Monday, April 29, 2013

Three Stars Speaking About Nair's Eye-Opener

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is Playing in Theaters

Three Stars Speaking About Nair's Eye-Opener

from brinkzine.com (4/25/13)

 Reluctantfundamentalistbobchangez.jpgLiev Schreiber and Riz Ahmed
Is it too much to ask that every American see Mira Nair's stunning adaption of Mohsin Hamid's best-seller The Reluctant Fundamentalist? Nair calls her film "a political thriller, a love story, and a coming-of-age-story, essentially, that tries to bridge a [cultural and political] divide that is so deep between two parts of the world." It's one of the most accessible, mature, and persuasive political narratives in some time and features a brilliant lead performance by British actor and rapper, Riz Ahmad. Here is the synopsis in the film's press notes:
2011, Lahore. At a cafe [in Pakistan] a Pakistani man [a leftist teacher who is a suspect in a kidnapping] named Changez (Riz Ahmed) tells Bobby (Liev Schreiber), an American journalist, about his experiences in the United States. Roll back ten years, and we find a younger Changez fresh from Princeton, seeking his fortune on Wall Street. The American Dream seems well within his grasp, complete with a smart and gorgeous artist girlfriend, Erica (Kate Hudson). But when the Twin Towers are attacked, a cultural divide slowly begins to crack open between Changez and Erica. Changezs dream soon begins to slip into nightmare: he is transformed from a well-educated, upwardly mobile businessman to a scapegoat and perceived enemy. Taking us through the culturally rich and beguiling worlds of New York, Lahore and Istanbul, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a story about conflicting ideologies where perception and suspicion have the power to determine life or death.
In anticipation of the film's New York release on Friday, I took part in the following roundtables. I note my questions.
Roundtable with Riz Ahmed and Kate Hudson
reluctantfundkaterizphoto.jpgRiz Ahmed and Kate Hudson Photo by DP
Q: Can you talk about the time you saw the movie for the first time, and what emotions you had?
Riz Ahmed: The first time I saw it was at the Venice Film Festival. I saw it under circumstances of duress and I was cringing.
Kate Hudson: I saw it in Venice, too. It was very intimidating.
RA: It was huge, and the jury were so phenomenal, heroes of mine.
KH: You had a history with the novel.
RA: I read the book in 2008, I think, and I just loved it. I phoned the publishers to find out who had the rights. Years later I found that Mira Nair was doing it, and I've always wanted to work with her. So the combination of a book I love and a director I love made it kind of a dream project.
Danny Peary: What I find most interesting about Changez is the he's 100% honest. Is that how you played him?
RA: I think he's trying to get to 100% honesty. I think his goal is to see if he can live 100% honestly when person he is consists of contradictory things. I think that's what he's grappling with. That's something I can relate to, having grown up between classes and cultures. I think it's something you can relate to, too--I think it's something most people around the table can relate to. We are all hybrid now, and we often consist of contradictory things. That's the essential thread of the film: can you live authentically when what you are can be very confusing and contradictory. I think that's the central journey of the film and the character. I think Changez tries to get to that place, and that's why I figure there's a hopeful message in the film, even as there's a lot of tragedy and loss in there. I think there's hope.
DP: But does Changez tell a lie?
RA: In the whole movie, does he tell a lie? That's a great question.
KH: Think about what his family would say.
RA: Well, when he's on the phone to his mum, sorting out wedding arrangements, I don't think he tells her that he's with Erica. That's significant, because that's the most different part of his life. Those little white lies are actually often the most telling. With Bobby, I think Changez doesn't tell lies, but he allows ambiguity to persist, if it serves his purpose of having Bobby's ear and telling him his story.
Q: Kate, how did you personally relate to the remorse Erica has for the tremendous loss of her previous lover?
KH: Personally, knock on wood, I haven't experienced that kind of tragedy, but I think just as an actor, by nature, I'm enormously empathetic. And playing a character like Erica, I think I instinctively tapped into the idea of when you experience some kind of trauma in your life, you start closing off the ability to connect. I can relate to what it feels like when you start shutting certain connective things down in your life out of fear of being hurt again. I think what is wonderful about Erica and Changez's relationship is that he opens the door a little bit for her to start the healing process. A love connection becomes a place for them to know more about where they are in their lives and who they are. But she's not ready yet to really face it head-on. Although the film lends itself to extreme circumstances, underneath there's something everybody can relate to.
