Category Archives: The Sunday Guardian


Note:  This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) in January 2015 for The Sunday Guardian ( Another version of the interview was published in December 2014 in HT Brunch and can be read here:



On the 20th anniversary of FRIENDS, creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman retrospect about the show that was there for us, in their first ever India interview

Why do you think Friends has managed to outlast most shows of its time? What did you guys do differently?
(chuckles) Well, you can’t plan for it. The stars were aligned; it was the right time for a show like that. But I think what could have worked was that I guess everyone wanted a group of people they could invite into their homes and feel comfortable with, thinking, ‘I know these people.’
David: The one line concept for the show is that it’s that time in your life when your friends are your family. We really wanted people to care about the characters, so we were really willing to have scenes that weren’t funny, but where you just felt for them.
Marta: We wanted the show to have heart, we didn’t want it to be just gags. Ultimately it came down to what we had told ourselves in the beginning: We wanted to write a show that we would watch.
David: And that made us laugh.
Marta: Yeah. But don’t think there’s any reasonable explanation to why it took off the way it did.
David: (laughs) To be honest, our goal, when we started, was to do a show that wouldn’t be cancelled in the first 12 episodes. Our expectations were really low. (laughs again)
The show is a pop culture phenomenon in India and rakes up this feel good nostalgia each time we still watch it on syndication. Does that happen to you too?
You know, I have a daughter who’s 13, and I get to watch the show through her eyes, because she was too young when we were shooting it back then. And when I watch it with her, what it takes me back to is what was happening back in our lives at that time, all the amazing memories. And that’s fun, because whenever I watch it alone, I have to admit I can’t enjoy it, because I always go, “Oh my god, I can’t believe we left that joke in!”
David: (Chuckles) I have the exact same experience. Whenever I come across the show and watch it a bit, I either go, ‘Wow, that joke’s still funny’. But mostly it is, ‘Wow, we couldn’t have spent 10 more minutes and found something funnier or better or! Argh!’ I try not to do that anymore, but after we had finished shooting the show, every once in a while, something would happen and I’d go, oh that would make a fun story… (lowers voice) if only we were still making the show.’ ‘Oh there’s a Chandler story… if he were still a character.’
Marta: (chuckles) The problem is that we are too hard on ourselves. But I have to say that my husband and I were in a hotel room not too long ago, and we were watching the last episode. And we were surprised at how moved we were. And I don’t know if we were moved at what it represented or if it was, you know, good TV (laughs), but we were moved.

The amazing thing about FRIENDS is that no matter how many times you watch it, it never fails to make you laugh. How did you guys determine at that time what’s ‘funny’?
Well, we had a writing room full of some very smart, funny and talented people, and someone would always go: Are we really doing that joke again? Are we really going to hit *that* note again? Are we selling out the character to get a laugh there?
Marta: It was up to everybody to keep us all honest. And that was only possible if we had a happy writers room. So we had little tricks to keep the room happy (laughs). One year, we had bets on who would be able to eat the largest amount of something. So when things got really slow, we would take a break to watch somebody eat a 5 ton can of pork and beef (chuckles).
David: Another rule we had was to talk a lot to each other. We all loved hearing about each others’ lives, which, in other rooms may not have a place. But with us, it ended up being crucial to hear about someone’s weekend, because very often we would say, ‘Oooh, would Chandler do that?’
Marta: It was all very basic, when you think of it. The idea was: If it made us laugh, it would probably make others laugh too.

