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Actor Irrfan Khan was the guest of honor at the celebrated River to River Florence Indian Film Festival, where Mayor Dario Nardella awarded him the keys to the city. The actor, his first time in Italy with his first European retrospective, was visibly moved. Residents of the famed Tuscan city enjoyed the full spectrum of his work, from The Lunchbox to his starring episodes of In Treatment.
Khan, who started out as an actor in Bollywood, has gained huge success in Hollywood, working in Academy Award-winning films, including Slumdog Millionaire and The Life of Pi. He’s been a part of billion-dollar franchises, playing the part of Rajit Ratha in The Amazing Spider-Man. Today he still enjoys the best of both worlds, frequently hopping between India and the U.S.
He can be seen in the upcoming Jurassic World, directed by Colin Trevorrow and starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. He plays the outrageous park owner Masrani, who helps to bring on the colossal mess that comes from creating a new species of dinosaurs. Khan spoke with THR on the beauty of Bollywood cinema, what Hollywood and Bollywood can learn from each other and why Jurassic World will not disappoint fans of the series.
How does it feel to be honored here in Florence?
I’ve been given the symbolic keys to Florence coming here for the first time. It doesn’t get any better than this. I feel really at ease, as if I belonged to this place. Somewhere in my mind there’s an association with Italian masters. Somehow I already know this place because of their work, whether it’s Fellini, Rossellini, Antonioni or Pasolini. I never knew this festival was going to be so special.
You frequently cross between Bollywood and Hollywood. What do you like or dislike about working in each?
I try to keep my dislikes aside and move on. What I like about Hollywood is that I get the opportunity to work with master directors and develop a language as a character in the story. It’s a great opportunity as an actor and gives me exposure to the whole world. Bollywood is my home. I’ve grown up on those films, and I always wanted to be a part of those films. They formed my concept of romance in my childhood, and that romance I still carry with me. Most of the time you don’t find that romance in real life, so Bollywood gave me the chance to live that romance, at least in the story.
What could the two industries learn from each other?
Hollywood is too planned. India has no planning at all. It’s more spontaneous and informal. India could be more formal and Hollywood more spontaneous. Indian films have a sense of celebration. Sometimes in that celebration we forget about the story, so we should give the story more respect, as Hollywood does.
You’ve worked with many Academy Award-winning directors. What did they teach you about acting?
I found Danny Boyle a very unique human being, the way he sustained his energy throughout the whole process of filming, through preproduction, filming and postproduction. He allowed the life of the streets to come into the frame, and that was something really special. Ang Lee always loved in the performance when you try to restrain yourself, but the emotion takes over when there are two opposite forces working together.
What can you tell us about your upcoming role in Jurassic World?
I’m playing the park owner, a very flamboyant person. When the first Jurassic Park came out, I barely had the money to see it, and now I’m playing a part. He’s trying to entertain the world with good intentions, but sometimes being flamboyant doesn’t mean having much wisdom.
What can people expect from this film that’s different from the original?
For sure it will have more vibe. It’s the Jurassic World of these times, with all the technical experimentation. It has now become a fully bloomed dinosaur amusement park. Dinosaurs in this film will definitely be scary, but this is not a horror film, so it will be like a scary adventure.
Was the filmmaking process difficult, with so many CGI co-stars?
As an actor, what’s most important is how the story and the director make you feel on the set, and that’s immaterial if you have CGI or real partners. If you have good chemistry with the director, everything’s fine, and I really loved the playfulness of the script and Colin’s approach.
You had a lot of success with In Treatment. Any plans for more TV shows?
As American films are becoming more and more studio-based, films and talent are finding television more expressing and liberating. American television is producing some extraordinary work. I’ve just watched True Detective, and it stayed in my mind for many months. I would love to be a part of more great TV shows.
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