Ae Watan Mere Watan's Alexx O'Nell calls co-star Sara Ali Khan ‘competent, dedicated, serious and invested actor’ | Bollywood - Hindustan Times

Ae Watan Mere Watan's Alexx O'Nell calls co-star Sara Ali Khan ‘competent, dedicated, serious and invested actor’

ByAnurag Bohra
Mar 25, 2024 11:03 AM IST

In an exclusive interaction with Hindustan Times, Alexx O'Nell spoke about working in period dramas based on colonial era.

Alex O'Nell, who portrays a ruthless British officer in Kannan Iyer's Ae Watan Mere Watan, has worked for more than a decade in Indian films. The actor spoke at length about his fascination for Indian culture, history, art and architecture in an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times. He also shared about his working experience with Sara Ali Khan, Tabu and Sushmita Sen. (Also read: Ae Watan Mere Watan X reviews: Fans laud Emraan Hashmi's performance)

Alexx O'Nell was recently seen in Sara Ali Khan starrer Ae Watan Mere Watan.
Alexx O'Nell was recently seen in Sara Ali Khan starrer Ae Watan Mere Watan.

You are seen in Sara Ali Khan starrer Ae Watan Mere Watan, based on the 1942 Indian freedom struggle. You also acted in SS Rajamouli's RRR, Bose: Dead/Alive, Raag Desh and Syera Narsimha Reddy. Since you have been part of so many films on India's Independence movement, did you also go through some research or referred to any literature regarding that time period?

Yes, I have been studying India's history. Back in my theatre days in US I played King Arthur, in the play Noises Off I played a British man. Most of my projects in India are specifically related to the colonial era from the year 1900 to 1947. If you look back at my filmography, in Chittagong you will see the uprising at Chittagong in 1930. Bose: Dead/Alive highlighted the rise of Indian National Army in 1945. In terms of having read source material, when I played Winston Churchill, I read his memoirs about being a soldier in the Northwest frontier of India during the 1890s. I would say that this part of my career has been a masterclass in very rich and fascinating history of India during this tumultuous period where heroes rose out of the ranks of common people.

Now catch your favourite game on Crickit. Anytime Anywhere. Find out how

There is a line in Ae Watan Mere Watan that stuck with me. Usha's grandmother says, "We are common people, what do we know of heroism?" In that moment you see this 22-year-old college age girl starting Congress radio and really took on the full force of most powerful colonial empire of the time. United States, will not ever stop making films on World 2, Vietnam, the civil rights movement of 1960s because these were such pivotal times in history just like India's struggle for independence. It's shocking to me that a story like Usha's hadn't been told before. When I was given the script, I was wondering if it was a remake, because a story like this certainly could have been under wraps for the past 70 years but it has been. So, it's been my privilege to be a part of it.

How was your experience working with Karan Johar's Dharma Productions for Ae Watan Mere Watan?

I am actually doing another film with Dharma Productions starring me and Akshay Kumar and a host of other amazing actors. Ae Watan Mere Watan is my first project with Karan Johar. I was very surprised to be honest that someone who is so well-known for making pop-cinema has put his incredible influence behind telling such an important, serious yet beautiful story. His production companies, Dharma and Dharmatic are two of the best in the world. So, to have them turned their attention to telling stories of heroic and influential Indians in biopics and historical projects is wonderful. I met Karan Johar for the first time during the screening of Ae Watan Mere Watan and he was such a sweet and kind gentleman. Before that we had only spoken through people and Kannan Iyer. When I met him, he told me in person how much he appreciated my performance.

What are your takeaways as an actor in terms of Kanna Iyer's vision as a filmmaker?

Whenever I embark on a project, one of the things that I look for is how passionate is the director about this subject. If the filmmaker doesn't have deep-seeded passion about the project, then no one else is going to. Kannan Iyer is incredibly passionate about his subject. In fact, he is the co-writer of Ae Watan Mere Watan along with Daraab Farooqui. Since he had that emotional connection to the story, everyone else was also given license to throw themselves with reckless abandon into making this film.

Anytime you are walking into a project whether it is a film or series, the director has all 20 or 30 of main cast in his mind. He has thought about them from every single angle and their relationships. But when an actor comes on board, he or she thinks of only one character. Whenever I brought a suggestion, even when we got the take that Kannan wanted, he would roll another one. And that is something that I love, because I want to be a part of collaborative process. I want to at least come with my own creative ideas about how to build that character. I'm super excited to hear what people think about my role, Kannan's direction and I look forward to working with him again.

How would you like to describe Sara Ali Khan as a co-actor? Did you get to interact with her on the sets?

Yes, I did interact with her quite a lot. But the first time we really smiled, laughed and had a genuine embrace was at the premiere of Ae Watan Mere Watan. The reason being there was a very subdued vibe on the sets. Because of the gravity of the task at hand to tell the story of this young woman who really took on the ire of British empire personified by John Lyre.

I heard a lot about Sara being bubbly, prankster and always making jokes. But there weren't any pranks. I think I met the serious side of the actor Sara Ali Khan. She can do more than she was given in the past and bring depth and meaning to the portrayal of a character that is so inspiring. I would describe my experience with her as working with very competent, dedicated, serious and invested co-actor. I look forward to working with her in a comedy or romantic film where I can meet her bubbly, vivacious side. We were adversaries on-screen but got along very well off-screen. But I would like to do something with Sara that allows us to laugh a bit more together.

