Andor's Kyle Soller On Syril Karn, Star Wars Cereal, What's In His Secret Box, And More [Exclusive Interview]

"Andor" is doing an awful lot to restore good will with many disenfranchised "Star Wars" fans. While the show might not be pulling in the viewership numbers that "The Mandalorian" or "Obi-Wan Kenobi" did (which is understandable), those who have been enjoying it are enjoying it thoroughly. There are many, many reasons for that, but chief among them is that we are getting some of the most enjoyable and compelling new characters in this universe that we've had in quite some time. Near or at the very top of that list? Syril Karn.

As played by actor Kyle Soller, Karn started out as a hard-nosed, devoted member of the Empire, and through one of the most unexpected character arcs of this franchise in years, he was beaten down and dejected. Syril is now living with his mom and desperately trying to get his life back. The layers Soller has brought to the role through these two very different character arcs warrant much conversation.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to sit down with Soller to discuss his turn as Syril Karn in the show. We discussed why the character is so devoted to the Empire, his creepy misread of his relationship to Dedra, that cereal he's been eating, and much more.

'It feels like he's got two arcs within 12 episodes'

I talked to you right before the show came out.

Yeah, I remember.

I have such a newfound respect for your profession, because I had asked you about your relationship to Denise Gough's character, Dedra, and you guys had to just sit there and come up with answers and not tell me where this was all going. Were you surprised at where the character arc with Syril went as things went on, given that we're introduced to him as this steadfast man of the Empire?

Yes and no. I had a conversation with Tony [Gilroy] at the very beginning when we were chatting about the role before I took it on and I really wanted to know where Syril was going to end up. "Is he good? Is he bad? You've written a really complicated character here that could go either way." And Tony was like, "Yeah, I don't know. It could go there, it could go there. I don't know." I think Tony did know. I just think he was doing me a really awesome solid as a fellow creative and to go — well, A, he was, in my eyes, trusting me with leading Syril to where I intuitively was feeling him going. Then, at the same time, he was allowing this character to breathe within this unknown, of not knowing who he is, of having this incredible idea of what he wants to achieve in his life, but not really having the means or the emotional acuity or indeed the kind of development to carry that through.

Where he ends up, I guess by [episode] eight or nine, where he is stalking Dedra, I mean, I didn't anticipate that at all. But what was wonderful is that he has a real incredible trajectory. Within the first three episodes, he has a massive high and a massive fall, and then has to build himself up by going back to live with his mother and then being given a handout job in a no-name, horrible working environment where anonymity is the kind of name in the game. So his crawling back from this complete depression — I never expected two character arcs, I guess is what I'm trying to say. It feels like he's got two arcs within 12 episodes.

Very much so from what I've gathered, yeah.

Yeah. And then still exists within this, "Am I being my authentic self?" I think seeing and meeting Dedra feels like, "Oh my God, a fire has been rekindled within me, because I see myself in her. I see all of my ideals within her and what she represents and her instincts about Cassian and this burgeoning rebellion are the same as mine." And feeling seen and acknowledged literally within the heart of the Empire at the ISB, which is exactly where Syril wants to be. He was operating out on the further reaches in Morlana One, which is kind of an anomalous planet. The veil is kind of lifted again and his kind of like Jing is activated and he's like, "Oh my gosh, okay." He goes about it the wrong way, of course, by stalking somebody.

Yeah, totally.

I would never condone that. [laughs] But Syril's emotional acuity, his social acuity, and his developmental acuity are really not, I guess what you would call "fully developed."

'He's completely out of his depth'

I guess with you having said that, at the end of episode 9, which was the most recent episode, you kind of have that very intense and awkward confrontation with Dedra. I guess from your perspective, did he just think that sort of borderline stalking was okay? Did he not realize how hard he was crossing the line?

Yeah. I always explored within Syril that he doesn't really know where the lines are and he has a deep emotional well and level of frustration and anxiety that sits below the surface of this polished and tailored exterior. But it's almost like he's trying to wrestle his inner life to within the constrictions of that suit and that hair, if you know what I mean?

Yes, totally.

As a result, that internal battle that is going on within him, it actually doesn't allow enough capacity to recognize, "Oh, I've overstepped a mark here." It's like he's so wrapped up within this internal battle that he doesn't see beyond his own hand, in a way, I think. He can be really emotionally led at times and can be really cerebrally led at times, but he's not really taking in other people's lives or thoughts — I think the only time he really properly does that is in episode 3 when he has to give that speech to these mercenaries, effectively, onboard the ship before they land at Ferrix and the penny drops like, "Oh wait. Oh, these people kill people and this could go really wrong, maybe." He's completely out of his depth. Then when everything does go wrong, his inner sight is kind of woken up.

That was one of my favorite moments in the show, because that's the moment where, as a viewer, you're like, "Oh man, this total devotee to the Empire is about to go lay his fist down." Then everything goes so south for him right after that, it's just such a thing that you don't anticipate happening, and then it ends up being one of the most compelling things in the whole show.

