Arjun Gupta. You may have seen him before, but you’ve never seen him like this. Weeks ago, I introduced you to my new favorite SyFy show, The Magicians. It’s about a secret University for Magicians called Brakebills. Hopeful magic students are brought in for interview and if they make the cut they’re enrolled, if they aren’t Brakebills material their memory is erased and they are sent back home. Another magical world called Fillory is also a big part of this show and this is where Penny, is heading during the season finale.
Arjun Gupta – The Man Behind Penny
This week I had a chance to sit down with actor Arjun Gupta who plays Penny on the show. Penny is psychic, a gift that can already be a bit of a curse. Later he finds out he can also travel, meaning he can close his eyes, concentrate on a location and magically appear in that place. The curse I mentioned only worsens with this news. Let’s see what Arjun has to say about his character Penny and the many story lines currently surrounding him.
First things first, The Magicians is a really physical show with the characters always being thrown around. I have to know, how much of this are you allowed to perform yourself?
Ha! It is yes. We have an awesome stunt choreographer who will let us get away with as much as we can. But for example in episode 12 Penny dives into a fountain in the Neitherlands. That wasn’t me. That was our stunt guy, he has gymnastics experience so he pulled it off. I collapsed the other day onto a pad. They let me do that. The majority is stunt guys though, they have that experience.
So how about that tutting! I want to learn the spell casting known as tutting myself. Are you all winging it or is there actually an art?
We all have to do the same spells throughout the show so the tutting needs to be the same across the board. We have a choreographer who has built an entire vocabulary to be sure we stay consistent. We do have classes, to our great dismay,haha we practice a lot. We are learning tutting, we certainly aren’t coming up with the spells on the fly. And let me tease this, there is a lot more coming.
Which type of magic would you want to possess in real life?
I’m torn between traveling and healing. There is a great disconnect between people and themselves I have a favorite quote by Mary Ann Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.
So everyone has this incredible light within them but don’t know how to unlock it. So if there was a way to do that, to help that, this is where I want to be.
Let’s chat about your character’s current situation. Penny is in a life altering/terrifying situation with both Joe and Stanley your fellow travelers, suicide in episode 10. How’s he going to cope with this?
In episode. 11 Penny hits bottom at least for this season because I question whether or not Sera (series producer Sera Gamble) has a bottom for this character. He’s not handling the voices well as we see, and he even overdoses. He’s going to jump, this isn’t working for him. But then Professor Sunderlin offers him a lifeline(a magic disruption patch to keep the voices at bay). Once the voices quiet down Penny decides not to use the emotions bottle, he’s done with crutches and realizes it’s time to stand up on his own two feet. He is going to start taking in the lessons around him and actually apply them. He needs to be prepared to save Victoria in Fillory, this is his responsibility. In a way I think his overdose saves his life.
Penny has opened himself up and then had his heart broken. Kady left, maybe not Penny personally, but she left after her let her in. How do you prepare for that emotional upheaval as an actor?
First let me poke at something you said. To Penny, Kady did leave him, personally. He’s, going to open up more but never really open up to that level of intimacy. As an actor I go to where the person (character) came from. Penny was kicked out of the home at a young age. He has a desire for safety but an inability to believe it exists. Also working within what they write for me. Sera lets me know ahead of time where my character is going episodes in advance so I can plant seeds of where this ark is going. The Magicians has wonderful writers crafting the ark I get to ride.
Penny’s character has perfect delivery. How do you hit it spot on each time?
Now we’re cutting into the craft of acting, which I love. I lift myself to the character and that will bring the character down to me. It’s mostly off set though so there is a balance between planning and playing. I learned how to set the minefield out and then just walk. It’s all carefully plotted.
In that small amount of free time you don’t have, you get to play on stage. Tell us about Ammunition Theater.
Oh wow. Yeah, I created Ammunition Theater November of 2014, with my friend Vinny Chibber. We were just looking for a way to accelerate a shift that we had been seeing in mainstream media which was a push towards normalization of what the world looked like. As two South Asian men we were excited about this and we wanted to merge it with something we think about a lot which is community service. I’m a service member, rather than an activist and theater is an immediate community between the actors and the audience. We are a multi ethnic theater and we enjoy devising work. We want to tell provocative stories that will help create change. We’re currently working on an original work, we’re excited about that.
Are you at all afraid, maybe not in a negative way, but that the name Arjun Gupta will get out and 5,000 people will be standing on Ammunition Theater’s doorstep to see the next show?
No…It would be the most beautiful thing I could imagine. We want to bring our theater to a community and we can build a community through a community. Haha. Otherwise we are just 13 guys saying sh!t. It’s bigger than me though. There are other working actors that are part of Ammunition Theater. Yara Martinez, Karla Souza, Malcolm Barrett just to name a few.
Just For Fun, What’s on your DVR?
Oh man, nothing. I’ve been traveling and working so I haven’t had time to watch TV. But a comfort show I love is The West Wing, I could embarrassingly quote episodes. And Friends, the 6 of us will talk about how there are 6 of us and 6 Friends and we feel like family so we’ll try to decide who we each would be. (Arjun offers no further explanation of who’s who in this situation).
I enjoy seeing celebrities comfortable with social media. Getting out there and interacting with your fans is so important. You’re good at this, is it important to you?
Yes, we can attribute a lot of that to Charlotte (publicist) she’s in my ear to keep up social media. It is always me, I’ll never give up my voice to another. Twitter is an amazing way to witness fans reactions, it’s really fun. Right now it is manageable so I will continue doing this until I can’t anymore.
Arjun Gupta – It’s not Magic, It’s Presence
Arjun Gupta brings serious acting chops to The Magicians. His experience as a stage actor lends itself perfectly to the intense, turbulent, and sometimes heartbreaking character of Penny. The Magicians season finale airs next Monday the 11th. Watch along with me to how Penny fares in Fillory and whether or not he can save Victoria.