Daniyar On Playing A Gay Russian Reveler On Starz’s “Sweetbitter”

"As a gay person it would be scary for me to return to Russia."

Starz’s new series, Sweetbitter, based on the popular 2016 novel, tells the story of Tess (Ella Purnell), a 22-year-old who arrives in New York City looking for a new life. She finds herself with a job as a backwaitress at one of Manhattan’s most prestigious restaurants.

At the restaurant she meets Sasha, a gay Russian reveler who eventually becomes one of her closest friends in the city. NewNowNext sat down with Daniyar, who plays Sasha, and asked him about how he prepared for the role, and what it was like growing up as a gay man in Russia.

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Can you describe your friendship with Tessa in the show because it’s kind of unique…

In the beginning my character doesn’t take her seriously, but I see the potential in her. Right away in the first episode I feel there is something between us and I feel we can connect. So I start to respect her. I can see the potential of her becoming a monster, and that’s why I always call her “baby monster.”


Are you similar to Sasha?

I think Sasha is me on steroids. Sasha is me if I said whatever I wanted 24/7—but I think he can strategize better than I can. Sasha is more of a thinker than I am, and more of a partyer, for sure. That’s why it’s so fun to play him and explore that side of myself.

How did you prepare to play Sasha?

First, I read the [Sweetbitter] book [laughs]. There are some very emotional scenes with Sasha in the first season, and being a gay man growing up in Russia, I have a very strained relationship with my father and my brother, who live in Russia. So I had to reconnect with my pain. It was emotional to go to those dark places.

Brian Ach/Getty Images for STARZ

So you grew up in Russia?

Yeah I moved to the U.S. when I was 20 years old. As a gay person it would be scary for me to return to Russia. My whole family is still there. Also, can I say, I love Logo. I would watch it all the time when I first moved here. It was so important to me because I was still coming to terms with my sexuality. I knew I was gay, so watching it helped me so much.

So going back to Sweetbitter, can you tease what’s ahead for Sasha this season?

A lot [laughs]. Sasha is a force of nature. He has the highest highs and lowest lows, and I think he goes on a real emotional roller coaster this season.


Sweetbitter premieres Sunday, May 6 on Starz.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."