Category Archives: International Interviews (TV)


Noureen Dewulf interviewed by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) over Skype for The Juice for the February 2015 issue.

American-Indian actress and one of Maxim’s 100 Most Desirable Women on the Planet, Noureen Dewulf, talks about working opposite Charlie Sheen, breaking Hollywood stereotypes and Bollywood plans.

Congratulations on the pregnancy! Has it been tough to juggle the pregnancy along with the last few episode of Anger Management?
Thank you so much! You know, I think you have to find a balance for yourself as a human being so it’s really not been that tough. I really want to be one of those women who has it, all you know. It’s 2014, so I don’t want to give up my acting career because I want a family and I certainly don’t want to give up on having a family just because I am a successful actor. I want everything and I know that I can do everything – I’ve always found a way of making things work. Maybe I’m naïve, but that’s my dream (chuckes).

How do you look back on possibly the biggest gig of your life, Anger Management, as it comes to an end?
I think I’m the same actress but a lot more people know who I am. A lot of people have gotten a chance to see what I’m really good at – being funny. I’ve been working for many years but this was really my first breakout hit. I auditioned against some well-known blonde actresses for Lacey, and I’m proud that I got this on the strength of my abilities as a comedic actress and not because of my ethnicity. So I really hope that it sets me up for something even greater in the future.

It’s amazing how you’ve had a career where your roles have had very little to do with your ethnicity or the colour of your skin. How did you manage that?
I had taken a decision that I’d rather not work for a while than take on stereotypical roles. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing Indian characters. That’s who I am and I’m so proud of my Indian heritage. But I wanted to show the world that somebody can be Indian by birth but all of her characters don’t have to consistently talk about her race. In the beginning it was tough, people would be like, ‘Why does she think she can be ethnic and not play ethnic roles’ (laughs). But I think if you develop a confidence in yourself and your abilities, and work hard and are a good performer, the same people go, ‘Why should be stop her!’

There’s also this thing in Hollywood where they try to categorise you as the ‘hot actress’.
(Laughs) Yeah, there’ve been times where I’ve had to downplay that a lot but I think, sometimes, it helps a little bit so I’m happy to use that as well. I am lucky to be seen in that way but I do try and do all sorts of different roles – I remember, in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, they covered me from head to toe because why would Matthew McConaughey’s character have this assistant around the whole time and not be dating her!

You’ve worked with some crazy A-list talent like Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Jennifer Lopez, Charlie Sheen…
I remember, on my first day of working with him, I was like, ‘Wow! Charlie Sheen, Charlie Sheen, Charlie Sheen!’ He’s the king of the sitcoms, a Hollywood legend! I really do like him a lot as a person and I continue to be star struck by him. He’s so smart and honest, and he’s a standup guy. I don’t think a lot of people realise how nice and respectful he is. He’s a friend of my husband and mine now, we have dinner at each others’ houses. Yeah, I never thought I’d be telling the world that I’m friends with Charlie sheen but here I am (laughs).

So what have you picked up from these phenomenally talented actors along the way?
I’ve always been pleasantly surprised when I meet some of these bigger stars because they are so nice. I’ve definitely picked that up from them: the fact that they are so, so famous and yet are so kind and down to earth. You can’t live in a bubble because to be a good actor, you have to have life experiences. With McConaughey, particularly, I learnt the value of being uniquely focused, even when you are doing a comedy. From all the great comedic actors I’ve worked with, I realised that to make an audience laugh, you have to be willing to make a total fool out of yourself (laughs).

Any plans of working in Bollywood?
It’s one of my dreams! I’ve grown up watching Bollywood. The first cinematic experience I had was being in love with Hema Malini and some of these legends that my parents loved too, when we watched these movies together. I’ve gotten scripts that have been quite cool but it’s been tough to commit because Bollywood schedules are really lax (laughs). But I love India, I love Indian food, I love Indian spices, and I have a very deep connection with being Indian. Growing up, the question I was asked every day was, ‘Where are you from’, so you really identify with the fact that you are an Indian. I can’t wait to work in Bollywood.

Noureen Dewulf’s Style Files (Box)

Sense of style: Easy going, sexy and chic
Fashion must-have: Pointy black high heels and a fabulous purse
Fashion must-do: Eyeliner every day, good hair every day
Comfort dress: Jeans and a tank top
Something she’ll never wear: A mumu
Favourite shopping destination: Paris
Favourite designer: Loving all the Australian designers right now
Best style advice she has received: Never look like you tried to hard… A dress can be low cut or short but never both.
One Indian style statement she loves: Bangles with everything

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Note: This piece first appeared in The Juice in the February 2015 issue.
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.



Note: This interview was taken by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Sunday Guardian. An edited version of the interview can be found here:

[My other interviews this season:
Rupert Friend from Homeland
Joshua Malina from Scandal
Anatol Yusef from Boardwalk Empire
Annet Mahendru from The Americans is here:
Coming up next: My interview with John Cho from Selfie]

If you know me well, you’d know the story of how I became a writer, because I must have told it to you a million times. If you don’t know me, quick recap: I was in engineering college, and I saw Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and after getting my engineering degree and getting a couple of jobs, I left it all to go to Mumbai to make a TV show because Aaron Sorkin had corrupted me forever.

So ever since The Newsroom was announced, I was looking forward to it desperately. And the first episode of the show blew me away, just like every first episode of every Sorkin show ever has before. It had all the things I loved about it – the opening where shit hits the fan, the middle where a bunch of fantastic actors try to clean up the shit, and the end, by which you know that *this* show is going to be *the shit* (I really don’t know why I have used shit as a metaphor here, please forgive me).

I was obviously taken aback by all the criticism Sorkin faced for The Newsroom. The Newsroom is perhaps not as accomplished as The West Wing, but people weren’t even giving it a chance! The second season was a solid return to form by Sorkin and the series premiere of the third season, I thought, was terrific. Maybe I’m just biased but I do believe that in a world full of shows like Jersey Shore and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, it really can’t hurt to have a show that speaks of idealism. The Newsroom may not change the world, but at least it’s *trying to*.

Anyhow, just like all of Sorkin’s shows, The Newsroom has some fantastic actors at its helm as well. Pretty much every actor has made an impression (of course, my heart doesn’t stop beating for Olivia Munn’s Sloan!) but I really thought the way Thomas Sadoski, who plays Don Keefer, turned his character around from an anti-hero to a romantic lead, was amazing. Thomas is an actor-actor, and has always brought a lot of sincerity to the role. While everyone loved to hate Don in season one, I did believe that Sorkin could never make him an out-and-out villian… he never does.  So it’s been such a pleasant surprise to see Don be one of the good guys now, and he’s definitely among my favourite characters in the show, because Thomas has brought a rare complexity to him that I really admire. 

Getting to speak to Thomas was a great experience too. Nothing at all like Don, Thomas is, in fact, quite the thorough gentleman and polite all the way through. If I liked Thomas’ portrayal of Don before, I’m definitely a fan of Thomas himself now, and I can’t wait to see the work he does in the future. For now, five more episodes of The Newsroom and of Don!

Since the unedited interview is long, I’ve divided it into the following segments:


So you can skip to the part you want to, or go through the entire interview and enjoy Thomas’ answers.

“Idealism is possible if you have the support of the people closest to you.”

You guys have finished shooting the final episode of the Newsroom. The last day of shoot must have been very emotional.(Pauses) It was a sad day. We weren’t all together on the last day so it was additionally sad because the cast got to be very close over the years. We had put together a real family over the course of three years and was difficult to, sort of, let go of the whole experience, one person at a time. But we did end up celebrating a little. Olivia and I went down and watched Jeff (Daniels) and Emily (Mortimer) shoot the last scene of The Newsroom on the last day. We sat with them for three or four hours and watched them shoot it. And when it was all over, we all stood in the middle of a street corner in New York and hugged and talked and laughed… and had a very nice time. Then I walked back to the hotel. It was a sad evening but by the time I had walked all the way back to the hotel, I had, sort of, come back around to this real feeling of gratitude for having been involved in the process from the very beginning. And of course, for learning as much as I got the chance to learn and spending as much time with the wonderful people that I got the chance to spend the time with. It was a real blessing.

The blessing may have been compounded because from what I gather, this is the best season of The Newsroom yet. Olivia Munn and the others have said so in their interviews, and Aaron Sorkin mentioned in an interview that it was only in the third season that he started to learn writing The Newsroom.
(Chuckles) I am happy that Olivia feels that way about the season and I’m not going to disagree with her. But I disagree a little with Aaron that he has just figured out how to write the show. I think Aaron knew what he was doing from the very beginning and I think he sometimes doesn’t give himself enough credit. Personally, I was happy to be involved in the show from the very beginning in the way that he was writing it. It was interesting to watch it grow over the course of 23-24 episodes. This season is a different season than what it has been in the past and I’m excited to have been a part it and to respond to it. I thought it was fantastic, you know, in that every day that we came into work, we were happy to be there, and we were happy to be getting to tell the story that he was putting out for us.

What are you allowed to reveal about season 3 in general and about Don & Sloan’s relationship in specific?
This season begins pretty shortly after the end of the last season. So all of the things that are up in the air at the end of the season 2 are being dealt with in real time in the third season. So Don and Sloan have to figure out exactly who they are and what the status of their relationship is. Will and Mackenzie have to figure out how their relationship is going to work and Jim is off on his own path sort of trying to figure out how his life comes together, and Maggie, having suffered the loss that she suffered in the second season, is in a place of real change and figuring out how she should move forward with her life and her career. And Neal – well, some things are going to be asked and expected of him this year that he hasn’t ever dealt with before. And Charlie has to sort all this and manage a lot of these difficulties. So it’s quite an exciting season!
Unfortunately I am not allowed to give away exactly the things that happen but I think the teasers they have put out so far have done a pretty good job of highlighting some really interesting storylines and the quirks in them. But I can tell you this – a lot happens to our little gang of misfits this year and everyone leaves the end of the season a completely different person than from what they were at the beginning of the season. I think that’s the hallmark of good storytelling and I hope that people who watch it will feel the same way.

So what was Sorkin’s initial conversation with you guys about what he was trying to do with the show and how has that changed over seasons?
There wasn’t necessarily a big conversation that we all had about what we were going to do with the show, you know. Aaron wrote the first episode and we all came in and did it, and we just sort of handled it moment to moment. There were never any, sort of, great, big cast meetings with Aaron, where he sat down and said, ‘This is the big scene for this season,’ you know. He would write the episodes, and we would discuss it, scene to scene, moment to moment, and the arc would build itself organically that way. So it wasn’t that sort of situation where he said, ‘Well, this is what we are setting out to do and this is how we are going to change it.’ It just happened that way.

Then let me ask you this – after all the backlash that The Newsroom got for its morality and idealism, after the end of the series, what is the message that the audience will finally takeaway from The Newsroom?
My hope – and I don’t know if it’s going to be the case because people are going to respond on the basis of how they view things through the lens of their own personal experience. But it’s my hope that the takeaway from the show for people would be that if you are going to walk against the stream, you have to do it with the support of your loved ones and your friends, and take refuse with them. That, you know, idealism is possible, and an idealistic end is possible, if you are willing to have the courage, and if you have the welcome support of the people closest to you.

“I always liked Don, from the very beginning”

You’re quite the Casanova on Newsroom – where others are struggling to keep up one relationship, Don’s now moved onto your second! How much do people hate you for getting to be Olivia Munn’s love interest?
(Laughs) You know, I’m really not aware of the hate but I’m sure that I do get some and at some level, I’m just not noticing it. But Don’s really been a great character to play and I’ve enjoyed watching him grow and watching people’s response to him change over the course of a couple of years. I think that Don will continue to change even more in the third season.

Did you distinctly notice the public’s reaction towards Don changing – were people dicks to you when you played a grey character and are they more pleasant to you now?
I don’t pay attention to critics, so I don’t know what their perception of the character’s change or of my work has been, but I have very much noticed the change in the perception of fans and of members of the media who have watched the show and whom I have become friendly with. I have noticed that there has been a softening towards the character in their minds a little bit and I’m happy to not be the person that everyone loves to hate anymore, though that was also fun to do. I don’t know if I have changed everyone’s minds distinctly and I don’t know if I want to. I think that Don’s a fun character to play because he’s complicated and at any given moment you can either love him or hate him.

How did you go about making a character unlikeable first and then likeable? Was there a particular moment in the show that helped you to understand Don?
I think, for me, ultimately, the moment I came to understand Don the most clearly was in the first episode of the series, when Don says aloud, “Am I the only one who’s not dramatically doing anything?” I think that line told me everything I needed to know about that character was, and I just needed to hold on to that. You know, I can’t judge the characters that I play, because if I do, then I can’t play them honestly, and I can’t play them with integrity. So I held on to that and just created a character around that and around whatever I found in that moment. And, you know, Aaron was gracious enough to continue allowing the character to grow. I think, from the very beginning, we both had a very clear understanding of who this person was. Aaron never set out to make him the archetypal bad guy and he wanted the character to grow. So, in collaboration with Aaron and his great work, I was able to get the character to grow and spread its wings and have everyone get to know him a little bit better and add a little bit more depth to him as time went on. For me, he was never any different. I always liked Don, from the very beginning.

But now that Don’s a nice guy, what’s the conflict in his character?
Umm, I don’t think there is any conflict in his character. I have seen Don since the very beginning in the way that the rest of the people see him now. Don is a character of great integrity and I think he has very specific ideas of how he wants to do the news and why he wants to do it. His ideas obviously change and grow, you know, with the influence of Mackenzie and Will and everybody else, and with growth comes conflict. I think with Don a lot of conflict is internal: how is he going to change his beliefs (to align with the rest), and how he will go about handling things. So I think it’s the same conflict that Don was dealing with in the beginning when we first met him in episode one, and to some degree, it’s the same fight he’s fighting later on.

“You can’t have an off day on an Aaron Sorkin set”

So what is the process of an Aaron Sorkin show like? How did an episode work?
Oh! We get the script very, very close to when we begin shooting. So you spend almost all of your time trying to learn the lines till they are absolutely perfect, because that’s the way Aaron wants them. I actually found Aaron to be a really gracious collaborator in that you come in with your ideas and talk about a scene and he’s willing to hear them and he’s willing to watch your choices. And, most of the times, if you can make a good argument for why you are doing what you are doing and why you are choosing to say a line a certain way, Aaron is absolutely willing to let you, and also to support you. He certainly has his ideas on who these people are and what stories he wants to get across. So as long as your choices aren’t standing in the way of the story he is ultimately trying to tell, I found him to be a really gracious collaborator. He’s incredibly intelligent, very gracious, and obviously really cares about what he’s doing and what he’s putting on to the page. So it’s been a really great experience working with Aaron.

