Be it as the irascible Guddu bhaiya of Mirzapur or the sincere Abdul of Victoria and Abdul, Ali Fazal is much more than a sum of his parts. Earnest and endearing: two words define his persona, whatever may be the role. His screen journey began with small cameos, but he has since gone on to play many a plum role. With remarkable ease, The Fast and Furious actor has bridged the gap between Bollywood and Hollywood. Apart from being seen in Death on the Nile, he has signed up a lead role in a major Hollywood film Code Name: Johnny Walker. Excerpts from an interview:
How would you rate Mirzapur in your career graph?
Very significant. The series has given me a great push and an excellent playing field as an actor.
Getting into this part of Guddu, who is all brawn and yet so innocent, is there any aspect of his personality you relate to?
All parts I play have a bit of me, and I relate to them at some level. Else I would be lying (read not convincing.) But when, script demands a certain type of character, I do a bit of research. For instance, I grew up in Lucknow, which for someone living in Mumbai might be the same as Mirzapur. But the fact is in India, dialect changes after every 100 yards, and I had to factor in the right diction, nuances. Simultaneously, I had to unlearn the Angrezi side to me, the one which has grown up on watching English films and reading English literature. Here I am playing a person who utters expletives as if he is using words of endearment. But then, acting is about breaking the mould. An actor has to reinvent himself/herself with each role.
Did you have to shed some of the acquired traits of Guddu too?
Oh yes, I had major anger issues after playing this character, who hits at the slightest provocation. I had to unlearn that.
You really put on many kilos for the role of Guddu bhaiya. How important is physical transformation to get into the skin of the character?
It’s important, but not the crux of it. Actors unnecessarily obsess over the physicality. Real character is always in your mind. Our minds are the real fingerprints not our bodies. Body is only a little part of it. If I rely only on the body, it will be a soulless performance.
How tough is it to play the same part, that too after a gap of two years? Do you watch the season again for recall?
Every role is tough, but this was tougher for the stakes were quite high. Besides, there were endless ways to play him. Yes, season one is on record. It’s a virtual memory for my character. So that helps.
What is your take on OTT platforms?
Right now, these are the biggest platform. Moreover, it’s not just actor driven, but takes everybody, from directors, writers to technicians, along. The quality, too, has taken a leap forward. From another part of the world, we have access to amazing shows like Fleabag and Narcos. So we are only a button away from rejection or success.
From small parts in cinema to being courted by Hollywood, how do you look at this transition?
I feel lucky and I am flattered. Not complaining, honestly, I feel I have been part of a democratic process on both sides of the world, which is how things should be. I took baby steps and I learnt on the job for I never went to an acting school.
You have rubbed shoulders with a Pankaj Tripathi, an Aamir Khan, even a Judi Dench and now a Gal Gadot. Any takeaways from your co-actors?
Oh yes, I have learnt from the best. Pankaj and I go back to Fukrey days, we have shared so much. And then, the much-lauded actor Judi, who has won every possible award there is. She told me never to forget my roots and stay close to Shakespeare, for stage is very important.
How was the experience of working with Kenneth Branagh, director of Death on the Nile?
The famed director is also an actor. He makes sure that his actors are comfortable. To tap the emotions right, he would keep us entertained and treat us like children, all the while keeping an eye on detail. He would discuss my look for hours at a stretch before the shoot.
You have landed a lead role in Hollywood film Code Name: Johnny Walker where you are set to play an Iraqi. Do you think Indian actors have come a long way when they had to compromise hugely while signing up for Hollywood?
Certainly! It’s all one world now. We are not compromising on our culture, our roots. I carry India with me wherever I go. But I am also ready to jump into any character that comes my way.
You say that actors are very vulnerable people. How do you deal with naysayers who are chanting Boycott Mirzapur?
I guess that’s how people are. There are all kinds. It depends on me what I choose to take and affect my mind. Frankly, with so much happening on both personal and professional fronts, there is no place for hate anymore. Otherwise, we would all drown in it.
Indeed, basking in love (he is all set to tie the nuptial knot with Richa Chadha) and adulation (fans super excited about Mirzapur), acrimony is the last thing on his mind.