The Magicians' Arjun Gupta on Penny's Great Power and Pain

Damian Holbrook
The Magicians, Jade Tailor, Arjun Gupta
Eike Schroter/Syfy

Penny for your thoughts? Because we have been thinking a lot about Arjun Gupta's Penny, the oft-shirtless angerball of Syfy's The Magicians. At first, the theft-prone, mind-reading lothario came off as the last person you'd want to pull a disappearing act with, but lately, Penny has proven to be more powerful—and less prickly—than he lets on. Maybe it's the recent discovery that he's a Traveler capable of teleporting through time and space. Maybe it's slowly building bond with Quentin (Jason Ralph). Maybe it's his chemistry with partner-in-crime (and copulation) Kady (Jade Tailor). Whatever the case, we're firmly on Team Penny and trust us, he's gonna need a squad to turn to after being hit with en emotional curveball tonight. Here, the Nurse Jackie vet opens up about what lies beneath Penny's tough-guy act and who he could have ended up playing had his audition gone another way.

Hale Appleman, who plays Eliot, has described your character as having a Clockwork Orange type of attitude.
Yeah, I remember that! What’s funny is that I auditioned for Eliot and Penny.

Ok, those two could not be more different!
[Laughs] I didn’t know these characters yet, so I auditioned for both and I was interested in both. And then [the director] called me back and was like, “Alright, I would love for you to try Penny. I want to try a couple of things with it.” So I went back in and we tried something and I was like, “Now I gotta be Penny! I gotta do this.” The way he was describing him opened the character up for me in a way that I was like, “Oh I gotta do it!” As an actor, you don’t often get to stretch those muscles so, to me, the beautiful thing about learning and growing as an artist is to be in a working experience where I am stretched as much as this. This character, this world and this subject matter are just such a blessing.

The Magicians - Season 1

Carole Segal/Syfy

"Well, sometimes I float into the air during sex...I should have that checked out, too."

And there is obviously more to this guy, other than “he’s kind of a d--k.”
Right! [Laughs] You start to learn where that comes from. You start to learn that [his attitude] came from somewhere and you start to understand and see the demons that Penny brings to the table. You know, Eliot said it in Episode 2, “Magic comes from pain.” That’s a theme that is very prevalent in the books and it’s something we very strongly hold to in the show. All of these characters come from their own pain.

PHOTOS: Meet the Spellbinding Young Magicians

Do you feel that much of that comes from the fact that these people grew up feeling different and alone?
Absolutely. I think the truest love stories in these books and our show are between each character and themselves. That is the will-they-won’t-they.

Each Brakebills student has a specific ability. Where would you put Penny in the hierarchy of power?
If I’m speaking as Penny, then I’m on top! [Laughs] I think that the truth is, Quentin and Alice [Olivia Taylor Dudley] and Penny are the strongest. Alice’s magical power comes from a different space and she knows different things from Quentin, but everyone knows different things. That’s the beautiful thing about everyone having their own [speciality]. Everyone brings different things to the table, which plays out in certain ways.

And personally, what power would you want?
What would I want as Arjun? I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. It used to be flying, but now, it’s healing. I believe very strongly in service. I was raised in a family where service was a big part of our lives, and there’s so much in the world right now that I would love to go and try to heal. That’s why I’ve started Ammunition Theatre Company and have a podcast. It’s to address certain issues and try to make a difference. I believe very strongly in the power of storytelling. Our wise men are storytellers—throughout history they always have been—so I would love to give light to all the stories that make an impact. I think the Magicians books definitely do and our show will do that as well.

The Magicians airs Monday nights at 9/8c on Syfy.