Rise of a villain
How Dhawan broke new ground on Netflix’s Iron Fist
Before Sacha Dhawan became one of the most violent and intriguing antagonists in Marvel’s live-action entertainment era, he was sitting on a bus in London, reading Iron Fist comics, convinced he would never land the role of the mystical martial artist the Steel Serpent.
Each flip of the page revealed few similarities between Dhawan and the classic villain he had auditioned to play for Marvel and Netflix’s Iron Fist series.
Davos, the man under the mask of the Steel Serpent, seemed almost alien to Dhawan. He saw skin of a different colour and a hulking figure that seemed twice his size.
“I kind of thought there’s no way in a million years I’m ever going to get this job,” Dhawan told The Washington Post.
But surprisingly to him, Dhawan got the role for Iron Fist’s polarizing first season, playing a brother/ best friend to Iron Fist protagonist Danny Rand (Finn Jones).
After it came out, famed comic book writer and current Marvel television producer Jeph Loeb called Dhawan to let him know Season 2 of Iron Fist was a go, and that Davos would play a much larger and darker part in the plot.
Knowing he was about to make the transition from friend to foe in Iron Fist’s second season, Dhawan began four months of intense training and weightlifting to bulk up, to prepare for turning on the evil switch in front of the cameras.
Dhawan studied various forms of martial arts, including Wing Chun, Choy Li Fut and boxing, working with his trainers to create a style of fighting for Davos that worked well for both the character and Dhawan’s abilities.
“I wanted to give the impression that between Season 1 and Season 2, Davos, he had lost everything, but it meant that he trained harder and wanted to come back harder,” Dhawan said. “I started off in London with a range of different trainers and then (was) really upping my training regime, sometimes training twice, even three times of day and living a bit of a kind of lifestyle as Davos would, where your life just revolves around eating and training and focus and discipline. It was a real challenge.”
The culmination of all that training came during Season 2’s fifth episode, Heart of the Dragon. The episode opens with Davos, having just stolen the power of the Iron Fist from Danny Rand, destroying a cement wall with a red chifueled closed fist. In that scene, Dhawan wears the Iron Fist mask many fans have been clamoring to see more of. He says a decision was made that he would not continue wearing the mask, so he would not cover up the anger that was written on his face in every scene. But in the moment, he was overcome with emotion and felt like a superhero.
“It was something that I never thought was possible for someone who’s a British Indian actor,” Dhawan said. “I was thinking about Davos at that time, thinking about his mom and father in K’un-Lun, and me, Sacha Dhawan, thinking about my mom and dad back in the U.K., and I’m thinking, ‘I did it, mom and dad.’ It was a very proud moment, not just for me, but for other British Indians or Indians all over the world (to see) that this is possible. It’s a real big step for the Marvel universe.”
Not lost in that moment was Dhawan realizing in that scene he was giving viewers the Iron Fist of colour many thought the show needed, even if he was the bad guy. (Many fans thought Marvel and Netflix should have cast an Asian lead actor as Iron Fist.) But what Dhawan, nor anyone streaming that episode could have known in that moment, was that would not be the last time they’d see someone other than Danny Rand with the power of the Iron Fist.
Perhaps the most talked about and controversial moment of Season 2 is leading lady Jessica Henwick (who plays Colleen Wing) gaining the power of the Iron Fist in the 10th and final episode after she and Danny Rand successfully take the power away from Davos. Dhawan says no one on set knew the change was coming.
“It’s something that they were very secretive about telling people. Because if it leaked, then we’re ruining the surprise for everybody,” Dhawan said. “I’m excited to see how Colleen handles it. Is she going to fall in love with the power? And who else is going to have access to it?”
Sacha Dhawan stars as Davos in Netflix’s Iron Fist.