I would imagine working with Aaron Sorkin for the first time would be an interesting experience because you have to get used to his sing-song dialogue. You can’t possibly have an off day on a Sorkin set, right?
Yeah, he makes them wordy (laughs). His pace and his rhythm and his meter certainly make it very difficult to have an off day. (Chuckles) But we all have them, and they don’t feel good. You know, it takes time to get used to it. For all of us, the first few episodes of the first season were tricky because we were trying to learn who these people are, how to speak the words that were written and how we were going to shoot those words, and how it was all going to work out. By the end of the first season, I felt like we were up on our feet and had moved along quite well. But then, at the beginning of every season after a hiatus, it’s like a muscle trying to stretch out again (chuckles).
It take a long time and a lot of work to get all of those words in your head and then to speak them out. But it’s a great payoff as an artiste because you have that skillset now. Also, you know, because of the pace and the density of the dialogue, you are almost forced to be a team player and that takes a lot of pressure off. There are no big solo moments you have to worry about. No one’s solo on set and no one in any scene feels like they are bigger or grander or that anything they are saying is more important than anybody else is, because we are all just there for each other, you know, saying these words out as honesty as we possibly can and playing off of each other to the best of our abilities. It’s a great time.

You had trouble with the material even after coming from a theater background, I can imagine how difficult it must have been for the non-theater guys.
Well, you know, the majority of us on the show come from a theater background actually. So that helped us greatly to be ready for Aaron’s writing. Aaron is a playwright first and foremost and what he does is that he writes theater for the screen. But for people who weren’t accustomed to that required, you know, some extra work that they may not have necessarily been accustomed to. The great thing about our cast, though, was that everyone was up to the challenge and everyone was willing to put in the work and the effort to make it all happen. I know from the beginning of my career as a theater actor how difficult it is to, you know, get used to that sort of verbal dialogue, and to just the amount of stuff you have to say. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be later on in your career when you’ve already got habits that you’re in or things that you are accustomed to. But I think it speaks to the quality of the actors that we have, who weren’t necessarily from a theater background, that they were able to pull off the show as easily and seamlessly as they have.

How does the table read at The Newsroom go, with all the back-and-forth dialogues you are reading for the first time?
Well, Aaron is there, and we all come in and sit down with most of our crew, our producers and people from HBO. And Aaron gives a little speech before we start, introducing all of the new people that we have in the show that week and then we sit down and we read it. For most of us, it’s the first time we have heard it, and certainly the first time we have heard it out loud; it may probably be only the second time we have read it, since we usually get the scripts only a few hours before the table read So it’s exciting, you know. It’s always fun, and we have a lot of fun. Like I said, it was a big family by the end, and everybody really enjoyed working with everyone else, and we had a great time. So there was a lot of joking and a lot of laughter, you know… people appreciating what other people were doing and appreciating storylines that other actors were getting to have. I remember that in season 2 when Maggie went to Africa and we all heard it for the first time about everything that happens to her, you know, everyone in the room was upset. There were a lot of tears and people were really choked up, because we all love Alison. We are big fans of hers, and of course, we were excited for her to get to play such powerful work. But, you know, we were heartbroken about what was to happen to poor Maggie too (chuckles). So you know our table reads are sort of a big family dinner without too much of the negatives of a drama.

I’m also very interested in knowing if it was particularly difficult for directors, particularly the ones that come in for a single episode, to shoot The Newsroom, with the way it’s written, as you mentioned, like theatre.
Well, being a television director just by itself is always a little bit difficult because you are often times walking into someone else’s world, and you are only there for a few weeks. So it becomes your job to get a very clear understanding of what the world is and who its characters are before you even step on set and that’s before you even start dealing with the actors, which, you know, (chuckles) is always another story altogether. But we were fortunate to have, over the course of three seasons, brilliant directors every episode. Putting that stuff and putting Aaron’s dialogue on film is a tremendous task and the fact that every single director was up to the challenge and every single director did as great a job as they did, I think, speaks to the quality of the person who was involved in our show and who wanted to work on our show. We were also very fortunate that our executive producer Alan Poul directed a lot of our episodes, and in this last season we were very lucky to have Anthony Hemingway, who had directed one of our episodes in our second season too. So there was a continuity that was really helpful there as well. But you know, you can go down the list of directors we have had, from episode one with Greg Mottola all the way to the very last episode that was directed by Alan Poul, every single one of those directors is incredibly capable and incredibly talented and we were really lucky to have every single one of them.

“As an artiste, If I’m asking my audience to be challenged, then I have to be challenged too.”

I’ve always wanted to ask this to an actor from an Aaron Sorkin show. Do you think, with all the idealism in them, working on a Sorkin show makes you a better person?
(laughs) You know, Aaron is a romantic. He is unapologetically romantic. And you know, it’s something that I appreciate very much about his work. As an artiste, you ultimately want your work to be influential to the people who see it, but you also want your work to influence you too. As the artiste, you want to change just as much as you are inspiring change in your audience. What I mean is that whatever growth you want to inspire in your audience, you really want to grow at least that much as an artiste too. And so, when you are dealing with great writers and great collaborators like Aaron and this cast and the great directors that we have had, it’s hard not to grow a little bit. That’s my take on it any way, other people will have different takes on it. Some people just want to be entertainers but as a storyteller and as an artiste, I feel like it is important and essential that if I’m asking my audience to be challenged, then I have to be challenged too, and Aaron definitely challenged us as artistes and I think we did grow. I know that I did.

I’m just curious here, so please indulge me. You’re working closely with two Indian actors – Dev Patel in The Newsroom and Hannah Simon in an upcoming romantic comedy, Lemonade. Have you picked up anything about Bollywood yet?
Oh yeah, I have fantastic relationship with Dev. Dev was always, (chuckles) well, he was the one cast member who was universally loved. You just can’t not like the kid. He’s a great guy and, you know, Dev is obviously very, very proud of where he’s from and he was constantly, sort of, giving people pointers into the ways that we could expand our knowledge of cinema and music. Many of us are still in the process of trying to take him up on it (chuckles), but he is a great guy and we loved working with him.
Unfortunately, the movie with Hannah hasn’t been shot yet and we’re still waiting for to get our dates and set up, but I’m really excited to be a part of it. I think she is fantastic and we’re both really looking forward to working with each other. I’m a big fan of her work and we’ve got together quite a few times to talk about how we’re going to make it. And we’re both really excited to get going whenever that happens to be!

Apart from Lemonade, you have a bunch of other indie films lined up after The Newsroom.
I think the other movies that are coming out are really special to me as well. I think Wild is going to be a big movie. I think a lot of people are going to be moved by it and I am hopeful that the movie will inspire people to read Cheryl Strayed’s amazing book. Then I have another film that’s coming out in December, which is just a charming romantic comedy with myself and Leslie Bibb. It was written and directed by Liz Tuccillo, who wrote Sex and the City for years and also wrote a book called ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’. So it’s this really fun, quirky, charming romantic comedy about two people trying to find their way back to each other after a couple of tragedies. You know, we made the movie on a shoestring budget but it’s a really fantastic movie. It got into South by South West and did very well there. It got sold and it will actually be out on demand and in theatre on December 5. I’m really excited for people to see that. I think it’s a great, charming piece of romantic comedy that people are really going to enjoy.

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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the November 16, 2014 issue.
Picture courtesy:
 Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.




“I don’t look like Hollywood’s idea of an Indian woman”

Note: This interview of Annet Mahendru was taken by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) over Skype for The Sunday Guardian. Here’s the external link:

At some point in the middle of an hour-and-a-half-long Skype interview with Afghanistan born Indo-Russian actress Annet Mahendru, talk steers towards storytelling; in particular the stories she wants to tell the world. Annet, who is the star of American cable TV FX’s hit spy series, The Americans (that airs in India on Star World Premiere),  takes a long, deep pause, and then says, “I think human beings are capable of anything and I would like to show that through my work, in my storytelling.

“I want to tell transformative stories. I want to access things inside of me that turn me upside down, twist me inside out, stories in which I’m a princess and in which I’m also a dragon. Stories about the darkest dungeons that are also my home. Stories like that of Gia, from Angelia Jolie’s Gia, or of Lisbeth Salander, from Steig Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, or of superheroes – but not like the ones in films – of authentic superheroes, superheroes of the underground, who are real, free and genuine.”

Over the course of the conversation, Annet comes across as a genuinely likeable twenty-something who giggles at the end of just about every sentence and whose eyes twinkle each time she talks about her two homes, India and Russia, or her years growing up all over the world. But you would be anything but prudent in pegging her as merely girlish, because, like the aforementioned example, whenever she is faced with a question about the craft of acting, her role as Russian double agent Nina Sergeevna or filmmaking and cinema, she is a smart, evocative, measured and deep-thinking woman, who takes her time in coming up with a response that emanates as much from her heart as it does from her head.

And when Annet speaks about her craft, she is subliminally speaking about herself as well; her answers are not just a reflection of how she thinks, it is of who she is. So if Annet is interested in transformative stories, it is in essence because she has spent a lifetime embodying one herself. As a child born in war-ravaged Aghanistan to a Russian artist mother and an Indian professor and journalist father, she grew up a self-confessed nerd, with interests ranging from chess and karate to Bharatnatyam.

“It would seem like I had an identity crisis,” she laughs, “but the truth is, somewhere deep inside of me I knew that I’d be a storyteller. You never know what you can be asked to transform into to tell your stories effectively, and subconsciously, I wanted to be prepared for everything.

“Of course, another part of it is because I have had an affinity to all sorts of cultures and passions inherently,” she says, citing her ‘gypsy’ childhood , much of which was spent traveling between Germany and Russia, after moving from Afghanistan, before she finally moved to USA during her teenage years.

Her memories of growing up are distinct and striking, and she remembers fractured instances of life as a kid who had a malleable concept of home. “Of Aghanistan, I remember hiding in the bathtub thinking there were fireworks going on outside the apartment for New Years, when we were actually in the midst of war,” she recalls.

“And when we shifted to Russia, Russians would be fascinated with me. They didn’t have much interaction with the outside world at that time and they would literally touch me and call me ‘gypsy girl’ because I was this weird looking foreigner.”

The first legible concept of home that Annet ever had was staying in Germany where most of her father’s seven siblings lived with their respective families. “It was there that I picked up my love for performance by watching reruns of Bollywood movies,” she smiles. “When I was five years old, each time guests would come over to our house, I would come out in my Indian dress and put up a dance performance for them on ‘Choli ke peeche kya hai.’”

After she moved to New York and eventually LA, and her love for the arts took a life of its own, Annet’s ethnic ambiguity helped her realise that as an actor, she could both blend in and stand out. “I have always auditioned for parts of all background – from European to Afghan to Hispanic to American and Indian – because I wanted to move beyond ethnicity. I have also worn lose, baggy clothes to auditions because I didn’t want to be seen as a ‘hot girl’. I want to tell all kind of stories and not be limited by the colour of my skin or hair. I’m not just this or just that; like everyone, there are so many sides to me.”

The multi-faceted and culturally diverse identity she epitomizes helped her land her career-defining role in The Americans too. She was auditioned on Skype by the show’s creator, ex-CIA operative Joe Weisberg, and won the part because after learning of her eclectic background, Weisberg jokingly concluded that either her parents must be spies or she is one herself. “I think he was interviewing me as a potential agent and I passed the test on a human level,” she laughs.

Her role in The Americans was at first a guest arc that was soon converted into a series regular after the audience couldn’t get enough of Annet’s character, the enigmatic Nina. Apart from the professional success that came from playing a Russian double agent on a hit TV show, The Americans in many ways helped her  come even closer to her mother and her Russian roots.

“When I put on my makeup for the first time on the show and looked at myself as Nina, from ‘80s Russia, I saw my mom looking back at me and it was beautiful,” she glows. “Through Nina, I was able to connect with my Russian ancestry and access the truth of what it meant to be a Russian at the time my mother was my age, as well as explore it physically.”

It was also this ability to seek the truth that helped Annet comprehend and rationalise the partial nudity that was required of her character, Nina. “My body is sacred to me and I was fearful about approaching these scenes at first,” she says. “But I realised that when I’m Nina, I can’t continue being Annet. Nina doesn’t have guns so if she needs to survive, she has to use her intuition and her truth. And the only way you could be truthful as a woman spy at that time was to bare yourself physically and mentally.

“The writers were very careful in the story to ensure that Nina doesn’t just take her clothes off for frivolous reasons. When Nina is unclothed, she is a woman to her utmost and fullest degree and she owns everything in that moment. And for me, as an Indian woman, embracing the femininity and expressing my sexuality through that character was, in a way, empowering too.”

Annet is currently filming the third season of The Americans, has done guest parts in high profile shows like Grey’s Anatomy, stars in the upcoming animated film, Penguins of Madagascar, besides a couple of independent movies, in which she plays the all-American lead (Bridge and Tunnel and Sally Pacholok), she is now “thirsty” to find a role to express the Indian side of her genes and complete her transformation into the woman who can break out of the stereotypes and boxes the world tries to put her into, and achieve everything she wants. An offer by a big Indian film studio couldn’t work out because of scheduling conflicts, but Annet knows it’s only a matter of time.

“I have never been able to get the role of an Indian so far because I don’t look like Hollywood’s idea of an Indian woman, which is a brown-skinned exotic princess,” she says. “But I can’t wait for it to happen. When you tap into one part of yourself, you understand more about the other part too. Even the dynamic that I bring to Nina comes from this personal ability to shift perspectives and find truth in both worlds inside of me. I have all these perspectives within me, and I feel at home in different places because of that. That’s why I am never truly home at just one place… and yet, the world is my home.”

Note: If you haven’t seen The Americans, you *must* watch it since it is one of the best shows on TV today. Here’s what I had written about it in another article: 

If you liked/disliked the interview, do leave a comment below 🙂
Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /
Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoononTwitter:
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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the November 9, 2014 issue.
Picture courtesy:
 Brian Sunday. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


“You don’t have to be a prick to be a good actor”

Note: This interview was taken by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Sunday Guardian. An edited version of the interview can be found here:
Read my interview with Joshua Malina of Scandal/West Wing here:
My interview with Anatol Yusef of Boardwalk Empire is here:
Coming up next: My interview with FRIENDS creators David Crane & Marta Kauffman.


Homeland is one of the most addictive shows on television and even with its ups and downs, it never fails to make for a compelling watch. While I’ve always been a fan of the fantastic work that Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin do, my biggest reason to watch the show over the last season has been Rupert Friend, who plays Peter Quinn in such a raw, gritty, unflinching yet impossibly humane manner that when Homeland sometimes gets campy, it gives the show a very solid grounding in reality.

