Calgary teen actor Lucian-River Chauhan lands lead role in Apple TV+ coming-of-age supernatural series

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Two years may not seem like all that significant a period of time in the grand scheme of things, but it can feel like a lifetime when you’re a teenager in your formative years.

Calgary actor Lucian-River Chauhan  was 13 when he departed for Atlanta for three months  to film the Apple TV+ series Me. Two years later, at the age of 15, he watched screeners of the new series for the first time and was struck at how young he seemed. When he was called back to do ADR, where dialogue is re-recorded in a studio in post-production, Chauhan realized that he was no longer that kid on screen.

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“I noticed that my voice was so different,” he says. “I had to manipulate my voice to make it younger while doing ADR, which was very funny. It’s really strange, actually, to see yourself at that young of an age.”

Chauhan has grown up on screen and on stage, beginning with his earliest years a decade ago as a theatre performer in Calgary.  But Me, which premieres July 12 on Apple TV+, is his first lead in a series. The poster of Me has a closeup of his face, where he is peering wide-eyed from under a red hoodie. Seeing if for the first time was “surreal,” he says. Chauhan plays Ben, a 12-year-old whose already unsettled life in a new school and with a new blended family is further complicated when he realizes he has superpowers that include the ability to shape-shift into anyone he meets. The supernatural elements blend with a coming-of-age tale of self-discovery, family and belonging. Chauhan — who usually goes by the name River or Riv — is in every episode as part of an ensemble cast that includes a number of young performers. That includes Abigail Pniowsky, who played Amy Adams’ daughter in the sci-fi film Arrival, and Kyra Sedgwick’s daughter in the series Ten Days in the Valley, as Ben’s ally and new stepsister, Max.

“It’s a roller-coaster of twists and turns,” Chauhan says. “It’s sort of like a mystery that Ben and his stepsister have to solve. It sounds intense, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The teenager, who attends a French-immersion high school in Calgary when not on a set somewhere, has had a busy few years. He shot Me in the summer of 2022, but has since played Teo in the live-action, big-budgeted Netflix reboot of Avatar: The Last Airbender and had a supporting role in Apple TV+’s Jane, based on the work of conservationist, Dr. Jane Goodall.

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But Me is his biggest role to date. After a series of auditions, he learned he got the role one day after getting home from school.

“I found out that I got the role from a call from the creatives. . . (They said) I really got the essence of the character and they wanted me to play the role,” he says. “I was really excited. As soon as I found out I got my dad to email them and get the scripts so I could read them immediately.”

While the 10-episode series deals with some coming-of-age hallmarks, such a bullying and identity, it’s also a supernatural action series. That means that, not unlike the special effects-laden Avatar: The Last Airbender, the series is a spectacle full of stunts and special effects and often required the cast to act in front of green and blue screens. Thus, it was particularly impressive when Chauhan and his family received the screeners and could see how it all came together in post-production for the first time.

“In this show we have a ton of stunts, we have a ton of visual effects,” Chauhan says. “I didn’t get a chance to see them until we saw the screeners. When I did, I was blown away. Everything looked so real. The stunt crew and the rigging crew made it all look real. I remember this one scene that I filmed where I went flying through a window, which was really crazy. The rigging crew . . . helped me understand how a blue screen worked and how the cables work and stuff like that. When I saw it, it definitely looked real to me.”

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For TV audiences, Chauhan first entered the spotlight in 2019 when he briefly joined the cast of the Alberta-shot CBC series Heartland, playing a troubled boy named Luke.  At the age of 11, he  landed a high-profile role in the intense sci-fi drama Encounter for Prime Video.  He played Jay Khan, the eldest son of Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated actor Riz Ahmed’s troubled marine who kidnaps his sons because he is convinced the world is about to end due to an alien invasion.

Not unlike Ben,, who must decide who he ultimately wants to be, Chauhan admits he has been giving a lot of thought to his future in the business. He now has management and agents in Los Angeles and says he hopes to continue as long as the parts remain interesting. He has already been in it for a long haul, starting in theatre at the age of five.  With its youthful ensemble cast, Chauhan says filming Me reminded him a bit of his early theatre days in children’s theatre. There was a lot of bond-building camaraderie on set, which included secret handshakes between the cast, Uno games, pool parties, foosball matches and arm-wrestling competitions.

“It was actually the first show in long period of time that I got to do with kids my age,” he says. “That was a lot of fun and brought me back to some of the theatre that I had done, because of all the kids were there when I did theatre. It was like a second family, just like theatre. It was familiar to me.”

Me airs Friday on Apple TV+.

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