Q&A: Anil Kapoor

Bollywood actor talks about his arc on this season's "24"

Veteran Indian actor Anil Kapoor has had a successful three-decade career at home, delivering some of Bollywood's biggest hits, such as 1987's “Mr India” (helmed by “Elizabeth” director Shekhar Kapur. Kapoor's career took a new direction after his critically acclaimed turn in “Slumdog Millionaire” opened the doors to Hollywood.

The youthful 50-year-old was signed by ICM and now Kapoor guest-stars in the new season of Fox's hit TV drama “24” alongside Kiefer Sutherland. In this Q&A with THR's India correspondent Nyay Bhushan, Kapoor explains how he manages to nurture his newfound international career while maintaining his stature in Bollywood.

The Hollywood Reporter
: Given that you have been a film actor, how did you find the experience of working in television for the first time?

Anil Kapoor: Initially I was a bit skeptical but working with the “24” team was wonderful as they took good care of me. The sheer scale of this TV show is bigger than most films. I mean it was definitely bigger than “Slumdog Millionaire” considering that the average budget of one episode of “24” is between $3.5 – $4 million and that the show employs about 350-400 people. So in a sense it was really like working on a major film.

THR: How was it working with Kiefer Sutherland?

Kapoor: It was great because though he has been with the show since day one, it appeared like he was doing it for the first time and that gave me a comfort level because for me this was a new experience. He was very warm and respectful to me and treated me like a guest from India.

THR: What character do you play in “24”?

Kapoor: My character is called Omar Hassan who is the president and leader of a Middle Eastern country and is in the U.S. on a peace mission. Hassan's character was largely modeled on King Hussein of Jordan but I also referenced other world leaders like the Shah of Iran to get the right mannerisms and accent. Since this was the first time in my career that I was playing such a character, I did a lot of research reading books and spending time on YouTube, which was a big help where I saw a lot of footage of various leaders.

THR: Did you find the work environment any different in Hollywood compared to home?

Kapoor: If you had asked me this question about a decade ago, I would have said that there was a big difference but honestly, the work environment in India has changed and today I can say that there's not much difference except of course, for the scale of production values on a show like “24." There may be differences in cultural values which is expected when you compare any two diverse societies such as India and the U.S. But I think the entertainment business has genuinely become very global and broadly speaking, everybody now follows a similar work culture which means there is more professionalism all around and that is a good thing.

THR: What kind of strategy are you and ICM following to nurture your international career?

Kapoor: Well there is never a set game plan that one can follow and I am really going with the flow and taking things as they come. ICM are pitching me as an international actor and not just an Indian actor. And my international career is not at the expense of abandoning my career in Bollywood. I mean I was shooting for my latest Hindi film “No Problem” (due for release this summer) while shooting for “24."

Also, thanks to an increasingly connected world and constant travel, I am always in touch with what's going on in Los Angeles in terms of the kind of scripts being offered to me. My stature in Bollywood was always more of an actor than a star which meant that I have always been offered a variety of roles which I continue to do.

But yes, going international has changed priorities in the sense that now I am playing with the big boys – it's the difference between playing county (club level) cricket versus the world cup! Also, while I may be an established name in India, in Hollywood I am still seen as a newcomer and that is a great challenge. But I must say that thanks to the success of “Slumdog Millionaire” a lot of people are familiar with my work which is a big help.

THR: A major challenge for most international actors in Hollywood is overcoming stereotypical roles. How are you handling this?

Kapoor: My first role after “Slumdog Millionaire” [where Kapoor played the host of the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”] is that of a Middle Eastern leader in “24” so I think this probably indicates that I want to expand my repertoire.

I am well aware of stereotypical casting offers and the truth is that I have been offered roles for three major projects by Hollywood studios to play characters such as an Indian scientist or a taxi driver. But I intentionally refused them because the roles were not exciting and you have to make these kind of sacrifices if you want to prove that you can stretch your boundaries.

The other thing is that stereotypical roles are created because I guess not much is known about how India is changing and that is what I am constantly doing in my meetings with people in the business. I am like an ambassador for India explaining to them that there is more to the country than what they have historically perceived and that comes to them as a big surprise.

THR: What else is keeping you busy?

Kapoor: In addition to starring in my next release “No Problem,” I have co-produced “Aisha” under my banner (Anil Kapoor Films Co.) with PVR Pictures which recently wrapped shooting. “Aisha” is a Hindi remake of Jane Austen's “Emma” and we are looking at a July release.
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