At just 10-years old, Azhy Robertson has already amassed a resume that actors many times his age would be envious of. He broke out last year in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story playing the son stuck in the middle of Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver’s contentious divorce.
In his latest project, The Plot Against America, Robertson is once again in the midst of a family drama—a drama with grave, reverberating consequences.
Based on the Phillip Roth novel of the same name, The Plot Against America imagines a world where pilot Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election and brings with him a harsh wave of anti-semitism. The series follows the Levin family (incredibly led by Morgan Spector and Zoe Kazan) as they face a new normal — discrimination, fear, and the now-constant presence of tension in their daily lives.
Robertson plays the Levin’s youngest son, Phillip, and for much of the series acts as a conduit for the audience, watching as his once idyllic family tears at the seams. In many ways the drama of the series plays out on Robertson’s face, his big brown eyes lost and afraid — yet determined to be brave in circumstances that perhaps he doesn’t quite understand, all leading to a decision with devastating circumstances. Robertson gives a beautiful, soulful performance, one that will stay with you once the end credits roll. And that’s most exciting is that Robertson is just beginning to show us what he’s capable of as an actor. I can’t wait to see where he takes us next.
Read our conversation below: Please note that this interview contains spoilers for The Plot Against America.
Awards Daily: The show is dealing with some very heavy subject matter and there are a lot of big themes. You’re only 10-years-old! What was that experience like for you?
Azhy Robertson: Well, as you said, there are a lot of big and emotional scenes. I think every actor and actress has a way of getting themselves into what I like to call ‘The Zone’— getting themselves to be sad, or emotional, or sometimes cry. So, I like to isolate myself because if I talk to people or interact with people, they might make me happy and I just want to focus on sad things and not have anyone distract me.
AD: It feels like for a lot of the show, Phillip, your character is just watching what’s happening. He’s watching his parents have these big discussions and seeing the consequences. And, the audience, as a result, is experiencing these same events and emotions through Phillip’s eyes. It’s a big task and a lot of responsibility. Do you agree with that idea of Phillip’s role in the show? How did you feel about that?
AR: Yeah, I agree with that because I think Phillip is just watching and witnessing. He’s like the audience in that sense; it’s cool because I’m sort of the one relating to the audience. Every character is relatable, but I feel like Phillip is the one that the audience has the most empathy for. The audience is, in a sense, very much like Philip. They feel a connection with Philip.
AD: Yeah, absolutely. Philip and Seldon’s friendship was one of my favorite parts of the show. I loved seeing you two interact. Tell me about that. How did you and Jacob Laval, who plays Seldon, build that friendship and that bond?
AR: Jacob’s an awesome guy. Phillip isn’t exactly friends with him, but I feel like since Philip is, in a sense, the one responsible for the death of Seldon’s mom, he feels very guilty. In one of the last scenes [of the series], after the fight between Herman and Alvin, Seldon goes upstairs and comforts Phillip. I think that was one of the most emotional scenes for me because it’s Seldon’s way of saying ‘it’s okay’ and forgiving Phillip in a sense. That really hit me because Phillip feels so much guilt and he really wants to be forgiven. When Seldon does that, I think Phillip just gets even more upset.
AD: Another moment I really loved that I wanted to ask you about was when Phillip goes to give Seldon his cherished stamp book as Seldon and his mom are leaving for Kentucky. It almost seems like it’s a sudden, spur-of-the-moment thing that he decides to do. So, in your opinion, why do you think he decides to give Phillip that gift?
AR: Yeah, I think there are a lot of reasons why Philip could have done that. But, as I said before, he feels a lot of guilt because he’s the one shipping them off to Kentucky. He’s the one who made this happen. He feels guilty and he feels like he could make it up to Seldon even though he really knows that he’ll never be able to because what he did was too bad and too devastating.
AD: Philip has a strong bond with his aunt Evelyn, played by Winona Ryder. Even though he sees that she’s making decisions that his parents don’t approve of, he still goes to her and asks for help. Why do you think that he feels such a strong pull towards her and goes to her for help even when he knows that it’s something that his parents may not approve of?
AR: Oh, good question! I think he respects her. She’s still his aunt. And he loves his aunt. But, I think he feels very conflicted about it. When he goes and asks Evelyn for Seldon to go to Kentucky, he’s ignoring what his parents said just to get Seldon to go and not his family. That’s selfishness. I mean, I understand why he wanted to do that. I think he’s in a tough position, the whole family except for Sandy didn’t want to go to Kentucky. So he wants to put that burden on someone else— and that someone else coincidentally happens to be Seldon, who he doesn’t really like. But later he feels really guilty about it.
AD: The Plot Against America deals with a lot of history and historical figures. Did you have to study?
AR: I read about Charles Lindbergh and the things that happened to him, the things that he did in real life. That really helped me with the show.
AD: What was it like having Zoe and Morgan as your pretend parents?
AR: I really loved the experience. It seems like such a devastating and emotional show, but really, the experience we had on it was basically the complete opposite. I mean, we all made jokes together and we all just had a generally great time on set.
AD: How did you figure out that you wanted to be an actor? What made you decide that this is what you wanted to do?
AR: I mean, I always loved stories. Like even when I was three, I always begged my parents to tell me a story, and then I realized that I can actually be part of these stories that I love so much. I think that really got me excited because, as I said, I love stories. And being in one of them feels magical. I mean, not magical that’s a cheesy word, but it really feels like an honor. [Laughs].
AD: It does feel magical to get to do what you’ve always wanted to do, I think that’s a great word for it! Do you want to act as you get older?
AR: Yes, definitely! It’s an amazing business. I mean, sure, there are challenges, but when you see what the end product is, you really feel satisfied and proud.
AD: Speaking of amazing end products, one of the big movies that you were in was Marriage Story. \What was it like for you to go to the Oscars, to all of those parties and meet, you know, some of your heroes?
AR: Like you said I got to meet a bunch of my heroes! I’ve always watched award ceremonies. I really loved them and I still do. And actually being at one of the awards ceremonies? It’s strange in a good way. I got to meet so many people like Adam Sandler. I really look up to him because I think he’s really funny. So it’s really amazing to be in those awards ceremonies and premieres and things like that.
AD: I love your suits on the red carpet. It seems like you have a lot of fun with it.
AR: Yeah, I definitely do!
AD: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you wanted to tell me about?
AR: No, not really. I said it before, but I just wanted to let you know how much I love stories and getting to be in them. I also like to read. I’m sort of a geek when it comes to reading.
AD: Me too!
AR: I’ve read Harry Potter and I’m reading The Hunger Games right now, which I really love.
AD: So, is that what you’ve been up to in quarantine? Catching up on your reading?
AR: Yeah, pretty much. And playing video games and watching TV. Normal kid stuff.
AD: That’s pretty much what I’m doing too, and I’m not a kid! Thank you so much for your time. It was so fun to get to talk to you!
AR: Thank you for having me!
All episodes of The Plot Against America are available now on HBO & HBO Go.