ReluctantfundamentalistkateRiz.jpgAhmed and Hudson
Q: Obviously, all the Americans represent different segments in our country. Do you think your characters' representation is different from others?
KH: I don't think we approached it like that at all, as different sides of America. Mira especially conveyed each person's human conflict, what was going on inside them, and how we interact and communicate with each other.
RA: There is an element of allegory, something mythical, in the way the story is structured in the novel. I think as actors and Mira as a storyteller, it was about allowing all the characters to be three-dimensional and have conflict.
KH: Mira is making a narrative story and changing this metaphorical novel into flesh and blood.
RA: There's a trap that the story is asking us to avoid, in a sense. Can people be reduced to labels, either by themselves or with other people? That's what fundamentalism is about; fundamentalism as a pursuit is reductive. You're trying to reduce people to their labels; you're trying to reduce someone's lifetime goal to profit or loss; you're trying to reduce humans into targets of a bombing or a shooting. I think what Changez is trying to do is fight that reductive urge, which is fundamentalism, whether economical or political. He's trying to say, Yes, I'm a Muslim, yes I'm Pakistani, but I'm not just those things. The same is true for the Americans. They're not just the sum of their labels.
Q: Kate, how did you deal with the emotional impact of playing Erica?
KH: I was very tapped into my emotions on this movie. I don't know if it was just because I was breastfeeding, or if it was just coming up for me. I was going in and out of breastfeeding to being extremely focused on this extremely emotional character. So definitely, breastfeeding a two-and-a-half month-old baby, and tapping into all those emotions left me quite exhausted. Mira is very aesthetically oriented. Even to the tiny thing you wear on your wrist or your hair color, it's a specific choice. Mira was very specific about how she wanted me to look in the movie, and she wanted me to have dark hair. And I, as an actor, wanted to facilitate my director.
Q: What would you say about Changez character's teaching style in Pakistan?
RA: What's interesting is that we see different impressions of what he may be like as a teacher. 
We see when he's quite jingoistic and polemical in his lecturing, and then you see the other side of him, in a parallel universe where he's teaching students in a very different way. When he first starts teaching, he asks his students, What does Pakistani mean? What does American mean? The class falls silent. They think America has a very strong sense of what it aspires to be, whether it meets or fails by some standard. I think that's a very empowering thing to have, as a nation. I think there are lot of countries that are trying to find their way, they're in the midst of a very bloody debate about what their country should be. Great Britain, actually, is in the middle of one, real soul-searching. We're spending all this money on nuclear submarines, but who are we and how are we still relevant in the world?
Q: Do you remember an influential teacher you had?
KH: My most influential teacher was Hyacinth, and she was my English teacher for two years in high school, and my voice, speech and debate teacher. She was Jamaican, and she lived in Montreal and then moved to Los Angeles. She had a fascinating life, ended up in LA teaching at the school that I went to. She is truly responsible for my love of literature. As a kid, I wanted to be playing Kate in Taming of the Shrew, I didn't want to be reading Heart of Darkness. I wanted to be acting out and reading playwrights and she took me on this journey and opened a whole world of literature to me that still is an important part of my life.
RA: In terms of an influential teacher, I got into a lot of trouble at school, so I'm very lucky that I had some very patient teachers.
Roundtable with Kiefer Sutherland
ReluctantFundamentalistkiefer.jpgPhoto by DP
Q: You play Jim Cross, the managing director of a Wall Street hedge fund and Changez's boss as he tries to climb the corporate ladder. Who is he?
Kiefer Sutherland: He's an opportunist. [In regard to Changez], he sees a really good thing, he takes advantage of it, and when it no longer serves his purpose, he gets rid of it. My lines were so beautifully drawn in the script that there was no need for me to manufacture anything. I just didn't want to get in the way of my character. Playing the part was that simple.
Danny Peary: Does he have a family?
KS: It's an interesting question that I'd expect from a professor in theater school or something.
DP: Or me.
