Do you mind telling us how you came to be cast in Hotel Mumbai?
Anthony Maras (Director) sent my agent the script. I read it. I knew of the attacks, but I felt like I’m inside of them. It was an amazing script. I also watched his short film The Palace. It’s a 15-minute film and I’ve never felt more stressed out in my entire life. I had to pause it at one point and get up and walk around my room and be like, “Okay, it’s just a movie. It’s just a movie. It’s just a movie. Okay, let’s finish this.” After seeing his short film and reading the script, I thought he has to be the one to direct this.
What scares you the most, personally?
Probably spiders. I haven’t made a movie where I had to deal with too many spiders, so that’s good. The element of horror in this film, it’s not jump-scares, it’s not anything where it’s a quiet moment and somebody goes, “Ha!” It’s the tension that just continues to build and continue to build. It just makes the movie feel very visceral and it feels like a first-person perspective of what going through that situation might feel like.
Can you speak about how you related to the character that you play in the film?
He’s a family man. He’s a man who’s in love with his wife and has a child and is put in a very difficult situation where he has to choose between staying with his wife to try to keep her safe or going to try to protect his child. It’s a position that no parent should ever be put into.
Is this your first time playing a father onscreen since you’ve had kids?
Yes. Yes. Yes. It made it easy to draw on my own emotion and how I would feel if I was in that situation. It also was really tough. Shooting these scenes where – I don’t want to give anything away – but there are a lot of tough decisions that my character has to make throughout the film. Just thinking how I would react in the same situation made it a little bit easier, but also made it really emotionally taxing.
Is the character a composite?
He’s an amalgamation of, I believe, two people who were both in the attacks. It was almost double the responsibility to try to get this right. The thing about playing real people is you always do feel a sense of responsibility. In this situation, it’s people who have gone through an incredibly traumatic and harrowing attack. In some cases, the people who went through it will see this film, so you don’t want to do anything but show, hopefully, the reality of what the situation was. Anthony [Maras] attacked this film with an almost investigative journalist nature and did so much research. We had so much footage from the news and had the telephone call. We had all of that. There was a sense of accountability, really.
We had an extensive rehearsal period where we read all the transcripts. We read the firsthand accounts of what happened. We talked about it. We dug into it. We were given the opportunity of time at the beginning of the film, which you don’t always get. There was a lot of source material to go back and pull from.
The film is obviously timely, unfortunately for terrible reasons. How do you think that Hotel Mumbai contributes to the conversation that we are having about dealing with terrorism?
In most films that I can think of where a terror attack happens the terrorists are nameless, faceless agents of evil. In this, you see the human side of it. You see kids who were, for lack of a better word, tricked into this, told that their families would be getting money for this, told that maybe a surgery would be performed if they went and did jihad. You see how these kids got here into this situation. Then you see the reality. You obviously see the emotional toll that is taken on the hostages or the people who are involved in the attack, but you also, for the first time that I can really think, you see the emotional toll that it takes on the actual gunman committing the crime and the atrocities. You see them struggling to do this as well. It’s not a two-dimensional portrait of a faceless evil with a gun or a bomb. It’s human beings.
I think that it’s important to realise that we, and I say we as Americans, use the term terror attack for anything that’s done to us, but then you also see just exactly why these people were motivated in the first place and in their mind, what were the terror attacks committed on them.
What do you hope people take away from the film?
I think that just pragmatically speaking you will walk into this film and it will make you feel something the entire time. It might not be an emotion that you are comfortable with or that you want to feel, but it also isn’t going to be something that you can shake as soon as the movie is done. I think that it’s incredible that Anthony Maras, he’s never made a film before, on his debut film he makes a film that does exactly what film is supposed to do. It makes you feel something.
You’re picking some very interesting roles lately…
In the beginning of every actor’s career, you don’t get a choice, you don’t get to moderate the direction you think your career should go. You’re just not afforded that opportunity. You just have to take whatever job you can get and then try to build momentum. Then hopefully you’re given some sort of modicum of control. For me, the thing that I love about this is I get to do something so different every time. I get to hopefully play very different characters every time. I’m a firm believer that variety is the spice of life and I don’t have a job where I have to do the same thing every single day. If I don’t have to do the same thing every day, I might as well do something drastically different every time.
Are you consciously staying away from the bigger Hollywood films?
No. I’m not staying consciously away. I just haven’t been presented with an opportunity that I thought, “yeah, I want to go do that.” Instead, the opportunities that are coming to me that I’m jumping at are the smaller passion projects that are interesting and unique and that I want to do. It’s really just me being selfish.
Hotel Mumbai is in cinemas March 14, 2019