Amara Karan, The Night Of interview: ‘I’ve not signed for a Season 2' (2024)

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It’s noon at an Aldwych rooftop bar, on the sort of grey-skied August day that prompts old jokes about summer and the Trade Descriptions Act — and the nearby sound of a popping champagne cork has given Amara Karan an idea.

“Do you want a drink?” she says, her big eyes growing wider. “A glass of champagne?” I mumblingly accept, the waiter glides over and soon we’re clinking glasses (her, a lychee martini; me, a faintly ridiculous lunchtime flute of Moët) on the rain-speckled outdoor sofas. “Mate,” says Karan after a sip, “that is gorgeous. OK, now you can ask me anything.”

More than most, the Wimbledon-born, 32-year-old actor has cause to celebrate at the moment. Having broken through in Wes Anderson’s 2007 quirkfest The Darjeeling Limited and impressed in recent high-concept detective drama Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, Karan’s role in one of the most deliriously absorbing TV shows of the year is about to land on British screens. The Night Of — a long-brewing blockbuster remake of the BBC’s Criminal Justice, originally spearheaded by the late James Gandolfini and made by HBO — has already captivated America (it concludes there on Sunday).

But from next week, Sky Atlantic viewers will get a taste of its fastidiously detailed mix of Serial-style murder mystery, Oz-like prison grit and Good Wife-ish courtroom drama.

In short, it’s total catnip for the streaming classes (Sky will even be making all eight episodes available instantly, Netflix-style). And while Wembley boy Riz Ahmed is rightly getting plenty of attention in the lead role as Nasir Khan, a Pakistani-American college kid who suddenly finds himself accused of a murder he has no memory of committing, Karan’s turn as inexperienced Indian-American defence attorney Chandra Kapoor slowly emerges as one of the show’s most potent and unexpected pleasures.

“It’s such a joyful surprise,” says Karan of Chandra’s journey from peripheral legal novice (cynically deployed in episode three by her hotshot boss to help snare a client with vaguely similar ancestry) to wily operator, which is very much central to the plot.

Ever-grinning, inquisitive and understatedly cool in a black YMC dress and patent leather loafers, Karan is effervescent company. Even allowing for the effects of that martini, she’s still evidently in the afterglow of a once-in-a-lifetime job that not only enabled a reunion with her old Oxford classmate Ahmed (“He’s still got the same spark, intelligence and energy”) but allowed her to fall hard for Manhattan during a six-month location shoot last year.

“Absorbing New York was amazing and I could use the show as an excuse,” she laughs “‘Oh, I have to go and see a play because I need to immerse myself in the culture’. It was all research.”

And did she study murder cases like the one in The Night Of? “I did go to the courts to look at a bail hearing, which is a totally different process to a murder trial,” she explains. “It’s like horse-trading, very sort of day-to-day. You’re hearing these heinous charges being read out — murder, rape, assault — and it feels shockingly unshocking. It’s very straightforward and like a procedure so it’s very interesting.”

Amara Karan, The Night Of interview: ‘I’ve not signed for a Season 2' (1)

Riz Ahmed in The Night Of

HBO

Karan also had real-life experience of working her way up in a different — though similarly ruthless — profession. The daughter of Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants, she acted throughout her time at fee-paying Wimbledon High School and with the National Youth Theatre but, as she emerged from university with a covetable degree in politics, philosophy and economics, she parked her performing ambitions and began a career in the City as an investment banker.

She worked for a year at boutique firm Hawkpoint and CIBC World Markets, once boasting, Apprentice contestant-style, that she wanted to be the “biggest, baddest banker in London”. How does she look back on her days as a financier now?

“Learning is never wasted,” she says. “I really went into the City to try to make a career out of it because I just thought it was impossible to make one out of acting. I thought it was absurd for me to even try.”

Best TV dramas 2016

Amara Karan, The Night Of interview: ‘I’ve not signed for a Season 2' (2)

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She allows that there were Wolf of Wall Street-worthy moments of excess (“It’s fun, why not? When something good happens that you’ve worked hard for, you want to pop a cork and celebrate”) but to the pronounced disappointment of her “devastated” family, the pull of acting proved too strong. “I couldn’t find the joy of banking,” she admits.

However, Karan admits that, even though her “mental arithmetic is shot to s***”, she misses flexing those numerical muscles. And — as initiatives such as the WISE campaign attempt to drive more women towards careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — she credits her all-girl school with making equations just as appealing as the arts.

"They could carry on with these characters or they could do a different case [for Season 2]. Anything could happen."

&#13;<p>Amara Karan</p>&#13;

“One of my best friends is an actuary, another is a marine biologist,” she notes. “Because we were all girls, there was no issue. If you liked maths, you did it.” Were there ever times when acting job offers dwindled so much that she considered going back to the Square Mile?

“If things had gone badly I would have had to consider anything, let alone banking,” she says. “And it’s definitely been up and down. There have been times when it’s all been rubbish, my career has just gone down the toilet and I’ve gone, ‘What did I do wrong? How did I get myself in a position where I was doing The Darjeeling Limited and now I can’t get arrested?’”

Amara Karan, The Night Of interview: ‘I’ve not signed for a Season 2' (3)

Matt Writtle / Radio Rooftop Bar

That’s not a problem now, of course. She’s currently filming the second series of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man for Sky and, although she describes The Night Of as “an eight-part film”, she’s open to the possibility of a follow-up. “They could carry on with these characters or they could do a different case,” she says. “Anything could happen. I’ve not signed for a second series but there seems to be a huge appetite for more.”

Away from work she’s in a relationship with fellow actor Jamie de Courcey, who has sweetly come along for today’s photo shoot. She clams up when I ask about marriage and settling down but admits that they live together and she’s been lured north of the river from her beloved south London “for love”.

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John Turturro in The Night Of

HBO

She spends weekends exploring parks and has such a blindspot when it comes to news that I’m the first person to inform her of the existence of the Night Tube.

She’s up on Brexit, though, and the depressing atmosphere of intolerance that seemed to emerge in the immediate aftermath of the vote to leave the European Union. It’s an issue that is indirectly recalled in The Night Of — which features eerily timely scenes of Islamophobic attacks following Nasir’s arrest — so I end by asking how she feels about the turmoil that has followed the referendum result.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen so I can only be optimistic until I’m proved otherwise,” she says. “Otherwise you’re all doom and gloom. I think it’s the only way to live.” As she sits before a drained afternoon co*cktail and untold, hard-won career rewards, it’s hard to argue with that positive thinking.

Follow Jimi Famurewa on Twitter: @jimfam

The Night Of starts on Sky Atlantic at 9pm on September 1; the entire series will be available instantly on Sky Box Sets

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