Yeah, I was amazed that it happened that early. I was like, "Yeah, God, wow, that's perfect. Where do you go from here? You've hit rock bottom." What a gift.

Well, in your case, you go to your mom's house.

Yeah [laughs].

I have to ask, and I'm sure going to get asked about this a bunch, but what is in Syril's secret box? Did you put any thought into that? Because that is such a compelling moment, but we don't have any clue what's in there.

Yeah, you know: Dreams, hopes, desires. [laughs] Conflicts in my childhood.

On a more serious note connected to that, though, we see Syril's mom quite a bit and she's a very, very possessive, enforcing figure. Have you given any thought to Syril's father? Because we haven't really touched on that too much. Have you put any thought to who that man was, where he is, what your relationship was to him?

Yeah, 100%. I had wound up working out my own story and then I started collaborating with [Eedy Karn actress] Kathryn Hunter about it as well. We had kind of figured out the same thing, that he had left really early on, in a real acrimonious, horrible way. That was a real launchpad for how Eedy then parents Syril, which is by being wronged. And her anger, and grief, and disappointment, and frustration of him leaving just got filtered into Syril. Growing up without a father is — that's a whole level of Jungian psychology that we could dive into. That's another podcast-length interview, but it's heavy, and that absence definitely drives Syril as much as the over-dominating maternal influence.

'That's proper Tatooine breakfast cereal, man'

There's always been this weird fascination with the food in the "Star Wars" universe, and we get some blue milk action here. The interesting thing is you have this "Star Wars" breakfast cereal that you're eating all the time. What was that you were actually eating? Because it looks amazing.

That's proper Tatooine breakfast cereal, man. That's like legit stuff. No E numbers, completely natural. Yeah, that was one of the coolest things to come to on set, because the props guys were all asking me, "What do you eat? What don't you eat?" And I was like, "Are you just interested, or what's going on?" And they're like, "Well, there's a kind of breakfast scene and stuff." I was like, "Right, well just, yeah, here's what I think and then let me see what you guys do." Then they came up with the most amazing "Star Wars" Cocoa Puffs that I've ever seen with the blue milk.

That's awesome.

This is just perfect, because it's such a symbol of, to me, of Syril's childhood, but also an indication of how much Eedy doesn't know her own child. I see Syril as actually out in the world living on his own as eating — everything that he puts into his mind and body is quite clean and structured. You see a journey of the "Star Wars" Pops throughout the episodes of him just not eating it at all to eventually succumbing and kind of like, "Oh Jesus Christ, okay, fine. It's the only thing that she'll give me for breakfast." So that's its own kind of psychological journey in and of itself.

At this point through episode 9, why does Syril still believe so hard in the Empire? Because it's kind of kicked him a lot at this point and you would think that would shake him, but he still seems like he just wants back in. So why is he still so devoted to that cause?

Well, God, a number of reasons. It's a really good question. He has absolute belief that he belongs within the higher structures of the Empire, whether that's the ISB or higher, and belief is such an incredibly powerful thing. It keeps people alive, as does hope, and as does anger, and his anger and frustration that he isn't where he wants to be. But it was actually not until he got home and it depressed him for a bit. That's why he keeps Cassian's image, because it actually fuels him. It actually powers his will to survive. Then meeting Dedra ignites that will even more. I think he has placed so much of his life, and so much of his ideals, and so much of his mind, and spirit energy into believing that the Empire is the answer. He's not brave enough to go, "Oh, maybe it isn't," once it has kicked him one time too many.

He is also the product of a family home that consistently kicks him in different psychological and emotional ways, and he can kind of have little rebuttals and bite back, but he doesn't stand up to his mother. That's very indicating about how that kind of power system of a parent-child dynamic reflected into a larger system of the empire and Syril-worker dynamic. He's in a way, a glutton for punishment, but also firmly and fervently believes in what the Empire is trying to achieve. He's willing to do whatever it takes because he knows that reward system is much more straightforward than trying to live a normal life in the Rebellion consisting of scraping by and meager food and lifestyle. You do things right by the Empire and you ascend those ranks pretty quickly.

Sorry, this is such a multifaceted question.

No, no, I appreciate it.

It's just really, really good. It's a wonderful question. He's also dampened a lot of the survival mechanisms that would tell you, "This is not good for you, maybe you should leave." I do believe that Syril has the capacity to be a good person. As I said earlier, his morals are really sound. He could exist on the other side. It's just that he's been so indoctrinated and he's grown up on Coruscant as well. He's got no friends and such a toxic family life that the answer has always laid within the Empire. He's got those little childhood-like toys on his bedside table. So he's dreamed about this from a kid and those dreams are really hard and difficult to let go of and unravel.

"Andor" is currently streaming on Disney+ with new episodes dropping on Wednesdays.