I’ve also seen Rupert Friend in a bunch of movies over the years, and he’s pretty much been the very best thing about them. From The Young Victoria to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas to the recent Starred Up, Rupert’s played all sorts of roles from tragic to terrible to tender, and he’s really kicked ass in all of them. I’ve also seen his brilliant short film, Steve, which stars Colin Firth, Keira Knightley and Tom Mison, and it just speaks volumes about how he thinks and what sort of a fascinating mind he has. (Watch Steve here:

So I was quite excited about getting to speak with him. Also, given that he’s going to star in Agent 47 next, and is perhaps one of the most talked about young actors in Hollywood, I was really looking forward to the interview… until I began my research by reading up on his old interviews. And then I got pretty intimidated. Because Rupert’s earlier interviews portray him to be an actor who’s not at all fond of interviews, is distinctly uncomfortable and agitated at questions he doesn’t like, and may even pull up the journalist if they don’t have a background on him. Luckily, I had already seen some of his stuff, and I’m pretty diligent when it comes to research… but I became even more cautious before the interview, and to be honest, just a wee bit nervous.

But my anxiety was unfounded because when I spoke to him, the very first thing Rupert asked was if my mother was alright now. (There was a slight confusion in the interview timing earlier – I had been at the hospital with my mother when I got the call for the interview and I had to request for it to be done earlier. P.S. My mother’s better now, thanks J) But that put me at ease instantly, because hey, if Rupert’s *that* compassionate and actually cares about checking up on your mother, then you’re going to do just fine.

And the interview wasn’t just fine, it was quite excellent. Rupert made for a fantastic interviewee; he was informal, fun, self-deprecating every now and then, very interested in answering the questions in as much precise detail as he could, and more importantly, as you would realise from the answers, seemed to have a good heart to him, which is always such a great thing, interview or no interview. He even said during the interview that he may have “mellowed down” a bit, with a bit of a laugh. So I had a pretty great time speaking to him, even though I kept calling him Peter on every second question (it’s a testament to his acting that I believe it’s Peter and not Rupert!)


I’ve divided the interview into the following segments:


So you can skip to the part you want to, or go through the entire interview and enjoy Rupert’s answers.

“If you are a fan of Peter Quinn, you’re going to be really happy this season.”

This season, Homeland has been doing over. What does that mean for Peter Quinn with the complex and morally conflicting journey he has had as CIA?
It’s a good question. I think, at the end of last season, we were left with feeling that Quinn was very much done with CIA and with the whole line, as it stood, and definitely his role in it. He was feeling very ambivalent about his job, and so, in this season, he has deliberately distanced himself from that line of work and also from Carrie, because I think it’s pretty obvious that Carrie and Quinn have this, sometimes, disastrous effect on one another, whereby it’s sort of like a dangerous black hole that pulls you in and once you’re in it, then bad things happen.
So, there’s definitely a sense in which he has separated himself geographically and emotionally from Carrie, so that they can perhaps work better. But of course, this being Carrie, things are never that smooth, and when she needs him again, she is someone Quinn can’t say no to. And that is the beginning of the unravelling, I think. So, there’s basically a lot of tension at the beginning of the season between them, and a disastrous event, it’s a catastrophic happening, if you will, that sets the whole season into motion and forces Quinn back into a place he really does not want to be. And that has many disastrous results for him personally. And he starts, kind of, having a breakdown; I suppose that would be the best description of it.

With Nicholas Brody having been executed last season, fans of Homeland are expecting Peter Quinn to step into his shoes, in terms of being the male lead driving this season. Do we see Quinn upping the ante in season 5?
Well, I mean, obviously no one can replace Brody. Fans love him and Damian is amazing, so while nobody would ever want to say that Quinn is in any way stepping into Brody’s shoes, because they are diametrically opposite characters anyway, Quinn is definitely much more front and centre this season. He, as I said, is very much the counterpart to Carrie both emotionally and story-wise and we see them dancing around each other, in a way that doesn’t always have the most gratifying results for either of them. But if you are a fan of Peter Quinn, you’re going to be really very happy this season.

I’m interested in knowing: Did you have any take on the war on terror before you joined Homeland, and that that change or evolve, as you played a character, who was such an emotionally intricate part of the plot?
Well, I’ve tried to keep out of making any kind of under-informed opinions on the political aspects of this job. I do think its extraordinary how, you’ll see, this season has managed to hit some kind of truth, and feels almost like it’s being written in tandem with the events that are happening. SO there’s definitely a sense in which it has opened my eyes to what’s going on but I would not to go down on one side or the other, without being completely informed about it.

So we know that this season involves Pakistan, but does that mean it also involves India in some way?
I don’t want to give anything much away, but I’m afraid at this moment I can’t say that India gets involved. This season takes place very much in Islamabad, where the station is based. It’s largely dealing with Pakistan-American relations and there’s a little bit of Kabul as well. So, at the moment, not much India, but next season, who knows?

Indian actress Nimrat Kaur is working in Homeland this season. Have you worked with her so far?
No, Nimrat is playing an intelligence officer for the Pakistani Secret Service, and she plays a very, very interesting character called Tasneem, like everyone else around, she isn’t quite what she seems. She plays a very powerful, very manipulative woman, so you know, it’s worlds away from her role in Lunchbox, it would seem. But she’s part of a real power play here and although I’ve met her but we haven’t had a scene together yet.

How has your interaction with her been so far?
Fantastic! Oh yeah, she’s wonderful. She’s got a lovely, great energy, and you know, I’m sure she’ll play someone nefarious and multi-layered incredibly well. She seems to be very excited about it but since I haven’t seen her work in the season yet, I can’t talk about that. So I hope you guys can probably see it before I do.

Let’s talk about something you can talk about: Claire Danes. Claire and you had some pretty intense scenes set in a mental institution last season. How did you both approach those scenes when Claire channels her character’s bipolar streak in such a powerful manner?
Well, she’s very loud, so I go in the other room and let her get on with it (chuckles). It’s totally unplanned, actually. The exciting part for me is not knowing what’s going to happen. And then finding out on the day of the shoot.

A lot of people on the internet are rooting for a romance between Carrie and Quinn. Do you think that’s ever going to happen?
I don’t know about that personally. All I would say is that if it feels obvious, I don’t think it’s going to head that way (chuckles).

“The quickest way for me to get really angry would be if I witnessed somebody being bullied”

I want to ask you about one of the most crucial moments for Quinn in Homeland, when you accidentally killed a kid last season. You’ve also earlier played a Nazi in The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas and had a similar disturbing incident with a kid. How do you prepare for such dark scenes and how do you cope after having played them?
With the two things that you’ve referenced, it was important for me to play with the kids and to hang out with them, so that they were able to see the difference between a man and the character. Because however good the film or show turns out to be, if you’ve scarred a child for life psychologically, was it worth doing? So it was very important to me, particularly in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, where it was a more direct interaction with the young actor, to, kind of, help them psychologically.
Kids are fantastic – they are the best at imagination, so if you pitch a kid a game, for example, ‘I’m the cop, you’re the robber’, or, you know, ‘I’m the doctor you’re the patient,’ they just go with it, without question. That’s what I loved about being a kid and I love about working with kids, is that they have no limit. The problem is that they are, I think, very susceptible to being unable to distinguish always, between what is real and what is not. And if you have some awful Nazi, who is an asshole, you know, that could be a nightmare for lots of years to come. When worked together in the film, I asked the kid to see this character as somebody who lived in that house. When he lived in there and whenever he was in there, the character was real, but as soon as we left that house, which was the one we were shooting in, he didn’t exist anymore, and Rupert existed. So we spent a lot of time at the zoo, you know, hanging out, where I was being Rupter, and when we were in the house, it had to be real and I was a Nazi. Because, otherwise, kids kind of giggle and say, ‘Aww, you’re pretending,’ and that wouldn’t serve my purpose either. So it was a, sort of a, weird balance between trying to be fair to them as humans while giving a performance that they can be proud of as well.

You’ve spoken quite a bit in your interviews about being bullied as a kid. Do you think your sensitivity in handling such scenes and portraying such characters comes from having faced that?
(Pauses) Yeah, I think the quickest way for me to get really angry would be if I witnessed somebody being bullied. It’s something I feel very strong about. I’m not perfect by any means, you know, but, if I see something like that at work, it’s not okay, and it won’t wash with me. So I hope it’s manifested itself into something of an intolerance towards bullying behaviour. While that’s part of me now, the kids thing is more because, as I said, this is the business of imagining, right? Whether you are in writing or filmmaking or acting, you’re in the business of imagining. And kids make that business a part of their lives, they insist on it. And for me, that is something we should never lose as adults either. So working with kids or being with a kid, is super important for me, as a, soulful person, if you like, but also, as a professional and as someone who professionally creates and makes things up. It’s really important to remember that the kids can imagine without having to think about it, and to not stop them when they do.

Since we’re talking about imagination, what sort of a backstory did you imagine for Peter Quinn, since we know very little about him even now.
I think Peter Quinn is one of those guys who very few people ever get to know. And I think that is why he was able to be in the line of work that he did. And it’s why he finds forming relationships very difficult, and why he chooses to spend most of his life alone. And I think that those facts mean, that out of respect for Peter Quinn, I’m not going to go into his backstory (laughs).

So I’ve read in many of your interviews that you prefer experience over imagination, and do extensive research before getting into the role. How did you prepare for a role that revealed so little to you initially?
Yes, it was completely different, Nikhil, you’re right. Because, you know, it was my first experience with serialised television, in fact, it was my first experience with television at all. In films, you’re given a script where you see the arc of all of the characters of the story and you can, to a certain degree, play detective, and work backwards to try and figure out how these events may have happened and so, you can try and get inside the skin of somebody. With this, it was like walking off a ledge, and not knowing how to fly or how hard you have to fall or whether you can jump – it’s a complete, sort of, leap of faith. I suppose that the way I responded to that challenge was to make a hard choice one way and stick to it and see what happens, really. It always comes down to those two, kind of, magical things called imagination and being present. And if you start with one and rely on the other, touchwood, everything seems to go alright.

Is it more interesting to you when a character is revealed in parts as opposed to when you know everything about him? How do you make a character like that more truthful?
To be honest, knowing an arc is not that useful in and of itself, to me, because if you know it in a way that it is rigid, then it doesn’t allow for things to evolve in the moment. So, for me, what is super interesting, whether I know where somebody’s roughly going or not, is knowing as little as possible in the moment. So it’s really like it is in real life, as in, you get there, and you see what happens, you see how you feel, and you see what that course is. So, I suppose I’m a big, big advocate of under preparation and improvisation (laughs).

You know, Rupert, after speaking to you, I get the sense that Peter Quinn’s arc in Homeland, which has been very internal at first and over the seasons, he’s become a lot more expressive, is, in a way, similar to how you’ve dealt with fame and even the media, for that matter. Initially you were a lot more introverted when it came to dealing with the attention that comes from being an actor, and now you are quite expressive. You think that’s a fair analogy?
(Pause) That’s an interesting one. With Quinn, you know, I think part of the storyline that’s happening with him is about his starting to need to open up to somebody. Human beings are essentially pack animals and need some kind of connection and he just hadn’t had it for years, necessarily. And you’d see, in this season, his moral compass is just swinging around, and the effect of this is such on him that it’s making him question absolutely everything. So that’s the answer to that part of the question, in terms of, why he is more expressive. When we first met Quinn, the whole point was nobody was supposed to know what he was really there for. So of course, he couldn’t be allowed into anybody’s office, for example. And now, his role is no longer that.
And, in terms of my dealing with the media, you know, I guess I’m just a slightly less of an angry young man (laughs). I’m slightly less pretentious, I hope, and slightly more comfortable about talking about some things and saying ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I don’t understand’. Because one of the reasons I would get very, kind of, worked up about people taking interviews is that I didn’t know the answers to some of the questions, when they’d ask things like, ‘How did you do this or how did you prepare that.’ I either didn’t know or didn’t want to answer stuff like, ‘Where do you like to buy your milk in the morning?’ You know, it’s just that you don’t really want to answer that question. I guess, as I got a bit older, I realised it’s okay to say ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I don’t want to’, and you can say it without it becoming, a fight. (laughs) Maybe I’ve mellowed a bit, I don’t know.

“You don’t have to be a prick to be a good actor. Acting is not supposed to be some great, big, ground-soaring, arduous thing. Acting is one of the most fun things to do.”

That begs me to ask you a question: When you had made your short film Steve, you had spoken about how you made it as a reaction to people who love ticking boxes or because of conformist attitudes. Since you’ve changed quite a bit, if you had to make Steve now, would it still be the exact same film?
Well, I think, the happy accident of Steve happening was that the genesis of it was some kind of frustration with society’s requirement for certain social interactions, before you ever got to really  get to know anyone. And I felt like, you know, a lot of interesting people are seen as eccentrics or outcasts of misfits, I know I certainly was. And it always felt like, just because maybe you don’t shake hands in the right way or you don’t know the latest gossip or you don’t know pleasantries, it doesn’t mean you are not worth knowing. And I think that that point to me completely stands.
The other thing is, that what Colin (Firth) and I stumbled across in rehearsing the piece was a character that I completely love and so does he, and he loved it so much that he called me earlier in the year and said, ‘What do you think about a feature?’ But, you know, I had never considered that, but when he said it, of course, my imagination machine started working and I thought, ‘Well, I loved making that film more than anything else in my professional life, and I would love to go and spend time with this wonderful, different man, for 100 minutes rather than just 15,’ And as I started thinking about it I got, you know, excited then frustrated then excited then frustrated, as it goes (laughs). But the exciting bit, finally, is that I feel very good about the idea of making a feature out of Steve. And I know that Colin is excited to play the role again.

So when is it happening then?
Well, I’m just in the writing process at the moment, so it’s away in from being anything that I’m happy to shoot, but I’m definitely in that process of realising that there’s no limits to it. Also, that film played in festivals all over the world. I saw it subtitled in Spanish, Arabic and all sorts of languages. I had first thought that it wouldn’t work because it felt very English to me, because, in a way, it was, sort of, all about tea. But people enjoyed it regardless of their culture. They seemed to understand what it was about: not fitting in, which, I guess, everyone recognises.

Since you’ve acted with some of the greats, right from Johnny Depp, whom you debuted with, to Mandy Patinkin in Homeland. What do you pick as an actor while working opposite a talented actor, as opposed to as a director, when you’re directing an actor like Colin Firth?
What do you pick up? I suppose I learnt, from the actors that I really have loved to work with, and was fortunate enough to work with, that you don’t have to be a prick to be a good actor, for one. For two, that sense of fun – again coming back to the childlike thing – that sense of play, is what made me remember what was so great about acting. It’s not supposed to be some great big ground soaring, you know, arduous thing. Acting is fun, you know; it’s one of the most fun things to do. So, if you can retain that and then add, you know, a little bit of technique or experience, then you end up with someone like Johnny Depp or Colin Firth.
And the difference between acting with someone or rather acting with both of those or directing someone, is rooted in the same thing. The fun in exploring Steve with Colin is that I don’t have any censorship when I direct. So, if you want to bring something, then I’m totally down with pushing it all the way to the point where we are either both no longer interested in it – sometimes that may happen in the first place – but if we are both interested in it, then it becomes about elevating the other person’s energy to, one hopes and definitely feels, unto oneself. You elevate the other person, they elevate you, and you both come out with a whole that is far superior than the sum of its parts.

