Freida Pinto: ‘If I didn’t establish myself as a serious actor, I’d always be the token pretty girl’

When Freida Pinto rocketed to worldwide fame in 2008, many of us found we had to manage our envy. Danny Boyle’s Oscar-feted Slumdog Millionaire had turned the mildly-successful Mumbai model into a Hollywood sensation seemingly overnight. Suddenly, she was rubbing shoulders with movie legends, jet-setting across the globe to star in the front rows of legacy fashion houses, launching eyeliner, developing a disarming British accent, and in what seemed like the happiest ending, romancing
on-screen love Dev Patel off-screen. Then, everyone sort of moved on. The decade that followed, Pinto says, was fraught with uncertainty. When you start at the very top, where do you go from there? 

But Showtime-Sky Atlantic’s Guerrilla, a six-part miniseries, which premiered in the US in April, changed all of that. Based on the British Black Panther movement in ’70s England, and directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years A Slave), the show saw Pinto in an explosive, career-redefining performance as the radicalised, gun-toting, feminist lead Jas Mitra. The reviews have been glowing and the 32-year-old actor says the offers have been coming thick and fast since, with the added feature of gravitas this time around.

Freida Pinto

Viscose dress, Rs 2.56 lakh, leather jacket, Rs 7.4 lakh; both Louis Vuitton

ELLE: Let’s talk about Guerrilla. The reviews are gushing about your performance. When you took it up, did you have any inkling that the show would be game-changing for your career?

Freida Pinto: Last year, when my agents told me that John Ridley was working on a project about the black power movement in England, I didn’t know if the show was fact or fiction, because whenever you talk about black power, you automatically think of the American Civil Rights struggle. But through my research, I learnt that the British Black Panther uprising in the ’70s was about Commonwealth immigrants who were fighting to be seen as British citizens; they were referring to political blackness rather than skin colour. And I realised that we could touch upon the lack of representation of all coloured people. It’s so relevant in 2017. Besides, John, Idris [Elba, co-star and the show’s executive producer], the crew and Sky Atlantic—they were the dream team. It was a no-brainer that I had to be part of this monumental project.

ELLE: You’ve said that you shared your character’s struggle to be taken seriously beyond her beauty and gender. Could you elaborate?

FP: Jas has a lot of internal conflict, yet she has such a strong sense of what her fight is about and what her voice is about. It just felt like an extension of me—minus the violence, of course. When I got into the industry, I was very clear that if I didn’t establish myself as a serious actor, I’d always just be the token pretty girl. But it was a really frustrating process. I’d keep hearing that from my agents and reps, “they [the studios] said you’re too pretty for the role.” I hated that label, I certainly don’t view myself as just a pretty face.

Excerpted from the September issue of Elle India. Subscribe here.   

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