Words & Design by Richard Mahesh Rajakumar
Special thanks to Jessica Smith
From Hollywood movies to his upcoming Kannada film ’U-Turn’, Roger Narayan shares his immense experience working with filmmaker pawan kumar and some of his promising upcoming flicks ready for release in this exclusive chat with starviews…
Your journey in the film industry has been long and incredible, right from your days as a child artist. What actually propelled you to pursue your journey as an actor?
Thank You for your kind words. Yes it has been a long and interesting journey with twists and turns just like a Movie. As a kid I was fascinated that I could become other people and live their life, albeit for a few hours on stage or a few minutes on camera. I remember being fascinated by Charlie Chaplin, Amitabh Bachchan Ji, Sivaji Ganesan Sir, MGR Sir, NTR Gaaru, Kamal Haasan Sir, Rajkumar Anna in Kannada and Rajini Sir from watching their movies. I fell in love first with acting when I did a lot of Theater in School and High School. I continued to do Creative Writing, Improvisation and Sketch Comedy at BITS Pilani which has a vibrant cultural scene. So Acting was always happening in some form, even before it became a Career. I moved to the US to do my MS and then worked in Marketing in Silicon Valley and won a few Pageants like Mr.India California, showcasing my Acting. So I decided to pursue acting as a Career more seriously, and did my Acting Course at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. After that, I did Theater and Indie Films in San Francisco and soon after moved to Los Angeles, and started working steadily in mainstream Hollywood TV and Films. And my journey of growing up in Bangalore, Chennai, New Delhi and US makes me fluent in Hindi, Tamil, Kannada and also several accents like American, Middle Eastern and British.
Having been a part of Hollywood, what are the pluses you find in the Indian pattern of filmmaking and other departments…?
I love working in the Indian Film industry, there are so many pluses. First of all, I find a great sense of affection among the Cast and Crew, almost a family feel. Also our Indian films here have such great stories that are “our stories”, and “our” layered characters. Even though the logistical planning and execution is more structured in Hollywood, I love the spontaneity with which things come together and get done, on a shoot, in India!
How did you gain the offer in Pawan Kumar’s U-Turn?
I had always admired Director Pawan Kumar’s strong and unconventional Storytelling and Writing style and had wanted to work with him. I met with him when I was in Bangalore. In fact I performed my Audition Scenes with him. He loved my Audition and the range of Character choices I switched to and performed instantly, based on his Direction and he offered me the Role right away.
Could you shed some light on the role you’re playing in this film?
I play the Role of a Sub Inspector, SI Nayak, the male Lead. I had a blast playing Nayak!!! The role was multi-layered and powerful. Nayak has so many layers, of warmth, practicality, toughness and romance to him. In keeping with his unconventional and creative style of telling stories, in Pawan’s own words, the Story is actually the Hero in this Film”. But I can’t reveal more than that, so the audience can enjoy the film when it releases.
Was there any particular scene in the film that demanded lot of takes from you to give a perfect shot?
I believe in doing my role with the fewest takes. In U-Turn, I got clear direction from Pawan which helped me accomplish that goal. Not to toot my own horn, but my Hollywood Directors call me “One-Take” Roger, so I like to get the shot perfectly the first time.
What’s so special or unique you feel about Pawan Kumar as a filmmaker?
I feel blessed to have worked on this project with Pawan. He has an amazing and unconventional Storytelling and Writing style. Right from our meeting and the Audition phase, he has been very encouraging and supportive. During the Audition, he gave directions for the Character choices that were very different from each other, for example, an arrogant Police Inspector, versus a sarcastic one, versus an empathetic one. This gave me a chance to right away switch the character’s energy and the objective of the scene. Right after the audition, he told me that he doesn’t get to see that type of instant shift and quality of acting, and was he very impressed with that. But I have to give him the credit for creating that supportive, creative space to do that type of work. Before the shoot, he was very supportive of my research process for the character by arranging for me to spend a lot of time at an actual Police Station with a Police Inspector in Bangalore to observe and dig deep into that world and the characters. During the shoot, he gave me a lot of freedom during takes, along with his intuitive small adjustments and direction which enhanced the scene. He is also very laid back and easy going when directing, so as an Actor it puts you at ease and allows you to focus on the character and the scene. It is amazing when a Director can do that, because I know the tremendous amount of pressure they have, as the Captain of the Ship to get the Film made well. So, hats off to Pawan for that grace under pressure. I Would love to continue working with him on his future projects.