I find it an interesting contradiction that you are both a writer and an actor; since generally, people write to discover themselves, while they act to discover others. Do you feel the same way?
I think, everybody probably approaches it differently. For me, they’re actually very similar. For me, it’s not about myself, it’s about what can I imagine, to come back to that word which I’m probably boring you with (chuckles), but to me, it’s the idea of that there really are no limits in your imagination. And if you want to write a world that you’ve dreamt up, then you can do it. And if you want to play a CIA assassin, then you can do it too, if someone gives you the opportunity, obviously. So, I suppose what I’m trying to say is that with writing there really are no limits, you know. If you can dream it, you can write it down. Kubrick once said, ‘If it can dreamt, it can be filmed.’ So I am fascinated by directing for the same reason that, you know, I’m a lyricist. I’ve been writing with this band, Kairos 4tet, who are very, very exciting, because they work with people that I would never have gotten to work with. I get to work with a harp player, some outstanding jazz musicians; and some of the vocalists that we’ve gotten together and collaborated with, it’s been really, really out of my comfort zone, and therefore, very fascinating.

You hail from the quiet town of Oxfordshire in Britain. Where did this sense of adventure come from?
I’m pretty sure it began with being read the Greek myths, when I was too young to even hold a book. I think, being read stories of Rome and Greece and the characters and adventures in a way that I could imagine – and I could imagine them very well – that definitely inspired me. You know what, if you’re to talk to me about pirates and mermaids or the minotaur or Greek Gods or Beast and Loki and Thor, then I am in a world that, I feel, was frankly, always more real to me than growing up in England, like myself. So the idea of pretending to be someone else, to be somewhere else, and to have a mission of your own in a world of your own, were in my blood from the very beginning.

Since you seek out different experiences, from the amount you have travelled to building your own house to being part of a band, would you say these are byproducts of you being an actor or did you become an actor because you’re so interested in eclectic things?
It’s a very, very good observation. I think they are intertwined, and I’ve never considered which came first. I can tell you that the reason I came into acting was that I wanted to experience as much as possible. You know, the idea of having the one career my whole life just seemed to be completely anathema to me. I also knew that acting in and of itself was never going to be everything for me. I just knew it was going to be a great way of experiencing adventure, frankly. The other cool thing about acting is that I get to suddenly go and learn a whole bunch about something entirely new, for example, how to take apart a gun with one hand, you know.

“I think I have quite a serious face, which is a shame, because I’ve a quite a silly side.”

So let’s talk about what you’re up to next. You’re doing a comedy for the very first time, in Alex Holdridge’s Meet Me In Montenegro. Was your approach to a light-hearted romcom such as that any different than your approach to your other roles?
You know, I would really, really like to do more comedy. The few people that really know me and love me know that that’s very much the heart of me. I think I have quite a serious face, which is a shame, because I’ve a quite a silly side. So the idea of being a bit more silly is very appealing to me; I really like making a fool out of myself. So, if people want to cast me on that whim, and I suppose it is only a whim in that you might have to go outside your comfort zone, then you know, it’s fantastic. Like, I am a big fan of Melissa McCarthy, I think she’s fantastic. She has a way of being serious within comedy, which I love, and I would love to do something like that.
As for the approach, the approach for any role feels like it’s always the same and it’s always different, in as much as you’re just trying to imagine you’re someone else. And I don’t really know how anyone does that, and I almost think that the less we try and understand it, the better, in as much as it may just be one of those things that is better left to history. I’m not trying to be mysterious here, I don’t know if trying to understand it will help me any better (laughs).

You were also writing a film that you were to direct, co-starring Emily Blunt. How’s that shaping up?
Yeah that is going to be my first feature film as a director. And we are slated to begin production at some point, next year, I think. It’s a story of two people finding their way across America while falling in love but the film’s got a lot of twists and turnings, so it’s got elements of suspense, when you’re not really sure what the truth is or that who between them is saying the truth.

I can’t finish this interview without asking you about Agent 47. The first look is badass. Is being a part of a no-holds barred big studio action film an experience unlike anything else you’ve done?
Well, I began to do my own stunts as Quinn very early on Homeland, and I’ve always loved the, kind of, physicality of characters, in that the way they do things other than most appropriate, so, you know, that’s always been interesting to me. You know, I have never played anyone who has a whole world created for them, but that isn’t real in a film. Now, I’ve played people who have lived and people who’re not real, but this is the thing where this character, of 47, has a whole world grown up with him, and then comes interactively acted out, and fans of the world can basically come see him in a film event. So you are stepping into the shoes which people feel they know very well. And not only that but, obviously, someone has already played the character once so there’s a sense in which, people are thinking, ‘Okay, is this a reinvention, or is it a homage, or is it a reboot?’ I don’t know the answer yet, we’ll see soon, I guess (chuckles).

Paul Walker was attached to the role of Agent 47 before his unfortunate demise. Has that added any additional responsibility to the role for you?
I think that the tragedy of Paul’s death is something that I think should be kept with his family and loved ones to mourn and not forced into the parallel tragedy of his not having played the role, which obviously doesn’t really compare. I think the main thing is to wish the best for the people close to him and then go do the best job we can, which I’m sure they would want us to.

If you liked/disliked the interview, do leave a comment below 🙂
Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /
Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoononTwitter:
onYoutube: /tanejamainhoon

Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the October 26, 2014 issue.
Picture courtesy:
 Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


“There are moments when I become aware that I’ve been thinking like a gangster”

Note: This interview was taken by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Sunday Guardian. An edited version of the interview can be found here:
You can also read my interview with Joshua Malina of Scandal/West Wing here:
Next week, watch out for my interview with Rupert Friend (Peter Quinn) of Homeland.

Boardwalk Empire’s been one of my favourite shows of the last few years and certainly one of the best things to have happened to television; and it’s such a tragedy that the show’s never broken out as well as other HBO shows. It’s constantly been rewarding and has had such terrific writing and such a fantastic cast over the years, led by the great Steve Buscemi, that it’s a pity it’s getting over.

And that’s why I *had* to speak to an actor from the show, because that’s been something on my ‘To-Interview list’ – speaking to actors I admire from the shows I love. I reached out to Anatol Yusef, who plays Meyer Lansky, in specific because I believe he’s one of the most solid actors on the show, and one of the most underrated things about it. Last year was truly one of the best years for Anatol on the show, as we saw Lansky’s climb to the top, and his performance really blew me away. I also loved watching Anatol in the haunting Brit show, #Southcliffe. You should check out the show and his terrific performance in it.

Anatol, like most Brit actors I’ve spoken with, was polite and gentlemanly and very intelligent to speak with. His answers were refreshing and he spoke in detail about pretty much all aspects of Boardwalk Empire and Lansky too; and I loved that he really understood the humanity of Meyer Lansky, the person. Anatol also had a seemingly spiritual connection with India, which I was unaware of, and he discussed that at much length in the interview. That was one of the reasons I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with him. I absolutely love interviews where the person I’m speaking to is an equal participant in a conversation, instead of merely being an interviewee. And Anatol was just as interested in talking about India as he was about Boardwalk; in fact, he approached the topic himself. So it was quite an insightful interview, and I really enjoyed writing it as well.


I’ve divided the interview into the following segments:

  1. INTRO

So you can skip to the part you want to, or go through the entire interview and enjoy Anatol’s answers.

“As an actor, you’re more used to things ending than carrying on. So it surprised me how sad Boardwalk ending was to me.”

As fans, we are crushed that Boardwalk Empire is coming to an end. What was the last day of the shoot for you guys like?
Well, it surprised me how sad it was. Because, you know, the show has been winding down for a little while and you prepare yourself for that kind of thing. One is, you’ve got to remember that as an actor, you’re more used to finishing things. You’re more used to things ending than carrying on. So I didn’t expect it to be a sad moment, but it got quite emotional, moreso during the leading up days. When I did my last scene with Steve Buscemi, we gave each other a hug and said, ‘Oh, that’s it, that’s the last time Lansky and Nucky are going to do a scene together,’… moments like that got quite emotional. But it felt the right time for things to end, and we had a nice celebratory drink and from then on, really, there was party after party after party after party, so we said goodbye to the show quite well.

Were there speeches made? Do you have any favourite moments from the after parties?
(Laughs) I don’t know if I can share that with you. No, but there were some fun moments and there were some good speeches. I was actually there on the final day of the shoot, which I wasn’t involved in, because (chuckles) I went to see if I could take a suit or two. Steve gave a beautiful speech to everyone, and there were many more moments that such moments, during conversations you might have with one of the wardrobe girls or with the hair and makeup, or the DP, or the casting directors, or one of the directors, where you recollect these little memories that you’ve shared along the way. I was reminded of some fond memories about my first read-through and the first costume fittings and things like that. What’s really interesting is talking to the other actors, some of whom you shared scenes with and some of whom  you never worked with, and hearing what people remember and indeed, what they don’t, about you, you know. It’s really lovely to know that that some cherished little moments are remembered and you know, are appreciated.

Before I ask you anything else, I need to ask you this about Season 5. We’ve seen some really cruel deaths in Boardwalk Empire but Arnold Rothstein being killed off screen in the time jump in between Season 4 and 5 was perhaps the cruellest of them all. How did you and Michael Stuhlburg take it?
It was very sad for me, yeah. As a fan of the show, Rothstein’s probably one of my favourite characters, and I think it’s a brilliant performance. So it was sad for me, especially to have not been able to know when your final scene with Michael was. It was obviously sad for Michael as well. But I guess you’d see with this season that there are so many things to wrap up that perhaps the Rothstein story would’ve been a lot to have encompassed in only 8 episodes. But of course, I’d have much rather known about and been part of the Arnold Rothstein story ending.

“People did the show with an acceptance to keep looking over their shoulders about as to when their characters might be killed”

One of my favourite things about Boardwalk Empire is how incredibly detailed and nuanced it is. As an actor, does that make the process of the show any different from other shows? How does a typical episode work?
(chuckles) Well, it depends on the season. In the earlier seasons, we had a little more lead up time, but as the stories got complex and more major characters joined the show, the writers worked a lot more closer to the shoot dates. Usually, you’d get the whole script or sometimes you go to the read through and know what’s going on in the whole episode, but as the seasons went on, pretty much all of us would only just get our scenes, and we could get them a week or two weeks before we shoot, and sometimes they would change the night before (laughs).
So the preparation time would be very, very short. Having said that, after 3,4, 5 years of being with the character really, you don’t need as much preparation as you would on another job because the characters are really more yours than anyone else’s. So, they’re relying on those actors who’ve been with those characters for that length in time to be able to work in the moment and think in the moment, and sometimes it serves you to not prepare too much so you can work more spontaneously. Sometimes, it’s more awkward because there are questions, like you know, you are talking about someone that you’re going to kill but you don’t know who that person is (chuckles). So the process varies.
And the other side of it is that a lot of the work is done for you anyway. Sometimes you step on to half made sets or sets that look very familiar. Boardwalk’s sets, the costumes, and everything is so elaborate that your imagination doesn’t have to do as much work as it might have to on another job. A lot of the work’s done for you. So you just get on and do it and trust that your instincts are right because you’ve been playing this character for so long.

A lot of the show was filmed on New York on the streets. Was that a particularly tough thing to do, getting rid of modern day elements of New York to showcase a New York in the 1920s?
No, because New York’s not that old, quite frankly. In New York, most of the buildings were as they were. In fact, some of the buildings are exactly as they were. It’s just been about changing some furniture. Possibly the only thing different in New York was the light because there were no skyscrapers around. It’s a good question for the production designers, but I imagine it’s pretty easy shooting in New York and in the surrounding areas where lots of these buildings still exist and still look like they did. And many of them have lots of the features which were the same as they were in the twenties, you know. It’s really just dressing and using those features with a camera, along with other elements, and that’s where it’s about being clever. It’s amazing, you know, if you put three gangsters dressed in suits in many of our locations, that’s half the job. So yes, it’s never been that difficult. In fact, it’s been one of the pleasures as a New Yorker, playing a New York gangster on a New York TV shows in New York. It’s one of the things I miss actually, it’s been lovely.

Can you share with us one incredible detail about the show that fans wouldn’t know?
You know, as you’d suspect, the show’s crew has worked incredibly hard to recreate the exact environment of the time. I’ll give you an example: There’s a scene in season 3 when Meyer Lansky, Arnold Rothstein, Joe Masseria and Lucky Luciano are on a dinner table plotting the way forward. And that table is positioned in exactly the same restaurant in exactly the same way as the meeting would’ve taken place, as written by Lansky and Luciano in their autobiographies. So we’ve had some pretty good days like that.

Since the show’s landscape was so vast and covered, did it often happen that you’d never get to interact with any of the other actors on the show?
It varied, but most of the time, you didn’t have any interactions. The most interactions you had were read-throughs. There’s be the odd time if you were shooting at a studio, then you might have a crossover, where, you know, you’d be coming in and someone else would be coming out or vice versa, but a lot of the times there’d be different locations. There was a time where New York was shooting in Brooklyn, Chicago was shooting in Staten Island, and Atlantic City was shooting in another part of New York. So it’s one of the things that was a little bit of a shame about the show, and those of us who’ve been on air a long time feel like this, because there are a couple of actors that we’ve never worked with and vice versa. Each season you hoped, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll get to work with Michael Shannon or maybe I’ll get to work with Gretchen (Mol)’, but it didn’t quite happen. Steve, I know, has loved the fact that he’s been able to work with everyone. So he’s got to experience everyone on the show, which is fantastic!

Going back, since Lansky outlived most of the gangsters, did it ever get awkward for you with the other actors knowing that you’re going to be on the show till the end, while they may be bumped off anytime?
(Chuckles) No, in fact, it was the last thing from being awkward because I’ve known that they can’t kill me! I do know that a couple of the other gangsters feared that they might change history and kill them but I never did because I knew it wasn’t that kind of a show. I do remember that in the early seasons I empathised with the actors coming into the read through, not knowing whether they would live or die. More than awkward I was intrigued to see how the writers kept everyone guessing about these guys.
But what I was most intrigued about was how, with a character like mine who outlived everyone, there were at least a couple of important scenes throughout the seasons where my character thinks he’s going to die. I think I’m most proud of those moments, because, if you, as the actor playing Meyer Lansky, and if the writers writing it can make the audience believe that he might die or he’s in fear of his life, then you’ve really achieved something. So it’s probably been more awkward, in a sense, for the writers to find unusual, unexpected things to do with these characters than it has been for us, you know.

