'For a person of colour, it's tough in the US to come across a substantial role': Suraj Sharma
Ahead of the TV premiere of Happy Death Day 2 U, Suraj Sharma talks about working in horror films, the need for Indian writers in Hollywood, career challenges, and more.
When Suraj Sharma went to audition for the role of Piscine Molitor 'Pi' Patel in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, he didn’t have any prior acting experience. After competing with thousands of applicants around the world, he went on to become part of the Academy Award-winning film for which he also grabbed the BAFTA Rising Star Award, all at the age of 19. Since then, the Delhi-born Malayali boy has been one of the few common Indian faces in Hollywood as he went on to be part of projects like Showtime’s Homeland, CBS’s God Friended Me beside the films Million Dollar Arm (2014), Burn Your Maps (2016), Killerman (2019), among others. As his 2019 horror/sci-fi-comedy, Happy Death Day 2 U — a sequel to Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day—premieres on Indian TV, we catch up with the actor who gets candid about working in horror films, the challenges in Hollywood, and future projects.
Excerpts from the interview:
What excited you the most about Happy Death Day 2 U? How is it different from its prequel?
I really liked the concept of the movie — to relive the same day over and over again. That really intrigued me. The director, Chris Landon is a really amazing human being — a very creative and vibrant personality. Also, it made me excited that the characters matched the story. This movie is more about how the event took place and goes into asking many questions about it. It revolves around the choices you make in a day, the things you could do differently, and focuses on the people who were involved in creating this phenomenon. There will be more details and more people, so it will be more interesting.
Could you tell us more about your experience working with this film?
Every day on the set was great. The cast in this film is amazing. It’s a great group of people full of energy. Because there’s this thriller/horror element, there were some really cool scenes. For instance, there was a sequence in which a person is chasing me and I'm running through the crowd, the camera is following as I'm trying to figure out where this person is leading me to. It was done in a way that we didn’t precisely know where things were coming from. All that created suspense and drama. There are a lot more instances like this, but I can’t reveal all that. It might ruin the film for you.
What do you look for in a script?
There are different things that will make you want to do something. For me like most people, the story comes first. I am looking for stories that have a unique perspective, that is grounded in a new way of looking at something. I found that in Happy Death Day 2 U as well.
Have you always liked horror/slasher films?
I really love horror, but my favourite genre is something I haven’t done yet - dark comedy. Happy Death Day 2U is horror; it is also noir. It is also comedy as much as it is horror. It also has sci-fi elements. So it’s many things put into one box which is great.
How is being part of one different from working on other genres?
Working in horror films is a different experience. Obviously, the process more or less is the same. You listen to the director, read the script, get into your character in the story. But I have never done something quite like this in terms of the tone of the film. This movie, in particular, was exciting because there’s an elevated sense of suspense. In this film, the same scene is lived through so many different ways and every time it changes so you have to add the nuances. You learn how to do a single scene many times keeping the little details in mind, so in that sense working on it was very interesting.
After a phenomenal debut (Life of Pi), did you face the pressure to maintain a certain quality of work?
After Life of Pi, there were a lot of things I had to learn and open my eyes to. I didn’t face any kind of pressure but felt the need to do as many things as I possibly could. I wanted to learn different things in the film world, regardless of whether it is a film or a TV show. It’s been going well. I feel like I have been doing all sorts of different projects that are teaching me something new.
You have played mostly Indian characters in your films, do you worry about being typecast?
Well, most of the roles I play will be Indian because I am Indian. I don’t think that is anything to worry about. But yes, on the larger scale it is true. For Indian actors especially in the US, it is tough to keep yourself away from being typecast and from stereotypical situations. But I feel over the years, it has become much better. Back in the day, it was much tougher to find roles that were open to having an Indian person play them. The change has been organic, so it has been really good.
According to you how challenging is it for an Indian actor to get established in Hollywood?
Of course, for any person of colour, it becomes tough in the US to come across a substantial role that is of the same frequency as a Caucasian person would get. But again, it is getting better. It’s been tough. Anything that is worth it is going to be tough, but the change is happening. What we require is for more Indians to be involved in the writer’s room, and as directors and producers. Once that starts happening, more and more roles will be open to Indian actors. What is happening with actors is more of a reflection of what is happening in the background. Every day is a challenge. For me, the biggest struggle is to try and learn as much as I can and be as good an actor as I possibly can. I’m trying, doing my best on that front.
What are some of your future projects? Any Bollywood offers?
I can’t take names but there is a good chance that I will be working in India soon. That’ll be really great and exciting. But it is corona right now so projects come and go and projects which started could not be completed. Business is going through its own hardship. But things are looking up and hopefully soon, I will be shooting in India which will be great.
Happy Death Day 2U will premiere on 22nd November at 9 pm on Sony PIX.