Irrfan Khan on working with Ang Lee and in Hollywood

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Irrfan Khan is on a roll this year, first off his role in The Amazing Spiderman and now he features in the cinematic adaptation of Yann Martell’s best selling novel Life of Pi. Both films are two of this years biggest Hollywood films and now having already worked with two Oscar winning directors, Danny Boyle and Ang Lee, Irrfan Khan is clearly becoming the International Indian actor of choice.

Ang Lee’s film charts the journey of a young boy called Pi’s, who is shipwrecked across the Pacific Ocean and explores his fascinating relationship and survival instinct with Bengal Tiger Richard Parker, the only companion and survivor on his lifeboat for 227 days. Irrfan Khan plays the older Pi, who recounts his life-changing story to a writer played by British actor Rafe Spall. Here’s what he had to share…

Can you tell us a bit about your role and the journey of your character?

The writer (Rafe Spall) is looking for a story that can make a difference in his life, a story that can change his life. Someone has told him on his travels about a person called Pi who has a wonderful story. He goes to meet Pi because he wants to hear his story. At the same time Pi has had an amazing experience that is bottled up inside him. He needs a trustworthy listener to download his story because he doesn’t want to talk about his experience to everybody, perhaps not even to his wife. This is a huge story about the life he lived in his teenage years that he hasn’t shared with anybody.

How did you choose to portray the older Pi?

At this stage of his life older Pi is reflecting on the earlier part of life when he was exposed to so many things, even before he lost his family. He is looking back at his life-changing journey when his faith was tested. Pi is reflecting on what made him who he is, what really formed him and all the experiences he had when he was younger, which were so important and unique.

What did you think of the book when you first read it?

It is an excellent book, a book which will never become dated. Even after a thousand years someone will read that book and it will resonate. It is also a very clever book. The story is apparently about a boy and a tiger. But what you take from that story is up to you because it deals with so many things. It deals with innocence, faith and nature. It deals with so many complicated issues. The challenge for Ang {Lee] and his team was to make it simple with all that complexity remaining underneath the surface. The way Ang has brought the book to the screen is amazing.

What was it like working with Oscar winning director Ang Lee?

I’m really fortunate that I got to work with Ang Lee. He is a wonderful filmmaker. It is fascinating as an actor to find a director who effectively has a whole world inside of him. Ang has a strong vision and he wants to bring that world and that vision to the audience. There are very few directors who put themselves in the line of fire as he does. He is one of those directors who do not separate the films they are making from their experience of life. He lives the movies he makes; he takes the journey along with Pi. Ang Lee makes the kind of film that will be remembered fifty years from now because of the subject matter and because of the brilliant way in which he tells the story.

You started your acting career in India and you are now making global Hollywood films. How did that happen?

These things happen without planning. I never planned that I would go to America to work and I never dreamed that I would be a part of Hollywood films. That’s a kind of miracle for me. Sometimes I try to find reasons for what has happened, but those reasons wouldn’t necessarily explain anything really. Life has its own magic and mystery and complexity that I would not like to put into words. But I did know that I had an immense desire to do interesting work. I remember when I was working on The Namesake I asked the director Mira Nair, ‘Will this film change my life?’ She said, ‘Don’t put that much responsibility on a film.’ And I like that idea. At this point in my career no single film changes your life; it’s a process. You keep doing one film after another, you just keep adding to your body of work.

For all our BollySpice fans who are wanting assurances that Irrfan hasn’t completely jumped ship to Hollywood, you need not worry. He has an interesting line of up of Hindi films in 2013, which include Nikhil Advani’s D-Day alongside Anil Kapoor, Arjun Rampal and Rishi Kapoor and also Tigmanshu Dhulia’s followup to the successful Saheb Bibi aur Gangster.

Life of Pi releases on Thursday 20th December across the UK. It co-stars Suraj Sharma, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Ayush Tandon and Gérard Depardieu

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