At 63, after many ebbs and troughs in a striking film career, after the transition from actor to star and now to actor again, Dimple Kapadia has done her first Hollywood film in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet.
She plays an arms dealer called Priya, who at one point, tells the main character (John David Washington) that there is more than one protagonist in this film, referring to herself.
In this brief conversation, the actor talks about her Hollywood experience, why she was hesitant about auditioning for this film and of course, working with Nolan.
After all these years, it must have seemed strange to have to audition for a role.
(Laughs) Yes. It was a two-page monologue. The truth is, I tried every trick out there not to do this. I don’t do auditions generally and didn’t want to—not even for Tenet. At my age, you begin to ask what you are going to get now, doing a Hollywood film. My agent was insistent though and wouldn’t take no for an answer. In fact, I even recommended another actor for this part. But eventually, I did the audition once I ran out of excuses. Everyone must have thought I was nuts.
Is it fair to say that the allure of Hollywood is lost on you?
Not at all. Nolan is every actor’s dream, damn it! I guess I was concerned about my own shortcomings. I was not sure if I could belong in a film like this. That’s what it was. I had a lot of nervous energy even after I was signed for this film. It’s definitely a dream come true to have featured in a Christopher Nolan film.
I understand that the full script of the film wasn’t shared with the cast, including Michael Caine. Have you seen the film?
Yes, I have.
Can I ask if you feel like you understood all of it?
(Laughs) Though I have read the script a few times and now, have watched the film, I guess I will have to watch it at least two more times to get it fully. I think that’s because he has packed in so much into this film. The more you watch, the deeper you can wade into it.
Your character, Priya, is an arms dealer who doesn’t emote much and remains careful about what she says.
I read my character’s part in the script many times. The idea was for me to put myself in Priya’s shoes as much as possible. As I am not a trained actor, I rely a lot on my instincts. So, it was important for me to understand how Nolan saw this character. Once I got that, it was just a matter of following his vision. Quite surprisingly, I found the lines to be straightforward for me, even though Priya is a woman who speaks about topics like nuclear energy I don’t know the ABCD of. I also admired the commitment of the crew. I have a two-line voiceover in this film, and while they could have simply dubbed it, they insisted on shooting it. I found that to be an advertisement of intent.
While stars like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone have featured in Hollywood films, it is heartwarming that character artistes like yourself, Shabana and Adil Hussain are being recognised by Western filmmakers. Do you think it’s done for the relatability with Indian audiences or is it a sign that they have taken note of the acting talent here?
I think Shabana was the first to go there in a big way. She was the one to get them looking towards us. The world has changed a lot over the past decade and that means that Hollywood is now more aware of talent across the world. I think people like me featuring in their cinema is a consequence of that.
Do you have a favourite in Nolan’s filmography?
The Prestige! I love it the most. It transported me into another world.
Looking back, what will you always remember this Tenet experience for?
I will have so much to remember, you know? (Pauses) But there was this moment during shooting. I was a bit nervous, and Nolan was standing next to me. He must have realised that I was feeling quite shaken up, because he suddenly extended his hand for me to hold. I am grateful that he did that. How could he have known what I was feeling?