“Slumdog Millionaire is an underdog story that everyone loves to believe in” – Freida Pinto

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Freida Pinto’s portrayal of the adult Latika didn’t span the entire picture, but she certainly made a huge impact on screen in Slumdog Millionaire. Freida’s Latika glowed with a depth that many more experienced actresses could not manage, and not only with her strength and will to endure, but also her undying hope in the love she has for Jamal. She has been nominated for a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress and the film itself has been raking in awards. In addition to Golden Globes and other honors, the film recently took home the prize for Best Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the Screen Actor Guild Awards. It was a brilliant outing by the young actress for a first film! I spoke with Ms. Pinto by phone the day after the SAG awards. She was wonderfully enthusiastic (I really wish you could have heard her!), and gave some amazing answers to questions about her experiences not only working on the film, but being in the middle of the Slumdog whirl of success!

How did you land the role of Latika?

It was through an open casting call in 2007, when casting director Loveleen Tandan happened to call various agencies. She was looking for her three main characters at different ages. Back then, I was hosting this travel show called Full Circle on Zee International and it was almost coming to an end. My manager told me that this is probably an audition that you would really be interested in going for, because I was always interested in acting, but I never could find that project that took my heart away. So, she said, you should go in for this one and very casually she explained to me that this was a Danny Boyle film. That just blew me away. I was like, ah, there is no way it is a Danny Boyle film. I think you got the name wrong. She was like, no, I am absolutely sure. You should go in for this audition. So I do go in for the audition, and it was as she said, a Danny Boyle film. The kitchen scene was what I had to do for the audition; that was the first audition I ever gave. It was put on tape, it was sent to London and one month later I got short-listed. And then Danny Boyle came down to India. It took him six months to decide finally on me. I had six months of rigorous auditioning before I got the part, but it was fun, it was absolutely fun, because I would go in every month, sometimes even twice a month. I would learn so much, more than just going there and just saying my lines. It was a learning experience.

I bet it prepared you for when you started filming as well.

Right, for someone who starts with no experience in acting. I have never even been to an acting school either, so that really helped – being trained by the director himself.

What did Danny Boyle tell you about the character before you started filming?

The first few auditions I went for he didn’t really tell me what to do. I think probably wanted to see what I could do. He liked the fact that I wasn’t playing it majorly over the top. You know, I was trying to do it subtly. He kept telling me over and over that internalization was the key, because Latika, in terms of the lines she delivers, is not like this power packed performance when she says, “You get out of here,” or that kind of thing. It is all coming from deep within, a place that’s hurting, so internalization was the key. If I could understand her character, and keep it all within, without doing it too overtly or too in the face, he said, that would really help. So, that was really difficult to do, because as Indians we are really exaggerated by nature [laughs]. That was something I really had to work on a lot … subtlety. Another thing he kept telling me throughout filming was that I have to keep reminding myself that while she keeps saying no to Jamal, she keeps like pushing him away, and that might seem really cold and really heartless, but that her eyes have to keep saying yes. If I could communicate that to the audience, then my job was done.

I noticed that you really kept and showed the optimism she has even though she has such a difficult background. Did you find that was difficult to portray?

It was actually, because if you look at Latika when she was a baby, there is, as you said, a high level of optimism within her, because she believed when Jamal said, “we will have a house on Harbor Road and we will eat ice cream everyday and we will dance and we will sing” and things like that. So she had built her dreams when she was a little kid, and now they were all coming crashing down. For her to go all through that, and then at age 18, be tormented with scars and bruises, it is really difficult you know. I don’t know many 18-year-olds who go through that every day of their lives, so that was really difficult. But, trying to understand at the end of it that the only thing she really, really wanted, and the only thing in the world that she really wanted, it was not money, it was not the wealth, it was not the big house she lived in – it was just Jamal, and that was her hope and optimism in life. That is were it all stemmed from. So, just keeping that in mind really helped me move on in the scenes and really helped me a lot with the chemistry with Dev.

What is your favourite scene in the film?

In terms of performance, in terms of being a challenge, I think the kitchen scene would be my favorite scene. It took me a lot of effort actually to get there, because I remember shooting sometimes and just not feeling right. I was like, this is not right, this is just not going the right way. That was really difficult. To not just please myself but to please the director, you know. In terms of challenge that would be it. But in terms of just having loads and loads and loads of fun, it was the dance sequence.

What do you think of your co-star Dev Patel and his performance in the film? How was working with him?