Having worked with so many actors on the show whose characters were killed, from your understanding, how did they deal with such a part of the show?
I mean, it was an accepted part of the show, you know. I mean, it’s a gangster show, about a post-war era, about life on the streets and outside of it, when lives were cheap. So I think people did the show with an acceptance to keep looking over their shoulders about as to when it might happen. There haven’t been any occasions where I’ve known that I’m going to kill someone and they don’t know; that would be bizarre. I don’t think the writers would every put anyone in that position.

“Steve Buscemi immediately brings humanity to a situation, no matter what’s going on in the scene.”

So what are your favourite memories of working with Martin Scorsese?
Martin Scorsese’s influence on the show is really strong and really important. The pilot set the tone: the pace, the aesthetic, the tone was really set by him and his approach. I was told that I was his choice for the character of Lansky, but I didn’t work with Martin Scorsese directly. I think one of the most amazing things about Boardwalk for me is: I was living in New York and five months before I got the job, I had applied for my Green Card, and, kind of, made a quiet promise to myself that if I didn’t get it, I’ll go back to England and start again over here. The week after I auditioned for Boardwalk, I got my Green Card and things just changed from there.
A few years later, I was at the premiere of Hugo, and I was walking around and I saw Mr. Scorsese, and he approached me and complimented me on my work on the season. Two years after that I was at the premiere of Wolf of Wall Street and again the same thing happened. I looked over to where his table was and I thought I’d caught eyes with him and I became quite nervous and a friend of mine who knows him quite well said we should go over because I had some really specific thoughts about the film and about why I enjoyed it so much. So I went over there and before I could say anything, he told me exactly what he liked about my work in season 4; he told me the scenes he enjoyed and you know, moments like that, Nikhil, are… (pause) That moment four and a half years ago, when I didn’t know if I was going to stay in New York or not and then having one of the real greats, having one of our great modern artists in any medium, know your name and like your work, I mean that’s a wonderful thing. So I’m really proud to have been a part of Boardwalk Empire.

Terence Winter was already quite a critical darling because of The Sopranos before Boardwalk Empire Happened, but since then, he’s got mass acclaim because of The Wolf of Wall Street. Have your interactions with him changed over the years?
Terry has always been such a great boss. He’s always been encouraging, and never really been someone to get involved in an actor’s performance. Like any boss you work with, you get more comfortable as time passes. Terry is someone I see every year regularly, and sometimes outside of shooting, when there’ll be a dinner that some of us will go to. And with Terry, he’s one of those people who’s interested about what else is going on in your life as well, you know. Work isn’t the main topic of conversation with him, which is nice.
The thing that’s struck me about Terry is that he’s fascinated with the psychology of humans. I remember talking to him when he created the character Gyp Rosetti and he said that he had a friend who, when he was growing up, used to just get in fights all the time. He took everything very personally; and he based that character Gyp Rosetti on this friend that he had as a young man. And I think that’s very much Terry’s approach: he takes things in his own life and puts them in these worlds and he’s fascinated by the psychology of humans of every era.

I can imagine how working with the great Steve Buscemi must have been a massive perk of the job.
Oh! I’ve absolutely loved it. You know, with TV shows like this about gangsters and powerful men, there can be a lot of egos flying around, actors can get touchy when they are under pressure or tired. But Steve has been such a gentleman and maintained such an excellent demeanour and his quality of work’s always been so high, that no one else has behaved in any bad way because our lead has been such a good example to everyone. Anyone who’d have behaved poorly would have stood out like a sore thumb. So I’ve loved working with Steve and getting to know him.
I think of him as a friend now, and working with him has been one of my favourite things about the job. I’ve been lucky to work with him quite a lot over the years; we’ve had a lot of really great scenes together. I recently went to the premiere of an HBO documentary about New York firefighters that Steve’s done and I sat there and watched this, what would you call it, an offering or homage to his past by his peers and by his friends. And I just felt honoured to have worked with Steve, really, that apart from being a fine actor, he’s a fine man. So yeah, as you can see I can’t, I can’t say enough about Steve (laughs). I’m very grateful to him.

What did you pick up from him as an actor, and particularly an actor of a gangster drama, a genre that Steve Buscemi has a wealth of experience in?
I don’t know if it was specifically to do with playing a gangster. I mean, what Steve does very naturally – and all excellent actors do the same thing – is that he immediately brings humanity to a situation, no matter what’s going on in the scene. The hallmark of a great actor is bringing humanity before any showmanship or before trying to be intimidating or trying to be scary or trying to be cool or any of these things, which are all the enemies of good acting. Steve’s very, very gifted in just finding the humanity in a situation. And he’s a very poised and calm actor as well, so, you know, that’s always good to be around.
But I don’t know if I learnt anything directly to do with playing gangsters. I mean, I don’t think – Nikhil, I don’t think of myself as an actor who played a gangster, you know. I didn’t play Meyer Lansky as a gangster, I played him as an immigrant who came from great oppression, who wanted to make his way up and to find his identity, and who thought of himself very much as a businessman. So I never really thought about my character as a gangster. It’s more a reference point for interviews.

“In season 4, when Lansky beats a man to death for being anti-semtic, that was the closest I felt to the real Lansky, not because he was a killer or I am one, but that deep in his heart was a real anger and lust to make things fair and even, at least in his own eyes.”

It’s interesting that you talk about the humanity that Steve brought, because I believe you brought the very same to Lansky as well. You played Lansky as a calm, composed and smart man, one who doesn’t believe in knee-jerk reactions, the New York counterpart of Nucky, if you will. How difficult was it to give humanity to a character that is historically seen as a gangster?
(Pauses) It’s a good question. I don’t know if I was conscious of it. I knew that Lansky was a calm man, even at a young age, though he did have his moments, you know. Historically, he definitely must have been physically tough, and must have been quite lethal as a young man to have survived the streets that he did. I don’t believe that he didn’t beat anyone up or take anyone’s life, I think he did that – and he does that on the show. But I think generally he was calm, knowing his history, and knowing where he came from… knowing that survival was living.
You know, I have to say: now-a-days, we live in comfort. That’s what the modern age is, it’s comfort. Back then, it was survival. And these guys didn’t really weren’t conscious of the term ‘survival’ but that’s what they were doing, they were literally surviving. And being a ‘gangster’ was one of the means he chose to survive. Lansky, in fact, came from a Jewish culture, where knowledge and studiousness were great tools, but he was also hard as nail. I mean Lucky said about him in one of his biographies, ‘Pound for pound, he was the toughest gangster I knew’. And I think there’s truth in that. He was alarmingly tough – he was as tough as he was smart. He was surprisingly tough and surprisingly smart.
And yes, understanding the oppression that he came from and understanding what all those young men shared in that era, the ones that survived and the ones that didn’t, is that they there desperate for identity and desperate for a place in this new world, this kind of wild east, this new frontier that arrived in. So, you know, that’s a side of human nature that’s very recognisable.
(Chuckles) And, also, it’s very easy to be calm when you are surrounded by less calm gangsters, you know, when you are surrounded by the Luckys and the Busgys, certainly. I also think Arnold Rothstein’s tutelage was very important that for Lansky. Rothstein told him that he was very young and there was great honour and intelligence being slightly in the shadows and not being the frontman. Because if you are not at the front, you are less likely to get enemies and envied and killed. So, it all had reason. And that was Lansky’s greatest tool. Reason backed up with fierce intelligence and real toughness.

Over the seasons or in your research, what would you say were the moments that really made Lansky human for you, as a person of history?
He was human to me from day one, off that there is no doubt. I recognised him absolutely. I’ll give you two moments. One in the research and one in the show. In the show, there was a scene in episode 4, season 4, where Lansky loses a father figure in Rothstein at the poker table and then seeks another father figure in Nucky, who overthrows his business in rescuing his deal, and all this while he’d witness this man at a poker table being mildy anti-semetic to Rothstein. And after the deal with Nucky, it was the first time you really see Lansky on his own and you see him frustrated and excited, and you see his need for identity and family and home clearly. And that manifests into this moment where he beats that man to death for being anti-semestic, and doing so while speaking Yiddish, no less. That was the closest I felt to the real Lansky, not because he was a killer or I am one, but that deep in his heart was a real anger and lust to make things fair and even, at least in his own eyes. Does that make sense?
And then, the quote that I always remember, which I found in his research, is from when he was in hospital in the sixties after he had had a heart attack in his sixties and the Feds were bugging his phone. Phone bugging was the end of organised crime as we knew it, really. So he said this thing that someone who’d called him, his quote was, ‘You have to treat the good with the bad, that’s life, but some of us never learn it. One quarter of us is good, three quarters is bad, and that’s a tough fight, three against one. So some people never learn to be good.’ And I think, that was Meyer Lansky for me. Over time, his first son was born, I believe, with multiple sclerosis, and his wife accused him that it was his fault and it was god’s revenge. And I think from then on Lansky had a real change of conscience, and thought of himself as three quarters bad and tried to be good and that battle and that friction kept him alive but also made him make incredibly tough and ruthless.

Since Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky were partners for such a long time, did you and Vincent Piazza (who played Lucky) developed a process on approaching the scenes together?
We did at the beginning, very much. We very much worked together, hung out together and formed a relationship. We still see each other outside of the show but it became more occasional as the seasons went on because you didn’t need to, you know; the chemistry’s just been there. But yeah, in the first season particularly, we hung out loads, shared stuff and found our vocabulary as actors. So then, when you come to the scene, you know that there’s different ways that Lansky and Lucky would react in a situation and you’d agree on which way they’d be dealing with it.
You know, as time went on, they started to have their own moves and their own storylines, and certainly with Lansky, there was a choice he made – the choice of when to move things forward and the choice of when to step back. And as time went on, Lansky very much wanted lucky to be the man that stepped forward, and Lucky wanted to be that kind of man too, the front man. And it made sense historically as well because we’ve mainly been dealing with Italians in the gangster world. So that’s what’s happening this season. Meyer’s becoming very much the observer and advisor. But together with Bugsy, the three were a very, very lethal team.
There was a quote from Bugsy Siegel where he said, ‘I think they were more than brothers. They were lovers.’ But there wasn’t anything sexual between them. They would just look at each other and know what the other wanted to say. So if you go back and look at the seasons, you’d see the amount of looks that Lansky and Lucky share (laughs), there are loads of them, and they all mean different things.

As the seasons went on, did Vincent and you have your own looks too?
(Laughs) Yeah, of course. Vince and I used to talk about those looks first, and then they became natural for us as well.

Since Lansky was also a New Yorker and the show was shot in New York, have you ever had people coming to you with stories about him?
All of the time! The reality is that Lansky had his fingers in so many different pies that it was likely that somewhere, one of your grandfathers in New York brushed with him or one of his organisations. So I’ve sat in bars and all kinds of people have come to me with stories, from a Jewish guy who’s uncle or granddad worked with Lansky or someone of the older generation who’s worked with him indirectly. But the most complimentary thing that I got to know through a couple of writers who wrote books about the Jewish mafia or about Lansky himself, who’ve been in touch with Lansky’s family, is that a couple of them really enjoyed my portrayal. His grandson actually, through one of the writers, sent me a sketch that he did of his grandfather when he was a kid, so, yeah that side of it has been really interesting, you know, hearing people’s stories. And I have to say, it’s been nice to have the compliments from the older generation of New Yorkers to the way I portrayed him. It’s really lovely getting that, not being from there or not being Jewish; it’s been really nice.

Can you recall a story about Lansky that someone told you that stayed with you in particular?
One story that’s really stayed with me about Lansky came through Eric Dezenhall, who knew his grandson. Eric wrote a pretty good book about Lanksy called The Devil Himself, about his meetng with the US government and organising the docks to be cleared in World War Two of Nazi sympathisers. So Lansky’s gransdson spoke to Eric about this look that Meyer had. That he’d be affable and lovable, a good father, a good husband, a kind man, but there were moments where he’d give you a look that would chill you to your bones. And I loved that image, that he would sometimes do it knowingly and playfully, and sometimes do it to put someone in their place. That look meant that there was a place in his heart and in his soul that had seen real horror, and he could call on that whenever he needed.

“There are moments when I become aware that I’ve been thinking like a gangster”

Do you have an acting process similar to that? When you’re playing a historical character, and a gangster on top of that, is there a method you go through, or a zone you go into?
I guess I do. I’ve been doing it a while now so I’m not really aware of my process anymore. I do have a process but at least feels like I just do it naturally. There’s initial work of the research and the talking to the writers and talking to the other actors who play your friends or mentors, like Rothstein or Lucky or Bugsy, and really trusting your instincts. Sometimes there are some moments where you have to consciously get yourself into a very receptive place, you know, in some of the more deeper scenes. For example, the scene where I’m on my knees in season 4 with Nucky – when Lansky’s in the grave – those scenes require some conscious concentration. But after the initial work and the initial stepping into the character is done, it really becomes enough yours that your challenge is to just to go with it and trust that you have the essence of the character there, and usually that’s been fine, you know. Some characters come along and you have to be very well aware of your processes and be quite methodical with your approach, but this character hasn’t required me to be too aware of what my process is.

Let me ask you this: After having played him for five seasons, do you ever find yourself thinking like Lansky off screen?
Yeah, yeah, definitely, in approaching business, for one. I guess I’ve learnt something from Meyer in that you’ve got to do business straight then you’re less likely to get any trouble, and it’s very useful for me in the business I’m in now. But there are also things that I haven’t enjoyed. You know, there was paranoia associated with men like Meyer, from that era. They’d build speakeasies with eight different exists, which was very much an illustration of their depressed and sociopathic mind. There are moments when I’m aware that there’s a paranoia I’m adopting in situations, and that really has got nothing to do with me. Yes, there are moments when I become aware that I’ve been thinking like a gangster, you know.

Being so long on a show like this, which is about powerful men who can take what they want, does that somehow start empowering you in real life too?
I don’t know if I’m consciously aware of it. Also, it’s taken Meyer a few years on the show to become as powerful as he is, and you know, beyond the life of the show, he becomes much more powerful. But I know what you mean but I think the opposite is true. Because you get that little bit of lust for power out of your system during your work and I’d like to think, one is a little more humble when one gets home.

Also, I want to know about the psychological aspect of playing evil. The show’s about the process of evil; does that ever psychologically effect in you in real life? Do the belief systems you follow on the show start seeping into your system?
You mean if I’m inspired by it all?

