Actor Denzil Smith talks about working with Christopher Nolan on Tenet and Delhi Crime’s Emmy win

The stage and screen actor is known for his roles in The Lunchbox, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Mind the Malhotras
Denzil Smith and Christopher Nolan
Denzil Smith and Christopher Nolan

Actor Denzil Smith has had an interesting year. He was recently seen director Christopher Nolan’s science fiction action-thriller Tenet and his drama Delhi Crime won the award for Best Drama Series at the International Emmy Awards. The Mumbai-based actor is also known for his roles in The Lunchbox, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Mind the Malhotras. While Tenet is getting mixed reviews from fans and critics, it was one of the major releases this year after the pandemic and important scenes were shot here in Mumbai. We speak to the actor about the experience and the craft of film making:

How did you bag the role in Tenet?
I was in Bangkok shooting for something when I got a call from a casting agency in LA who asked me to put myself on tape. I was not in touch with anybody, this was a random call from a casting director I didn’t even know.  They sent me some scenes to record which were from another film altogether, nothing to do with Tenet. So, I recorded and sent it and didn’t expect anything. But after exactly eight hours I got a call back from them and it had worked out. 

How was it shooting with a director like Christopher Nolan, and shooting with the crew in India?
It was a fabulous experience. He’s a master filmmaker who knows how to seize control of his medium totally and completely. And he also knows how to control his whole team and his crew well. It’s a well-oiled machine which works unbelievably efficiently.

Do you think it was a challenge for them to shoot in India?
No I think each country or place has its own challenges. That’s filmmaking; all filmmaking has its own challenges. There are many variables, it just depends on how you control those variables and reduce those variables and minimise them. And there still will be more. It’s about anticipating all these different variables. And that’s what they did in India.

How different was it shooting with a Hollywood cast and crew compared to what we are used to in Bollywood?
I think the basic principles of my work always remain the same. Some protocols are different. That’s all. But I find there is hardly much difference in the process of filmmaking anywhere in the world. 

Which actors did you work with in the scenes you shot?
I worked John David Washington and Robert Pattinson (the leads of the film) and of course with Dimple Kapadia (who plays Denzil’s wife).

Congratulations about the Emmy win for Delhi Crime. Did you anticipate it?
I always knew it was a great piece of work. Even when it was being shot one had the feeling that this was going to be something big because the whole unit was very committed. We had some fine actors – Shefali Shah, Adil Hussain, Gopal Dutt, Rasika Dugal, Yashaswini Dayama and Rajesh Tailang – there was just so many good actors. The director (Richie Mehta) was very, very patient and lovely. He had researched the project for five years. So, when one saw the project one knew that it was a piece of work. And I think the awards are all by products.

What are you working on next?
I’ve just completed a film called Penthouse and I presently shooting for a movie called Ezra (a supernatural horror film staring Emraan Hashmi). Most of it was shot in Mauritius and we’re just completing the climax scene here. 

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