Alexx O'Nell praised Sara Ali Khan's performance in Ae Watan Mere Watan.
Alexx O'Nell praised Sara Ali Khan's performance in Ae Watan Mere Watan.

You played a crucial role in Vishal Bhardwaj's espionage-thriller Khufiya. The film is based on former R&AW officer Amar Bhushan's novel Escape to Nowhere. Since there were many instances in the story such as CIA's involvement in protecting a rogue Indian intelligence officer, did you have any apprehensions when you read the script?

I was pleasantly surprised. The script came to me through Gautam Kishan Nandani who is also the casting director for Ae Watan Mere Watan, so our relationship began through Khufiya. I absolutely loved working with Gautam. Khufiya was an amazing portrayal about how the lives of spies truly are. It wasn't like MI-5 and 007, where people are running around, blowing things up, shooting each other and jumping out of airplanes and helicopters. While I'm sure that happens from time to time, I think that the lives of spies are a little bit mundane.

Tabu played a wonderful role in this film where she arrives late to her son's drama performance, run out from dinner early to function as a spy. Similarly, my character tells his daughter to do her homework and don't watch TV when he is rushing out of the house to a dinner hosted by his asset played by Ali Fazal. I don't think I am revealing too much but towards the end of the film in the climax it was an absolute joy to finally perform face-to-face with Tabu herself. We were credited for two films before but we never met on-screen. We did meet off-screen but for Cheeni Kum which was my debut, Tabu was performing alongside Amitabh Bachchan.

Before I got the script of Khufiya, I was told that it was a spy-thriller but it turned out to be much more intelligent than that. If you are walking into a Vishal Bhardwaj film he is going to tell a story in his own unique way based on whether it satisfies his creative vision. And so it was wonderful to work with him and Ali Fazal for the first time. Also, getting the opportunity to shoot in Canada was lovely and I look back at it as an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.

You have worked with many talented actors on films like Cheeni Kum, Khufiya and RRR. Who are the other Indian actors on your wish list?

To be honest, I don't keep a list. But I would say on the top of my head that I would love to work with Aamir Khan. I have respected him as an artist and perfectionist and someone who is emotionally invested in his work. I danced with Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan on Nach Baliye.

But these two actors I have not had the opportunity to perform with on-screen. I have been asked to be in various films of theirs, but the role wasn't right. I do hope that I will get a chance to work with them in the near future. Deepika Padukone is incredible, I would love to work with her and her husband Ranveer Singh. I would also like to work with Kareena and Karisma Kapoor. I think they are both phenomenal actors. It's lovely to see that Karisma and Kareena are also working in OTT in the kinds of projects that I hope to work with them on someday soon.

I am very excited to be part of Aarya and work with Sushmita Sen who had a very glamorous film persona. But she proved her metal as a competent and effective actor who could helm that series for three seasons. Looking back I have worked with so many amazing artists from Randeep Hooda to Ali Fazal to Rajkummar Rao three times, Akshay Kumar twice and currently shooting with Mohanlal. I don't want to say that my wish list overpowers the list of gratitude. But I would like to perform with some of the other actors that I didn't have the chance to work with. I do hope that comes true.

Having worked in Indian films since 2007, what are your views and experiences with regard to Indian culture? What is the most fascinating thing about India which has impacted you?

Yes, I have been around since 2007. It has been an adventure. I'm absolutely privileged and grateful everyday to be part of this great industry that is incapsulating Indian culture. When somebody watches a Bose: Dead/Alive or when they watch Golandaaj, they get a sense of what West Bengal is like. While watching Madrasapatnam, people get a sense of Madras or present day Chennai was like back in the late 40s. When they watch Main Aur Charles audiences get a sense of what India was like in the 70s and 80s.

I love being part of making films because they showcase the culture of that time and you bring people on a journey into that India that perhaps doesn't exist anymore. Having been part of this industry I have not only been able to tell phenomenal stories but I have also been able to shoot in some of the most captivating places in the world. I was just shooting in Ladakh on L2 with Mohanlal and Prithviraj and I had couple of days off in-between schedules.

So, I took a motorcycle and I just roamed on my own in some of the most beautiful landscapes anyone could possibly imagine and it was breathtaking. After shooting Bhoot Police I went paragliding in Himachal at Bear Belly and I flew one of the best sights in the world. One thing that has most impacted me is the sheer beauty of the country. I would explore Indian and non-Indians to explore this country and to care for it.

One of the thing that breaks my heart is going to one of the beautiful sights I can imagine and then looking down seeing tin garbage everywhere. That's the case with so many places including Shimla where there are trails of garbage. I don't want to focus on the negativity. I only say that to convey we all can play a part in keeping the thing that to me is most impactful about India and keep it beautiful for the next generation.

I have so much gratitude to the films and industries because they brought me to these places. Recently I shot Sweet Karam Coffee with Madhu, wonderful actor who made her comeback. She and I explored the Taj Mahal together. The natural beauty, architecture and art of this country are truly inspiring. And I look forward to experiencing more and more of it over the course of my career.

Entertainment! Entertainment! Entertainment! 🎞️🍿💃 Click to follow our Whatsapp Channel 📲 Your daily dose of gossip, films, shows, celebrities updates all in one place

Get World Cup ready with Crick-it! From live scores to match stats, catch all the action here. Explore now!.

Get more updates from Bollywood, Taylor Swift, Hollywood, Music and Web Series along with Latest Entertainment News at Hindustan Times.
Share this article
Story Saved
Live Score
Saved Articles
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Friday, June 21, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On