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From Heroes to Bollywood Hero

entertainment Updated: Apr 02, 2010 15:00 IST
Nikhil Taneja
Nikhil Taneja
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

In India, a ‘hero’ means a Bollywood actor. Did it mean the same to you, growing up?
(Laughs) No, it didn’t. In fact, in India, people said that I was doing a three-hero project, and I didn’t understand what that meant! I found it amusing and endearing when they explained it to me.

What did you know of Bollywood before you became an actor?
Not a lot. Growing up, my sister and I were encouraged to play sports rather than watch movies. I was always on the tennis court as a kid. (Chuckles) I must admit even now I haven’t seen the movies nominated for Oscars. That isn’t good, by the way. As strange as it sounds, I enjoy the process of making movies more than sitting and watching them for two hours.

Did you ever imagine working in a Bollywood film someday?
I never expected myself to be working in any film, to be honest. I thought I’d be a theatre actor, because growing up in USA, there were no Indians on TV or movies. This has all come as a shock to me!

Were you apprehensive about signing a movie with Ekta Kapoor, considering she’s best known for producing family soaps?
I didn’t know anything about Ekta Kapoor before the movie. I had signed on Shor because the script was brilliant. I didn’t have to worry about my accent or Hindi in the movie either, since my character is a NRI.

You got to live the song-and-dance experience in It’s A Wonderful Afterlife. Did you have fun?
(Chuckles) It was fairly embarrassing, I must admit. It was a weird situation... We were walking across the Millennium Bridge in London in the freezing cold, and then Gurinder brought the music out, and we all started dancing! People were staring at us, thinking, what the hell are these brown people doing? But yes, it was a lot of fun!

The movie is about the marital pressure an Indian girl feels from her mother. Have you ever faced any pressure from your parents?
My parents were traditional only in the sense that they assumed that I would get into some sort of stable profession. (Chuckles) They imagined that if I went really crazy in life, I’d become a lawyer. But they never expected me to be an actor in their wildest dreams. And now, they love it. As for the marriage aspect, they were thrilled I settled down with anybody at all!

You’ve worked with Shabana Azmi in the film. Got any acting tips from her?
Shabana was actually sweet enough to give me a whole library of CDs from all around the world, to give me an education in films! My only disappointment is that we had very few scenes together. But working with both Shabana and Gurinder was a learning experience. It’s a big deal for me to be working with Gurinder, because everyone in Hollywood knows her! I had a meeting with producers at Fox the other day, and they were excited that I was working with her.

You didn’t have a love interest in Heroes. How was it mouthing romantic lines?
(Laughs) My character in Heroes had a ‘lust’ interest. He’d rip women’s clothes off, if given the chance, and my mom would get really embarrassed to see that! So, I liked the movie because it’s a clean romantic comedy. But Gurinder still made me take my shirt off in a locker room scene, where I stand in a towel. My mom’s not too happy about that either!

Tell us, how disappointed do women get when they find out that you are married?
(Laughs) I don’t know, man! They have so many better men to like, I doubt they’d be disappointed. But yeah, I do find it terribly embarrassing when women come up and say flattering things. I kind of deflect the subject each time.

What did you think of the women in India?
Ahh, they are gorgeous… Absolutely, stunninglym gorgeous. I kind of had my breath taken away by Kangana Ranaut. Wow, she’s beautiful! It’s so surprising to me that all the actresses in Mumbai are so popular and beautiful, but at the same time, are extremely friendly and down to earth. I was expecting divas!

How was the attention in India?
(Laughs) I was shocked by the attention! I had imagined going back to my hotel, bored and alone after shooting in India. But the film industry in Mumbai was extremely friendly. The city of Mumbai is such a beautiful, chaotic mess, that I just want to go back there again.

On life in Hollywood

How’s life changed after Heroes?
The funny thing is that anything that’s Indian comes across my desk, whether I’m right for it or not. I even got offered the role meant for a 400-pound, 7-foot giant once! On the other hand, I get offered leading roles too, because there’s a very small pool of Indian actors here.

Does it bother you that Hollywood stereotypes Indians?
It happens all the time, but you know what, I just think that if Indian actors in Hollywood aren’t happy with that, they might as well do something else. I, personally, trained in theatre and never expected to be on TV, since I didn’t want to do any such roles. Acting isn’t an easy profession anyway, no matter what race you are from.

Is skin colour still a hindrance in landing a role in Hollywood?
Skin colour is a problem, and will probably be a problem in my lifetime. But yeah, six years ago, I wouldn’t have even got an audition for Covert Affrais, so things are definitely changing.

How difficult was it for you to break out of the stereotype?
(Chuckles) I just got lucky. I don’t even remember my Heroes audition; it feels like a dream now. The role was written for a 55-year-old, and for whatever reason that Tim Craig changed the character to give me the role, I’ll forever be grateful to him.
But yeah, I did try really hard to land the role of an American CIA agent on Covert Affairs. And I’m beyond thrilled about it.

How did you pull it off?
The profile from Heroes helped. I didn’t have to jump hoops, or audition for the casting director. I was actually supposed to do a movie with Doug Liman (executive producer) earlier, but that fell through. So when this role came along, he just did a screen test, and I got the part. It was that easy!

On Heroes

So, what’s been your favourite Hollywood moment?
Recently, at a party, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith came up to me and said they were huge fans of Heroes. And I was like, ‘You are Will Smith! You are Hollywood royalty. Are you kidding me? You watch Heroes? Wow!’ Yeah, that was surreal!

Is Mohinder coming back? He left midway last season.
Honestly, I don’t even know if there would be another season of Heroes. The ratings have unfortunately declined, but I do hope they bring me back if it continues.

What would be the ideal ending to Heroes?
I think the best ending would be if all of us original characters from the first season would be mutilated and killed a hideous, horrible death, and a new crop of Heroes come up. We’ve been on air for 80 episodes and it would make good TV if we all die. (Chuckles) And it would be sort of funny.

Why would you want that for a guy who gave you your own Mohinder action figure?
In fact, I got the idea from my action figure! My children seemed to love it more than they love me, and went to sleep with it. But the other day, one of them ripped its head off. That gave me a sense of what it’s come to!

If you had a superpower in Bollywood, what would it be?
Indian actors are very muscular and I’m so skinny. I’d like the ability to look buffed without spending three hours working for it!