Being an actor can’t be easy. I am sure it’s fun, just like my job is a lot of fun. Being an actor and playing characters that you give part of yourself to, or part of yourself takes something away from that character, that’s pretty cool stuff! I can’t imagine though, playing a real life person. One that is still living no less. It fascinates me to think of all that would take, but in a previous interview with Jon Hamm he mentioned, “I would suggest maybe if it was somebody that a lot of people knew. There’s probably a little more pressure on Daniel Day Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln although no one around, no one around really knows him anymore. I felt very responsible towards J.B., especially after having met him and kind of learning his story and learning how profoundly this experience changed his life.”
Million Dollar Arm’s Madhur Mittal (Denish) (Rinku) & Suraj Sharma (Rinku) are both actors that have been in major films. Madhur played Older Salim in Slumdog Millionaire and Suraj playing the lead role in Life of Pi, so having an opportunity to sit down with these two was such a treat.
Million Dollar Arm’s Madhur Mittal & Suraj Sharma Interview
(The following interview has been edited to make content easier to follow)
Q : What compelled you to an audition? Tell us about the process.
Madhur: I think I speak for the both of saying what really hit us was, this is a tremendous feat that these guys have achieved and I had no idea about these guys. Nobody in my family knew. None of my friends knew this story. And what these guys have achieved is something that nobody has ever done any sport in the history of mankind. That is vague. So, I was really kind of upset and I know for a fact that was the same for Suraj, nobody knew about this story. And I think it’s very important that this story reaches people and that was the first thing that hit me. And also the fact that, you know, we’ll get a chance to portray real-life characters. And what do you think Suraj?
Suraj: Yes, same thing. It’s just the fact that these guys came from nothing, went and did something phenomenal. And nobody seems to realize. They weren’t really appreciated for what they did.
Madhur: In a way, yes. They’re not applauded enough.
Suraj: Exactly. And it depressed me almost and the fact that I didn’t know myself. It was like why I’m doing that? I’m doing what everybody else is. It just leads you to think that their story really needs to be told, and people need to know this. And in itself, other than the fact that it was an amazing feat, it just gives you a sense that there’s a whole lot out there that we don’t really realize opportunity wise. And the amount someone can work in a situation where they don’t know what’s going on and make something out of themselves, is really very inspiring.
Madhur: Also I think it gave both of us a chance to showcase something different from what people have seen us do in our last films. I played a bad guy in my last film; he played a completely different character. So, I think also it’s a great chance for us as young actors portray something different and expand our spectrum as actors.
Q: Have you played baseball prior to the film?
Suraj: Absolutely not (he laughs). Zero experience in baseball altogether. Yes. It was quite hard. We had a lot of fun during training though.
Madhur: I mean we didn’t know anything and then we were going to try and get all this stuff under our belt real quickly. We had three and a half weeks to do whatever we could do. We had our coaches flown down from the states, as we used to have four hours of baseball every day and we are both quite scrawny boys, still very thin (we all laugh). So we had to put on a lot of muscle, you know. So we trained for three or four hours every day and then rest an hour, and then go to the gym for a couple of hours, and strict diet. Yes, it was quite physically challenging, but it helped, because it’s like a blank slate that you sling it with, which was exactly what his character and my character were also going through. Like they didn’t know anything, and then they had very little time; high pressure of make it, do it and, you know, there’s no other option. So it helped understand the emotional parts.
Suraj: Yes, I also think we had a lot of draw from the fact that we were in the similar situation, you know, like we had a really short amount of time to prepare and then we had to perform on set. And also these guys they had like 10 months of preparation, and they had to perform. So I think it puts us in a similar kind of mind frame.
Q: Did you guys talk to the people you actually portrayed? And what was like maybe one or two things that you pull away from with the people that you’re portraying?
Madhur: For me, the biggest challenge was the change in Rinku. Ever since this time period that we are trying to portray, ever since then he’s changed tremendously.
Suraj: He’s so good at adapting that since (this happened in 2008), so at this the point when the movie ends from that time to now, he’s become a completely different person, so talking to him at this point doesn’t really help me too much with all this that we’re trying to do. But Dinesh helped.
Mahur: Yes, Dinesh helped. Dinesh was with us in Delhi when we were training for baseball and he hung out with us a lot, which is obviously great for me, because I’m portraying him in the film. He used to tell us all these stories and anecdotes of what happened when they were really going through all this that we’re portraying in the film. And that would really give us a lot of insight into how Rinku was at the point in time or how JB was and how Asif’s character was. Just real insights into how these people were feeling when everything was unraveling in front of them.
Suraj: So, that was I think, really great and getting a lot of time to spend with Dinesh was really helpful for both of us.
Madhur: And also the fact that Amit (Deepesh Solanki) character in real life really did have that.
Suraj: Pitobash plays him.
Madhur: Hebasically went around him recording footage of everything through the process.
Suraj: Literally everything. Yes.
Madhur: So we had this massive footage.
Suraj: Massive treasure.
Madhur: That’s how we got to know them before everything happened. Just their body language was so different. Their physique was different. The way they looked at stuff and talked about everything was really different. So all these things together kind of helped us build these people in our heads.
Q: What was your favorite scene to film?
Suraj: That’s a tough one. We actually had so much fun, just every day. It’s like we were quite a handful to the rest of the cast. We were just too young kids, you know, and you give us a glove and ball, we would just keep playing all day long. They would literally have to drag us on set, but we had a lot of fun like in a lot of scenes. Like, for example, the scene where they throw up was not fun.
Madhur: Not fun for me. It stank (Laughing). They had some really disgusting vegetarian soup. Yes, and it really stank.
Suraj: It wasn’t really while we were shooting always that made it special, it was just literally the fact that everybody around us always was seemingly having an extremely awesome time. Amazing time. And it’s not like you’re having an amazing time and you’re letting go of work kind of situation. It was the fact that all that added to the dynamic that hopefully was being set up in front of the frame.
Madhur: There were some scenes that were really hard to shoot, like, for example, when we were shooting in India there were some really hot days. 145 degree. 140.
Suraj: 140? It’s not degrees Celsius. Degree Fahrenheit. I don’t think it got to 140, but it was really hot.
Madhur: It was a 140. I know this for a fact (laughing), because I checked. I was like my skin is burning how hot is it? Especially when we shot in Lucknow, that was the day. It was a 140.
Suraj: All the extras. We had-
Madhur: We were enclosed in like four walls and there was this huge ground in the middle. So we had no air flow and the sun just beating down from top with thousands of these people in this small space. It was really hot and we had scenes where we were running around and pitching and what not.
Surah: Yes. It wasn’t the hardest for us. Imagine those 300 to 400 people standing there in the heat.
Madhur: Yes, and just in the heat.
Suraj: And they have to act excited (Laughing).
Madhur: And it’s very hard and they don’t even do it professionally like we do, so it’s really hard. Yes.
Suraj: But, you know, they managed to do it. Everybody, kind of, pushed through all. There were a lot of times when stuff got really hard or complicated for everybody.
MADHUR: John (Hamm) probably changed his t-shirt like 20 times (Laughing).
Q: So, I think you both portrayed such a wide range of emotions throughout the movie and I’m wondering if you had past experiences that you drew on to help develop those feelings?
Suraj: Definitely. First, the fact that we were doing this in itself, it was like a parallel to what was going on in our lives, because we had to learn really quickly to perform something that we have never done before and be good at the same time. Then also with Slum Dog Millionaire and in Life of Pi where you’re nobody’s and then you’re thrown (into the acting world) and you’re supposed to be something right. It affects you very strongly, and whether you’re trying to use the experience or not, it’s going to be used by you, because at end of the day it’s the experience that’s the strongest and the closest to what you are portraying in the film.
Q: Tell us about the “flamingo pose”.
Madhur: Rinku actually did that. The thing is Rinku and Dinesh were both javelin throwers. So that’s the stance for javelin throwing. So Rinku automatically did that in the beginning.
Q: How did you guys get into acting?
Madhur: Very different stories for both of us. I have been in the business ever since I could remember. I started my career as a Michael Jackson impersonator as a child. Before I was three I started with Michael Jackson and that’s how I got into the entertainment business and when I was five my whole family they shifted from Agra, where I was born to Mumbai, just so I could pursue a career in the arts and just really amazing supportive family. And they struggled and really pushed for me, and I always wanted to be an actor, be in the movies. So I’ve always had that want to be an actor and I’ve worked hard to be that.
Suraj: For me, I never knew. I never wanted to be an actor, or anything to do with film, but after Life of Pi, it was just more of a realization to some extent. I don’t know that I would have done anything else unless that had happened, because that just opened my eyes to the fact that there is something here that actually I love a lot. And that’s how it began.
Madhur: It’s very liberating to be on a film set. As a child I was very shy, a complete introvert, I mean I was not the kind of person I am today at all. And even then I remember that I wouldn’t be able to answer questions to people or just be very communicative, but when I was on stage I was a different person. And that’s when I felt the most confident and the most alive, and I felt that this is where I belong and this is what I’m meant to do. This is where I’m meant to be. And I’m sure Suraj feels the same way.
Suraj: Same way. You’re surrounded by so many weirdos who are trying to make something out of nothing and I love that. And they are full of passion. By weirdoes, I mean it in a very positive way (laughing). Like we we’re saying, you know, insanity is legal on a film set.
Madhur: You need it.
Suraj: I mean you’d be crazy to want to work on a film or movies, just because of the hours, the amount you’re working, the amount you have to give to it, the fact that you’re going to lose a lot of sleep.
Madhur: Also, I think it’s one of those businesses I’m very proud to be a part of. A business where you except people from all walks of life. Just a tremendous spectrum of people from different cultures who look different and just coming together and creating art. That’s awesome.
I love that quote! It’s so true. Great guys that star in a must see film!
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MILLION DOLLAR ARM opens in theaters TODAY!
*I was invited by Disney to the Million Dollar Arm Event where I screened, interviewed people of the film as well as attended the premiere. Good thing I had the best time ever and really loved them movie for as always all opinions are my own but this one was easy. Photos courtesy of Disney unless otherwise credited.