While most actors seem to want to play characters much younger than them, Sampath Raj doesn’t really care. “I want to play my age; that makes me feel more comfortable. I can never see myself running around trees, singing, dancing and romancing heroines,” he says, and bursts into laughter.
The actor, who has worked in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema, believes that his recent work has allowed him to experiment a lot. “I want my films and characters to be as different as possible. It allows me to channel a range of emotions,” he says, citing films like Paruthiveeran and Aaranya Kaandam as examples.
With a background in theatre, Sampath’s fascination for cinema began when he was barely seven or eight. “I grew up watching Amitabh Bachchan. He’s a big inspiration,” he says.
He has been working in cinema since 2004, and has done a lot of impressive films, including the recent Kaala, but he assures that his best is yet to come. “I have done fantastic films like Saroja, Mirchi, and Goa. But it’s tough to satisfy the artiste in me. I don’t think I’ve got the roles I deserve. For instance, I like Irrfan Khan’s films in Bollywood. I can relate to them. I am confident that I can pull off those kinds of films—something like a Piku—with ease, if they’re made here. As an actor, I look for certain sensibilities in a role. If I am not convinced, I won’t accept a project. I’m not referring to preachy films, but well-defined entertainment,” he says.
Playing a baddie has never affected him. “I neither take my characters home nor let them get into me. Acting is just a job for me.” Has he ever felt bored of playing a villain? “Not at all. I enjoy those roles. Also, I try to bring in variations in each of my villain characters,” he says.
Speaking about how he bagged Kaala, he says, “I know Ranjith from Chennai 28 days, and was quite sure when he had called me, it would be something solid. I knew Nana Patekarji was the main villain. Despite the limited screen time, I agreed to play Vishnu because of the impact. I didn’t want to miss a Rajinikanth film too.” He recalls what Ranjith had told him: “Enna nambi vaanga, anna. Nalla padam!”
The actor is all praise for Rajinikanth. “We both are from Bengaluru. Naturally, we discussed a lot besides cinema. He’s familiar with the place where I spent my childhood. We also bonded over books and spirituality.”
Sampath says he listens to the whole script before he signs each film. “I am a selfish actor, and always consider if people will remember me after they watch the film. I never blindly accept a project without hearing the narration. There are directors like that, and I don’t work with them. They know who they are.”
Why has he never done a Hindi film yet? “I was supposed to do a big-budget film, but it never took off. I am familiar with the language, but I don’t want to go to Bombay just for the sake of it, and do roles that have no value. In fact, I turned down SRK’s Raees.
I told the makers that the role was too small for me,” he says, adding, “I don’t come from a film background, so I have to fight for my space. I quit my 14-year-long stint in corporate companies for the love of acting. I am here to do films that I enjoy.”
Dream role? “I’d love to play a 90-year-old man, because I am not sure if I’d be alive that long,” he says.