When it comes to billionaires with huge egos and aspirations toward the stars we might, unfortunately, be a little too familiar with what a person like that might look and act like. But, as with most aspects of the Apple TV+ series For All Mankind, the series offers us a refreshing twist on the stereotype. Edi Gathegi plays Dev Ayesa (sp?), the founder of Helios, the private company that’s not only figured out nuclear fusion to provide clean energy to the world but has also forced both NASA and the Soviets to push their launch windows up two years to compete with the company to get to Mars first.
While there will definitely be aspects of Dev that are familiar to us in a world of Musks and Bezoses, he also stands out distinctly. Not only is he a young and talented scientist (not merely a businessman who knows how to utilize the work of others), but he is a Black man at the head of a company that essentially prevented the world from declining into the horrors of climate change and pioneered humanity’s journey to the red planet. When we first meet Dev, it’s after Karen (Shantel VanSanten) has sold the Polaris space vessel to him after the disaster in Episode 1. We are justifiably cautious of him, his company is full of young people with big ideas and there is no professional hierarchy, which Karen points out merely means that Dev sits at the very top.
But like all characters on For All Mankind, Dev shows his complexities. He quickly identifies that Karen is a worthy asset and employs her at Helios, which then allows both Ed (Joel Kinnaman) and Danny (Casey Johnson) to join the Helios mission to Mars. We spoke with Gathegi about his inspirations behind playing the character, Dev’s motivations, what happens when you end up on the wrong side of Dev’s decisions, Dev’s relationship with Karen, and Gathegi’s own favorite character on the show.
Therese Lacson: It’s clear that Dev has a lot of real-life parallels, but I’m curious when you were developing Dev’s character for yourself, what inspirations did you draw from beyond the obvious choices?
Edi Gathegi: Well, I was really excited to step into the role of a billionaire. I’ve never played a billionaire before. It just seemed like a really interesting life to explore. And billionaires, they do both amazing things and things that not everybody agrees with. So, the complications are just baked into the DNA of who these overly rich people are.
My first approach was just to play the character based on nothing other than the given certain circumstances and what my perception of that kind of life would be. But if I was to pick someone that I tapped into, it would have to be a little bit of Steve Jobs. Not Elon Musk or anybody like that. But it would be just because I just always love the Apple presentations, the Apple drops. I kept him in mind and how he was able to just relate with his audience and get everybody excited about every new product and walk people through the specifics of what the product entailed. Those are the kinds of things that I used Steve as inspiration for.
Lacson: How much of Dev’s purpose is fueled by his ambition over his desire to ‘beat the authority figures at their own game,’ as he says?
Edi Gathegi: I would say that [for] Dev it’s kind of a hybrid, but Dev is motivated by things that motivate all passionate people. He has something to prove and the person that he has something to prove to his father, as well as himself, as well as the government.
So at a certain point, you make a decision about what you want your path to be based on and all of the factors that go into that. Then it becomes about the purpose. I don’t know that every day he’s thinking about, “I gotta beat the government at their game.” He might have said that, and that’s part of it. But, really, he’s excited about what he’s become deeply passionate about – about science, about innovation, about changing the world – bringing people together and exploring new technologies and new spaces. So, I think he’s mostly motivated by the work.
Lacson: In Episode 5 “Seven Minutes of Terror”, we saw what happens when you get on the wrong side of a Dev decision when the astronauts are faced with the decision of who should go help the Russians. For Karen and Ed, it’s obvious that the Polaris, with more space to house the astronauts, should go and get them. But, Dev wants to get to Mars first and influences his whole company to vote against the rescue, forcing NASA to go back and ultimately losing two American astronauts and one Soviet. Did that moment surprise you when you read it in the script or did you kind of see the writing on the wall earlier on when it came to Dev’s decision?
Edi Gathegi: What I love about the show is that it really allows characters to make decisions that are polarizing. Half the audience might agree with the decision that somebody makes and the other half won’t. I think that’s deeply fascinating because it’s deeply human. So. nothing surprises me at this point. I’ve learned to understand that this is one of the things that makes the show so interesting, and it’s the beating heart of the storytelling. So when I read that part, I went, “Okay, yeah, this is what Dev’s landed with and it makes sense.” I think people are going to be pissed off, and I think some people are gonna be like, “F Yeah!” You know, the Russians shouldn’t have entered the race early. That was their decision. Then their equipment can’t handle the journey. That’s their fault.
And for my community, for the African American community, it is like, “Who’s going out there to save Black astronauts if this was to happen?” So, there are a lot of complex ideas and stakes. I’ve learned not to be surprised by anything. I think any character can do — look what happened with Karen, last season with the under-aged gentleman, [Danny], and how that’s played out. Things get crazy because life is crazy.
Lacson: Speaking about Karen, I love seeing Dev’s relationship with her during the season and their partnership. I felt like she could have taken a backseat this season, but then she almost became Dev’s moral compass and really a spearhead of the mission to Mars. Can you talk about working with Shantel VanSanten and working on those scenes with her where Dev and Karen are butting heads and are trying to negotiate against each other?
Edi Gathegi: Well, the artist Shantel is so lovely, and we become great buds, it’s always a joy to show up on set with her. We’ve got a good chemistry and vibe, and we speak a similar language when it comes to the work. She’s also a generous artist. When I joined the show, she was one of the people that reached out to me early and said, “Anything you need to make your transition,” because a lot of our stuff was going to be together. So, it was a really smooth transition.
I think Dev has learned to identify people with superpowers. He sees there is something in Karen that is extraordinary in terms of the way that she’s able to move through the world, the decisions that she makes, and our ideas. I think he decides to use her as an asset, if she’s willing because she could be a great asset to the company. So he knows that they’re not going to agree on everything, but he really appreciates the value that she brings, the value that she has.
Lacson: Is there a character that really speaks to you? Is there one that really spoke to you that really, you root for as a viewer and a fan of the show?
Edi Gathegi: Yeah, I would say, naturally, as a black man in this country. I’m just I’m in love with Krys [Marshall]‘s character. Seeing an African American woman in space, leading a mission, it’s inspiring. It’s beautiful. Then there’s in Season 2, Sarah Jones‘ character, [Tracy Stevens]. I think it’s more Sarah Jones’ performance. I do like the character, but what she does with that character it’s just excellent.
For All Mankind streams exclusively on Apple TV+ every Friday.