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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Speakeasy with … Anil Kapoor

click to enlarge Mane Man: President Hassan (Anil Kapoor) survives a terrorist threat with hair intact on Fox’s 24.
  • Mane Man: President Hassan (Anil Kapoor) survives a terrorist threat with hair intact on Fox’s 24.

I guess its safe to say Anil Kapoor has finally made his mark in America.  The 51 year old actor has been a leading man in his homeland of India for the past 30 years but he finally garnered the attention of American audiences as Prem Kumar, the charismatically slick host of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in the Oscar winning film, Slumdog Millionaire back in 2008.

This season, Kapoor makes his American debut as well coiffed President Omar Hassan on the real time series, 24. This season’s timeline is set at the eve of a peace agreement between Hassan’s non-descript Middle Eastern country and the U.S.  Naturally someone wants to thwart the effort by assassinating a world leader, in this instance, Kapoor’s character, President Hassan. Recently, Kapoor discussed his Hollywood experience and his role on 24 with the press during a press conference.

24 airs on Monday nights at 9 p.m. on FOX.

I've seen in the episodes so far that Hassan's a very standup guy.  Will we get to see over the course of the storyline what the problem is with his marriage and why he's having an affair?

He is not exactly, actually it's not an affair, but it's a kind of relationship, which he feels is kind of like minor relationship and intellectually he believes that it's more of a friendship, which there is possibility that might develop later on into a relationship, but it doesn't.

Will we see more details about his marriage?

Yes, you will see the details of his marriage when the other episodes develop and progress after the fourth episode.

So you think that his relationships with these women is a big part of his character?

Absolutely, because he is a normal person and he has his gray areas, which makes this character very human and very real.  So these are the gray areas and yes of course he has these relationships and he has his problems with the relationship with his wife and he has this relationship with this journalist.

Tell me a little bit about what it's like to work with Kiefer Sutherland and Freddie Prinze, Jr.?

I felt that he [Kiefer] was exactly working as if it was just his first season, and his commitment towards his excitement was as if he just started shooting for it.  I never really ever felt that he had already been shooting the same role, by the same people, but the enthusiasm and excitement was something which I was really taken aback with his kind of commitment and professionalism.  It was wonderful to work with him and he gets so much, when he does every, whatever he mouths, every line, every performance, which when gives when he ... it looks as if he's Jack Bauer and not Kiefer Sutherland, he's completely into the skin of Jack Bauer.  He's become more Jack Bauer than he's Kiefer Sutherland now when he's on the set.

… When two actors meet and then there is a mutual respect for each other's work, it makes work much, much easier.  So he never made me feel as if I'm an outsider.  It was I think thanks to him, because he's a much senior person in terms of where America's concern.  I might be working in India, but this is only my second stint as a performer in the United States of America, but he never made me feel like that, that I was an outsider, so that was really great.

Working with Prinze was, I could see that he was very eager, very curious, and very, very hardworking, very sincere, and a very handsome guy, very good looking, and he fits the role, and I think he adds to the show and he adds to the show.  I think his addition to 24 … I think 24 is going to really gain a lot from his addition to the show and his participation of the show, and whatever he's playing in the show.

I'm just wondering if you had any concerns about going on 24, to be honest most India or minority actors on there, play terrorists, and your role's a much more positive view and I imagine a very standup guy.  Did you have any of things going into that, going to the role?

That was one of the first, when I heard the role, I really got very inspired when it was not just your bad man and I felt that this was a guy who really stands up on his own and stands up for his conviction and what he believes in.  And it is a very strong character and there are all the layers involved, a lot of complexity, and very, very human, very real, and really today.  I'm very, very fortunate that being from India and I was lucky to get this opportunity to do this role of Omar Hassan and very, very fortunate that it was 24, which is a kind of ... season, and this writing.  I've never seen this kind of writing in any of my, I've read a lot of scripts in India as well as internationally, but this writing of 24 is really very special.

Was there anything in particular that you did to prepare for this role?

Yes, I did.  A matter of fact it was I think the most exciting part was the preparation for this role.  I really loved the preparation, for me it was like I was playing this leader of the president of fictitious country, which is supposed to be a middle-eastern country, and I supposed to be the president.  So obviously and I went through a lot of all the leaders of the world, past as well as present, and I went through all the speeches, the body language, and how to speak.  I read a lot of books on the UN and on the peace treaty and all about nuclear disarmament and the IAEA and what does IAEA do, what does NATO do, so all kinds of academic things which are usually discussed during the time of the UN.  I just wanted to be very familiar to whatever happens.

So I read all these books and especially there was one book which are the speeches of all the leaders and all the leaders and all the people were wanting to know their price, that was a very, very inspiring book for me and the speeches really made a lot of difference.  Leaders who give speeches after winning the Nobel Prize for peace, that was a very, very, and sometimes for an actor you just need something, one takeoff point for them to start preparing for the role.  So that's really helped me, and otherwise for me even speaking English had a dialogue coach ... who was of great help and we had long sessions.  I had long sessions with him during this entire show and he was of great help for me to speak the way this character would speak.

What we have done is not really gone a typical ... but at least in dialogue, because this guy is a British, he's educated in Britain and he's a modern guy, so we had a little bit of British accent to this role.  A Middle Eastern well educated in Britain how he would speak, so that I think which my writers and directors told me, that this is what I should follow and that's what I did, and so these kind of preparations I did.

I have tried to change my voice in this show also, which if you see all my other films, which I've done earlier especially Slumdog ... in the western world that people only exposed to my work in Slumdog. And you'll find a complete change in the way I look, the way I walk, the way I talk, and my voice quality and all the grains are completely different to do that role in this show which I've done.

I did find myself thinking while watching the first four hours of the season premiere that your tall hair should get a credit all to itself.

That's thanks to Mike, who does my hair, and he says “Just leave it to me, Anil, this is going to be the talking point of your performance.”  I said, “Aren't they going to talk about my performance or are they going to talk about my hair? “ He said, “Don't worry, they're going to talk about, this hair is going to help you perform.”

During the negotiation part, you and the U.S. President were very willing to find a middle ground. Do you find yourself wishing that it would be a little like that with our real world leaders?

I think it is this way now.  If you see the world leaders today, that's what it is, and that's what is great about 24 that they always distinctively predict what's going to happen in the future.  And at the moment, yes, that's what is happening, most of the leaders of the world are taking the kind of part, which the President of the United States and 24 and Omar has to take, and that's a very healthy way of looking at the world for world peace.  And I think that all the leaders of the world are doing at the moment, all the so called great leaders whom I look up to, leaders like Obama, and ... from India, so I can really at least vouch for them that they're taking this kind of a part.

What are some of the differences that you've noticed, filming in the west versus kind of a typical Indian movie or an Indian series, are there very many differences or is it the same once you get on set?

I think it's the same once you get on the set.  Obviously the work and value system are different work culture, slightly different, but otherwise it's the same, because show business all over the world is the same.  The other thing is I can say is the scale over here in the west in the Hollywood films is much larger, because you see the number that they're very big in terms of budgets where the kind of money which you spent on every episode or every feature film, and obviously the returns are much, much bigger.

The maximum returns which you can have in an Indian film, which is a huge success, it's obviously less than a hundred million dollars, and here films are made in the budget of $150 million to $350 million and they go up to $1.5 billion.  So definitely the scales are much bigger, that's the only difference, otherwise I think films made in our country, also in India also are now you will feel it and you will see it in the future that are of an international level.

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