So how did the catchphrases and the mannerisms evolve? What’s the story behind ‘How you doin?’
David: It certainly wasn’t designed. I do remember very early on, one of the actors came up to us and asked, ‘Am I gonna have a catchphrase?’ And that just horrified me! ‘No! No! No one’s gonna have catchphrases!’ That just felt like old fashioned TV. And yet, when you have a line and it gets a laugh, and you try doing it a second time and it gets a laugh, it sort of evolves.
Marta: You know, we were in such good hands, there was never a sense of having to write a catchphrase or writing down to an actor’s ability. We just had to come up with the best stuff.
David: But I do remember, Matthew had a specific way of delivery. We learnt very early on, that we should never underline a word for Matthew. Because when you underlined a word in a script that we wanted emphasised , he would take that as a challenge, and, invariably would emphasise some other word in the sentence!  Occasionally, we would underline a word we didn’t want to emphasise in the hope that maybe he will emphasize the word that we want (chuckles).

What can you tell us about the six characters that’s not common knowledge?
Marta: Originally, our pitch was that Joey and Monica would be together, that Monica was attracted to him. And we did one episode on that, but the chemistry wasn’t just quite right. Funnily, the Monica and Chandler thing was just supposed to be a really fun moment, we didn’t realise it would turn into an arc that would last for the rest of the series. Once we saw the reaction to that episode, we were like, ‘Oooh! Interesting. Let’s do more of that!’ A lot of the show evolved like that. Truthfully, after a point, you are no longer driving a show, the characters are. You just serve it.
David: Also, when the actors came in, they breathed their own life into the characters. For example, originally, Monica was less vulnerable and more tougher, more sarcastic. But when we cast Courtney who brings so much warmth as an actress, it defined how the character was going to evolve.

Did you know that the Ross and Rachel storyline would culminate at the end of the show? How did you pull off carrying it 10 seasons!
Marta: You know, one of the things we learnt was that they were more fun apart than they were together. The characters wanting something was better than them having it. The more we could keep them apart, the more there was to write about.
David: But yes, keeping them apart was the hardest thing. I mean, if you look at, for instance, at the end  of the pilot episode in the first season, Ross asks Rachel, “Would it be okay if I asked you out sometime?” And she says, “Sure.” And then, they never go on a date! We managed 24 episodes where they never even had dinner together. We did everything we could to throw obstacles in front of them.
Marta: But we knew all that time that we had to get them together. We just had to do it well.
David: Yeah, early on, we did toy with the idea of not doing it, but then we said, ‘No, we’ve got to deliver that.’ It would have bummed everyone out otherwise.

How difficult was it to write that last line and that closing moment of the show?
Marta: It was emotionally very difficult, that ‘Oh My God, this is the last line’, but that season, everything was difficult, you know, from the last bagel you would eat at the table reading, everything felt so weighted because it was the last of something.
David:  There definitely was a lot of pressure on that episode to make it as good as it can be. But you know what? We lived with that pressure every week for 10 years. And we loved every minute of it!

So, I have to ask that one question…
: No (laughs). You don’t even have to finish it. There’s not going to be a movie. It was a perfect time in everybody’s life, and there’s no going back.
David: Besides, we’d rather people want it than we do and it’s not what they expected (chuckles). We’ve put a bow on it.

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Note: This piece first appeared in The Sunday Guardian on January 10, 2015. An edited version of it can be read here:
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.


Interview: Sneha Koorse #SundayGuardian #Writer #TheAmericans

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

‘I excel at writing torture scenes’

It is now a well-established fact that Indian American actors, from Kunal Nayyar in The Big Bang Theory to Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project, are making a splash on American TV. But over the past few years, some Indian writers have slowly climbing their way to the top of the Hollywood ladder and it’s not an uncommon sight today to see Indian names in the ‘Written by’ credits of a TV series. From Luvh Rakhe in The New Girl to Vali Chandrasekaran in Modern Family, Indian origin writers are becoming a familiar part of the TV scene.

One of the youngest such writers, 29-year-old Sneha Koorse, has a CV that would be the envy of most writers. In the few years since she graduated from the University of Southern California, she’s won the prestigious Slamdance Film Festival Writing Competition, worked with legendary writer-directors like JJ Abrams (Star Trek) and Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) on the show, Believe; written on the critically acclaimed FX show, The Americans, and is currently working with The Dark Knight writer, David S. Goyer on a DC Comics show, Constantine. In a Google Hangout interview, Sneha gives the dirt on what it is like working as a writer in Hollywood.

