Sendhil Ramamurthy first came to global attention as geneticist Mohinder Suresh in the NBC sci-fi drama Heroes. Roles in the action spy series Covert Affairs and Beauty and the Beast ensured he was a regular fixture in the Hollywood film firmament. Steering clear of stereotypical portrayals of Asians, he gave a nod to his south Asian roots with a role in the Indian film Shor in the City and was UK bound for Gurinder Chadha's It's a Wonderful Afterlife.
His suave good looks and natural likeability rendered him well-suited to the archetypal charming male leads, however with his new film Brahmin Bulls, Ramamurthy sheds his cool exterior to play disillusioned architect Sid Sharma, who grapples with his complicated relationship with his father, played by Roshan Seth. The film by director Mahesh Pailoor won the Audience Choice Award Feature at the San Diego Film Festival in 2013.
Currently in the UK shooting for the Sky series Lucky Man which stars James Nesbitt, Ramamurthy told IBTimesUK about his experience of turning producer for the first time, why Sid Sharma was his most challenging role to date and he reveals his dream of one day playing James Bond.
Initially Sid Sharma seems like something of a slacker, quite opposite to the suave and super-intelligent characters you've played. What was it about Sid Sharma that interested you?
"This was the type of character that I've never played. I've always played characters who were very confident, very alpha male, and this is a guy who is totally lost. He's in his thirties and behaving in many ways like a teenager. And I thought I actually know lots of thirty something's who are totally rudderless. And I've never played somebody like that and it scared the hell out of me. How do you play somebody who doesn't know what they're doing? What's the hook? And what you do is figure out why. Why at the ripe age of thirty do they not know what they are doing. You find out what those reasons are and for Sid it all stems from the death of his mother when he was a teenager. How that affected him and how his relationship with his father disintegrated after that. Also I got to have my first experience as a producer of the film and that's something I wanted to get into."
Were there any apprehensions about playing a character who is so negative and not particularly likeable at the outset?
"You're always looking to break expectations and once you become successful for doing something you keep getting offered the same thing and that is something that petrifies me. That scares me more than playing a part that I don't know how to play yet. I don't want to keep playing the guy from Heroes, or the guy from Covert Affairs or the guy from Beauty and the Beast, and be treading over old ground. And you're right, he's not likeable at the beginning and hopefully he wins his way back by the end of the movie. But the guy starts by dumping a cat on the road. That was a big thing for Mahesh and I. I was like 'Dude I'm going to lose the audience in the first thirty seconds of the film and its going to be very difficult for me to claw my way back.' So that was a huge concern for me. He's not that likeable. He s a slacker and he's smoking pot and he's dumping cats and going to bars and picking up woman and I really liked that. Its like a fractured narrative and you think this guy is being a jerk, but around halfway through you find out what's really going on with him. And that was my challenge to try and salvage the character."
The film also stars Roshan Seth and Mary Steenburgen with the three of you caught in a unique dynamic. What was it like to work with them both ?
"It was special. Roshan was the dream for the role. We honestly didn't know if we'd get him. It's a low budget movie and he doesn't even live in London any more he lives in Delhi. And its like do you really want to traipse around the world to do a low budget feature. Once we had Roshan then we knew that the Sid and Ashok dynamic was there. Then we went out to our casting director in America and we just got yeses. Nobody was doing this for money; it was just the script. Mary Steenburgen she just loved the script. She jumped on board. She said I don't have a lot of time but I'd love to do it. We said we'd shoot it all in five days. Five days is all we need. She was so committed. We were shooting during the Oscars and she was at an Oscars party at the time. I think it was the DreamWorks Oscars party and she comes out of the party and she calls up Mahesh and says 'I've got a couple of ideas I've been thinking about it." She's surrounded by all these huge movie stars but she was thinking about our small film and she had to tell Mahesh about it then and there. And that was the level of commitment we had from all of these wonderful actors that we had. Everyone was committed solely based on the script certainly not for the money. It was the best filming experience I have ever had."
In the midst of the unfolding relationship drama we also get to see you playing some tennis.
"Yes, I was a competitive player and travelled all over the country playing tennis. I've been whining to the director Mahesh about how there aren't any good tennis movies. There was that film Wimbledon where it was so obvious that those guys had never held a tennis racket in their lives and they were playing in the greatest tennis tournament in the world. He found a way to weave that in the story in a way that it linked the father and the son and it tears them apart. Sid harbours resentment about his junior tennis career."
You've been very taking on varied projects in Hollywood, Indian cinema and British TV. What informs your choices?
"I've been in London since April shooting a series for Sky and it's a really challenging role and I get to work with terrific actors like James Nesbitt. The opportunities will come. I know that. I know that they will come. Its just keeping doing good work. And I hope that I'm managing to do that in-between some dodgy things. There's always going to be something where I haven't known what I was getting into but you learn more from failures than your successes and I've learned a lot. I've been really lucky and since Heroes I've just been always working. Luck plays a big part of it. I work really hard but I know a lot of people who work hard. The show I'm doing now is called Lucky man and I am fascinated by the idea of luck and that's what drew me to it. And I've been really lucky."
Initially in your career steered clear of Indian specific roles. What is the reality of life as an actor of south Asian origin in Hollywood?
"I get offered stuff all the time . Its just not usually stuff that I want to do. The stuff that I want to do I have to really fight for. I was talking to Kunal (Nayyar) about that. We are both willing to go out there and fight for that. I'm not sitting here expecting someone to call me up for a role. If its something that I want to do desperately I will go in and I will audition my ass off for you and win the role. I don't have a problem for that. If it's a role that I'm not interested in whether you offer it to me or not its not going to happen. And I realise I'm very fortunate to be in that position that I can kind of turn things down at the moment. There's no game plan."
Is it the dream of every actor to get that call from Spielberg?
"Absolutely. To work with the Spielberg's of this world, the David Finchers and the Aronofsky's - I'm all for it. I believe those opportunities come when they're supposed to come and they come if you keep doing good work. And the only thing I can do is stay true to myself as an actor and as an artist and stay true to my career path and take on roles that challenge me."
What would be the dream role?
"I have two kind of dream roles that are at the opposite end of the spectrum. James Bond. That would be absolutely amazing. And on the other end I would like to do a grand sweeping epic. A Lawrence of Arabia. To do a role like that like Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia - I would die a happy man."