Kyle Soller on ‘Andor,’ Star Wars, and Playing the Villain

This story contains spoilers for the Season One finale of Andor.

I’ve been trying to figure out how, exactly, to describe Kyle Soller’s performance as Syril Karn, Andor‘s resident Empire fanboy. Here it goes. It’s as if Soller meshed Hermione Granger, Michael Corleone, and the Cowardly Lion into one neat, tidy, batshit package. It’s like the actor, 39, watched the full Star Wars box set—which he absolutely did before filming Andor—and thought to himself, Hm! What if Darth Vader was just some powerless, insecure dude who lived with his mom, but was still so pissed that he wanted to destroy the galaxy?

I’m not sure how else to say it, but: Kyle Soller is that guy. The guy that’s so mystifying, show-stealing, and just-on-the-verge-of-full-breakout that when you mention his name, people light up with a look of surprise-curiosity, and say, “Wow, that guy!” He’s that guy.

“Syril is really rooted in this normalcy, which is what makes him so kind of strange and potentially terrifying,” that guy—Kyle Soller—told me over Zoom last week. “He’s really relatable even though his life is so constricted and structured within an inch of its life.”

In Andor‘s Season One finale, which is now streaming on Disney+, Soller adds the punctuation mark to standout turn in the series, which tracks the early days of the rebellion. (Season Two of Andor will end the series, leading into the events of 2016’s Rogue One.) After banishment, essentially, to eating cereal and blue milk with his mom forever, Karn finds redemption at Maarva’s funeral. He saves high-ranking Empire baddie, Dedra, from death-by-angry-mob—which instigates the most unsettling fit of sexual tension in Star Wars since we thought a certain two siblings had a thing for each other. It makes for a brilliant—and satisfying—season finale of Andor, which may have just reminded the rest of Hollywood how to make appointment viewing out of a Herculean franchise like Star Wars.

As for Soller? Well, the actor, who had a decade-plus long career in theater prior to Andor, is already gearing up to pull up Karn’s (tailored!) collar once again. Last week, we talked about the next season of the Disney+ adaptation, Karn’s romantic pursuits, and just what the hell the actor was doing before Star Wars knocked on his door. This conversation has been edited for clarity.

anaheim, california   september 10 kyle soller poses at the imdb official portrait studio during d23 2022 at anaheim convention center on september 10, 2022 in anaheim, california photo by corey nickolsgetty images for imdb

Of his Andor character, Soller says, “I wouldn’t say that Syril has delusions of grandeur—but I would say that he has the capability, but he doesn’t know how to execute.”

Corey Nickols

ESQUIRE: Let’s go broad—what are your weeks looking like right about now?

KYLE SOLLER: Oh. Wow. Weeks have been in prep going over the new scripts for Season Two. What’s amazing about dropping back in for this season is the time gaps that are going to be instituted to take you up the full five years before coming into Rogue One at the end. So there’s huge amounts of growth that’s happening within the world of Andor, but also in Syril’s world… and his tailoring.

It’s the most important thing.

Let’s not forget it. But [we’re] really seeing the actual evidence of growth within this unformed person that you met in the first season. When I originally spoke to [Andor showrunner] Tony [Gilroy] about it—god, in like February or March of 2020— it just made sense that he was just this adolescent to begin with. We really wanted to lay those seeds of someone who had an amazing character arc within the first three episodes. Huge high, massive low, and then just didn’t know what to do with himself. I’m amazed at what Tony and everyone is going to accomplish for Season Two.

I can’t imagine the whiplash of returning to something you filmed during the beginning of the pandemic. You must feel like a different person entirely.

Man, in so many more ways than I can actually say. I had a really big beard that I had grown for another job—and also for life. But I had that for, gosh… maybe 10 months. Then when I went in for my first hair and makeup thing [for Andor Season Two] and it came off, I literally did not recognize the face. All of a sudden, I started to get back in touch with Syril. I was like, Oh my God, this guy, this guy’s intense. Do I want to come back to this guy?!

I feel like losing either pandemic hair or a beard was a weird I-don’t-know-the-word-for-it moment.

It’s not even a rite of passage, but it’s like a public shaming or something? It’s like getting shorn as a sheep in public. You’re forced to do the walk of shame.

That’s exactly it.

I felt it deeply. And just the practical notion of getting your head back into the game of something you did a few years ago. We’ve been doing rehearsals lately. I mean, they’re turning it up to 11. There are more people, more planets, more worlds. There’s an amazing storyline about this new group of people. And I don’t know, man, it’s amazing really to walk onto these massive sets that they’re building.

anaheim, california   september 10 kyle soller poses at the imdb official portrait studio during d23 2022 at anaheim convention center on september 10, 2022 in anaheim, california photo by corey nickolsgetty images for imdb

“I could give you transcripts of my therapy sessions and that would probably accurate of what that period was like,” Soller says of the years before Andor. “It was heavy.”

Corey Nickols

Before Andor, you were in The Inheritance, a celebrated play that took you from London to New York during a four-year period. Then the pandemic happened and it all ended. I can’t imagine how hard that must’ve been.

Yeah. I could give you transcripts of my therapy sessions and that would probably be accurate to what that period was like. It was heavy.

The play dealt with weighty fare—it’s about New York’s gay community, and deals with issues like the AIDS crisis and and homophobia.

That play was really special. We got that feedback every single day. There was someone who you could hear in the audience being affected, or spoke to us after the play. They’d say, “I went through that,” or “Thank you,” or “I’ve been really struggling and this has given me hope.” And it was an incredible container for people to find each other and to heal. I’d never been a part of something like that on that scale. I’d been a part of plays that had really affected people, but this felt like work that can change people’s lives, turn them into different people, change their directions. So it was probably the most rewarding creative experience that I’ve ever had… It still sits kind of over my shoulder.

