t know, if I could travel to other worlds I just don’t think I would stop traveling. There are so many places in the world that I would go to. There is a street in Japan that is fully covered by trees organically—it’s not man-made. I would just go and walk through that and maybe hang out and read. There is literally nowhere that I wouldn’t go. I would see it all.
Lena: In the preview for the next episode, we see Penny reaching out to Quentin for help. Can you talk about that?
Arjun Gupta: That’s an unfortunate situation for Penny—that he has to rely on Quentin. Penny finds himself in an incredibly dangerous and precarious situation without any means of reaching out to anyone. He has to reach out to Quentin. Quentin is seemingly the person that would have the information about this. Quentin has to spring into action. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to see those roles reversed and also see that the relationship isn’t one-sided. Quentin does have value in the world. It sends Quentin and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) on a really beautiful journey that I’m excited for the world to see. You won’t talk about Penny in a more vulnerable position because there is not a more vulnerable position that Penny could be in than he is in, in the next episode. It’s really exciting. People thought that when Kady (Jade Tailor) broke Penny’s heart that it was bad, it was of course, but that was just the start of the descent. This is the next point that kick-starts to another level of descent. Penny is in for quite the ride over the next few episodes.
Lena: I really hope that we get a Kady and Penny moment to wrap up the season.
Arjun Gupta: Maybe you will or maybe you won’t.
Lena: What can you say about the rest of the season? What can fans expect?
Arjun Gupta: A lot is going to happen. It’s going to be a crazy ride. Honestly, episode nine, that just aired, and what happens in episode ten really set the final chapter of the season up. There’s going to be a lot more to deal with The Beast (Charles Mesure) as we go forward. The Beast becomes much more present in our story.
Lena: They do a great job with the special effects on the show.
Arjun Gupta: There is an incredible design team—Rachel O’Toole is our production designer, Pat O’Brien is our prop master, Darren Morcombe is our special effects coordinator, Mugali Guidasci is the brilliant costume designer that we have. It’s a pretty remarkable design team that we have up there that I’m pretty sure that we are locking them down. I’m so excited to get back to work with those guys. To me, that’s one of the most exciting things about going back is to be able to work with these amazing collaborators up in Vancouver. Honestly, from the locations team, who are an underrated team that doesn’t get enough credit, all the way up to our line producers—they are just amazing human beings that I get to work with.
Lena: What else are you working on?
Arjun Gupta: I run a theatre company in Los Angeles called Ammunition Theatre Company. We just closed our first play, which is an exciting run. I would love for people to stay on the lookout for what we are doing. I do a weekly podcast called American Desis that I co-host with one of my closet friends, Akaash Singh. Those are the two projects that I get to express myself through.
The Magicians airs Monday nights at 9/8c on Syfy.
Follow Arjun on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ArjunGuptaBK
American Desis: https://audioboom.com/channel/americandesispodcast
Ammunition Theatre Company: http://ammunitiontheatre.com/
The Magicians: http://www.syfy.com/themagicians