I mean, is it hard not to be inspired by it all?
I understand your question but I don’t think of it like that. I do know that they’re from a completely different era and I see its echoes in modern society too, even though it’s a different thing going on now. I mean, the lies, the guns, the lust for power did not stop in the 1920s in America. So what a show like this does is that it informs your understanding of society and human nature. But as an actor I don’t judge the belief systems of that time, and so it’s been easy for me to not get affected. Perhaps it might have had an effect on me if I had Nucky’s role because he’s lived it in far more scenes than I have. But I guess we’ll really know in a few months time (chuckles).

Be honest here: having played a gangster with such a lavish lifestyle, have you picked up any gangster habit off screen?
(Laughs) Well, it’s certainly made me love wearing suits again. I’ve always liked the working class, you know. My family was also an immigrant family that came to London so I’ve always enjoyed the idea of a working class man getting dressed up. I can’t say that I wear three piece suits around the house but let me say, unofficially, and even though I’m not allowed to tell you, that I have got with me at least one suit, a jacket, a pair of shoes… and I might even have a wig. But you didn’t hear that from me (chuckles).
You know, since we’ll be finishing our interview soon, I’m really intrigued by Boardwalk’s popularity In India.

“Filming in Benaras was one of the most amazing moments of my life. It gave me something at a really early age – that you can look at things with a much wider lens.”

Well, the show’s certainly got its audience and that’s evident on social media, especially Twitter, where you see people discussing it many a times. I also know, first hand, that a lot of filmmakers I’ve worked with are big fans of the show. It’s one of the cult shows of our time, and while it’s not a massy show, it’s got its legacy and its own fans.
Well, it’s interesting to me because I’ve spent some time in India. It’s a country I’m very fond of. When you got in touch about the interview and expressed that you’re a fan of Boardwalk, it really intrigued me. Because I think there’ something in the palette and the size of the show that appeals to the Indian culture and the Indian landscape, because you’re not dissimilar to the Americans, in the fact that you’re really a continent, just like America, with many different states, you know. You have many different languages throughout in the country. You are a huge continent but also the geography of the country, like the geography of America, is so dramatic that I think these shows, with this kind of a broad palette might appeal to the Indian eye and the Indian culture.
Also, I for a little while I was interested in Indian films and I remember reading about them 10 years ago – this might not be the case now – that the whole Mumbai noir movement in the ‘90s was being financed in the film industry a lot by the Indian mafia. That’s similar to the America in the 1940s and ‘50s and ‘60s, you know, as depicted in the Godfather. I also didn’t realise that organised crime, at least modern day organised crime, is quite a recent thing in India. It’s fascinating to me. Because I think of Indian culture as ancient and spiritual and I had some amazing times when I visited India.
And, of course, Mumbai, as a city, is not dissimilar to New York, in its make up, and, you know, the amount of different types of traffic that goes through there. It’s fascinating to me that Boardwalk’s popular in India and it actually makes a lot of sense why it would be on many different levels. Is that fair?

Absolutely. I really couldn’t have put it better. While the mafia connection with the film industry is long over, the new age Indian film is usually one that deals with the underbelly of Mumbai and its crime. In fact, any time we’ve moved away from Bollywood in India, it’s usually been through a film about crime inspired from that era, although that’s changing now. But for a long time, if you were in a festival abroad and you saw an Indian film, chances were it would be a dark film to do with crime, corruption and the underbelly. So yeah, you’ve hit the nail on the head, so to speak. Boardwalk may certainly be popular for that reason, although the other HBO shows that’ve been watched quite a fair bit in India are Game of Thrones and The Newsroom.
Well, that really makes absolute sense to me, Nikhil. This is really interesting to me.  That appeals to what I understand of the Indian culture, you know. Game of Thrones is the fantasy kind of mystical side of Indian culture. The Newsroom is the political and media side of it and Boardwalk is the underbelly. So, you know, it makes absolute sense. It’s really interesting to me because there’s also what’s happening in India – and that’s always been there – this gap between the rich and poor, which is something that’s also really prevalent in the American society. And Indians have been through it time and time again, having been ruined by colonialism as well. So to watch this country that went through it from the early 1900s through to now, this young, big, dramatic country like India having been through it… I don’t know how conscious it is to your audience… but I imagine that would be a real emotional draw to the show. Even in terms of the colour, I think.
You know, my experience in India was when I was 13-14 and I was doing a thing called The Chronicles of the Young Indiana Jones. I was actually playing a kid from Chicago and we filmed in Benaras and Agra. Filming in Benaras was one of the most amazing moments of my life. I remember being down by the Ganges, and you know, it was my first experience of seeing real poverty, and of seeing what humans can be put through in other places. But it was under the backdrop of this incredible landscape, this incredible light, the spirituality and the community and all these things in it. I was conscious about it in the moment… there was something so honest about that picture, you know, this great poverty and this great landscape and this great spirit present, that, I think, it gave me something at a really early age – that you can look at things with a much wider lens. You lose some of the, kind of, social ideals on how things are and how things should be, you know. Because it was kind of very shocking and very hard on me for a little while, and then it became quite glorious. Does that make sense?
And I think there’s an element of that – I don’t think the show always pulls it off –but there’s elements of that in the ethos; it marries the kind of huge and epic and dramatic to the day-to-day of putting your clothes on and going to work, to the almost fantastic, the mystical, you know. There’s something in that; there’s a romance in it, which I think would appeal to Indian culture.

I genuinely don’t think I could have been able to analyse the show better from the Indian perspective, so thank you so very much for your thoughts. I must say, though, that since you’ve not been to India for quite a long time now, you should come back here again. A lot has changed since the last time you are here, but of course, some of it is also the same. But I think you’d be able to take back a very different image of India the next time you’re here, and perhaps be inspired in new ways.
Oh thank you, Nikhil, I’m very fond of your country and it’s one of my dreams to make a movie there. And even if not to make a movie, but to just to go back and spend some more time there. Because I’ve been there twice – the last time I came was 10 years ago – and it’s a fascinating country. And yeah, no, I would expect that India as a country is always evolving, culturally. What’s wonderful about India and the difference between America and India is that the background or sometimes the foreground has these layers of ancient culture that provides this perspective and that’s what I enjoy so much about being there. There’s this kind of modernity happening but at the same time, this real deep ancient culture. I don’t think of it as a country, I think of it very much as a continent, and yeah, I’m, very fond of it. I’m a big cricket fan as well, so….

Haha! Well if we start talking about cricket then that would be another very long discussion.
We must do that in our next interview, for sure (chuckles).

So what was the last Indian movie you saw?
I must admit that the last Indian movie I saw was while back, it’s not new age. I remember watching Salaam Bombay.

Wow, that’s really long ago.
Yeah, well that’s because, honestly, I don’t enjoy the Bollywood stuff that much. I’ve seen some of it but I don’t enjoy a lot of it. I’d love to see the new stuff. Maybe you could give me some recommendations.

Well, I’ll certainly send you an email on that. So what are you up to next after Boardwalk, and even though you probably can’t but is there *anything* you can tell us about the end of Boardwalk?
I’m in London for a few weeks for meetings on a few projects that have been on hold for the past year because of Boardwalk. Those projects are in their early stages and I can’t talk about them much but what I’m hoping for is that Boardwalk’s been wonderful for me and it’s brought me some great opportunities, and the truth is that I just want to keep doing quality work frequently. As for season five, there’s nothing else to say except that you watch the stuff that I don’t know about and the stuff I do know about; and that I do hope this season would be a satisfactory ending to five great years.

Meyer Lansky’s grandson, Meyer Lansky, has mentioned that neither he nor his cousin Gary (Lansky’s only two grandsons), ever provided information to the writers of Boardwalk Empire or a sketch of their grandfather. Read Mr. Lansky’s comment in the comment section below for more.

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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the October 19, 2014 issue.
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Note: This interview was taken by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Sunday Guardian. An edited version of the interview can be found here:

If you know me well, you’d know the story of how I became a writer, because I must have told it to you a million times. If you don’t know me, quick recap: I was in engineering college, and I saw Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and after getting my engineering degree and getting a couple of jobs, I left it all to go to Mumbai to make a TV show because Aaron Sorkin had corrupted me forever.

Obviously, after Studio 60, I dived into Sorkin’s filmography, and Sports Night and The West Wing are the two other shows that further made reinstated my faith in writing, and inspired me towards taking it up myself. I have loved all actors from Sorkin’s shows – Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford in particular, but if there’s one actor I had a certain fondness for, it was Joshua Malina, who played Jeremy Goodwin on The Sports Night and Will Bailey on The West Wing.

The thing I always loved about Joshua was that he played these amiable, everyday guys, who connected with you on a human level because they were people just like you. I became a huge fan of Joshua over time. (And when I saw him in A Few Good Men, I was bowled over!!!) I started watching Scandal for him too. And of course, his hilarious twitter persona (@joshmalina) never fails to make my day because of his quirky tweets, and trolls!

Last month, I got the opportunity of speaking with Joshua, and the one hour interview that I had with him turned out to be one of the most fun interviews I’ve done. Joshua is just as amiable a guy as his on screen avatars, and even more so, maybe! He is way too self-deprecating, completely at odds with his Twitter avatar, and just loves to converse with you, rather than doing an ‘interview. He congratulates you when he likes your question, and laughs hard when he finds something funny. I’ve now become a fan of his as a person too, and I hope we get to see him back with Sorkin or another cult, unforgettable role!


Since the unedited interview is long, I’ve divided it into the following segments:

So you can skip to the part you want to, or go through the entire interview and be regaled by his hilarious answers:

“Sometimes I think why on earth am I in this profession where there are 60 different jobs in your career.”

Joshua Malina is that guy you’ve seen in your favourite TV shows, from The West Wing to The Big Bang Theory to Scandal. He’s also starred in some of the recent classics, from A Few Good Men to In The Line of Fire. One of the most sought after TV actors, Malina talks to Nikhil Taneja about being an Aaron Sorkin regular, working on Scandal, the most watched TV drama today, and why its awesome being an actor on TV, in his first ever India interview.

I have to begin by asking you this: Have you seen your never-ending IMDB page? It’s quite insane.
(laughs) Yeah, I have. And I think two things when I look at my IMDB page. One, I think about how lucky I’ve been. And I’m very, very grateful for the people who’ve been willing to hire me (chuckles) and for Aaron Sorkin, who’s played a huge part in my career. And the other thing I sometimes think is, ‘Wow, look how many times I’ve had a job end’ (chuckles). That’s 60 times I’ve been working and then out of work! And I think why on earth am I in this profession where there are 60 different jobs in your career.

You started out in television with Aaron Sorkin and you are now working with one of the other greats, Shonda Rhimes. How do you look back on your 20 years as an actor, having worked with all-time greats such as these?
That’s a great question. I think… I’d like to think that I’m a better actor. Because I think, though I always wanted to be an actor and I did theatre growing up – as well as an year in a play of Aaron’s – once I moved to LA to pursue film and TV, I really didn’t do what I was doing. I was learning on the job. Nobody trained me and I never took an ‘acting for camera’ class. It was one of those things… it was just the confidence of youth where I thought, ‘I’ll just figure this out’, and I had to figure it out in front of the camera. So there are probably things early in my career that I wouldn’t dare to go back and watch (chuckles).
So, I feel, just with the experience of acting all these years, I hope that I’ve improved and that I’ve learnt some things, and probably, most of what I’ve learnt has been a result of working with really good people. That’s the other thing; when I look at the list of things I’ve done, somehow I just got very lucky that I’ve been able to work with people like Aaron and Shonda Rhimes; and Alison Janney, Martin Sheen, Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, and just watching people of that calibre has been an acting school of its own.

Over the course of your career, has it been difficult for you to break out of the amiable, guy-next-door roles that Sorkin wrote for you?
That’s also a great question. Yeah, definitely, Aaron wrote such strong characters of a type for me that is generally what I’m thought of as, and instead of being upset about it or being too concerned, usually I’m thankful that anybody tends to think of me for anything (chuckles). I can’t ever complain about being typecast as an Aaron Sorkin type. That’s a good problem to have. But yes, you usually jump at opportunities to show other sides too. Recently, I did an episode of Law and Order SVU here I was asked to play this guy who may or may not be abusing kids and I thought, ‘Wow, I get to play sick and twisted!’

When did you realise that comedy was something you are naturally inclined towards?
That’s a good question. I would say always. As a kid, that’s what I was drawn to, and as a young adult, in college, that’s always I was drawn to. But then, in a way, my career has gone the other way more than I would have anticipated, which is that Aaron has helped me create a career as a dramatic actor that I did hope for but I didn’t expect would happen. I always thought I would be more of a sort of sitcom-y type of comic actor. And so, sometimes, I want to swing the other way and go, ‘Actually I’m a comedian, I can do the comic stuff.’ You know, as an actor, you don’t necessarily get to really guide the way that your career goes, it sort of takes you along with it.

“During Sports Night, I’d often think, ‘You don’t have 3 page monologues in TV shows, not in half hour TV and certainly not in the third episode!’”

In these 20 years or so, TV has gone through a massive change. Sorkin was the one who brought about a revolution in network TV with The West Wing, and so, you’ve been at the forefront of this change, in a way. How do you reflect back on that?
Hmm… yes, you are right. At that time, I was an actor who was hungry to get some opportunities and who didn’t get too many of them until Aaron, who was, admittedly a personal friend of mine, created Jeremy Goodwin for me, and eventually created Will Bailey for me. In a way, I was very lucky because I had access and opportunities to some of the best material going way back. Now-a-days, there’s much more really, really good quality TV on, so I guess your odds are a lot better. I still think Aaron is a kind of his own; I won’t say there are a lot of Aaron Sorkins walking around, but there is a lot of very, very high quality TV and great writing on TV. And I do think some of the credit goes to him for helping up the game, and helping show potential for finding an audience for really quality TV. It’s really like the golden age of TV. Now, you really think twice sometimes before you go the movies, because you can stay home and watch incredibly good stuff. You don’t need to go to the movies and see a 75 or 100 million dollar budget project to see something that’s really, really good.

A few years after you started, in 1998, you did Sports Night, where ‘Sorkinese’ started from. What do you remember of that time from where TV writing really began to change?
Yeah, it’s usually only in retrospect that you go, ‘Oh, that was ahead of its time’ or that things were changing then. I mainly remember the excitement of getting a new script of Sports Night every week and thinking, ‘I get to do that on TV. I can’t believe he’s getting away with this!’ I opened the script for The Hungry and the Hunted, which was episode 3, and I’d see a three page monologue and I’d think, ‘You don’t have 3 page monologues in TV shows, not in half hour TV and certainly not in the third episode (chuckles)!’
So, I was, to some extent, aware that something special was going on and that Aaron was being given latitude to do new things, and to push boundaries. So, yeah, maybe I was more aware of it than I think, because he was just doing stuff that you didn’t see a lot. But at that time, there was just concern that, you know, ‘Are people ready for this?’ and how will it be greeted. Sports Night was a battle when it came to ratings and every week we’d look at the ratings and think, ‘Okay, we are going to be on for another week’. We still did 45 episodes but it was never easy. But it did give way to The West Wing and that was the one that really clicked, and people were then willing to take in the kind of material Aaron was putting out.

