The actors behind Dedra Meero and Syril Karn tell StarWars.com about shaping the nuanced antagonists on the hunt for Cassian Andor and the rebellion.
Imperial stalwarts Dedra Meero and Syril Karn aren’t your typical minions of the Empire.
The Andor antagonists are fierce and nuanced, two characters that at once read as villains and regular people making dangerous decisions in the quest for power. And together, they could be a potent force to track down Cassian Andor and the burgeoning rebellion. But actors Denise Gough and Kyle Soller seem to be nothing like their characters. In a darkened room on the interview circuit, the two keep erupting into laughter as they try to describe their on-screen counterparts, now appearing in the series streaming on Disney+.
“Super fun!” Gough suggests.
“Yeah. Really polite. Really like into, you know, crafts,” Soller offers.
“They have hobbies! So chill,” Gough counters.
“They meditate a lot. You know, they're really well-balanced, well-adjusted people,” Soller finishes.
That may describe Soller and Gough, but Karn and Meero are quite the opposite, two intense individuals who are so tightly-wound they’re always on the verge of snapping, small cogs in the massive Imperial machine driven by the desire to succeed in the fascist Empire.
Creator Tony Gilroy himself has said it’s hard not to root for the pair, an element he deliberately seeded in the story on his quest to give both heroes and villains the complexities of a real, nuanced people. Meero, for example, exists in a male-dominated world, but quickly overcomes whatever gender-based stereotype might otherwise hinder her progress.
“I want you to be very conflicted about your feelings about her. The great thing about Dedra, and what I love about playing her, is that…when I first started playing her, I was sitting in this room surrounded by these men -- a lot of men who weren't doing their jobs properly,” Gough tells StarWars.com. “And so I was really rooting for Dedra. You're really on her side. And then she does certain things that you just think, ‘Okay, so maybe I can't support that.’… For people watching, initially you really want her to succeed, because you just see a woman really striving for success. But then what you have to sit with is, once you get on board with her at the beginning just because she's a woman in a man's world…[she is] just as capable of doing the most heinous things for power. Somebody said to me the other day, ‘Please don't redeem her.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, that's so good.’ Don't apologize. Let her be just as ambitious as the most villainous of men and color in all the shades so that everyone's conflicted when they're watching.”
Karn exists on the opposite end of the spectrum, in terms of his relative success. While Meero is climbing the ranks inside the ISB and proving her worth, Karn is stripped of his duty with Pre-Mor security and sent home to Coruscant, where the disgraced young man must move back in with his mother, Eedy.
But they share an intensity and drive that plays out over the course of several interactions.
“When I met Kyle and when we did our first scenes together, I thought, ‘Oh, this is great, because he's every bit as intense as Dedra is!’” Gough says. “Between us, as actors, we're really matching each other at the level that they need to exist on, which is, you know, ambitious and intense.”
“Driven. Hungry. Power hungry!” Soller adds.
Both Meero and Karn come from nothing, so their drive is informed by a desire to fit in, prove their worth, and find their place in the vast galaxy. “They both come from a place of lack,” Gough says. “They have a need to be seen and to achieve so that they can feel validated because I think, you know, psychologically, they weren't validated. You always just blame the parents.”
After spending some time with Eedy Karn, it’s hard not to. Even in a quiet moment at the breakfast table, Syril’s mother is harsh, belittling, and judgmental, although one can argue her behavior stems, not from hatred, but from a desire to see her child succeed.
And although neither Meero nor Syril Karn would be mistaken for the protagonists of the series, Soller believes both are the “heroes of their own journeys. I think they really believe they're doing the right thing, in the relative sphere of their own existence. They both come from a place of lack and a desire to be seen and recognized. And the first time that happens in Syril's life is when he meets Dedra.”
In that first interaction, Karn’s internal conflict is fully crystallized in Meero and the recognition that he’s not alone. “Oh my gosh, there's another person like me! And she looks amazing doing it and she does it really well,” Soller says. “This hunger for filling that void, this hunger for power and order in a fascistic realm, is quite dangerous, but so seductive. That was the gift that Tony gave us. They're not two-dimensional…you really get the lighter shade and the gray areas of these people being people, within the structure and limits of this system.”
For Gough, that realism reflects a struggle many women can relate to in our own world. “I think, contemporarily, you see what it for a woman to succeed. It does sort of ask the question of, ‘Well, how far would you go?’ She has to work twice as hard, 10 times as hard as any of these men that she's working with.” At some point, it stops being about gender altogether for Gough. “This is just power. Look at what people do when they've got power or the pursuit of power, what it does to just anyone. It's not just men who behave badly when power is within their grasp. Women can be pretty dark.”
“It's more human. It's messy. It's conflicting,” Soller adds. “It’s true to life. And that's the beautiful thing that Tony's created.”
Hear more from Denise Gough and Kyle Soller in a special interview in the latest episode of This Week! In Star Wars below.
Associate Editor Kristin Baver is the author of the book The Art of Star Wars: The High Republic, host of This Week! In Star Wars, and an all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Follow her on Twitter @KristinBaver.
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