How do you get a job on a DC Comics show? One would imagine you’d have to pass a geek test before it!
We are all geeks in our own way. It wasn’t so much about being a comic book geek, but being able to appreciate the character and what stories of our own we could tell with this particular character. We have a good mix of people, some of whom read all the Hellblazers back when they came out, others who were just being introduced to the character and comics. It’s good to have a variety of perspectives.

Is it easy to write for a fan favourite comic book like Constantine? Especially one that is even more fantastical than other comic books.
Some of the comic issues are really best suited for the comic book format and aren’t easily adaptable to television. Some issues are so fantastical – like tripping through different dimensions and all that – it might not feel grounded on a series. But the issues are all incredibly imaginative, and the writers have created this great character that you just want to spend time with. The challenge is in taking this uniquely appealing character and finding a story structure that fits the television format.

You’ve worked on Constantine with writing legend David S. Goyer. Earlier, you’ve worked with JJ Abrams and Alfonso Cuaron. What have you picked up from these greats?
They are all legends and so different from one another! What they all have are strong points of view. I think that’s the biggest thing. Having a vision and being able to communicate that vision with confidence. The idea-generating part of their brains is also very strong. It’s like a muscle that has been strengthened with years of practice.

Sneha Koorse
Sneha Koorse

The other common theme in your career seems to be that you’ve only worked on gritty shows. What’s the fascination with the darker side of things?
(Laughs) I am a very happy person so I wouldn’t say that’s come from anything I have experienced in my life. But I’ve always been fascinated by why human beings are bad and what are the emotions behind them doing something ‘evil’. I’ve always been curious to try and understand them. I have also always been attracted to things where the stakes are raised to life and death. For example, In The Americans, the fact that any decision the lead characters take could lead to death is more interesting to me than a break up (smiles).

The Americans was the first major TV series you were hired for. How did you manage to start your career with a niche cable series, which area far harder to break into?
I had written a bunch of stuff – some feature length scripts, some TV pilots, episodes of Homeland and Breaking Bad – that I applied to the showrunners with. But I think it all comes down to being in a room with them and connecting to them as a writer. Although my interview with them was over the phone, I think when you are speaking to another writer and if you are passionate about being a writer and about the subject matter, they can see that. They can see that writing means something to you.

I think what worked for me was the fact that I was an immigrant and that my parents had an arranged marriage just like the Russian spies in The Americans. In it, the lead characters fall in love after 17 years of arranged marriage. And the fact that I wasn’t from this culture really helped me. Funnily, I have contributed more in terms of the action on the show, because I love writing action. I also somewhat excel in writing torture scenes, which has kind of become a joke now (laughs).

In The Americans, the fact that you are an immigrant worked in your favour. But as a female writer and as an Indian-origin writer in an industry predominantly dominated by white males, did you face a tough time breaking in before this show?
For Believe, the room was about 50% females because the show creator Mark Friedman wanted a strong female perspective for our young female lead. And on Constantine, there are several diverse writers regardless of quota or subject matter. It seems to be about the writing. Every show is different. And you just hope that your show runner is smart, socially aware, and seeking perspectives other than his or her own. I’ve been lucky, as far as who has hired me.

So would you say that Hollywood is now embracing change when it comes to diversity in the writers room?
I would say, yes and no. You know, you can count the number of female showrunners in Hollywood – Meredith Stiehm of The Bridge, Ann Biderman of Ray Donovan, Jenji Cohen of Orange is the New Black, Mindy Kaling. It’s still some time to go before there is balance between white male-dominated rooms and diverse rooms. The thing is that white writers have traditionally tried to work with friends so they can sort of have a room where they can be unapologetic, and don’t have to be politically correct or be aware of women in the room. When there is another perspective they can’t be who they are. It’s been a boys club so they are just more comfortable making jokes and not having to be diplomatic. But that’s changing because there is now a drive to hire more female writers and more writers of colour. Of course, if you are not a good writer you will not be able to stand the test of time.