I’ve felt very curious about this: Would you say actors from Sorkin shows find it difficult to adjust to other work after having worked on such high quality material?
(Laughs) Well, I certainly had jobs where it was all too clear to me, that I was not working on an Aaron Sorkin show. But anybody who thinks that they’re gonna have a level of that kind of quality material in every job they get is just not being realistic. I think Scandal is a show where I love getting every script too. I think Scandal’s writing is great and clever and smart and fast. There certainly have been jobs in between where I’ve thought, ‘Okay, I’m not in Sorkin Land anymore.’ You just said yourself, you have to approach them as if they just cannot be as good.

What would you say it was about Sorkin’s writing that stood the test of time?
Well, I know him very well and have known him a long time, and he himself is very, very sharp, very smart, very articulate. He has a way of writing his own views into his shows. Usually, all his characters have his own hyper articulateness, so you get great characters who just know how to express themselves in a way that, as a viewer, or as an actor playing that part, make you wish that you could operate on that same level. The dialogue is so clever and so smart and on the money, and I think, emotionally too, what’s going on beneath all the words, just really works. It’s just a special gift that he has.

I’m going to ask you another question that I’ve always wanted to ask of an actor who’s worked as an Aaron Sorkin series regular. Do you think that working on an Aaron Sorkin show actually makes you a better person because of the higher morality that it strives for?
(chuckles) You know, it certainly pushes you in that way. I mean, The West Wing, in particular, really pushed you to care about its politics. It had its own specific lesson every episode that spoke to the greater yearnings and the better nature of people. So yeah, I really think his shows are inspiring and his writing is inspiring, and uhh, yeah, yeah, it pushes you to, maybe, chase that idealism a little bit.

So why aren’t you working with Aaron Sorkin again, then?
(Laughs) Well here’s the truth, then. The real person to ask this is Aaron. Because I’m completely shameless. Every time he has something new, I send him an email, or if I run into him, I tell him upfront, “I’m right here, I’m free and I like doing stuff.” I always thank him in every interview to appear in everything he writes (laughs). I can understand that maybe he wants to take a little break from me and the rest of us and show the audiences some new faces. But one thing is for sure, every time I even hear that he might be writing a new project, I will send him an email and remind him that we are friends (chuckles) and that I would like to appear in the new things he does.

How often do the cast of The Sports Night or The West Wing have reunions?
Not as often as we’d like. Usually, it’s more often trading emails or hopping on the phone. Whenever Josh Charles is in town, I’ll see him. Likewise, when I was at New York filming that episode of SVU, Josh and I got together like 3 times. So, if during work your schedules sort of happily coincide or relapse, you try and catch up. But actually keeping the group together is so hard to do because everyone’s married now, or has kids, so it’s difficult to arrange. But sometimes happy coincidences happen and someone shows up, like Mary McCormack just did an episode of Scandal, so I got to meet her. Dule Hill was in a Broadway show last summer so I went and saw it and we hung out afterwards, so things like that happen.

You know how, when old friends meet, there’s always this one thing everyone fondly recollects or can’t stop talking about. What’s that in your case?
(Chuckles) That’s funny. When I was with Peter Krause and Josh Charles, and actually, even when I saw Felicity recently, we were reminiscing the fact that (laughs), that when we had free time on the sets, we would play a sport we invented called ‘Chair football’, where we would take these rolling chairs from the office set – because there were chairs *everywhere* – and we played very, very violent version of tackle chair football. That’s as much fun as we’ve ever had (chuckles)

Do you ever get happy about how, if Sorkin’s not cast you, he’s not cast anyone else either?
(Laughs) Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Aaron Sorkin’s been really blocking everyone, but he’s actually letting everyone do all those sorts of different things, I have to say. On a serious note, you know, I feel so very proud of my friends, when I see them lead and excel. Josh Charles was just nominated at the Emmys, for example, and it is just so great.

So what would you say has been the legacy of The West Wing and Sports Night for you, personally?
You know I’ve had people come over to me all the time since the shows. For example, there was a particular episode in Sports Night called ‘April is the Cruelest Month,’ which I think of as the passover episode. My character Jeremy’s storyline in the show is that he’s Jewish and he’s putting together passover theatre at work, and they are going to do the exodus story for the colleagues of Sports Night, whether they were Jewish or not. One of the things I noticed from it is that a lot of Jewish people would come up to me, and tell me that were very, very touched by the fact that it was this kind of a substantially Jewish story being told in the episode, and it just made me realise, again, how Aaron was doing these things that most people don’t do, and that it was getting through to people.
And that happened to me on The West Wing all the time too, and has been happening for years, even till recent days. Like you just said to me, when you started the interview, that his writing from the shows I’ve been lucky enough to be part of, sort of inspired you to go on and become a writer, and I’ve had people come up to me and say that they watched The West Wing as teenagers, and then went to school, majored in Political Science and now they’re working for Congressmen, and it’s all because of Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing. So it’s just one of those things that knocks you out! I didn’t even aspire to or think I’d ever be part of something that touched people or affected people on that level. As an actor, most of my career, I’ve been more concerned with just trying to keep working (chuckles), much less hoping to be part of something, where someone’s going to walk up to you and say, ‘This affected the course of my life.’ So, in that sense, I’ve been beyond, beyond fortunate to have stumbled into Aaron Sorkin’s orbit.

“They both write scripts that are really too long for the hour that we have to broadcast it, so you really have no option but to speak quickly.”

And in contrast, what does it mean to be working on a Shonda Rhimes show, one of the most loved shows on TV today?
Yeah, there are not too many people like Shonda either. I’ve had a chance to work with a couple of these real biggies of TV like Aaron and Shonda. And it would be interesting, she’s going to have her own three hour block on Thursday nights on prime time network TV, and I don’t think anyone’s ever done that before. And it’s a very nice experience, I have to say, for somebody who’s creating and exceeding at the level that she is, that she is still very approachable and very warm and very maternal. The kind of things she brings up, and just the fact that she wants to make sure that the cast is being taken care of, are touching, because she’s so involved.
She is a very, very good boss to work for, and it’s also exciting, that thanks to her and the level she’s at, Scandal got a chance to grow. A lot of shows get pulled after one, two or three episodes for not performing and Scandal was a slow starter, and I think one of the reasons that the network gave it a chance is that Shonda Rhimes has an incredible track record. So instead of being too eager to pull it or cancel it or remove it, they said ‘Let’s give her some time, let’s see what this turns into,’ and that was certainly to the benefit of me and everybody else involved in the show (chuckles).

How do you compare the creative process of an Aaron Sorkin show to Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal, which is one of the only hit 24 episode-long series on TV today?
Actually, yes, I’d say that there are many similarities. Shonda and Aaron are both very dialogue heavy. They both like characters who are very articulate and speak very quickly; they also write scripts that are really too long for the hour that we have to broadcast it, so you really have no option but to speak quickly. They both have unmatched focus and dedication that they bring to their writing and their vision.
And so, I have a similar approach to both shows, which is to have ultimate respect for the script. When the script arrives, I’m not one of those actors who’s thinking if we can change this or that or ‘How about if I say this?’ The script is like The Bible for me, and I’m a character who says exactly those things and I have to somehow find a way to make that work. Whether it’s The West Wing or Scandal, I take it all equally seriously. I just try to click forth with the excellent material simply and straight-forwardly. I just, kind of, live in the moment.

Although, as you say, both Aaron Sorkin and Shonda Rhimes have many a similarity, and have both been equally successful on network TV, Aaron’s writing has always polarised people, whereas, Shonda’s writing has by and large been accepted happily by the majority. Why do you think that is?
That’s a tough one. That’s a very good question. Because, as we spoke, they certainly have similarities in the dialogue and the articulateness and the way they go about it all. (pauses) Yeah, that’s a tough one. I have to think about that. What’s – what’s your take on that?

Well, I’d like to believe it’s to do with the moral centre that Sorkin offers. There’s a sort of idealism in all of Aaaron Sorkin’s shows that not all people agree with. Idealism is something so uncommon in today’s world that whenever Sorkin offers that worldview to them, they just do not accept it. Shonda Rhimes sort of shows people a mirror of themselves, while Sorkin shows them an aspiration.
Well, that’s very well put. Yeah, yeah, you’re right. Although, Shonda, in a way, is not always so cynical either. If you look at Grey’s Anatomy, there’s a lot of romance there, and Aaron’s a romantic as well. So, I do think they’ve a tendency to overlap in their similarity more than in their difference, but yeah, you’re right. Aaron’s really created a very aspirational take on Washington DC, whereas, Shonda’s is more, I guess, lurid and dark and out there.

Since you’re a writer yourself, what have you picked from both Aaron Sorkin & Shonda Rhimas as a writer that you someday hope to incorporate in your own writing?
Well, one is the focus and dedication that they have and that they bring to their writing and to their vision, even if it’s not in the zone of what you’ve seen before. So if Aaron was, 15 years ago, doing 3 page monologues, that inspires me to really write my vision of something. But by the same standard, you also have to earn that a little bit as a writer. So if you are a relatively new or untested writer, and if you come in with something that’s wildly off the wall, you’re maybe going to have a harder time somewhere trying to find a balance of writing in the realm of what network TV and the broadcasters are looking for, and still trying to be true to your vision and your characters in the same way that Shonda and Aaron do.

“David and I share a hard headedness and stubbornness. Like I’ll always read the next Scandal episode firm in the belief that this might be the one time where I come out on top (chuckles)”

How did you first connect with David? Was there a scene or moment that particularly spoke to you?
I like that he has a single focus, and if he thinks there’s an issue of right or wrong, he will dig in and he’ll just hit his head against the wall over and over, because that is needed in the service of justice. I like the scenes where he’s butting heads with Olivia, I like when he has this wall of evidence and he would peep down into the rabbit hole of trying to figure things out, maybe not showering, maybe not eating the way he should and living the case. Yeah, I like that he has tunnel vision.

You know, betraying The Gladiators on Scandal may have been the most evil thing you ever did on TV. Was that empowering?
(laughs) That’s funny.  Yeah, that was a time when it looked like I was really, really evil and yeah, I loooved that. I got people on the streets and people on Twitter absolutely hating on me. And I wanted to do a dance of joy, I was so happy. I was only disappointed that it turned out that I was really actually kind of a good guy.

Do you every get frustrated with your character of David Rosen in Scandal? He’s always been set up to fail because Olivia always has to come out on top.
Yeah, I guess there is a little frustration in it. But I think David and I share a hard headedness and stubbornness. Like I’ll always read the next episode firm in the belief that this might be the one time where I come out on top (chuckles). But I really like David’s storyline in Season 4; I love the fact that it’s a lot about his career this season. He’s back in the thick of things and he’s fighting the good fight. So I still want to believe that by the time this story has been told, David would’ve had his victory, though I don’t know if I can ever truly hope to beat Olivia Pope.

Do you think Olivia and David can truly ever team up?
I think Olivia and David can team up if their interests align over a specific issue at a specific time, but David would be foolish to ever fully trust her. I think she’s certainly shown herself not to be somebody who you can let your guard down around. But sometimes you’ll have common enemies, or you will have a common interest, and that’s when they can work together.

Where does that leave David Rosen in Season 4?
I don’t think I can say too much about season 4, but I can say that so far I really like David’s storyline. A lot of it is about his career, which of course, in Scandal’s first three seasons, has had its ups and downs. He’s had a lot of failure, he’s even left his job at one point to become a teacher, and he’s kind of right back in the thick of it as the fourth season begins, and like always, he’s fighting the good fight. And I’m really enjoying that and I think people are going to enjoy seeing where season 4 takes him professionally.

“Stick the hornet’s nest that is Twitter to see if someone gets overly upset about whatever little grenade I’ve thrown out there. I’m much kinder than that guy.”

You are infamous as being a pretty great prankster. So what goes on behind the scenes at Scandal?
(laughs) That is true, yeah. I’ve done a lot of pranks but I feel that I have to stop talking about these things because its making it harder and harder for me to keep doing these things. It’s got the spotlight on me. And things have now turned a corner where now it’s like everybody’s plotting against me. Last year, when we were shooting the show and I was in the middle of a scene, Tom Verica, who’s our producer and one of our directors, actually ran out with a huge cream pie and smashed it over my head! And I felt, ‘Wow, I’ve really, made enemies on this set. I’ve got people attacking me during the workday on camera.’ So I have to start going underground and plotting a comeback.

I find this contradiction in your career, where you’re supposed to be this famous prankster but everyone loves casting you. So either you’re not a great prankster or you are a really great actor. Which is it?
(Laughs) Well maybe it’s a combination! I don’t know how good I am or how bad I am, it’s a combination. The thing is, you work so long and for such long hours together that things can get intense and tiring. And you know, every Shakespeare play has its fool, and every TV show needs its fool too. Maybe I’m destined to play the fool.

What’s the best behind the scenes prank you’ve ever played?
Well, this is a story that I told before, but it’s a great one. When Jimmy Smits just joined The West Wing and Janel Moloney and I thought of this. I even think it may have been her idea and I don’t give her credit, but it was Valentine’s Day soon and Jimmy Smits had been on the show for a couple of weeks, so we sent him an enormous bouquet from Brad Whitford. I had stolen personalised stationary from Brad’s trailer so it really seemed like it had come from Brad because it said ‘From the desk of Bradley Whitford’ on it. I wrote a message on it and it was kind of (chuckles), well it was a little bit of a suggestive note from Brad to Jimmy, saying how much he enjoyed working with him and also, ‘I want you to be my valentine’ (laughs). And it was delivered on set from Brad to Jimmy, who actually believed that it came from Brad and I think it got a little bit uncomfortable because Brad had a girlfriend so I made sure he understood, later. But it was very, very funny.

Do you take a call on whether or not you should do a prank depending on the cast? For example, I’ve read how the cast of Scandal is a bunch of nice, decent people. Do you go ahead with your pranks anyway?
Yeahhh… nope. It makes it even more fun for me (laughs). I like to make things not so nice, like come on people, let’s be realistic here! I like being the mischievous devil in a group of otherwise very nice people who make the cast and crew of Scandal. And they really are a very nice lot, so someone’s obviously got to ruin it.

