It is often said that an actor should have not one face but a thousand faces. In the recently released Vijay blockbuster, Leo, everyone was gearing up for surprise cameos, but Madonna Sebastian came out of nowhere and created a lasting impression in a role completely different from what we have seen her in Tamil cinema so far. “I have always wished for a director to come up with a script that would allow me to explore facets of mine, which even I wouldn’t know I had within me. Lokesh Kanagaraj gave me exactly that with Elisa Das from Leo,” says Madonna.
Calling her entry into the world of cinema with the much-celebrated Malayalam classic, Premam (2015) an ‘accident’ Madonna shares that this ‘accidental passion’ grew on her over the years, and everything culminated in playing the role of Vijay’s twin sister in the Lokesh directorial. “When Leo’s co-producer Jagadish Palanisamy called to fix an appointment with Lokesh, he specifically told me that it would be a ‘sister character’ and this piqued my curiosity. When Lokesh narrated the story, the curiosity just escalated further,” shares Madonna, who plays a small but pivotal part in the film.
ough, before the release of Leo, there were speculations that Madonna was part of the film, the team, and even the actor kept it all under wraps till the release. “Honestly, the crew never explicitly said that the role should be kept secret. But after hearing the story, I decided not to reveal it to anyone. Upon completion of the shoot, I asked if I should share the news, but they just asked me to hold on to the surprise a bit longer for the impact to be bigger when the film is out,” says Madonna, who describes being in the Lokesh Cinematic Universe as a ‘beautiful pressure.’ Elaborating, Madonna says, “When you are acting with stars like Vijay sir, Sanjay Dutt sir, and Arjun sir, there will definitely be a layer of tension. However, I thought it was more important to indulge myself in the atmosphere and cherish those moments rather than feel impacted by the tension.”
Despite the presence of such gargantuan stars, Madonna managed to make her presence felt. “When I listen to stories, I always want to make a significant contribution to the film. Even if it is a small but impactful role, I prefer that to just existing in a film. This way, I am always engaged in exploring the character and not just watching from the sidelines. In the case of Elisa Das, Lokesh gave me an avenue to perform rather than exist, and I am grateful for it.”
While she made a strong start in her cinema career, Madonna’s filmography does not exhibit a sense of urgency to pile on films. It is clear that Madonna is comfortable playing the waiting game and preparing herself for the long haul. “During my shooting breaks at home, I keep myself busy by training in either Kalari or dance or working out at a gym. Two years ago, I even learned some basic kicks and punches. Interestingly, before filming Leo, the team didn’t actually say anything about having me in dance and stunt sequences. When they asked me if I could fight, I said I would try. When Anbariv Masters led me into ‘action mode’, the old learnings kicked in, and it helped me a lot,” says Madonna.
In fact, this was the first time in her nine-year-old career that Madonna was seen in an action avatar. “Audiences have only seen one side of me. Leo broke that monotony,” shares Madonna, adding the reasons why she had to let go of certain films in her career. “Initially, I felt very anxious about certain things, like performing intimate scenes or playing glamorous roles. Although I admire other actors who do these scenes on screen, I don’t know if it was shyness, hesitation, or fear that prevented me from doing so. Perhaps it was a fear of getting too close to a stranger. Even today, if someone were to ask me if I’m willing to take on such roles, I’m not sure yet if I could do it,” says the actor.
After the release, discussions and debates about LCU are raging, especially about the flashback featuring Vijay and Madonna. Does it mean there is a chance for Elisa to be back? “I am not in a space to talk about how my character could’ve been explored or, as such, it is the creative process of the director. I am just grateful that Lokesh could imagine me in that role. I am getting a lot of love from the audience. I wouldn’t call it a cameo appearance as the character had significant depth, which may not have been conveyed on screen, but I can feel it because I have lived that role, right?” shares a pensive Madonna, who signs off with the hope that this is the start of a new phase in her career. “Leo has reinvigorated how audiences see me, and I hope filmmakers too use more than just one face of mine.”