Train rides have proven to be a mixed bag for Himesh Patel.
In HBO Max’s Emmy-nominated limited series “Station Eleven,” Patel’s character, Jeevan Chaudhary, is on an outbound Chicago train when his physician sister calls to inform him of a lethal virus seizing the city. It’s a sobering conversation — one made all the more surreal by real-world events — that forever changes the course of Jeevan’s life. He heeds her warning to prepare for the worst, becoming one of the few survivors left to forge mankind’s future.
In a twist of fate, Patel was aboard a train on Emmy nominations morning, headed to visit his parents in London, when his phone lit up with messages. This time, good news was waiting. He had been nominated for lead actor in a limited series, the sole thespian among the ensemble to be recognized.
“I couldn’t exactly react the way I would have if I had been at home because I was on a train,” he recalls with a grin. “It’s still sinking in really, but it sank in very slowly over the course of that hour and a half train journey.”
“Station Eleven,” created by Patrick Somerville and based on the book by Emily St. John Mandel, surprised many in earning seven Emmy nominations, including for writing, direction and score.
Patel spoke to Somerville soon after the news and wound up reminiscing on just how long it took them to get to this celebratory moment, having begun production in early 2020 before COVID turned their fictional story into a reality and shut them down for nearly a year.
“By the time we get to September, and we’re at the Emmys, it will be going on three years since I first flew to Los Angeles to audition for it,” Patel says. “Then for it to take on this meaning that we never thought it would, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the coincidence of it all.”
Patel got his first glimpse at that relevance in October 2020, watching a rough cut of the pilot. As Jeevan’s sister wades through a traumatized hospital ER, the masks and the fear stoked by the fictional virus had become a more searing image than he remembered.
“I watched that scene and I got really emotional because it was just so striking,” he says. “It was the first time I saw what a crazy coincidence this all was.”
The series largely skips the chaotic aftermath of its own pandemic, jumping two decades into the future to explore what mankind has done with its second chance. Told through the voyages of a roving acting troupe, the show interrogates its own philosophy that choosing art and connection over violence and division can and will be humanity’s saving grace.
Despite that soulful center, everyone involved with “Station Eleven” braced for the show to be written off when it premiered in December, just as another resurgent wave of COVID-19 forced people back into their homes. Fortunately, their nerves proved unfounded.
“We were understanding if people didn’t want to come near a show like this,” Patel says. “But we knew at its heart what the show was and for people to recognize that as well really means a lot. Ultimately this story tells us that no matter what, as long as we’re around, as long as there are a handful of us around, we will find a way to survive. But survival isn’t just staying alive. It is about thriving, connecting, performing, enriching each other’s souls — and that all of it is possible.”