I think there could be no boy on this planet who could play that role. It had to be, it was meant, it was written for Dev. He has done complete justice to that part. The honesty and the integrity that the character Jamal has: Dev has that in real life as well. It really helped him translate that into his character. Also coming from England, he is not from Bombay, discovering Bombay in a new light. Not the same old notions that people have, not the pre-conceived notions that he would have had when he was in London about slums and poverty. Just getting over all of that, and just looking at it with this really baffled point of view [laughs], it just really helped. Because that look he has throughout the film is such a wonderful look, you can’t stop yourself from falling in love with him. It is not just Latika who has fallen in love with him at the end of the day, it is EVERYBODY in the audience. Everybody who has watched the film has fallen in love with him. I think he has done complete justice to the part and the casting director has done a GREAT job! Working with him was fun because both of us were sailing in the same boat. First film, new experiences. He has obviously done a TV series before, but this was serious acting. That was serious acting, too, but it was in a fun way. You have heard about Skins right?

Yes, yes . . .

It is more of a teenage racy comedy. So this was definitely different. We kept sharing notes, we kept talking about what we should do, we kept helping out each other. I remember this one time at the studio scene, where he sits on the game show. He just couldn’t get himself to smile because he was just so stressed out, and I felt so bad for him, because it was 11 days of back to back shooting, and the last sequence when he wins the money he has to give that smile. Danny asked me if I could jump in and help him and I was more than willing to do that, because he has done that for me during the kitchen scene were I had to get the right expressions out. So I tried to pull some goofy faces, which I am so bad at doing any which way [laughs], and I guess he was embarrassed more than anything else.

What was the experience like, working with Danny Boyle?

Ah, well that is an experience that I will never be able to top. I think that it is required for an actor when she or he first comes into acting, you know [laughs]. I think the things he has taught me are very practical, more than being very theoretical, or this is how we do it, or very technical. Though I remember he would always explain the technical aspects of filming as well, because it was so important to understand that acting is not all about acting, it is about cheating as well. He would explain to us like, why the camera was angled in a particular way or why the light was rigged in a particular way. At the same time he would help us go so deep into the skin of our characters it would be almost difficult by the end of the day to come out of it. We were like brainwashed kids at the end of the day. It was fantastic working with him, very infectious energy. Again, for someone who comes from England knowing nothing about Bombay, and just absorbing every, every, every grain and every fiber into his being. It was just fantastic. I just loved the way he literally became more a Mumbaiite than me because he loved the tea, he wouldn’t mind sweating. I would be like, why is it so hot, my hair is getting all sticky! Danny was enjoying himself and was just enjoying the weather. It was just fantastic looking at him do that.

At first the film started its buzz going from festival to festival. How was the experience seeing the response the film got at the Toronto Film Festival?

That was the first film festival I had ever attended, and also it was the first time I was watching the film. I keep telling Dev, even to this day, that nothing can beat that experience, when you watch yourself for the first time onscreen with a live audience who absolutely loves you. Not everyone’s first film is going to be that loved by everyone, but there is something about this film that touched everyone’s hearts. Being at that festival meant so much to me. I will never forget the Toronto Film Festival, every bit of it. It was all fresh. I was just starting off doing things, so I was like a little kid enjoying myself in a gift shop for the first time in her life. Then I went on to the London Film Festival, which was a different experience. It was really, really cold, very chilly, and I was like, what is happening! The audience reaction over there, like, Londoners are very reserved. I mean, they are appreciating things or else they wouldn’t have given us 11 nominations at the BAFTAs. But again, they are very reserved, so that was a different experience that I had. Then I went to the Dubai Film Festival, and then obviously came to LA for the various award ceremonies. It has been fantastic because I have just learned so much. I have learned what to say, what NOT to say more importantly. I’ve learned what to pick in terms of clothes. I have gotten so close to the Slumdog family. It is going to break my heart at the end of Feb. when everything comes to an end and everyone goes to their respective countries, back to their own work. Slumdog is going to be something that everyone is going to remember, but the Slumdog people are not going to be together because, obviously, we have to move on as well. So that is going to be a very, very, very sad feeling. I am sure we are going to cry buckets.

The film has gone on to win award after award. What was the experience like going to the Golden Globes, and then being there to see the film win Best Picture?

