SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — Hollywood Indian American actor Arjun Gupta is making quite an impression in his larger than life role in the SyFy Channel’s new series, “The Magicians,” which premiered Jan. 25. The series is an adaptation of Lev Grossman’s best-selling book trilogy.
“The Magicians,” as the title suggests, centers around Brakebills University, a secret institution specializing in magic. There, amidst an unorthodox education of spellcasting, a group of twenty-something friends soon discover that a magical fantasy world they read about as children is all too real — and poses grave danger to humanity.
The contemporary fantasy drama, which has already been renewed for season 2, explores what it would be like to live in a magical society within the context of a real world.
“It’s like Harry Potter set in 2016, and we are all adults,” Gupta told India-West by phone from Los Angeles. “The show is really about how we come of age, how we grow up. It really touches on things that are so specific to now.”
Gupta plays William “Penny” Adiyodi, a complicated, dark and brooding character, and that Gupta said, made the character so much more fun to play.
“He is someone who was kicked out of the house at a very young age and he had to learn how to fend for himself and those are really intense circumstances to grow up in,” he told India-West.
“It was really exciting for me to explore what are the ramifications of that as an adult, like how does he relate to people? Like does he have trouble forming relationships? He is very much a loner,” he explained. “He doesn’t really trust people. He is offended very easily by people. And he sees himself rightly or wrongly as a hawk among pigeons.”
Gupta, who was unaware about Grossman’s books before he took on the role, was actually shooting for “How to Get Away with Murder” when he auditioned for Penny. But he read all of them soon after he snagged the role.
Gupta said he “challenged himself as an artist” in order to honor the character in the most truthful way possible.
Preparations, he said, involved understanding the origins of the character and building a strong back story, and finding his way so that he could access the “emotional truth and understanding” about the existence of someone like that in this world.
Gupta, who runs Ammunition Theater Company in Los Angeles, said they volunteer at a space for homeless youth every week, and his time spent there also helped him shape this character.
“There were elements of watching these kids who are living on the streets that I am able to kind of internalize and learn from and apply as I built this character,” he stated.
The company will be staging their first full length play called “The Judgment of Fools” in Los Angeles in the third week of February.
Since the show is about magic, an excited Gupta said they were introduced to a few magic tricks by a magician brought in by one of the show’s producers.
“He taught us a few tricks just so that we could feel what that awe is and what that wonder is. That was the extent of the magic that I know now,” he quipped, adding that he “loves magic.”
“It touches on the fact that there are things that we just don’t understand in the world. There are other forces and to be in touch with that, come in contact with that, even an allusion is just so exciting and it brings out the child in all of us,” he told India-West.
The 28-year-old actor has also amassed a large fan following owing to his biweekly podcast, “American Desis,” which explores issues unique to the second generation South Asian American community, which he co-hosts with comedian Aakash Singh. Discussing issues ranging from relationships to dating to stereotypes to religion, Gupta and Singh release one podcast every week in which they interview a member of the South Asian American community, followed by another in which they discuss the major points of that interview.
“It’s a really fascinating space to explore issues that are specific to the South Asian community, but in reality are so universal to all humans,” he said. “Exploring the ideas of identity and shame, rejection, love and compassion.”
Gupta said while every guest brings something new and interesting as they aim to “paint the tapestry of the South Asian experience,” one of the really poignant episodes was the one featuring comedian Neel Nanda, who suffered domestic abuse at the hands of his father.
“His bravery in sharing his story of domestic abuse, how he was abused by his father, an abuse that his whole family experienced and really shined a bright light on the specific issue of domestic abuse that we as a community have had to confront,” he recalled to India-West.
The actor said he is constantly thinking about working on more projects, and has a couple of films in his head, which he and his friend want to put together. “We are in no rush. We are allowing that to happen in a more organic time frame,” he said.
“The Magicians” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Syfy.