Do you think such drives of diversity quotas are a good sign for writers? Doesn’t it mean we are still not at the point where great writers would be hired irrespective of the colour of their skin?
I think it’s complicated. I think quotas still exist because they’re still needed in a predominantly white male industry. People tend to hire who they know. However, people are also more accepting that diversity provides the kind of perspective needed for complex writing. The great thing about television right now is that there are so many niche markets that these diverse perspectives can take center stage.

So ever plan on writing or making anything in India?
Definitely. India is a rich setting for stories. I have some stories set there, but with some American characters as well. A clash between the two cultures, or any story that involves an interweaving of the two cultures, would best represent me, since I’ve grown up in the U.S. but I’m still connected to my Indian heritage. If I was ever to write an epic, maybe I would look to a Bollywood film. They’re sprawling stories!

What would you say has been your ‘Hollywood moment’ so far?
I’m not sure I would call it a “Hollywood moment” because it wasn’t this big glamorous thing, but it was a very proud moment — when my first episode of television aired, I had a group of my close writer friends in Los Angeles gathered at a friend’s place to watch it. When my “Written by” credit appeared on screen, we paused the show and they snapped photos of me standing next to my credit, a big smile on my face. It was a special moment, I think for all of us, because it’s a challenging thing to achieve, that first credit. But we’re all in the fight together, so when one of us “makes it” it’s a victory for the team. We all root for each other and look forward to those moments in all our careers.
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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the January 31, 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:

Entourage is among my all-time favourite shows and I’ve even got a HUGE framed Entourage poster in my house. Pretty much like everyone else, two characters in Entourage stood out for me: Ari Gold and Johnny Drama. But while the world, understandably so, fawned over the cult Ari Gold, I’ve always loved Drama a lot more. Drama has heart… he’s a guy who’d live and die for his friends, and no matter how often he keeps hitting rock bottom, he has the tenacity of never giving up! 

And all credit for making Drama such an awesome character goes to the inimitable Kevin Dillon. Easily one of the most underrated characters on TV, Kevin really *should* have won an Emmy in the three-times he was nominated (and lost to Jeremy Piven/Ari Gold). Nevertheless, back when I was working with Hindustan Times five years ago, I spent a LOT of time chasing down Kevin for an interview. And it did happen, in October, 2010, at the end of the seventh season of Entourage, and it was an AWESOME, long, 45-minute interview that had be gushing like a fanboy. (Check out that comprehensive interview on all things Drama and Entourage here:

So when the Entourage movie got a release date, I knew I had to try and speak to him again, for two reasons: a) I’m *STILL* a Drama/Entourage fanboy, and b) I want to do my part in spreading the word about what, I’m already damn sure, is going to be KICKASS: The Entourage Movie! So I reached out to Kevin’s super sweet agent, Lisa, who I’ve also had the opportunity to meet when I went to LA a few years ago. And Lisa promptly connected the dots and got me another 20 minuter telephonic interview with Kevin, in the middle of the mad press tour he’s been at. 

This is, again, Kevin’s only second India interview, and the only Entourage movie interview done in India so far. So it’s, as they call it, an EXCLUSIVE! As expected, it was super fun talking to Kevin again. He remains just as sweet, fun, and fantastic a gentleman to talk with, although he sounded really exhausted with all the press he’s been doing. Still, he did remember our previous interview and how much fun it was, and even remembered where he was when we spoke! What a guy. Speaking with him always feels like ‘VICTORY!!!!!!’ Check out his interview as the cover story of The Sunday Guardian, out in papers today. Here’s the link again:


Kevin Dillon
Kevin Dillon

‘If the movie does well, we may do a second one!’ 

