Today, Freida Pinto is back in the theatres as Phaedra, the Oracle priestess, in Tarsem Singh’s Greek epic fantasy, Immortals. Given their similar sounding names, do they have a lot in common? “None,” laughs the actor, pointing out that they’re in two different time zones. “Also, Phaedra has tormenting prophetic visions while I’m clueless about what the future holds. I can only hope for a long career, though women don’t have a great shelf life in this industry. But some like Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep have defied the odds and can do everything a 20 year old can. I would wish for that.”
Freida met Tarsem in November 2009 in Los Angeles. She was already a big fan of his two earlier movies, The Fall (2006) and The Cell (2000), and when he told her wanted to make a film like the Caravaggio paintings, she was excited. “I knew if there was one person who could give me a different look, it would be Tarsem,” she says.
She understood that Immortals was Theseus’s journey, but also realised he couldn’t move ahead without his core group. “I wasn’t playing the lead, but I had a pivotal role in helping him accomplish his journey,” she reasons. “And I got to wear some beautiful costumes.”
One of those costumes included a tight corset. In a scene where Phaedra has a vision, Tarsem instructed her to close her eyes tightly. “I did, and also opened my mouth because I was gasping for air. That had Tarsem screaming, ‘Shut your mouth’. I was whispering back, ‘I’m just trying to breathe’. As beautiful as the costume was, it was a challenge learning to deal with it,” she admits.
They also celebrated Henry Cavill’s birthday on set and Freida describes her co-star as a committed actor who not only built up an eight-pack, but also ensured he retained it through workouts and careful dieting. “He and Tarsem understood each other completely. They were, as they said on the sets, married to each other. He’ll be a great Superman,” she asserts.
Mickey Rourke was the one she learnt the most from, even though they didn’t have any scenes together. “He had a couple of scenes with Joseph Morgan and I asked Tarsem if I could come on the sets and watch Mickey.” Freida remembers. “Mickey doesn’t memorise his lines, but staying within the context, he played them beautifully, sometimes saying things that are a bit scandalous. He’s visceral, and that makes him a brilliant actor.”
Quiz her on her own preparations and she says, “Phaedra has been kept away from the everyday world. Words like ‘aggression’ are not in her dictionary. She is internalised and calm as compared to everyone else. I just meditated because Tarsem wanted a lot of stillness. I came away having learnt how to be calm and composed, and also realising how difficult it is to be so.”