The actor who plays Chandra, the rookie defense attorney thrust into the limelight, discusses race in The Night Of, what she brings to the table, and what can be gained from Naz’s trail.
HBO: Do you think Chandra aspires to be more of an Alison Crowe or a John Stone as a lawyer?
Amara Karan: I think neither. Chandra thinks that Alison Crowe is a bit off the scale aggressive. And she thinks John looks like a car crash, so she doesn’t want to be that either. She is young enough to believe I’m not going to be like her and I’m not going to be like him. I’m going to do this my way.
HBO: What do you find most compelling about the storyline?
Amara Karan: The parents’ relationship with Naz made it feel very personal. I felt a visceral connection to what they’re going through. Because the parents are there, Naz feels like someone’s child. He’s not just “a guy in New York.” That was really clear from reading the scripts. And then when we came onto set, I just found it very easy to empathize with and understand what these characters are going through. It felt very organic. I didn’t feel like I had to suddenly create this idea; it was there.
HBO: Is Chandra aware Alison chose her for Naz’s defense because of her background? What do you think Chandra brings to the table as a lawyer?
Amara Karan: On one hand, yes, Alison did bring Chandra along because of her race, but on the other, it is also apparent — and very useful — that Chandra is able to talk to Naz and his family like a normal person. Those parents trust her instantly. Naz trusts her instantly. So it isn’t just about race. I think that is another dimension that makes the story even more interesting and makes Chandra her own person, even though she’s at the bottom of the power system in the beginning. She doesn’t come in utterly grateful and gracious and nice; she knows all of her value in this equation.
HBO: What was it like filming that scene where Chandra questions Mr. Day in the funeral home?
Amara Karan: I love that scene. It’s so unsettling. I have to say, I loved working with Esau Pritchett so much. He’s a really great actor and, because we really liked each other, it was just pure joy to film. I enjoyed being scared and he enjoyed being aggressive. For me, it’s about having chemistry with people — a natural, real chemistry. Obviously, Steven [Zaillian] gave me some wonderful direction. I think he really is one of the best directors I have ever worked with. He knew what he was doing with the script.
HBO: Does it matter to Chandra whether or not Naz actually did it?
Amara Karan: Chandra as a defense attorney is trained to know and understand that it should not matter, because everybody — no matter how guilty they are — has a right to a fair trial. So she knows first and foremost that is the procedure. I think she would continue to defend Naz if she did think that he was guilty, because that is what you sign up for as a defense attorney.
From creators Steven Zaillian and Richard Price, The Night Of is an eight-part limited series that delves into the intricate story of a fictitious murder case in New York City.