How could it not?

It was so amazing to be part of something that was so topical. So at the same time that Broadway and the whole world were shutting down, I was getting calls going, “You need to say yes or no to Star Wars.” I had a two-week break built into my contract on Broadway. So in that break, that’s when I met Tony Gilroy in London because he just happened to be here meeting people.

And then when I returned was when everything shut down. I was like, “I don’t know! I can’t make decisions about what to eat, let alone if I’m going to be signing up for Star Wars for five years.” But I leaned into it. I’m really grateful I did. And shooting wound up getting pushed to November—then it wasn’t even like we were doing Star Wars, because we were all just so happy to be working and alive. We’d forgotten about the whole pressure of Star Wars. A lot of that came from Tony Gilroy too, because he was just like, “Look, let’s just forget that. Focus on the words and the story.”

I have to ask: of the whole canon of Star Wars villains, aside from the obvious, who else has mommy issues?

Oh, dude. I mean, don’t they all?!

… Yeah. I think so.

Isn’t that the unspoken truth if you really dig beneath the surface? All little lost mama’s boys who have not dealt with their inherited trauma? Yeah. I mean I’d say definitely Kylo Ren has a lot of daddy issues on the surface—but what doesn’t get explored is the mommy issues, which I think are probably more potent.

I feel like there’s a shred of DNA that’s shared between Kylo and Syril. When we see Kylo, the feeling is also like, Wow, finally an unpolished villain.

During lockdown, before we started [filming Andor], I was like, OK, let’s do the boxed set. Let’s prepare. One thing I did notice about a lot of the villains is that you don’t really know where their motivations came from apart from just being evil.

There’s no inner life, not like we see with Syril.

That’s something Tony had provided—what is created in that space of a parent leaving and another parent trying to fill that void in a really intensely possessive way? Also: what is the nature of growing up in a fascist state on Coruscant? The most surprising thing to me was reading the first couple of scripts—and then seeing him across the breakfast table with his mother. That was the point where I just said, Oh wow. It sort of didn’t matter where he went from there. Is he good or is he bad? Which is still a question that has never been resolved for me or to Tony—which I think is wonderful. Why play one thing? It’s amazing to be given the opportunity to exist in an unknown space.

And in the midst of this whole melee of a riot, you have this amazingly tender moment between these two really fucked-up, weird people in a broom closet in space.

I’m sure you’ve been asked this 5,000 times. What’s the cereal?

Oh yeah.

Cocoa Puffs, or…?

It’s got the texture of a Captain Crunch.

It looked Captain Crunch-y.

They’ve dyed it and it’s very sweet. I know that much.

Am I off-base in thinking that Syril, beginning to end, is Michael Corleone?

You’re not entirely off-base, but it’s not entirely accurate either. But I wonder… I’m not going to say what I was going to say.

The first time we meet your character feels very Michael at the wedding reception table.

I feel like if I speak on it, it’ll get me in trouble.

Let me get your rundown of the finale, then.

The end of Season One is so perfectly Syril for Syril. He’s kept Cassian as this talisman that’s giving him fuel to stay alive, basically. It’s a receptacle to put his frustration and aggression. And he’s still living at home—so he doesn’t have any friends or a therapist. He doesn’t have a dog. He also knows that he’s right. Then through his relationship with Dedra, being seen by her and feeling seen, that’s a massive indication. And so this call is like, Wow, it’s his mom’s funeral, it’s all coming together again. It’s at the place where I fucked up last time. I can put this right.

I wouldn’t say that Syril has delusions of grandeur—but I would say that he has the capability. He doesn’t know how to execute. And he’s also there to continue to be close to Dedra. Then he sees this opportunity to swoop in. It’s not even that he views it as a hero moment. I think it’s just his obsession with Cassian, that starts to extend itself to Dedra—because she’s involved in the same obsession. He recognizes that the two of them are more powerful together than they are separately. And when he sees that go down, it’s like no question. He’s there. And then in the weird kind of moment after in the cupboard, it’s kind of like…

We’re getting somewhere, with them…

It’s like, “Oh wait, what is this? Are you … Am I?!” And that was a funny thing to explore, because neither of us really initially wanted to lean into the will-they-won’t-they, but it’s kind of unavoidable given all the circumstances that have led up to it. And it’s kind of beautiful, because he’s doing something so selfless, actually, and she’s completely traumatized and panicked and in shock. In the midst of this whole melee of a riot, you have this amazingly tender moment between these two really fucked-up, weird people in a broom closet in space.

syril karn

Important question: what’s the deal with the cereal??


That ten-second interaction is absolutely incredible.

Tony gives these amazing moments of veils dropping—or lifting, rather. He’s really great at giving actors opportunities to live in a chaotic moment and then play a realization: “All my hopes and dreams are gone,” or “all that I thought was real is false. True is false. And all of this interaction with this person I’ve had, I’ve been ignoring what is actually underneath. Oh my god. Is this…?” He loves to sit in questions.

I think what you’re saying, too, is the brainwashing power of oppressive regimes.

That’s exactly it. He drank the Kool-Aid from day one. And dreamed and thought of being high up in the ISB since he was a kid. He’s got these little figurines that he plays with. Yeah, the autopilot of working out all the steps. “If I do this, I’ll get rewarded. I’m trying to keep my collar high enough just so I’m in control, so I feel protected. I feel safe. I’m different.” That all starts to disintegrate in that riot space. And it disintegrates, I guess, because feeling for another person is greater than oneself, greater than one’s idealism. It pierces through. I don’t think he’s ever been in love before. I think that’s a really new, fresh experience. And he’s always been a watcher on the outside. That sounds weird saying that!

No! It’s true, right?

He’s an observer. He’s on the fringes. God, poor Syril.

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