Mark Ivanir discusses the timeliness of Netflix’s Away.
One of the other talented folks in the cast is Mark Ivanir, who portrays Misha, the engineer who works alongside Ato’s character Kwesi and the rest of the Atlas crew. One Chicago Center spoke with Mark to discuss the positive reaction to the show’s premiere, and what he thinks stands out about this space drama.
You can stream all of Away season 1 on Netflix now, and for even more about the series, read our interview with Ato Essandoh.
One Chicago Center: When Away premiered last week, critics and viewers alike really embraced it. What has the last week been like for you, seeing that reaction and just having the series out there now?
Mark Ivanir: It’s great. I have to say when something like this…that you are invested in and you really want to succeed, when that comes near, you always [wonder] how is it going to be accepted? How are people going to respond? So about a week before it launched, I was really nervous and I was checking online and getting phone calls. And then it exploded, which is very cool.
Me and my family, we saw the show all together beforehand. We really liked it, we were really invested in it. It was interesting to see how things were. My daughter started looking at stuff on Twitter and she showed me a few things.
There was a whole line of people who had a problem with all kinds of technical stuff…but then when we were talking to the actual astronaut, Mike Massimino, when I was doing my research and watching astronauts like Scott Kelly or Russian cosmonaut Misha Kornienko in space, a lot of the things that people have a problem with actually are okay.
OCC: What was it that first made you think Away was going to be successful?
MI: Me. (laughs) No, I’m kidding. What I thought was great is that there’s a combination of the workplace drama and family drama in one concept, and the workplace drama being [in] space and really well done technically. I thought that could be a winning situation—when you have both these things wrapped up in this very exciting space.
I didn’t think about it a year ago because we lived in a totally different world, but starting with the COVID-19 [pandemic], this show became much, much more applicable than it was when I read it because of the whole thing of being secluded, being in a tin can, without a possibility of communicating with people who are far from you. My wife’s grandfather passed away a month and a half ago, and we went to the burial—we did it on Zoom. We couldn’t travel…It was so weird and timely, and this show, in this way, is timely.
The element of hope that it brings, that’s really what makes it so successful. That emotion and hope and people coming together to overcome stuff that I think we’re missing right now.
OCC: Ato Essandoh was discussing the acting differences of Away being isolated with your cast because it’s a space drama. How was the experience from your point of view?
MI: We lucked out really having amazing people from all over the world. We had Ray Panthaki from London, Vivian Wu’s family comes from China, and Ato, he’s from New York but [his family]’s originally from Ghana. What’s happening in the show, actually happens on set. We would hike together, and we would hang out during the day together, then each one would go and respect each other’s privacy as well.
So in a weird way, the whole situation was almost a metaphor. Being on location in Vancouver, away from your home, away from your family, the only way to communicate is over the phone. It really reminds you of the show, which is farther away, but still, it’s a very interesting situation when that really is almost a metaphor to life.
OCC: How did you approach the role of Misha in Away? Was there any particular inspiration for you as you unraveled his character?
MI: When you get to [acting] for many years, I think it’s a combined knowledge of what you’ve done throughout the years that that produces the next work. When you work on something, you delve into things you did in the past. But in this one, the interesting thing is that a month and a half or two months into shooting the show, I realized that I have a model for Misha and it has nothing to do with my past, it has nothing to do with my peers; it’s my friend who is a contractor.
There’s something about him that really reminds me what this character Misha is, and it’s that being a big strong man, and having almost an emotional armor, that suddenly you see that there’s some depth and, and warm and emotion inside. You can see through the cracks, and a lot of the time that comes through jokes. My contractor friend constantly jokes, and that’s his way of making things work for him.
I kind of adopted it, first unknowingly, then when I realized [it] I I kind of kept going the same way. Sometimes part of the experience is just knowing that you can take from your environment, take from the outside things and incorporate them in your work.
OCC: What resonates with you about Away looking back on it? Is there anything you want to draw viewers’ attention to?
MI: One of the greatest things about this show is that I don’t think on TV, they ever were able to depict space the way that our show does it. The movies, yes, but it’s much closer to film than to anything that I’ve watched on TV, and while I was doing my research, I watched a lot.
For example, the weightlessness of the zero gravity, I don’t think it has been ever tackled this way. We had an amazing, dedicated group of people who were dealing with this. We had two weeks of training when we were hanging for hours a day on cable with a harness, and trying to figure out how to do a 360, and it became part of almost a daily routine.
What helped me with that is that I have my history. I was a circus performer before I became an actor, so the whole acrobatic [element] and knowing where I am in space helped me a lot when we started working. In fact, I think on the first or second day I was already able to do all kind of somersaults on the cable, pissing off the other people who were just starting, like oh look at Mark, he’s showing off. (laughs) But it was fun, I have to say, to show off.
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