Three times Emmy-nominated Kevin Dillon, who played the lovable Johnny Drama on the cult HBO hit show Entourage, is back as Drama in the Entourage Movie. In his only India interview, he talks about the best and worst part of playing Drama, the chances of a sequel and the criticism that the movie’s ‘misogynistic’. 

The Entourage film took some time to happen! The show ended in 2011 and it’s been a long four year wait.
The first time we even thought about doing a movie was  when the Sex in the City movie came out and did really well. We all thought, ‘Hmm, maybe we can get a movie as well, you know, sicne we’re a HBO half hour comedy too (chuckles)’.  And by the end of season 8, I was pretty confident that we would come back to do a movie. But then, a couple of years went by and I was starting to wonder if it was really going to happen. Thank God Doug Ellin finally wrote the script! I believe it was Mark Wahlberg who cracked the whip on him and said ‘Hey Doug, you’ve got to write the script. Now’s the chance… the door’s closing. So if you don’t do it now, it’s not going to get done.’ Finally Doug wrote a script and he wrote a good one!

How was it being back with the boys? I know you got really thick with the guys during the show; Kevin Connolly and Jerry Ferrara were the Best Men at your wedding too. So the reunion must’ve been fun.
You know, it wasn’t a big reunion because we’re such good friends that I had been seeing these guys all along. We still talk to each other all the time, go out to dinner, hang out; so it wasn’t like we hadn’t seen each other in a while. But what we hadn’t done is that we hadn’t acted with each other in a long time, so to just act with the guys, was great. We’ve also got a certain pacing to the way our dialogue is, it’s really fast and really snappy. It was kind of cool to get to bounce the lines around like that you know, I’ve done other shows, and it’s not the same thing.

It’s good seeing you all back! You guys have been having a blast during promotions too. I saw the Ellen Show clip, where you all played ‘Never Have I Ever’. It was funny to see that Kevin Connolly seems to be more of a player than all of you. (Link:
(Laughs) Yes, yes, he actually won that. I mean, we didn’t expect that to happen. We didn’t know she was going to do that (Laughs). But I guess it was funny and yeah, Connolly’s a lot of fun, and he likes to go out, and party and have some fun, so… (chuckles). The promotion’s been a good time. It’s been good fun, but it’s been exhausting, you know. We’ve been all over the place; we’ve just been trying to push this movie.

You sound tired, man.
(Chuckles) I’m exhausted! I’m jet lagged too. So we flew in from LA and the next morning we’re doing press. So I’m absolutely shot, I’m really shot. But it’s been fun hanging out with the guys again. 

I’ve read how the first scene you guys shot was at a yacht with lots of gorgeous women. How distracting was it to start off the movie with that all around you? How’d you guys get back into the rhythm?
(Chuckles) Yeah, I mean it was a pretty amazing scene to start with. On a big giant yacht, with beautiful, naked women pretty much everywhere. And you know, it was a little distracting in the beginning but you’ve come there to do your job and you carry on! It was a fun scene.  (Pause) I’ll have to say that this job’s always been the best job I’ve ever had. Playing Johnny Drama, with all his layers, is great. But doing the movie was better than ever. It made me appreciate how great the show was, how much fun I had while I was doing it, this was as much fun as you can have while working on a show or on a movie. I think all of us guys just had as much fun as we could possibly have while filming.

Yeah, Johnny Drama’s such an iconic character. How easy or difficult was it to get back into his shoes? Do you have a routine that helps you get into character as Drama?
Well, I took a little time to prepare, so I watched some episodes from earlier seasons, just to kind of get back into the vibe, by seeing some of the things I did as a reminder. But I’ve played this guy for 8 seasons, so once I started bouncing the dialogue with the other guys, it, kind of, came back pretty easily. He’ so much fun to play, and he’s got a little bit of Machismo, you know what I mean?  There is a certain walk that Drama has. I have a walk for him that’s different than the way I walk and it’s the way he kind of swings his arms around and my chest gets all puffed out, it’s what I call ‘the Johnny Drama walk’. Once I get that down, I work on his talk. He also has a different way of speaking, where he, kind of, ‘deep notes’ a lot, you know. I drop to a deeper tone than normal (does the tone).


