Nimrat Kaur on Yanna Seldon in ‘Foundation’: ‘She brings heart and reason to Hari’s quest’

Speaking of her role as mathematician Hari Seldon’s life partner in the Isaac Asimov-inspired show, Nimrat said it was important to distill the emotional strength of Yanna’s story 

Updated - July 19, 2023 07:05 pm IST

Published - July 17, 2023 06:24 pm IST

Nimrat Kaur in a still from Foundation Special Arrangement

Nimrat Kaur in a still from Foundation Special Arrangement | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Nimrat Kaur says they had her at hello. “They” in this case being David Goyer, the creator of the ambitiously glittering adaption of Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi epic, Foundation, and director Alex Gravis. Both Goyer and Gravis have gone on record to say that they wanted Nimrat for the role of Yanna, wife of genius mathematician and psycho-historian, Hari Seldon, played in the Apple TV+ series by Jared Harris.

Describing the 41-year-old actor as a national treasure, Goyer is quoted as saying, “I’ve wanted to work with Nimrat ever since I was charmed by her in The Lunchbox. As we were creating the character of Yanna for Season 2, we knew we had found the perfect opportunity. Nimrat was the only actress Alex Graves and I ever considered to play Hari Seldon’s life-mate… so it’s a good thing she agreed to do the role!”

“It is fantastic when the makers of a show like this come to you and say ‘we cannot envision anyone else doing this’,” says Nimrat speaking from home in Mumbai. “They said, ‘We want you to play this role because though the screen time is limited, we need it to be impactful’.”

Cult status

While not having read Asimov, Nimrat says, “I have heard about Asimov forever from friends and family who have been crazy about him. I am aware of the cult status of his work. Have I read his books? No. Do I recognise the impact and the footprint of Isaac Asimov’s work? 100%.”

Preparation for Nimrat included figuring out her role in the large universe of Foundation. “Not everything that has been written in the books is a part of the series and not everything that is in the series is there in the book.” Rather than intellectualising it, Nimrat says, it was more important to distill the emotional strength of Yanna’s story. “Why she did what she did. What impact does she have on Hari, his world and his contribution to the Prime Radiant?”

Nimrat Kaur

Nimrat Kaur | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Heartfelt and authentic

Yanna, Nimrat says, is a brilliant mathematician and quantum physicist. “She brings heart and reason to Hari’s quest and with him constructs what is going to be the base and foundation of the universe they inhabit.”

Bringing Yanna to life for Nimrat meant having a heartfelt, authentic take on what was written. “I needed to make Yanna and Hari’s equation as felt as possible.”

Learning curve

Working with Jared Harris, Nimrat says, was nothing short of magic. “I don’t think I have learnt this amount in such a short span of time from any co-actor, ever. He left me richer, with more depth for my craft, which is something one does not get very often. You can have a great time working, you can have a lot of laughs and entertainment and all kinds of good things but to come off knowing that you learnt something that will make you better at the job, is very rare.”

Harris’ commitment to his work had Nimrat awestruck. “In one of our schedules in Prague, I felt he was not his usual buoyant, enthusiastic self. Later in the day, I found out that he had lost his mother the day before. Being the extraordinary professional that he was, he was finishing his work commitments, before joining his family. That is when I realised that it’s one thing to say, the show must go on and another to witness it. Between takes when I asked him, how he was doing, he said, ‘death comes at a very inconvenient time. One has to keep doing what one is here for’.”

Biggest takeaway

The experience of working in something so surreal was one of Nimrat’s biggest takeaways from working on Foundation. “I’ll never be able to forget that. You’re human beings, playing a part in a world that you don’t entirely know. Foundation is based on something that was written in the ‘50s. You have to imagine so much more than what you generally need to as an actor. I find that so cool and magical. I felt like the child in me came alive and refused to leave every time I walked on set.”

Having worked across genres, screens and countries, Nimrat’s work mantra is, “Every project is only as challenging as the people and circumstances around it. The greater challenges to overcome are not-so-wonderful work environments. The challenge is not so much about genre, or working in India or abroad, it is about how happy or unhappy you are at work.”

Where science meets spirituality

A self-confessed lover of science fiction, Nimrat describes the genre as the space where science meets spirituality. “Sci-fi is a genre that interests and intrigues me deeply. It is fascinating that what was science fiction 30 years ago is reality now. Science fiction offers answers to some of the larger questions that day-to-day life does not. I felt like Interstellar did that for me. It continues to be one of my favorite films of all time, not just my favorite science fiction film.”

Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002) was the first sci-fi film that made a deep impression on Nimrat. “That was the film that I felt like I couldn’t have enough of. I felt like everything about it was just right— the human and the scientific elements. It spoke to me intensely.”

In the pipeline for Nimrat is Section 84 with Amitabh Bachchan. “I have finished shooting for that. Happy Teachers Day is up for release and School of Lies is currently streaming...” Before all that however, Nimrat is going to take a well-deserved break. “I’m going to take off in two or three days. I’m going to park myself in a nice, pretty, scenic spot very soon (laughs).”

Foundation is presently streaming on Apple TV+

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