And then of course, there’s this evil Twitter persona you have, where you seek out confrontation and indulge in insult comedy. You seem like a nice guy to speak with, so how did that persona come about?
(Laughs) That’s funny. Yeah, I would say I’m much kinder than that Twitter guy. Umm, Twitter’s a stage for me, it’s an opportunity to let my edgier, comic side out, and it’s a safe place to do because I don’t have to look anybody in the eye (chuckles). I like to provoke people, and yeah, it probably says something not very nice about me. But I use it as a comic medium, and stick the hornet’s nest that is Twitter to see if someone gets overly upset about whatever little grenade I’ve thrown out there. Scandal fans, in particular, are very interactive, and they are happy to tell you, good or bad, what they think of you and of the episode. I have a very thick skin, and I don’t get my feelings too hurt and I’m hoping that’s how people see me too. Because usually I am 15% serious with anything I say on twitter.

What do your kids think about your Twitter persona?
Oh, they don’t pay attention to it. They don’t care about my career at all In fact, whatever I do, they just don’t care about it. They’re very funny themselves and occasionally they’ll say something and I’ll say, ‘Oh! I’m going to use that on Twitter’. So I use that and pretend that’s coming from me on Twitter and later, I tell them about it and they sometimes get a kick from it. But the rest of the time, they don’t look at my Twitter, they don’t want to know if I’m on a TV show, they don’t want to watch it, so, in that sense, they are very nicely unimpressed about anything about me.

Have you so far confronted anyone who you trolled on Twitter?
So far, not really. But I’m sure that day will come. I have a whole, ever-growing list of people I have to hide from if I ever work with them!

What Twitter trolling, would you say, you’re most proud of?
Oh, that’s hard to say. This one that I do, and I probably do it every six months because I can’t help myself, because it’s so funny that I always want to do it with new people. Where you just that – there’s this great little link that I’ll tweet every now and then and say, oh this is truly the worst person on Facebook. And then I put the link up, and then everybody clicks on it and it sends them back on their FB profile. So thousands of strangers think I’ve just called them out as being a horrible person, and I’ve just done it so many times that most people say oh here we go again (laughs) but it’s always these few hundreds of people who haven’t seen this before, and they go, you don’t even know anything about me, how dare you sir! And, I thoroughly enjoy that.

Are you planning to take this edgier persona outside of Twitter, to, say, a web series or a TV show?
Yeah, I would like to do that, absolutely. Like you pointed out, I haven’t really had characters who’ve had that persona. (Laughs) In fact, the characters I have played are so much nicer than the guy I am playing on Twitter or may be my real self too! But I do like the idea of doing an edgy comedy that really shows my less appealing comic side, so let’s hope it happens.

“My heart starts beating a little faster and I still get a thrill when I show up at a new job. That’s because I’m doing the things that I’d have told you as a 10 year old that are my favourite things to do.”

I also want to ask you about current TV. There’s a new trend on TV, where characters are bumped off every now and then. Earlier, the conflict would be heightened drama and now, someone’s just killed. Do you find it ridiculous or exciting?
Well, I’ve got two different answers. One is as a viewer, and as a viewer, I like the fact that the stakes are going to be raised to the point where you can’t be sure, on a lot of shows, about any characters surviving till the next episode. The stakes are so high on a show like Game of Thrones that you don’t know which characters to love, because you don’t know what’s going to happen next and as a viewer, I think that’s exciting. I like it, I like the raised stakes.
As an actor though, not so much (laughs).  Especially on a show like Scandal, every episode I get, I search the end first to see whether David survives. ‘Okay, phew, he’s alive, now I can go back to see what the story is!’

You’ve not done any cable TV so far. Why is that? After Scandal ends, would you be willing to explore it?
That’s true. Well I certainly love watching cable shows – I’m a big fan of Veep of HBO and I’d love to be a part of an ensemble or a show like that. So, if that’s an opportunity that comes up I’d be certainly interested in pursuing it, or in something of that type. Also, as we spoke, I continue to write with a partner, so after Scandal ends, I’d love to concentrate on trying to getting a show made and on the air. I do get very excited about that prospect.

Do you think, with viewers moving towards cable TV in such a big way, network TV is going to last?
Well, yeah, it’s going to be challenging for sure, but I think if people like Shonda Rhimes, or a show like Scandal keep doing great, it will certainly last. This year, we’re on 9’o clock, and yet I know that Shonda just has a way of keeping it exciting with high stakes, and keeping it competitive with anything that’s on cable. So yeah, it is getting increasingly challenging to compete with the greater freedom you find on cable, but people like Shonda, for sure, can make things work.

Do you ever tire of working on network television with its 24-episode season shows, where you have to play the same character over several years?
You know, I think, my answer would be different from most other actors. For me, if I’m happy in a job – and I’m very happy in Scandal, for example – I’d sign a contract now that says that I’ll have to play this role and do this project for the next 15 years. ‘Where do I sign? I’ll do it!’ So, you know, I think most actors get iffier than I do in wanting to do other things. I just, frankly, enjoy the fact that we have a couple of months off and I can do a couple of episodes of this and that. I play a little recurring part in the Big Bang Theory between season – I think that gives me a nice outlet to do something completely different – but I really am very happy in playing David Rosen, for example, and the writers come up with enough variations and enough really interesting, twisted thoughts that I’d be happy to do something like this for years to come.

I love how you have this child-like enthusiasm about acting and television, after having done this for 20 years. What keeps you going at it?
That’s a very nice thing of you to say, and yes, I do feel that way, I have to say. I still get a thrill when I walk on a new set. And, you know, my heart starts beating a little faster when I show up at a new job, or work on a new thing and meet the new people. In essence, this enthusiasm is childish, yes, and it might speak to my arrested maturity maybe (chuckles), but in my life, I’m doing the things that I’d have told you as a 10 year old that are my favourite things to do. I loved acting, I loved doing plays back then, and the fact that somehow I managed to prolong that for another 40 years at this point, is, at one level, maybe when viewed from the outside, a little sad, but from my point of view (chuckles), it’s like, wow, I’m still doing that thing that’s my hobby, and I’m making a living at it! I’m married and I’ve got kids, I’m paying the bills, and so, I really do have the same enthusiasm. There’s something that is so much fun about going into work, and stepping into the Oval Office set, and conferring with the president of the United States. What a really nice, fun, escape!

So coming back to where we started, how will you keep yourself fresh as an actor to continue growing that insane IMDB biography?
In a way, staying fresh is a challenge, but for some reason, when I’m working I’m so grateful to have a job, that I’m just excited to get up and go do the thing. I do. The challenge and the fun of acting still just jazzes me up. It doesn’t get old to me. Being out of work gets old to me very quickly. That’s the challenge: How do you get up and take on a day when you don’t have a job to go to. When I actually do, I find I’m very energised by the opportunity to work and to act.

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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the October 11, 2014 issue.
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 Craig Sjodin. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


Looking for the real man in Suits

Gabriel Macht interviewed by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) over phone for Man’s World India. Original article:

According to Comedy Central, over three million Indians watch the hit television legal drama, Suits, every day. And, its central character, the rule-breaking lawyer Harvey Spector, is fast emerging as a role model for men across the country. As the show enters its fourth season, we go looking for the real man inside him


Hollywood has a very precise idea of what it takes to be a man; rather, what it takes to be the man. The quintessential man, the manly man, the man’s man, the stuff of legend. A man must be able to woo ladies without having to try; ladies must want a man for what he is naturally. James Bond is a man. So is Shaft. A man must be silent and brooding; ideally, a man must not feel at all (and if he does, no one should ever know). Batman is a man (the Christopher Nolan version).  So is Rambo. So is Clint Eastwood in every movie ever. A man has honor; he has a code that all men must live by, but only real men ever do. The Godfather, King Leonidas, Tyler Durden and Maximus Decimus Meriduis are all men. A man can throw a punch when he needs to; and there is always need for a man to throw a punch. John McClane is a man. So is Liam Neeson (and not merely his character in Taken).To top it all, a man is handsome, suave and stylish, but ruggedly; a man is definitely not meterosexual. Gordon Gekko is a man. So are Frank Bullitt and Ryan Gosling’s Driver in Drive.

If Hollywood is right, then there are few who fit the description of a real man better than television’s Harvey Spector (played by Gabriel Macht), from the lawyer drama Suits, which has quickly mushroomed into somewhat of a phenomenon among American TV addicts in India. With a reach of 3.3 million viewers (stats provided by Comedy Central India), Suits is currently the highest rated English language show in its genre and its central character, Spector, is exactly the kind of man ladies want, and men want to be. But who is Gabriel Macht, the man behind the character?

Gabriel Macht is an accomplished man. At 42, the drama graduate from Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts, is happily married with a daughter, to fellow actor Jacinda Barrett (The Namesake, The Last Kiss), has a great job that keeps getting better – Suits is in its fourth season now and considering its popularity and ratings, likely to continue for more – and some solid indie acting credits along the way. In a career spanning 36 years from the age of 8, when he played his first role as a child actor in ‘Why Would I Lie?’, just some of the Hollywood legends he’s acted alongside include Robert De Niro (The Good Shephard), Al Pacino (The Recruit), Anthony Hopkins (Bad Company), Gene Hackman (Behind Enemy Lines) and John Travolta (A Love Song For Bobby Long).

Gabriel Macht is also a man of his word. When I call his hotel room in New York at the designated time of the interview, the reception desk tells me there’s no one by the name of ‘Gabriel Macht’ staying there. I try ‘Harvey Spector’ and the reception desk laughs me off. As I put the phone down and mail Macht’s publicist and the minutes fly by, I assume the worst, when I get a tweet from the verified account of Macht, @GabrielMacht, “Call me again and they shall put you through. Apologies”. Macht has somehow hunted me down on Twitter and when I call him, he profusely apologises for what was, essentially, the hotel’s fault: the personnel at the reception desk had changed and Macht’s instructions hadn’t been passed on to him. Not many celebrities of his stature would do such a thing, so I’m definitely impressed.

Gabriel Macht is a gentleman, alright, so I ask him if he is also similar to the Hollywood definition of being a man? He pauses for a bit and then says, “I think that a man is somebody who is responsible for his actions and lives his life with integrity, care and respect for others. When something important is asked of him, he follows through. But Hollywood’s version of what a man is, I believe, is just a little superficial.

“In real life, we can go a little deeper than that guy, you know? We can show weakness a little bit more and I think we can be a little bit more vulnerable. Because, I think, Hollywood’s version of a man’s man can become a bit too serious for its own good. If men can poke a little bit more fun at themselves, and listen a little bit more to the women around them, I think the world would be a little better place.”

So Gabriel Macht is also a ladies’ man, but in all the right ways. I prod him to elaborate on the last line and he chuckles, “Well, I think what makes a man complete, and happy, if he’s in a relationship and if he’s married… is a happy wife. I think when you get down to it, if your partner is happy and fulfilled, I think that’s all that matters.

“You know, when I married my wife, that’s when I fully became a man,” he continues. “When I owned my first property with her, and everything that goes into owning a home, and keeping it in a livable condition (chuckles), and of course, the next stage, when I had my daughter; those are all tests for life. And I think if you seal it in those tests by being there for your family, it’s the most important thing. We can all go to work, and of course, we have to make a living, but at the end of the day, I am living for my family.”

Gabriel Macht is a family man. And that’s as far a cry as can be from what Hollywood’s ‘real men’ are, and certainly from what Harvey Spector is. Spector is a man with a single-minded focus: to succeed, whatever be the cost. He doesn’t need a family; he doesn’t even have time for one. Spector’s a lone wolf, who knows what he wants; he’s essentially the grown-up, corporate version of a bad boy, and that’s perhaps what makes the character so appealing. So does Macht think Spector’s a quintessential man?

“I don’t, actually,” Macht says. “I think Harvey’s got a very solid character and integrity, but I don’t think he’s in touch with his emotions. He’s got a lot of demons inside and (chuckles) some anger management issues, and the way he talks to people under him could be refined. Harvey’s certainly learning to be a man, but he’s got a lot of growth in there, and that’s what makes him interesting. If he was a perfect man, it would be just so boring to watch… because no one’s perfect!”

“But I don’t buy Harvey’s idea of success. I do think there’s something to finding success and feeling worthwhile, but, you know, I don’t think it really matters what everyone around you thinks. If you feel like you’re doing good work, if you think you’re making a difference, if you feel like you are coming to work and giving it your best, I think that’s what real success is.”

Gabriel Macht is a successful man, by his definition or by any other. But this success has taken almost 15 years to come, from his first adult role in a 1991 episode of Beverly Hills, 90210. Even with strong performances in credible indie movies and a much-coveted lead role in Frank Miller’s directorial debut, The Spirit, opposite Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson, in 2008, it was only until Suits happened in 2011 that Macht’s charisma as well as acting chops gained worldwide recognition. For an actor who dabbled in movies for so long, did television ever feel like a step down?

“To be honest,” Macht says, “I made the leap to television because I wasn’t finding the roles to sustain myself in films. I I wasn’t getting the ones that guys I really looked up to, like Christian Bale, Matt Damon, and Leo (DiCaprio) were getting. And the movies I had made were not 100 million dollar movies, and so I thought, ‘You know what? Is it really about a successful film or is it really about just finding a character or finding a story that you can tell?’ And so, when Suits came along, I was like, ‘You know what? I just want to work now.’ And there was something about Harvey Spector as a character, that I thought would be fun to play.

“And I think Suits works on so many levels. It’s cinematic, there’s a ton of wit, all the characters really care about what they are upto, and most importantly, women have a really, really strong voice on the show. A bunch of the guys are huffing and puffing on the show (chuckles), but it’s the women of the show that are its spine and the backbone. I think that’s really well done. I always believe that things happen for a reason. Suits has become fruitful in so many ways. There are a lot of great things about the show that I see are really touching a nerve with people. And people from all over the world are really enjoying this show, it’s just fantastic.”

Gabriel Macht is indeed a popular man. If you’re in doubt, ask the ladies who follow Suits in India! Unsurprisingly, Macht is aware of this, “You know, when we shoot Suits in Toronto, and we’re on the streets maybe one or two days out of the episode, we’ve got hundreds of people that come out. And they’re predominantly Indian women, I find. I mean, there’s a huge Indian culture that loves the show! You know, please tell Indian women out there that I love them, and also to everyone else who watches the show, that I’m very thankful.”

So Gabriel Macht is, ultimately, a good man. A man who’s seen failure but come back stronger. A man who’s struggled his way to the top but doesn’t take success for granted. A man who loves his craft but who loves his family more – a man who could take up multiple projects in his five months off from the show but ensures that time is only to “fill up the Daddy well: spend time with the wife and daughter, take her to school, and be there for both of them as much as possible”. A man who has his priorities right. And, of course, a man who looks excellent in a suit! A quintessential man’s man? Hollywood’s found its answer right here.

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Note: An edited version of this interview first appeared in Man’s World India in the June, 2014 issue.  The unedited Q ‘n’ A and the audio interview will be put up soon.

Picture courtesy: Comedy Central India. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.