Amara Karan: Meet the Brit fronting a US TV sensation

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Helen Bownass
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Prepare to lose eight and a half hours to addictive new drama The Night Of. Actress Amara Karan reveals all...

It’s a bold claim but new crime drama The Night Of is Making A Murderer meets The Wire. Inspired by the 2008 British series Criminal Justice, the opening episode sees sweet (or so he appears) well-behaved Naz (Riz Ahmed) wake up as prime suspect in a bloody murder scene. As the investigation unfolds, you’ll theorise, turn detective (if he didn’t do it, who did?) and immerse yourself in a very real depiction of the American justice system. The eight-part HBO series, which has had US critics fawning over it, was set to star the late James Gandolfini as Naz’s defence lawyer but after his death the part went to John Turturro. But it is 32-year-old, Wimbledon-born Amara Karan, who plays thoughtful, principled lawyer Chandra from the third episode, who really intrigued Stylist. So we grilled Karan about this ambitious new series.

Why do you think The Night Of is such compulsive viewing?
I think the writers have created a very pure, authentic story. We’re watching an event unravel almost in real time but we also all have a sense of mystery and that justice must be carried out.

The portrayal of the US criminal justice system is incredibly fascinating…
I was very impressed by the small, almost mundane, details: the time it takes to get a bail hearing and the time a person may have to wait in a highly dangerous prison. It also highlights how slow the system is – I wouldn’t have imagined this would translate into a gripping show yet those things add a dimension that’s extraordinary.

You’ve known Riz since Oxford University, was it a strange experience to have two Brits playing two Americans?
Yes, at first it was really odd, but I did smile to myself and think, ‘this is awesome’. What more could you hope for?

The Night Of also seems to tap into issues around the US election – specifically the Islamophobia stoked by Donald Trump’s campaign…
People are talking about these things but actually the character in the British series was a white guy [who borrows his dad’s black cab] and when they looked at resetting it in New York, the writers found that cab drivers tended to be Pakistani so the characterisation of Naz came about that way. It was an observation rather than a political agenda; unwittingly, they made it extremely timely for 2016.

The Night Of starts on Sky Atlantic on 1 September at 9pm

Photography: Rex