What was the best part of getting back to playing Drama?
Uhh… I think the best part is that the character is so much fun. He’s a total nut job, he’s got a lot of issues, he’s got a lot of insecurities, but what he has is that he has a lot of drive, and he’ll do whatever it takes to be famous. He just wants to be famous! But the part I love most about him is his heart, because he’s got a really big heart. He loves his brother, he loves his friends and he’ll do anything for them. And that’s what Entourage is also really all about. 

Was there a worst part to being Johnny Drama again?
(Pause) I guess the worst part would be that I’ve just been trying hard to not get typecasted as Johnny Drama and then I’ve, kind of, stepped right back into it. You play him again and you’re starting over again. You know, I’ve had some nice offers after Entourage ended, but Dramas’s the kind of part you have to fight your way out of. People, when they see me, call me ‘Johnny’ or call me ‘Drama’. They call Turtle Turtle. But yeah, the good outweighs  the bad in so many ways. I love playing the character, I love the dialogue I get, so we’ve all loved coming back to the movie again. And in the movie, I really got lucky. Doug Ellin gave me some really good stuff to do in it, so I was really blessed with the character here.

Well I’ve read that the good stuff you’re talking about includes a Johnny Drama sex tape… of him masturbating. People are calling it ‘Full Frontal Drama’.
(Laughs hard) I know, it’s funny, it’s funny. I was just talking to someone about how Vince, like, slept with 38 girls during all the seasons of Entourage, and, of course, E gets a lot of girls too, and in fact, in the movie, E ends up getting all the girls. But what do I get in the movie? I get a sex tape to do, with myself! But it was a funny scene to watch. (Chuckles) It was even stranger watching the screening in New York with my family over there, so there’s always embarrassing moments to playing Johnny Drama. He’s an embarrassment.

We’ve all loved Drama because he’s never really changed much. But is there something you’ve got to do in the movie that you never got to do in the show?
I don’t want to give away what happens in the movie, but there is a real great pay out for Johnny Drama. Something great happens to him, something that he always wanted. I can’t give it away, but yeah, I had a really nice arc in this one, you know. It’s tough being Drama, because things are always going to be tough on him, but it’s a nice payout this time (chuckles).

So there’s over 30 celebrity cameos in the movie too including Liam Neeson, Jessica Alba, Mark Wahlberg and Pharrell. Who’d you have most fun with?
I had a good time when Jon Favreau came on. Doug didn’t have anything written for him, because a lot of these cameos come on at the last second. It’s almost like, ‘Hey, I see Mike Tyson there’ and Mike Tyson’s brought in for a cameo an hour later. Jon Favreau also came in at the last second and Doug said, ‘Why don’t you guys go workshop something, do a little improv and see what you can come up with’. And that’s what we did. We didn’t get to do constant improv in the show since most of it is scripted and that’s the way Doug loves it. But every once in a while, like in this situation, he gave me the greenlight to do a little improv and you’ll see it was a lot of fun.

I know there aren’t any Indian actor cameos in this film but is there anyone you’d like to bring in, if there’s a next movie?
(Strongly) Oh, heck yeah… heck yeah. There’s the girl from Slumdog Millionaire…. Freida Pinto, she’s beautiful. She could be good for the second one! Johnny Drama never gets the girls so I’m sure she’ll end up with Vince (chuckles). But she’s a beauty, yeah.

Let me ask you this – If a movie was made on you guys and the making of Entourage, who’d you like to play you?
(Laughs) Who could play me? I don’t know, maybe my brother Matt (Dillon) could play me. He’s close to me, we look and sound kind of similar. I’d certainly pick him as number one. There’s a lot of great actors who’d probably do a pretty decent job. Whoever would do it would enjoy it, because it’s fun playing me playing Johnny Drama!

