WWhen Sacha Dhawan found out that he had been cast to play the evil Master from Doctor Who, it should have been one of the most important moments of his career. “My agent was ecstatic,” he says. ” The BBC was ecstatic.” But it was not like that. “I hung up the phone and I couldn’t have felt sadder,” he says. Turns out the reason is a hidden battle with anxiety that Dhawan had been waging for years.
The opportunity was too great to pass up, but at the time its scale seemed insurmountable. “He would be the first British actor from South Asia to play The Master,” he says. “So I represent not only thUniversese but my community. And if I screw it up, they’re not going to hire another South Asian actor for this. “
Now in hindsight, Dhawan admits that he was getting a bit catastrophic, but his concerns felt real. “ The saddest thing in this business is that no one will know if you have something like anxiety, because you always have to have this confidence on set. No one will know that you have been sitting in your trailer, not eating lunch because you are trying to sleep because you want to turn off your anxiety. The anguish she would go through before a scene, worried about not giving birth, was traumatic. “
Dhawan is currently on The Great, which has just been released on Channel 4. An “occasionally true” period piece chronicling the life of Catherine the Great, the slot series to Dhawan alongside Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult in a dramatic comedy that it’s both wild and visceral. (A character gets dirty during a sexual Dhawan
Dhawan plays Orlo, not to be confused with Catherine’s lover, Count Orlov, who probably did not exist in real life. But, in an age when The Crown is mocked by commentators for not being a pe Heect description of past events, this flippant attitude toward the truth feels quite exhilarating. It is from the pen of Tony McNamara, who was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing The Favorite. “He sees it,” says Dhawan, “as the story of a young woman who marries an idiot and then tries to kill him. And that’s all you need to know. “Dhawan’s journey from meek courtier to something much more substantial is one of the show’s delights.
Now 36, Dhawan has been acting more or less nonstop since the age of 10, when he played the title role in the ITV children’s series Out of Sight. From there, he jumped into The History Boys, appearing on stage alongside Russell Tovey and James Corden. He had roles on 24 and Line of Duty, before earning a major role on Marvel’s Iron Fist series. Then came Doctor Who and The Great, but this torrent of work came at a cost to Lockdownity.
Lockdown gave him his first real chance to seek help. “It was fucking scary,” he says of taking this first step. “Especially since we guys are not very good at talking about these things. And the South Asian community isn’t very good at talking about these things either. Somehow, you are conditiolittlel a little bit of a failure, that you are disappointing youlittley a little bit. “
It was an actor from The Greapsycho synthesis psychosynthesis, a speech-based therapy that focuses on personal growth. “It really helps you articulate your thoughts.” But the nature of the treatment seems secondary to your decision to seek help in the first place. “When you take that leap, you realize that you are not alone. You think, ‘Well, why didn’t I do this earlier?’ “
Dhawan believes that much of his anxiety stems from his sense of identity. “It’s confusing,” he says. “I’ve spent so many years saying, ‘Okay, I’m not brown enough and I’m not white enough. When you go to the sets and you don’t see anyone like you, you think, ‘You’re very lucky to be here, so k Duringur molock down.
During the lockdown, he began connecting with other South Asian creatives. “I have been disassociated from that culture since I was a child,” he says. ” There were only two brown kids in my school, and we used to walk side by side without even looking up.” His first conNike shas the writer Nikesh Shukla, with whom he made a film for YouTube: Yash Gill’s Power Half Hour, a brilliant short film with mental health themes in which he played the seemingly chee Heul standup holder.
“ The pressure of being British from South Asia,” he says, “is that it seems like you’re not just doing it for yourself, but for the whole community. It seems that your success is everyone’s success, but your failures are also everyone’s failure. It shouldn’t be like this anymore. You have to feel safe enough to take risks. “
His career is still on the rockets: The second season of The Great begins production soon, and after what appeared to be a narrow escape for The Master at the end of the last series, he is itching to return to Doctor Who. But for now, Dhawan seems more encouraged by the rediscovery of who he really is. “I feel like I’ve used my parents’ story for so many years,” he says. “When people say, ‘Hey, what’s your story?’ you say, ‘Well my parents came from India.’ ‘Okay, but who are you?’ Though say, ‘I don’t know.
Though he doesn’t feel completely out of the woods yet, his enthusiasm is infectious. He’s in the early stages of producing a new movie, written for two South Asian actors, about which he doesn’t want to say too much, though he asks, “Why can’t we be in a science fiction movie? Why does it have to be arranged marriages or terrorism? ”
When we start to finish, Dhawan makes another admission. “I had a conversation with The Guardian years ago,” he says. “ They were asking about identity. And although all these things were here in my heart, I was too scared to say what I felt. I was like, ‘Your opinion doesn’t matter. You are not as eloquent as Riz Ahmed, so shut up. ‘
I tell you that your frankness will probably help those in a similar position. “It’s really scary,” he replies. “You are the first person that I have really gone into detail with. someone, andtioned my anxiety to someone and they replied, ‘Don’t you worry that people think about not choosing you for that?’ ”. When I leave, I tell Dhawan how much I enjoyed The Great. “Yes friend!” he smiles, suddenly relieved. “I have to remember to just enjoy the ride.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism