Freida Pinto had something of dream experience in the acting world. Unlike so many stars whose “break outs” come after years of toil in the thespian trenches, Pinto’s feature film debut was in Danny Boyle’s award-winning 2008 Slumdog Millionaire and she’s only risen from there. Woody Allen and Julian Schnabel both came calling, as did Hollywood blockbusters like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Immortals.
This time around, it’s Michael Winterbottom who sought out the Mumbai, India native to play the titular role in Trishna his modern day cinematic interpretation of Thomas Hardy’s 19th century British novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Set in Rajasthan, the movie follows Trishna, the eldest daughter supporting a large, poor family by working at a local hotel. There she meets Jay, the son of the business’s owner, who sweeps her away to the comparatively modern Mumbai. But the clash of their cultural differences brings dark consequences to their romance’s seemingly fairytale beginnings.
On the day of the film’s opening, Pinto discusses her early film education, her affection for Bollywood and why she hates keeping quiet.
As a character, Trishna is very passive and submissive. Was it hard for you to behave like that? It was. It’s not just hard, it’s frustrating. Especially when you know you’re shooting nine hours of passiveness in the day, it does get really frustrating and it does affect you. Because there’s so much for those nine hours that you’re building up to say but you’re not allowed to say. It’s a great game of discipline. And a lot of people actually who watched the film had mixed opinions because they were like, why was she so submissive? She’s a 21st century girl. I thought the same way, but as soon as I stepped in Rajasthan, some of the girls I met over there were just completely different from what I was. And I was like, My world is not the only reality. There’s reality outside of it, however bitter or sweet it might be.
What was your own childhood in Mumbai like? Completely different! I was such a freakin’ defiant kid. When my mom watched the film, she actually found it really hard to watch. She said when she watched Miral she saw a lot of me in it, because I do play a very defiant girl in Miral. But when she saw this, she was like, “For the first time I didn’t see you in the character because there was nothing of it that was you. Except for the time when you come alive when you dance.”
I was wondering about the scenes when Trishna is dancing because you haven’t been in a Bollywood movie. When you were growing up was Bollywood a very important part of what you watched and did you ever want to be in one of those films? I danced to all Hindi song numbers growing up, they’re so embedded in us culturally that we cannot escape it. But I grew up watching all kinds of films, I really give due credit to my parents, my dad who wanted me to watch older Indian cinema not just the newer one, which is more of a commercial affair. And my sister made me watch a lot of international cinema. So growing up I actually found myself veering towards the international films because I just felt it spoke to a larger group of people. And the Bollywood part of it was really amazing, because it’s a massive celebration, it’s a lot of feel good, so in that sense it hooked me, but I have to have a mix of both: I have to have the feel good films and I need to have something that has social relevance.
Would you ever go do one just for fun? What if I get addicted to it then? What if I never come back? I enjoy doing independent film, so if an independent film comes out of India, I’ll be so happy. I love doing the big budget films, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Immortals, even though Immortals, again, far removed from me, I wouldn’t be sitting there instead of killing people with the rest of the group. But the director forced me to sit down and just be meditative.
I’d read that you got the part and you went to the gym and trained to fight and then you were told you just had to sit there. I actually started training, I started doing a little bit of core training and strength training and suddenly I go back and he’s like, “No we have enough of that. We want you to be the calm center of the film.” And I’m like, “Great, damn you.” It was so hard, that was hard as well. Because I could see everyone else having fun and I was just sitting there being…quiet.
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