Matt Dillon’s now on TV too, with Wayward Pines. Did you have any advice to offer him with all your experience during Entourage?
No, no! I don’t give him advice. He’s always giving me advice… he’s my older brother. You know, it used to be, back in the old days, movie actors did movies, TV actors did TV, and they didn’t really crossover. I think it’s really cool now that movie actors can do TV, and go back to movies and TV actors can do movies too. That’s great. I’m dying to see Wayward Pines. I’m waiting till all this press is done. I’ve got it all recorded so I can watch it at a go. I hear it’s really cool.

Do you ever see you and the guys getting together for a business venture post the movie?
Yeah, yeah, I can always consider doing something like that. You know, we all have our little businesses going on the side, like Jerry’s got a sandwich place, I own a couple of bars and restaurants in New York City, a place in Upstate New York, so you know, we all do, but yeah, absolutely. If something comes up, a good business opportunity, I think we’d all consider it.


What else are you going to be upto after the movie’s over? Kevin Connolly’s going into direction, is that something you’d be interested in too?
Not really. I love acting, not that I wouldn’t consider directing. But I’m really about acting, you know. I’d consider both TV and movies, we’ll see what happens. I haven’t been able to look at anything at the moment. This press tour’s gone on for the last couple of months, so it’s been a real grind. I’m just going to take a couple of weeks off to rest before I even think about anything. But hopefully, if the movie does well, maybe we’ll do a second one.

A sequel sounds awesome! Could there be a chance of a Viking Quest spinoff too, sometime down the line?
You know, if there was a spinoff, I always thought it would be cool to do a Drama and Turtle spinoff. I don’t think it will happen, but I always thought it could be cool. It would be tough to do Viking Quest, because Drama was younger when he did Viking Quest and now I’m older, but it’s funny you asked… I actually did have to put the Viking Quest back on for a brief moment in the movie. So you’ll see me wearing the costume again, which is pretty funny (chuckles). I always loved that whole aspect of the storyline, and all the stuff that came with up.

So you mean there’s going to be a Johnny Drama ‘Victory!’ moment in the movie?
I think, I think you can look forward to that. (Chuckles) Yes, you can!

That’s something we’ll be looking forward to! But the movie’s out all over and while the fans seem to be loving it, there’s been criticism that it’s misogynistic, and that’s a criticism the show used to get too. What are your thoughts on this?
People have to realise that this is a comedy. And it’s a comedy about five guys, so it’s going to be seen through the eyes of the guys. We’ve got realistic guy talk, and this is the way guys talk sometimes. I think it’s wrong to say that. I don’t think we shot it that way, I think we have strong female characters. Most of the women I know in my life, who’re people who’ve seen the show, have enjoyed the show, and they’ve enjoyed the movie too. So no matter what the critics say, I know for a fact that fans are enjoying it. We’ve got an A minus as far as the polls with fans coming out of the theaters have been. That’s a pretty good score.

I’m pretty sure fans of the show are going to love the movie in India too. You know in our last interview five years ago, you told me that you’d be coming down to India soon. Why haven’t you come here yet?
You know what, I’ve been too busy, I’ve been too busy, man. I do want to go to India, I just haven’t got the chance to. It’s kind of tough to, you know. There’s always something going on. I’ve got family in New York and LA, and there’s always a TV show or a movie or something else in the way. But I’ll come to India soon, I promise!

Check out the trailer of the Entourage Movie here:

The movie releases in theaters in India on Friday, June 19. Go check it out!!

P.S. If you loved Entourage and are looking for similar shows to watch, check out my ‘Shows for Bros’ recommendations piece:

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Liked/disliked the interview? Think I should’ve asked Kevin Dillon about Poonam Dhillon? Leave comments below! 🙂
Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the October 14, 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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