The “Desert Dancer” Interview
with Kam Williams
Born in Mumbai on October 18, 1984, Freida Pinto exhibited an interest in acting from an early age. She had participated in community theater as well as school productions by the time she graduated with a degree in English Literature from St. Xavier’s College, rated the top college in India for the Arts.
Freida was signed as a model by the Elite Agency and was hired to anchor a TV travel show prior to making her highly-acclaimed screen debut co-starring opposite Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire, which swept the 2009 Academy Awards. She’s since appeared in Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, portrayed the title characters in Trishna and Miral, and played James Franco’s love interest in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Here, she talks about her latest outing in Desert Dancer, a biopic about Afshin Ghaffarian, the Iranian dissident who founded an underground, modern dance company in a country where dancing is strictly forbidden.
Kam Williams: Hi Freida. Thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Freida Pinto: Of course, Kam. Thank you so much for doing this for my little, tiny film.
KW: A small, but powerful art film. It had everybody at my screening crying.
FP: Oh my God! Thank you for telling me. We love hearing that there wasn’t a single dry eye in the room. That’s what we aimed for.
KW: Yes, it was very moving, as well as uplifting. In this picture, you reminded me of Halle Berry in Jungle Fever, where she also played a drug addict. Have you seen it?
FP: No, I haven’t. But I love Halle Berry, so thanks for the compliment. I’m going to watch it.
KW: How did you prepare to play a heroin addict?
FP: I didn’t want to watch any film about heroin addicts, because I didn’t want to imitate or exactly copy someone else’s take on what the individual symptoms were, although I did watch Candy, with Abbie Cornish and Heath Ledger, which was amazing. Instead, what I did was spend a lot of time with my director [Richard Raymond] at A.A. meetings in London, and just listened to people speak.
KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you. So I’m mixing in some of their questions with mine. Sangeetha Subramanian says: Hi Freida, the movie looks great! What was the process like learning the dances for the film?
FP: It involved a physically-demanding regimen, because in a movie like this about dance, the actors are expected to look the part. So, first, we had choreographers and trainers come and break us down. If we arrived thinking movement was a certain thing, they were teaching us something brand new. We were being twisted and turned and bent backwards, and under the most challenging of circumstances, as well. We were working really, really long hours, so we had to push ourselves. It was amazing to test your endurance and find yourself motivated to go one step beyond what you thought were your limits. Another aspect was the mental and emotional training, especially with my character, Elaheh. It was very important that I let myself go, and experience things I was afraid of experiencing.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Did your training in classical Indian dance help prepare you for the 8 hours of daily practice for this role?
FP: [Laughs] I wish I really had any training in classical Indian dance. That’s Wikipedia just lying. That is not true. I came with zero experience from the dance world. The only dancing I’d ever done was in clubs. [Laughs some more]
KW: Bernadette also admires that you are so involved in causes respecting girls and education. She asks: Is there any particular subject or course of study you would recommend to young girls considering a career in film?
FP: In film? I have not been formally trained at an acting school or even a film school. But when I majored in English Literature in college, part of the syllabus covered film in literature, adaptations, and reading poetry and prose from the early 19th Century to the present, all of which was beautiful and opened your mind to so much more. But I also studied Psychology which helped me immeasurably, and continues to help me in terms of the science of accessing emotions and how the human brain functions. I find all of that very intriguing. I’m not saying that’s the answer for other actors, just that I’m a very cerebral and scientific kind of person. More than anything else, if you can spend a great deal of dedicated time observing people without judgment, that can be a great way of learning.
KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: You are such a talented performer, and yet I have been thrilled at the work you have done to support underprivileged women and children around the world. This film, too, shows the power of art in a corrupt society. What do you think are the most pressing political and social issues we should be addressing today? And what do you think we, as citizens of the world, should be doing to make it a better place?
FP: I’m not going to comment on political issues. America and India both have their issues. One thing I can say is that awareness is very, very important because we’re living in a world which is literally shrinking by the day. We are global citizens. So, for us not to be aware of what’s happening to our neighbor is almost sad. Once you’re aware, then you can decide what cause you want to dedicate your time to. I feel that all of us can contribute something, and it doesn’t have to be money. It can just be service or talent.
KW: Environmental activist Grace Sinden asks: Have you ever felt culture shock in moving between the Indian and American cultures? If so, what have you found to be the biggest differences between the two cultures?
FP: No, not at all. Perhaps growing up in Bombay made me immune to culture shock, in a way. So, culture shock is not part of my DNA.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Would you be interested in dubbing your dialogue into Hindi?
FP: I’d love to, if that means opening up the film to another audience. In fact, I did that for Slumdog Millionaire and in Trishna, which was part Hindi, part English. The subject-matter of Desert Dancer is not just limited to Iran. Freedom of expression can be a topic of discussion in India as much as it is in America or Iran.
KW: Patricia also asks: Is there an Indian figure you would like to portray in a biopic, such as Indira Gandhi?
FP:Yes! Quite a few. Indira Gandhi and Jhansi Rani, to name a couple. Jhansi Rani was actually a soldier. You should Google her. She’s phenomenal! There’s also a Pakistani character I’d love to play. But I’d never mention her name right now, because I’d get into so much trouble.
KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you’d like to star in?
FP: Oh, I’ve never been asked that… I’m a great admirer of Audrey Hepburn, so I’d love to be a part of a different take on any of her films, like a re-versioning of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
FP: Gosh, there are so many. My association and affiliation with a lot of fashion brands goes way beyond the fashion itself, almost into a relationship. Right now, I have a very, very strong relationship with the Ferragamo family. So, I’d have to say Salvatore Ferragamo.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
FP: This was an exercise I had to do in an Actor’s Workshop. It was of me getting lost in a fair in Bombay. I thought I was lost for about 2 hours, but my dad said it was only about 2 minutes.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
FP: Anything that is breakfast-related. I love making eggs and avocado toast, but I have no patience for the rest of the day. The only thing I can pride myself on is making a really good breakfast.
KW: Lastly, what’s in your wallet?
FP: Money, hopefully. [Laughs] I don’t carry a wallet, per se. I just carry a tiny thing that can hold a credit card, an I.D. and a little bit of cash.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Freida, and best of luck with the film.
FP: Thank you, Kam.