Staz Nair has part of the title role in Fox Network’s production ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN, which premieres Thursday, October 20. Based on the 1976 movie, which in turn is based on Richard O’Brien’s oft-revived stage musical, the new ROCKY HORROR pays homage to the film’s cult hit status by cutting from the actors to a separate audience that responds as midnight screening attendees have done for forty years.
For those who have somehow missed the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW phenomenon, it’s the story of an innocent young couple, Brad and Janet (Ryan McCartan and Victoria Justice in the Fox Network version), who stumble into the castle of mad scientist Frank N. Furter. Laverne Cox plays Frank, the character originated by Tim Curry (who appears here as the Narrator), a self-proclaimed “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.” Frank is building his ideal man. This would be Rocky, the character played by Nair.
The London-based Nair, who recently had an arc on GAME OF THRONES as the hostile Dothraki Qhono, also appears in the new Indian movie musical BAZODEE. He’s happy to talk revival of both the character and the musical ROCKY HORROR.
ASSIGNMENT X: Is Staz short for something, like Stanley?
STAZ NAIR: Technically speaking, it’s short for Stanislav, but also my conservative Western name is Stanley [laughs]. My father wanted a Western name, and my mother wanted to call me Stanislav, but no one has ever called me anything but Staz. It’s not like a stage name.
AX: Were you a ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW fan growing up?
NAIR: I was a Tim Curry fan growing up, and I was very aware of his performance as Frank N. Furter.
AX: Did you mentally have to put Curry’s Frank N. Furter to one side to play Rocky opposite Laverne Cox?
NAIR: No. No, because I think Laverne created something that wasn’t really herself. She obviously used the amazing template that was Tim Curry, but it was always a separate entity. We were never trying to compete or compare. What we were trying to do was create a modernistic re-imagined version that definitely paid its respects to the original, and had that general essence, but was also an opportunity for us to demonstrate the progression of us as a generation, which is why we have someone as amazing as Laverne playing Frank.
That woman had a big pair of shoes to fill with Tim Curry, and she did, but not in a way that was comparative. She created her own version. She made something, and I’m really eager and hoping that people know how to separate the two. We’re not trying to compare, we’re not trying to embellish, we’re not trying to make it better. We’re trying to shine a light on an amazing cult classic, re-imagine it in a way that brings in a new audience and hopefully supplements the old one, and vice-versa.
AX: How do you see your Rocky as a character?
NAIR: I see Rocky as a trapped soul. He’s an individual who has been artificially reborn, with half a brain, so essentially – I used to call him “a fragile human monster.” They were the three adjectives I tried to describe him as when I was creating him as a character. I think, ultimately, anyone being born into that environment, it would be hectic. It would be intense. It would be neurotic. And I really tried to incorporate that in the character. Instead of having him vacant and unaware, I wanted him to try and figure out, make sense of all this, make sense of why Frank was his mother but his creator but his lover, and why Janet’s love was so different to Frank’s love. And I was very keen to explore, even though he wasn’t necessarily making sense of what was going on, I’m very keen to explore what he was trying to figure out.
AX: Rocky is sexually accommodating when approached. Do you think that he’s actually experiencing his own desire, or that what he does is because he’s trying to please these people around him?
NAIR: I think it’s a combination. I think there’s an element of him trying – near the end, when he watches Frank control everyone, I think that’s where there’s that conflict exists. It’s like, “Why?” He doesn’t understand it, he can’t make sense of Frank’s need for control over everyone around. But at the same time, I also think that he’s a child. So he reacts to whatever is given back to him. So if someone gives him love, he reacts to that. And he attaches himself to that. So it’s a combination of the two.
AX: Kenny Ortega directed the production. How is he as a director?
NAIR: A godsend. Honestly. The first day I met him on my screen test, he came about this close to me [indicates close proximity], and he made me feel comfortable straight away. He wasn’t invading my personal space, and he almost singlehandedly, along with [executive producer] Lou Adler and along with [executive producer] Gail Berman, created a platform for us just to explore, just to have fun, and just to try and find the characters in a way that was authentic to us, in a way that wasn’t contrived, in a way that wasn’t trying to just use a template to just work off of. He created this free melting pot of creativity, where we all just had fun and tried to find it together.
AX: Where did you shoot ROCKY HORROR?
NAIR: We shot it in Toronto, which was a lot of fun. Canadians are very nice people.
AX: Do you use your normal speaking voice, which is a London accent?
NAIR: Rocky doesn’t speak. He says a couple of lines. He sings. But the couple of lines that Rocky did have, me and Kenny decided to scrap them, just because I like to play the contrast. The humor in Rocky is the fact that he’s a bumbling idiot, and all of a sudden, he breaks out into song. We tried British, because I think I’ve grown up around American culture and American music. It’s a combination of the two – but I kind of went for a sober Joe Cocker vibe.
AX: How did you like working with Victoria Justice, who plays Janet?
NAIR: Loved it. She is literally through-in and throughout, she is Janet. She’s got that perfect, natural, sweet side to her, and she’s also so untainted by this industry. She’s been in it for so long, and she’s so sweet and so nice and she came to my birthday, and it was in a park somewhere. The point I’m trying to make with that is, she isn’t the person that probably people associate with her success. She’s nice, she’s humble. Everyone on that set – Kenny picked these people so well, because everyone was so invested in creating the most real and the most honest version of ROCKY HORROR forty years on.
AX: How did you feel meeting Tim Curry?
NAIR: [laughs] How do you think I felt meeting Tim Curry? I was star-struck. [Frank] was his first major role, and look what he did. I mean, he created a piece that has gone down in history. And to have his validation, to have him be a part of [the new production] and willingly want to be a part of it – it wasn’t about money for him. He loved the project and he did everything he could to be a part of it. He sat down with all of us, and he seemed so happy. He takes us aside and he goes, “Your performance was amazing.” And he was just so sweet. And it’s so nice to know that we have his seal of approval.
AX: When you were filming, were you aware of the onscreen audience that would be cut in later on?
NAIR: Yes. We were completely involved in understanding the process and why it was there. And I think it’s so necessary. You can’t do a re-imagining or a remake of the original without paying your respects to the fans and the people who were part of the fan contribution, the fan association, and all the call-outs. It would be wrong to do a remake and not involve people that were integral to the snowballing and amazing effect that ROCKY HORROR had on everyone
AX: Do you have any other projects we should know about?
NAIR: I’ve got a couple in the pipeline that I can’t talk about, because they haven’t come to fruition yet, but a couple of exciting opportunities, one of which I’m actually auditioning against my very close friend Ryan McCartan [who plays] Brad, which is very fun. It’s nice to be in the same caliber as someone who I really respect and as a free agent.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN?
NAIR: That we had the time of our lives filming that. We forged friendships and bonds that I believe will last a lifetime, and I really hope that people look past the comparative nature and just go in and enjoy themselves, because that is what this project is about. It’s about sexual liberation, it’s about freedom. There’s a liberty of being able to do what you want and enjoy yourself doing it, no matter how different, how unique and how obscure it may seem to others.
This interview was conducted during Fox Network’s portion of the summer 2016 Television Critics Association press tour.
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