Welcome to My Favorite Scene! In this series, IndieWire speaks to actors behind a few of our favorite Emmy-nominated television performances about their personal-best onscreen moment and how it came together.
Jeevan Chaudhary, brought to tender life by Himesh Patel, is a man of inaction who’s constantly pushed into action. When we first meet the bearded Chicagoan in “Station Eleven,” he’s at a staged production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” when the lead actor (Gael García Bernal) collapses and only Jeevan can see that he’s no longer performing. After the play is canceled, he encounters a young actress, Kirsten (Matilda Lawler), who needs help getting home. But as they ride an eerily quiet L train and wander through emptying, snow-covered streets, it becomes clear her parents aren’t waiting for her. Jeevan will have to step up. He’ll have to keep them alive, when everyone around them is dying.
As the ferocious (fictional) pandemic unfurls, we learn Jeevan is unemployed. His girlfriend ditched him in the chaos of the canceled play. His sister, Siya, is a doctor — who warns him of the escalating crisis — and his brother, Frank (Nabhaan Rizwan) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose work overseas resulted in a permanent leg injury. When Kirsten asks what he did for work, Jeevan stumbles through an answer — he’s “like a reporter,” more of a culture critic… well, he had a website — but even if he looks shabby on paper, his few (forced) actions early on are evidence of dormant potential, waiting to be unearthed.
His ensuing experience with Kirsten, which serves as “Station Eleven’s” emotional backbone within an expansive cast spread over multiple timelines, helps bring out the best (and, at times, the worst) of Jeevan, but his maturation culminates once she’s gone, as he’s surrounded by strangers who think he’s someone he’s not — but maybe, just maybe, he can still become. Episode 9, “Dr. Chaudhary,” sees Jeevan kidnapped by a group of pregnant women who need help with their corresponding births. They’re convinced he’s a doctor and, thinking he wants to leave, won’t listen when he says otherwise.
And thus our man of inaction is forced into action. In a six-minute scene, Jeevan hobbles from one delivering woman to the next. He offers reassurance, a hand to hold, and eventually, more than that — all while Jeevan unsteadily steps from bed to bed, leaning on his cane as much (if not more than) his patients lean on him. Perhaps I forgot to mention: Shortly before being taken to the birthing center, Jeevan was attacked by a wolf, leaving half a foot mangled. Knowing his character’s injury was a lasting one, Patel spent weeks with a movement specialist, Esie Mensah, learning how to walk with a limp.
“She was really great,” Patel said in an interview with IndieWire. “We did a couple sessions and did everything from walking with the cane — and I made sure that we had roughly the one that I would be using because every little detail is important — to little things like, “What would it be to go up a step and go down a step?’ ‘What would it be to sit down when you’re holding a cane and you can’t use one leg?’ ‘You’re limping, but why are you limping?’ Because he’s lost his toes, basically. He’s lost that front part of his foot. So it’s almost like starting to realize what it is your toes actually do for you, and then realizing that’s what you no longer have, and then go from there.”
But Patel hadn’t had any coaching before Jeevan’s monumental birthing scene. Only in scenes set decades later, when Jeevan’s accepted his role as a healer (and a break from shooting gave Patel enough time to practice), did the actor’s study pay off. For the birthing scene, lacking proper training makes for a fitting absence: an actor playing a man who’s still learning how to be who he’ll become. But in that crucial moment, viewers never doubt what they see. Patel is living it, alongside his character, allowing us to do the same. He’s always acting, even when his character is stuck, and he’s always looking deeper to build Jeevan in a way that’s as endearing and human as the series he leads.
“There’s little things that no one ever sees on screen, but it’s important for me in my internal sort of thing,” Patel said.
Ian Watson / HBO Max
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
IndieWire: But just to clarify: The scene with all the deliveries, that was before you did the movement training?
Himesh Patel: Yeah. I think I spoke to Nabhaan Rizwan who played Frank [and also walked with a cane.] He’d wrapped by that point. But I said, “Have you got any tips?” So he offered me a little bit of something from the work that he’d done for Frank. And actually — here’s a detail that I almost forgot — our director on that episode, Jeremy Podeswa, had injured himself during lockdown. So he had been using a cane and then he was still using it a little bit when we were filming. So I had a direct point of contact there to kind of go, “Does this seem right to you, what I’m doing?” So we kind of had that before I could then work with a movement coach.
So much of the birthing scene sees you reacting to what’s happening. Do you remember if the scripts described any of those moments, or what kind of direction you got to help guide you through the scene?
There were elements of that, but also to some extent you take that as a guideline and then you really have to follow your instinct. So you know what your touch points have to be. I knew that second-to-last birth was a real sort of moment of some sort of epiphany that he’s building toward, and then you get into what each of the other ones represent. Of course, that very last one he has to, in a way, lie — he knows it’s not looking good, but he has to be there for someone who he knows and then does sadly pass away. All these sorts of things I had to demarcate to some extent.
At one point, Jeremy wanted to shoot it in one shot. I think we didn’t in the end because that would’ve been crazy, but the takes were pretty long. So I was able to sort of have a certain flow to it, but also treat each moment as its own moment.
In a scene like that, where there’s so many people who need Jeevan and so much happening so fast, how much does he know this is also a transformational moment for him? Clearly, it’s scripted that way, but do you allow yourself to acknowledge that as the character?
In any given scene for me, you have to play what’s going on there and then. Otherwise, you risk sort of winking to the camera a bit too much — kind of going, “I’m learning something.”
He’s never been in any situation like this before. He’s doing the best he can. Ultimately, he’s getting an idea of what his role is, as you say, it’s when he becomes Dr. Chaudhary. It’s when he realizes or comes close to realizing who he is and what he’s meant to do.
That’s the beauty of what’s happening and the arc of the character and the writing. There’s that beautiful scene where he’s sat with one of the characters and she tells him that I knew you were a doctor, you’re a healer. And that’s the light bulb moment, really.
One of the things I noticed when re-watching the scene was when Jeevan is reassuring the women in labor, he starts by saying, “You’re going to be OK,” or “It’s going to be OK,” and later on, he tells one woman right before he leaves, just, “Be OK.” It changed from a reassurance to a directive; from him encouraging them to him willing them to be OK. Was that scripted? Did that just slip out?
I don’t know. It might have been one of those that just sort of came out. God, maybe it was, because I can’t remember if it was scripted or not, or if it was something that sort of was suggested to me on the day.
[With the last woman,] the sentiment is he really truthfully has to be there for her. In a way, he has to be the antithesis of what the doctor is telling her, which is, “If you do this, you’re going to crush the baby.” He’s like, “I can’t do that. I can’t tell you that, so I have to tell you that everything’s going to be OK.”
It’s the most emotionally vulnerable that he ever is, and it sort of reminded me that acting is vulnerability; the more vulnerable you are, the more truthful you’ll be. And so he has to be as vulnerable as possible so that he can be there for them and they can hear what they need to hear in this moment.
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