Actor Kai Alexander has most recently been seen in the Netflix Original adaptation of Harlan Coben’s novel, The Stranger, where he played the role of Dante Gunnarsson throughout the series, which was released in January. Last year, Kai was part of Series 4 of Catastrophe on Amazon Prime as Jeffrey, after joining at the end of the third series, and worked with his on-screen family played by Mark Bonnar and Ashley Jensen, and early on in his career, he played the lead character William in the BBC3 short drama Oakwood. We found out from Kai about playing Dante Gunnarsson in The Stranger, joining the cast of Catastrophe and his training at Arts Educational Schools.
You filmed as Dante Gunnarsson in The Stranger, can you tell us about playing the character?
I’ve always wanted to play a character with a slight quirk. Daniel O’Hara said to me, “really think about why he has filmed all this footage of Corinne, what’s going on there?”. That was something that stuck with me throughout filming, it helped me get into his mind. He was secretive and he enjoyed it. He had this charming persona yet he was an outsider who didn’t fit into the core social group. Confidence was something that also stood out, anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to strip down naked by a lake in the middle of the night trying to impress a girl is someone who is extremely self-assured!
What was it like reading the script for the first time and how did you prepare for the role?
The whole story of The Stranger was something that was immediately captivating straight off the page. I always wanted to read on. We received the scripts chronologically and I remember, in each of the first few episodes, Dante was being linked to so many different storylines.
One scene I spent time researching was in episode two where Dante has a seizure. Accuracy is something that is very important to me. I watched videos of real-life seizures in hospitals, people coming out of a coma etc… which helped me understand the physicality of all the different types of seizures. We had amazing on-set medical advisors, who helped me relate all this to the condition which Dante was in at that time.
Can you tell us more about your storyline and what did you know about Harlan Coben’s work before booking the role?
I was a huge fan of The Five, I remember watching it a few years ago and becoming totally engrossed. I love a twisty thriller and Harlan’s just incredible at writing them.
Dante has a storyline which underpins part of the main plot. His whole storyline is a new addition for the TV series. Dante definitely enjoys the chase, he was always pursuing something. Particularly throughout his backstory, Corinne fascinated him, but his main storyline throughout the show and the reason he ends up in a coma, is his crush on Daisy.
What are some of your favourite moments from your time filming the show?
The first time we all filmed together was shooting the rave sequence. It was such a fun evening. We had house music playing in the background, it was dark, and the only way we could see each other was through this huge fire in the centre of the field. There was an amazing energy in that field.
I also loved filming with Siobhan Finneran for episode seven. It’s really the only time we see Dante open up and talk honestly. It was a really lovely moment filming that.
Can you tell us about your character Jeffrey in Catastrophe?
The first scene I shot as Jeffrey was in the Beasley family home. Sharon and Rob had come over for dinner. Right before we started filming, Ben Taylor said to me, “Jeffrey probably owns this house”. I just thought the whole concept was hilarious, but it so accurately sums him up. Jeffrey was so much fun to play. He has this not a care in the world attitude, but deep down really cared about his family. Sharon and Rob wrote him some amazing lines which struck similarities to the dry and sarcastic humour so synonymous to his dad, Chris.
Had you seen the series before auditioning and what drew you to the show?
I loved the series, and was super excited when the audition came through. Having watched Series 1 and 2, I knew Jeffrey was a character who existed but there was this whole mystery behind him. He had been talked about for two seasons but never seen. When I saw the character I was auditioning for was Jeffrey I remember thinking “ah, so he does exist!!”.
How was it working with your on-screen family?
Incredible, a dream, I was a huge fan of both Mark Bonnar and Ashley Jensen, particularly from Line of Duty and Extras. For the final series, Jeffrey moved in with his dad and Mark and I had the majority of our scenes with each other and we had so much fun filming them all. I learnt so much from both Mark and Ashley. The very last scene we all filmed together was the last time we were all seen on screen in the show. It was a special moment as it saw us all reunited as a family.
Catastrophe was one big family. It was a small cast and when I joined, they had already filmed two series together, there was such a bond between everyone and it was lovely to be welcomed in.
What was it like working on a comedy series?
I really enjoy working in comedy, there is always so much energy on set. With Catastrophe, Sharon and Rob wrote such incredible scripts. The beautiful thing about the show was that it also dealt with serious issues and real life problems. In Jeffrey’s case, the difficulties families face going through divorce. Being able to explore them through comedy was really incredible. I owe so much to that series, and everyone involved in it, and I will be forever grateful to them all.
What do you remember from working on some of your early screen productions?
Oakwood, which was a short film I did for BBC Three, is and always will be something that stands out for me. The storyline revolved around my character, William, a kid from the rural countryside wanting to escape his traditional family life to a city to pursue a career in the music industry.
It was a fantastic script written by Simon Longman. The three of us, Simon, myself and Andrew Cumming our director, all had a similar experience and relationship to the story. I left my family’s hometown of Worcestershire to come to London to pursue a career in acting so the story of Oakwood is something I will always be able to relate so much to. In fact, we didn’t learn this until our last day filming, but both Simon and I were raised in the same city and even went to the same school.
I learnt a lot from Oakwood and I credit Andrew our director for that, he taught me so much about making a performance small and delicate for camera.
You’ve previously worked in radio, what did you enjoy most about doing this?
It was my first time doing a voiceover and using just the voice is so different when you’re used to using your whole body. Facial and body expressions on screen tell so much of a story, so when you’re unable to use them it’s all of a sudden really strange. I remember rehearsing just before we recorded Paula Hawkins’s Into The Water and I listened back through what I had recorded and thought, my character is so deeply shocked and upset by these events, I sound bizarrely confident! The voice is such a remarkable thing, I love doing different voices and learning new accents.
Was there anything that drew you to an acting career?
The first moment I knew I wanted to be an actor was working on a Honey Monster TV commercial. From the first audition where I met the director, Garth Jennings, who is just amazing. I remember it was just me and Garth improvising. We must have turned what was a thirty-second advert into a five-minute scene. Working on the set of that and being the central character with my own lines, I thought immediately, “I want to do this again”.
Can you tell us about training at Arts Educational Schools?
Going to ArtsEd really cemented my desire to want to become an actor. It’s the reason I moved to London. It was the first time I’d ever really met people who were like-minded and understood me. I had some great teachers at ArtsEd who really pushed me out of my comfort zone. They helped me to believe that all my crazy energy and weird quirks that I used to suppress should actually be my biggest strengths. It was the first time I had been somewhere which recognised acting as a career path, they showed me that it was possible.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
Music is a huge passion of mine. I started playing the piano when I was four and the drums followed soon after. It’s been something of a saviour during this lockdown, I’ve been writing a lot. I love new challenges, I learnt the guitar for the first time last year auditioning for a movie. I love reading, biographies particularly, watching films and the masters of the craft, learning from them!
I always like challenging myself, currently I’m boxing. Exercise has never been something which excited me, but with boxing, I just love it. I highly recommend.
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