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Jimi Mistry Talks About "The Guru"
by Rebecca Murray and Fred Topel

Jimi Mistry in "The Guru"
Photo© Universal Pictures - All Rights Reserved.

 More of this Feature

• Interview with Heather Graham ('Sharonna')
• Interview with Marisa Tomei ('Lexi')


• "The Guru" Photo Gallery
• "The Guru" Trailer, Credits and Websites
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Jimi Mistry sings, dances, and worms his way into women's hearts as Ramu Gupta in "The Guru." Starring opposite Marisa Tomei and Heather Graham, Mistry gets the opportunity to shine as an Indian dance teacher, spiritual leader, and romantic leading man.

In this interview, Mistry discusses his own acting background, Bollywood, and ethnicity in Hollywood:


Did you always dream of being an actor?
I didn't want to be an actor. That was the last thing I wanted to be. I wanted to be Michael Jackson - for many years, not now. I am a bit of a dreamer. I was kind of one of those people who just wanted to do something. But acting was never my idea of what I wanted to do until I was about 17 or 18.

What happened when you were 17 or 18?
It was very clinical how this happened. My dad sat me down - he's a doctor, the whole family is medical - and said, "Son, you don't have the grades. What are you going to do with your life?" I said, "I don't know." He goes, "Okay, here's what we are going to do. You're going to go away and you're going to write a list of your bad points and the good points you think you have. You're going to come back and we're going to try and find a career for you." So he read through this list - it was very bizarre - but my good points kind of went toward acting - radio entertainer, acting, etc. I thought, "Alright, we'll give acting a go." He told me to go find out how you to become an actor. I found out about studying [acting] at college. I went and auditioned and I didn't get a place, [so I] went back to the bar. The second year I went back and thought, "Well, alright, I'll try one more time. I will apply to two colleges." The year before I applied at ten and didn't get a place. "If I don't get in, I just won't do acting." I got in and I went for three years.

I had a pretty miserable time because I wasn't an actor. Everyone else was acting since [they were] three years old. I left college in 1995 and didn't know what I wanted to do. In drama school, it appeared to me they wanted you to change. You had to become an actor. Become a blank canvas - in British schools - which basically means to me that you have no character. There's nothing about you that anyone would want to employ you for. Then I soon realized, "Hold on, I could actually be myself and do this." I suppose it's a late thing for me. I've become more committed over recent years.

Do you fear being typecast?
It happens. It's a serious subject. It happened and it still happens. My ambition is to, first and foremost, be respected as 'Jimi Mistry the actor.' Problem is when you're kind of breaking through, you're perceived by your appearance rather then your talent. Let's be honest. The first time I ever had a label put on me was when I got in the industry. Twenty-six years of my life I was Jimi Mistry the Michael Jackson wanna-be. When I became an actor, I was "Jimi the Asian actor," which basically meant that all the parts I would be reading for wouldn't be the interesting parts, they'd be invariably the small parts. Let's say you're doing a cop series. I would like to go for the main guy - but I'd be going for the guy that sits at a computer and has about three lines. He happens to be of mixed race origins. It seemed to be I had a battle on my hands. I was striving to do quality parts, which is a lot harder. I want people to employ me for me. I don't want my race, color, or creed, to be dominant in a story line just for the fact that it's there.

When you were breaking in did you have experiences like your character, Ramu?
You mean porn films? [laughing]

Does it bother you when you have to do a stereotypical accent for a part like this?
Not really. For this film, regardless of where he was from, the character was such a strong character. As an actor the opportunity to do a character like this - to sing, to dance, to be able to be John Travolta, to be in a film like this - was fantastic. For me, it was a real challenge to create this guy from India to play this part. It was different on all levels. It was a good opportunity. What I am trying to say is that I'm not against playing characters of Indian origin, I'm against playing characters that are uninteresting, which is invariably the characters from other origins.

How did this opportunity come along?
[Director] Daisy [von Scherler Mayer] was auditioning in America, India and London. I got a hold of the script. She was in town for about a week. I think I had an affinity with what was going on. In my mind I knew how I could make this work, how I could bring it to life. The part itself was written very different from how it is now. The guy was more stereotypical, I think, in the way that he came from Bollywood. He had this thing that every window he went past, he'd just stop and look and he'd brush hair and say, "I love you. I'm going to be a star." It's a laugh, but it isn't a joke for 90 minutes. You're not going to want to laugh with him; you'd laugh at him. So I thought the way of maybe doing this - to make him as universal as I can - was to not make him "off the boat." But to make him the kind of Indian that had been brought up on American culture: MTV, John Travolta. He wants to be a star. That's a universal thing a lot of people want - to make it.

Daisy loved that somebody had an idea for how it should be. We got on. I danced for her. Then I came here and screentested with Marisa [Tomei] and Heather [Graham], and that's kind of it.

Are your parents Indian?
My father's Indian. My mom is from Ireland.

Your father is the one who said for you to be an actor. How does he feel now with this success?
My dad is one of the most proud men on earth, I really mean that. If it wasn't for my parents... You don't get any funding to go to drama school in England. I had to work to support myself and my dad would give me some money to get along. So if it weren't for him, I wouldn't have been there. Every single little thing I've done, he's come and seen. He came on set for this. He's so proud and I think he's actually quite relieved that I'm doing something (laughing). I think originally he was a bit worried because I was a dreamer, a drifter, and this kind of clicked.

Bollywood-style movies are getting popular lately. Do you think it's going to help or harm with Indian stereotypes?
In the United Kingdom it's been huge - kind of like a disease. It's been everything. Fashion, music, film - all that type of thing. All last year when I was doing promotions for this people were like, "Great, Bollywood is everywhere! We're the new curry! The new fish and chips!" [laughter] It's true, it is. It's a really good thing if it serves the purpose it's doing. If it establishes some sort of that culture into the mainstream, which I think it has recently.

The only danger is that people treat it like a fashion - a bit like the characters in the film. "Okay, it's Indians this week and Tibetans next week. Okay?" Because it's a culture, a race, a people - they're not a fashion. People often say, "What about this 'Guru' thing? It's really kind of cynical. It's not doing this, that, and the other." I said to people in England that no matter what you think about this, mark my words, in two or three years it is going make much more of a difference on the industry than you think it's going to be.

There are a lot of things being made. A lot of people would not have seen anything to do with Bollywood before. This isn't all about Bollywood, but let's take that for instance. People see people dancing and singing and doing all that. They may go away saying, " Hey, that Indian stuff is really cool. [It's] good fun." It will hopefully present itself in a way that it will be easier for people to get things made like this again. So it's all a good thing.

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