I keep saying this was like an Alice in Wonderland kind of effect because I was just walking down the red carpet, and these BIG stars are walking all around you. You really don’t know which way to look! Everything is enticing, everything is alluring. It was just an amazing experience in itself. Drew Barrymore came up to us and she said that she absolutely loved the film. I mean for her to just come up to us, to people like us who she has never, never seen before but onscreen, but to recognize us and to call us by our names just meant so much, you know. Then, obviously, winning four Golden Globes was a crazy feeling. I remember when the film won Best Film, it was just not everyone at the Slumdog table but it was everyone all around me who was cheering for us and clapping for us. And I was like, this is just really nice, because it is the entire film fraternity. It’s not just us, because we have made the film, it is not just us cheering and rooting for our film, it is everyone in that room. The atmosphere was really positive. It was just so great!

Then the Screen Actor Guild Awards Sunday night, and you guys won Best Cast. How was that?

Oh my God! WHAT WAS THAT? What was that? I woke up in the morning and I was like listen, I was convincing myself, telling myself, well, not convincing myself, because I pretty much thought I knew it, na? I woke and said see, you have swept every other award but this one is not ours, so just make your peace with it. There is no way you can beat Milk and Doubt and films like that. When the Best Ensemble Cast was announced and Slumdog was among the nominations I remember getting this feeling that someone else is going to get it, but you are still going to be really happy because you have done a great job. Then, all of a sudden, Slumdog Millionaire was announced and Anthony Hopkins announces it! I just literally put my head down and was like, NOT HAPPENING! NOT HAPPENING! This cannot be happening. This is so unreal!

Dev was stuck in the toilet, that was really funny. Yeah, he was stuck in the toilet, because his female fans wouldn’t let go of him! And he was trying to come right away: he was the one who was supposed to give the speech, and I was like, where’s Dev, where’s Dev. In the back of my mind I knew he was going to be there and he was going to make it on time, but I knew it was going to be a bit of a dramatic situation. Then, all of a sudden, I looked to my right and he was standing right next to me and I am like, there you are [laughs]! I really wish everyone from the cast could have been there, the kids, the casting director – I wish she could be there to see it for herself as well. What was even better was that I thought there was going to be just one trophy that was going to rotate. But then we went back stage and each of us was given one that was just … and the kids get one, more importantly, because the kids really deserve this, and in a way they have been left out of all this. Everyone loves the kids but nobody has really seen them, because the kids have to go to school and we obviously don’t want to pull them out of that situation and that normalcy. I was just really happy that the kids get to put a SAG award in their homes. They can be proud of the fact that at age 8 and 13 they were part of a film that won a SAG, a film that won a Golden Globe. And nominated for 10 Oscars and 11 BAFTAs. Ahhh!!

Did you ever anticipate Slumdog Millionaire would be received so well?

Not even in my wildest dreams. I am telling you, this is super unreal. Sometimes I just wonder if this is all a big fat dream that is going to come to an end really soon. I am just going to wake up and realise that the last six months of my life didn’t really exist, you know? These things don’t happen to normal people, to people who are never really expecting anything, to people who are living in oblivion, that things like this cannot really happen to them. I knew I would act one day but I never really, really thought my first film would be the film that would get me straight into the heart of it. I am so, so, so elated at the moment!

What do you think has made Slumdog Millionaire resonate worldwide?

I think it is the fact that at the end of the day everyone sees this hope and opportunity that they can get what they want in life as well. These last few years, everything has been going down the drain for everyone. It’s saddening and it’s depressing. This film does everything exactly opposite of that. It is giving you hope, it is an uplifting film at the end of it. It is an underdog story that everyone loves to believe in. It’s an American Dream, Bombay Dream, and London Dream that everyone has to rise above adversity and get what you want at the end of it. Yeah, I guess it is that – it is that Hope! And like Americans, Indians love to watch films as well, so that is another thing. People just love watching films in both these countries.

As our BollySpice reviewer said, Freida Pinto was a breath of fresh air “who has a bright future ahead of her, internationally and in India.” She was a breath of fresh air not only as an actress but also as an interview! I loved speaking with her and would like to thank her for taking the time out of her busy schedule. After viewing a debut film like this and the insightful and layered performance she gave, we are sure she is going to go far in the Film Industry, and we look forward to her future performances!

Next up for the Slumdog family is the BAFTA awards on February 8th and then the Oscars on February 22nd. We know we will be watching to see if they will be honored with even more very deserved awards! If you have not seen Slumdog Millionaire, run to your local theater – it is a must-see movie watching experience!

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