Anil Kapoor, who was born in Mumbai, India, has had a very successful career, spanning over twenty years, in his own country. His first role in an international film was as Prem Kumar, the sleazy quiz show host, in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture last year.
Now starring in the popular TV series 24, Kapoor portrays Middle Eastern peace-keeping leader Omar Hassan, who is meeting with President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) at the United Nations in New York to sign an international peace treaty – that is, if he lives to put his signature on the document. With Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) on the trail of the potential assassins, it’s obviously going to be another long and intense day.
How did you first become involved in 24?
I feel it’s thanks to Slumdog Millionaire, because it was such a huge success, critically as well as commercially, and it swept all the awards. Everybody was talking about it. I’m sure people on 24 had seen and liked my work and that’s the reason I was given this offer and I grabbed it.
24 is a great follow up after Slumdog Millionaire. I play someone who is completely opposite to what I did in Slumdog Millionaire, which is always exciting for an actor when you do something completely different is terms of a role. I’ve never done television in India, so for me it was really something which was new, fresh, exciting, educative, and I really loved every moment of it.
Was there anything you did in particular to prepare for this role?
Yes, I think the most exciting part was the preparation for this role. I went through all the leaders of the world, past as well as present, and I went through all their speeches, their body language, how they spoke.
I read a lot of books on the UN and on the peace treaty and all about nuclear disarmament and the IAEA and what they do, what NATO does; I just wanted to be very familiar with it.
I also had a dialogue coach to help me with my English, who was of great help. I had long sessions with him during the entire show. Hassan was educated in Britain and he’s a modern guy, so we added a little bit of a British accent to this role.
What was it like working with Kiefer Sutherland?
I had heard so much about 24. He has been working the last eight years on the same series, but I never felt that he had been shooting the same role for eight years. I felt that he was working as if it was his first season. I was taken aback with his commitment and professionalism. It was wonderful to work with him and when he’s on the set, he’s more Jack Bauer than he’s Kiefer Sutherland.
Was he welcoming to you when you joined the show?
The first time when he met me he said he had seen Slumdog Millionaire and he loved my work in the film, and that gave me a lot of confidence, getting such words of encouragement from Kiefer.
When two actors meet and then there is a mutual respect for each other’s work, it makes work much easier. This is only my second stint as a performer in the United States of America, but he never made me feel like I was an outsider, so that was really great.
Did you have any concerns about going on 24? Most minority actors on it are playing terrorists.
I really got inspired when it was not just a bad man. I felt that this was a guy who really stands up for his convictions and what he believes in. It’s a very strong character and there are layers involved, a lot of complexity, and he’s very human and very real.
I’m very fortunate that being from India that I was lucky to get this opportunity to do this role of Omar Hassan, and very fortunate that it was 24. I’ve read a lot of scripts in India as well as internationally, but the writing in 24 is really very special.
Last year you said that Slumdog Millionaire represented a new chapter in your career, now you’re doing 24, is it everything you hoped it would be?
It’s gone beyond my expectation to be honest with you. I felt that after Slumdog Millionaire I didn’t know how people were going to accept me in the west.
I can see that everyone has been very encouraging and it’s been very positive, especially working on 24 which was very educating, very inspiring.
I feel the director, the writers, are even better than I had experienced with Slumdog Millionaire.