Rupinder Nagra says you’ll soon be seeing a brown action hero.
Richie Mehta's feature debut, Amal, is being released in theatres nearly a year after its Toronto premiere at TIFF. Last week I sat down with star and Hamilton native Rupinder Nagra at a coffee shop across from the CBC. (As Nagra put it, "How Canadian is that?") Nagra is many things: funny, cheery, ridiculously tall and almost as ridiculously good-?looking. Here's a tiny portion of our hour-?long conversation.
Amal opens Friday (August 8). For venues and times, see Movies, page 79.
I understand you used to work at Second City?
I studied at Second City. I met another guy in one of my classes and we decided to start our own improv troupe, Step Up.
What does that training do for your acting?
It lets you think on your feet. And while making Amal, it's unbelievable how handy that was, because we were shooting right on the streets and you can't control that environment in India.
The tag line for Amal is "Sometimes the poorest of men are the richest." Is that true, or is it something we tell ourselves to alleviate our guilt or envy?
I think it is true. I can understand the Western viewpoint, like, "Yeah, right." But I've been to India a number of times, and when I was developing the character, I spent time with rickshaw drivers. One of them said to me, "I've got a roof over my head, my kids are going to school, I have a loving wife. What more do you need than that?"
Amal's an old-?fashioned character in some ways, a hero with very little darkness to him. How do you prepare for that?
It's easy for him to come off as stupid if you play it the wrong way. The preparation was working on the backstory - about his family life, his belief in God - and then also finding a place within me where I feel content, and bringing that out.
What do you think of the way Indians are portrayed in Western films?
I think we're getting out of that rut where the Indian guy is either the taxi cab driver or the convenience store owner.
But I auditioned last year in Toronto with a certain prominent director and casting director who asked, "Could you do this with an Indian accent?" So I asked, "Well, what part of India?" She was like, "Um, let me check with the director." She sat down and whispered something, and then they looked at me and said, "You know, just Indian will be fine."
Things are changing. Hollywood's starting to invest in India, so maybe things will happen with that.
If nothing else, there's a really big audience there.
In three or four years, Indians are going to be the largest population. [Laughs evilly]. So eventually, the cool action hero's going to be brown, right? It's going to happen, it's going to be good.