KS: I mean that respectfully. No, he doesn't have a family and the reason I can answer that so quickly is that--and it's not as pronounced as when we shot the scene--is that he is gay and has a lover. There's a sense of estrangement for him, and that's why he identifies with Changez. The reason why Changez admires him is because he is truly a self-made man in the sense that he had almost manufactured his life. He talks about his father, a shoe salesman. Clearly, for me,
reluctantfundamentalistkieferriz.jpg Sutherland and Ahmed
the way he talked about him was that he had passed him and that was the end of it; he got to reinvent himself. And he admires Changez because he is doing the same thing.
DP: He's not necessarily a villain, but in reading the production notes I thought you seem to like him a lot more than I expected.
KS: I didn't and I don't. I would be deeply disappointed with myself if I was that man. There's a big difference between liking and understanding a character. I believe that I understood that character, but anybody who can invest that much in developing a person, and then be able to shut him out and cut him off as fast as he does Changez doesn't have a lot of merit [so I don't like him]. But, having said that, I'd have played any character in this movie. I wanted to be a part of telling this story; I thought it was important. As an actor, I try to choose a story that I want to be a part of telling, as opposed to chasing a role.
Q: How did 9/11 impact you?
KS: Profoundly. I dont think there's a day that goes by that I don't still think about it. It brought my family a lot closer together, but it was just one of those huge, moving moments. And my focus was always focused on the people in the towers and the people on the planes, and their families and their friends, and the loss of that. What I had failed to acknowledge was the profound ripple effect that 9/11 had. People of different races and ethnicities would have their lives inexplicably altered as well--based on prejudice, ignorance, anger, racism. When I read the script for the very first time, I was kind of ashamed of myself because I hadn't thought about it in a larger perspective. So I desperately wanted to be a part of this film.
Q: What do you think this film is about politically and ideologically?
KS: It's about what we missed. When we focused all our attention on the immediate issue of 9/11, we forgot about the ramifications of what we've done, and the truth is that--in regard to racism and prejudice and ignorance--we changed some people's lives in a very negative and horrible way. I think we need to take a serious look at that so we don't do that again. And I have to be honest before I kind of get all lofty like that: I was one of those, too. I was angry after 9/11. Complaining about profiling, are you fucking kidding me? All the bombers came from Saudi Arabia, bomb the hell fucking shit out of it. I was wrong. I was wrong, and when I read this script, I knew that. And I hope that the film has the same impact on an audience that it had with me when I read it.
DP: On the set, did people sit around and talk about politics?
KS: Not really. I think Riz and I had a conversation here and there. He told me an amazing story. I was in Sweden, doing a film for Lars von Trier, so I wasnt here for the whole thing about the mosque [that was supposedly going to be established] just down the street from Ground Zero. I heard about that mosque in Sweden and it was reported that they were building it on the site of the bombing. They were wrong. I was like, "Well, that's stupid, why would they do that? Why would you ask for that fight?" But in truth it was a mile and a half away so that was bullshit. 'Riz told a story about how he was just walking home, in New York, and came across a rally against the mosque. And the protesters saw him and went after him, and he had to run. He was telling me that story, and I said, "Well, that's why we're making this film. Because I think so much of this is born out of ignorance and fear.
Q: Talk about Mira Nair's approach as the director.
KS: I'm going to contradict myself. I didn't find her viewpoint womanly or feminine, I think it's that of a person. I think she has a very pragmatic, almost asexual point of view with regard to filmmaking. Having said that, on the set, she is the mother you wish you had. There's an unbelievable nurturing quality that she has as a filmmaker, that is extraordinary. And she creates an environment that is unbelievably comforting, that is warm, that allowed me to go through two or three different dialects before we settled on the way Jim Cross would speak in the movie. I would never have thought of trying that. She creates an atmosphere for you that's so comfortable that it allows you to try something different. I think that kind of work she must do in the script before, because the script was so solid that really, as an actor, I just had to make sure not to ruin it.

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