Irrfan Khan is just back from Florence in Italy where he attended the premiere of his latest Hollywood project - Ron Howard’s “Inferno”, based on Dan Brown’s best-selling book of the same name.
Khan plays the mysterious Harry Sims aka The Provost, who heads a consortium that aids the main villain in the story. He spoke to Reuters about his role in the film, diversity in Hollywood, and why more Indian actors will cross over to the West.
Q: You are just back from the premiere of “Inferno”. After so many years in Hollywood, do you still get a thrill working in an international film?
A: Oh, always. The set-up is different and the world is watching you, especially this industry, which is very unforgiving. Our (Indian) industry is very forgiving in that way. You can give one hit film after 15 flops and still be a big deal. There, you can be giving hits but might still disappear without knowing why.
Q: What’s the secret to your consistency in Hollywood?
A: I don’t know. I just keep giving my best whatever comes my way. There’s so much to do and there is so much talent with whom you can work. It’s exciting but you are always walking on the edge of the sword.
Q: Are you comfortable navigating your way in Hollywood?
A: Well, people know me. There is a familiarity because they are familiar with my work. Fortunately, I have got good stories to tell. There’s a kind of respect I have in that market. But you always have to be on your toes, finding new ways to tell your stories and to upgrade yourself.
Q: We are now seeing mainstream Indian actors like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone in Hollywood films and TV…
A: You’ll see a lot more Indian actors. Hollywood has opened up to the Indian market and “Slumdog Millionaire” was the turning point. Not just actors, but technicians and directors too.
Q: Hollywood is increasingly talking about diversity. Does that help actors like you get meatier roles?
A: I think Hollywood is the only industry which incorporates talent from all over the world. In Indian films, we don’t see angrez (English), or in Bangladeshi film, we don’t see a Tamil actor; and in Tamil films, we don’t see Hindi actors. What the issue (about diversity) is I don’t know, because I wasn’t there. There is polarisation all over the world and people who think they haven’t got their due, they do carry a grudge and protest whenever they think things have not been fair. I am nobody to judge that because I wasn’t there and don’t belong to that society.
Q: What was it like working on “Inferno”?
A: Beautiful. Memorable. Ron (Howard) and Tom (Hanks) own the house (the franchise). We are like guests, (and) new guests keep coming. We were so warmly welcomed. It’s a very serious thriller, but we had a lot of fun along the way. My character too is mysterious and enigmatic. That is what attracted me to this role.
Q: Is there any film that has affected you personally?
A: I cannot pinpoint one. There are a few which just stay with you. Every experience changes you as a person. Even the ones that you think aren’t very well-told stories, they add to your life.
Q: These days a lot of comments by celebrities on political situations seem to get picked up and there is a backlash. Do you think it’s safe for actors like you to air your views?
A: You’ve answered the question.
Q: Do you think you’ll ever air your views in public again?
A: I don’t know. I don’t know where society is going. You just said how things are picked up. They are blown out of proportion.