About experience working with others in the cast…
The entire Cast and each member of the crew was very professional, supportive and made my work so much easier, so I could focus on what I had to do.
In case the film was to be made in other languages like Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam, if the director had given you the option to choose which regional actors would do justice to your role in their respective regional versions, who are those actors, you would instantly suggest?
Well, I admire and love so many great actors from the new wave of films that we see. But I think it will be an interesting challenge to play the character in other languages since I’m very fluent in Hindi and Tamil.
Your upcoming projects
I have a few Film offers both in Hollywood and for Indian Films. My Feature Film with Sundance Alum Directors, the Polish Brothers (Twin Falls Idaho, For Lovers Only) HotBot is due for Release in 2016.417 Miles, a Mumblecore Feature directed by former Prakash Jha Assistant Mainak Dhar will soon hit the Festival Circuit. I voiced the role of Kaalinga in Punyakoti, the famous Kannada Fable poem, alongside Veteran Actress Revathy and other Film Stars (still under wraps). It is the first Animated Sanskrit Feature Film and was successfully funded through WishBerry with Music by Maestro Illaiyaraja. The wildly cult Feature Film Hola Venky! will soon be on Netflix. My film The Man Who Knew Infinity had its World Premiere at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival and was the IFFI Goa 2015 Opening Film should be in theaters soon. The History of Hindu India a Documentary Series that I Narrated and Produced has had over 1 Million hits on YouTube and is being used as an educational resource in schools in California and all over the world. I also did a Series of International Campagin TVCs for Dell shooting with Janusz Kaminski the DoP of all the Spielberg Films. I’m also involved in NGO work for Vocational Training of Blind and Handicapped Girls and for the Education for Underprivileged children.
Imagine you’re an audience and you happened to watch ‘U-Turn’ first. What would you say to make your friend or family member watch it???
I would tell them “I don’t want to spoil the suspense for you, just go watch it right now”
What are the Indian films you have liked? Would you do more Indian films?
Too numerous to name, but I love the new wave of Films coming out of Bangalore, Chennai and Bombay by filmmakers like Pawan Kumar, Prakash Raj Sir, Ramesh Aravind Sir, Karthik Subbaraj, Nalan Kumarasamy, Dhanush, CV Kumar Sir, YNot Sivaji Sir, Radha Mohan Sir, Gautam Menon Sir, Farhan Akhtar, Aamir Khan Ji, Anurag Kashyap, Kamal Sir, Rajini Sir, Mani Ratnam Sir, Shankar Sir, Ashutosh Gowariker Ji, Sanjay Leela Bhansali Ji, Amitabh Ji, Rajamouli gaaru and Faazil etta. Also love the evergreen Films of Rajkumar Anna, Vishnuvardhan Sir, Sivaji Sir, MGR Sir, NTR Gaaru. I know the list is by no means complete and I am sure I will think of several great Directors that I missed here 🙂
Absolutely would love to do more Indian films, it will be a great blessing to be able to work with the above mentioned filmmakersI!! I have had the pleasure of doing “Hola Venky” in Hindi, now U-Turn and “Punyakoti” in Sanskrit and many Documentaries. I have a few offers on projects and I would love to constantly explore great scripts and stories in Kannada, Tamil, Hindi and also Telugu and Malayalam.
A little about your roots and background…
I grew up around the world, in Bangalore, Chennai, West Africa and North America. I consider my roots are in India even though I have traveled the world and live both in India and the US. It is very fulfilling and satisfying that I am back after my Hollywood Training and experience, to work in India in Kannada, Tamil and Hindi Films something I’ve always wanted to do. I did my Bachelors Degree from BITS Pilani and then went to the US to the American Conservatory Theater to study Acting and thereafter moved to Hollywood to work in many TV Shows and Films.