On August 31, 1997, Princess Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, died in arguably the most infamous car crash of all time. While many people know the details surrounding the princess’ death, few know what transpired in her personal life during the preceding two years, following her divorce from Prince Charles.
Diana is about to change that.
Directed by Academy Award nominee Oliver Hirschbiegel, the film details the former Princess of Wales’ relationships with Pakistani heart surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan and Egyptian billionaire Dodi Fayed. Its release coincides with the recent spike in royal-mania spurred by the birth of Diana’s grandson, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s son, Prince George.
Cast alongside Naomi Watts (Diana) and Naveen Andrews (Dr. Khan), Cas Anvar portrays Fayed, the flashy, Egyptian movie producer who perished in a limousine with Diana in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris, France.
Unlike the character he plays, Anvar couldn’t buy his way onto a film set. His long and arduous path (check his profile on imdb.com) to the role in Diana began long ago, with a teasing prod from one of his teachers at Beaconsville High School in Montreal, Canada.
“He stopped me in the hallway and said, ‘If you don’t try out for the play, I’m going to fail you,’” Anvar says. “I was a big geek in high school - comic book collector, played Dungeons & Dragons. I loved Science, not anything that could put me in front of people.”
Afraid the teacher might hold true to the threat, Anvar showed up to the auditions and knocked it out of the park, despite a miscalculation. He’d stepped onto the stage and recited Hamlet’s legendary “To be or not to be,” soliloquy with a mouthful of gum. Quick to chew him out for the mistake, the teacher couldn’t deny one thing - a mastery of Old-er (technically “early Modern”) English Anvar credits to the time he spent playing Dungeons & Dragons.
“I got the lead role of Hamlet,” Anvar says.
The former introvert wasn’t prepared for what came next. “I went from a nerd that had no friends to the most popular guy in school, overnight, and it completely messed with me.”
With the full support of his parents (who now live in San Diego, what Anvar describes as his “second home”), Anvar embrace hi his affinity for the craft, eventually going on to study at Canada’s National Theatre School, the Canuck equivalent to New York’s famed performing arts school, Juilliard.
Being of Iranian descent and an “ethnic minority actor,” as he puts it, Anvar was conscious of the pitfalls of typecasting and learned to be proactive about securing the type of work that interested him. With the help of friends, he spearheaded his own Shakespeare-in-the-park company, Repercussion Theatre, which went on to be the most prominent such outfit in North America, and still performs to this day.
Over the ensuing years, the hardworking Anvar racked up more than 80 film, television and video-game acting (stop-motion and voiceover work) credits before a coincidental series of events led to his winning the role in Diana. It started when he appeared in a 2011 Syfy network miniseries called Neverland, a prequel to Peter Pan - a bit eerie, considering the late Dodi Fayed was executive producer of the Robin Williams-as-Pan sequel, Hook (1991). The 2003 remake, Peter Pan, was dedicated to Fayed’s memory.
When Neverland was showing in the UK, Cas took advantage of the exposure by signing with an agent in London. After quickly booking three roles through the agent, he was tasked with filming five audition tapes while on a press stop in Montreal. One particular script came with very little information. All his agent knew about the role was that that the character’s name was Dodi.
Much like in high school, Anvar had no idea what he was getting himself into. “I wasn’t nervous, that’s for sure,” he says. “I was totally relaxed... and I was actually annoyed that I had to tape a fifth audition.”
After emailing the clips to his agents, Anvar boarded a plane to Luxembourg to begin filming a TV movie, Air Force One Down. Upon landing, he received a call from London.
Speaking in an authentic-sounding, British female voice, Anvar recounts the most pivotal phone call of his career. “Just letting you know, you’ve just booked this Dodi role, and now I’ve got more details. It’s Dodi Fayed, and you’re playing opposite Naomi Watts, who’s playing Princess Di. Do you want to do it?”
Switching back to his normal voice, Anvar states the obvious. “I accepted right there on the spot, didn’t even have to think about it.”
After completing the project in Luxembourg, he flew straight to London to start filming Diana.
“Even then, once I booked the role and understood it, I had no idea what it meant,” says Anvar, “until we were shooting for two weeks in Croatia on a yacht... and we were shooting the paparazzi scenes.”
Anvar was expecting the 30-or-so extras hired to mimic aggressive paparazzi, but wasn’t prepared for the secondary ring of actual paparazzi, fighting to get a shot of him and Watts. For authenticity, director Oliver Hirschbiegel decided to include the real paparazzi in a few takes.
“I have to say, the first few times we shot those scenes walking down the docks, I was a little overwhelmed,” Anvar says. “It freaked me out. I had 30, 40 extras, screaming and flashing cameras, and that’s probably exactly what it feels like. And I’m trying to see that as a life. It made me quite fearful.”
If British fervor over the release of the movie poster showing Watts as Diana (“Excitement is set to reach fever pitch.” - The Daily Mail UK) is any indication, Anvar will face similar throngs of paparazzi at the film’s premiere in September.
Unlike when he was in high school, Anvar has now had a long time to prepare for the rush of exposure that’s sure to come along with the release. Early indications are that his stock in the industry is already rising fast.
While on location at La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla for the PacificSD cover shoot, Anvar receives a phone call.
“Well, you guys are good luck,” he says as he hangs up.
His agent called to let him know he’s been offered a recurring role in a TV series called Intelligence - without having to audition for the part. Starring Anvar’s fellow Lost castmember Josh Holloway (Sawyer), the pilot is set to premiere on CBS in February 2014.
As for how the offer and its implication for the future of his career makes him feel, Anvar describes a warm sense of gratitude.
With a big smile, he says, “Finally, all of that hard work is being rewarded.”
The world premiere of Diana is set for September 5, in London. The international release follows on September 28.
Cas Anvar’s career highlight reel
Of Anvar’s 83 credits on imdb.com, here are PacificSD‘s picks for his top three roles in each of his primary acting fields.
Source Code (2011)
Shattered Glass (2003)
Dalton in “Halo 4" (2012)
Ahmad in “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” (2012)
Altair in “Assassin’s Creed Revelations” (2011)
Part Of The Act
Cas Anvar’s favorites
Robert Downey Jr.
The Princess Bride (1987)
The Matrix (1999)
Wedding Crashers (2005)