When 16-year-old Rudhraksh Jaiswal was cast in Netflix thriller Extraction, he thought he recognised its director, Sam Hargrave, from a very different role: Captain America's stunt double. "I'm a crazy Avengers fan," says Jaiswal, who plays the kidnapped son of an international crime lord in the film, which streams on April 24. He quickly learned that a typical day on a Avengers stuntman-turned-director's set involved Hargraves strapping himself to the bonnet of a car and being driven around to capture shots. "He's crazy. It was very dangerous. Our movie is full of intense action scenes. Once, we were driving and he accidentally bumped into our car. That was very scary but he was okay," says Jaiswal.
Hargraves isn't the only Avengers cast member part of the project – it stars Chris Hemsworth as a black-market mercenary hired to rescue the boy. Over a six-month-long shoot across Ahmedabad and Bangkok, Jaiswal says the two developed a close-knit relationship, documented on his Instagram account that features videos of them swimming, hitting the gym together and goofing off on set. "The first time I met him, his presence on set made the atmosphere immensely magical. You automatically feel more diligent because you don't want to make mistakes while working with such a big person, you want to learn from him." The two now text frequently, with Jaiswal asking for advice on acting, roles and workshops.
How does a teenager with not much acting experience land a big Netflix movie across a major action star? Jaiswal credits it to an audition he gave for the series Selection Day in 2017. He didn't get the part, but a casting director who remembered him, called him in to try out for the part of a "dusky looking guy" for Extraction (then called Dhaka) a year later. The next round pitted him against four other children from Mumbai up for the part. Then came the call. "They didn't tell my mom directly that I'd been selected, just asked if I was available on certain dates. My mom didn't know who Chris Hemsworth was initially but when I told her, she went nuts."
Acting was never part of the plan for Jaiswal, a state-level swimmer who thought he'd pursue the sport full-time. At 10, however, he got a call asking him to audition for an advertisement with Virat Kohli. A slew of other advertisements followed and three years later, he got cast as Sahadeva in Mahabharat (2013), a part that required him to deliver lengthy monologues in Hindi as part of the audition process. "I wanted a big break at that age because I was doing nothing from the age of 10 to 13. It had been a three-year-long struggle," he says. Now 16, he still finds the crowds, chaos and competitiveness of auditions daunting, but tries to view them as learning opportunities.
Jaiswal found out he had got the Extraction role with months to go for his board exams in October 2018. After he convinced his school authorities to let him take the exams in February the following year instead, he moved to Ahmedabad and began rehearsing, attending mock shoots and script reading sessions with Hemsworth and Hargraves every day. "Chris would teach me what his acting teacher taught him – dialogue delivery, voice modulation, the significance of pauses. He did most of the lines for me so I could copy them and deliver them properly on the final day," he says. He also credits Netflix with helping him keep up with his studies – the streaming services bears the expenses of a teacher for any minor it hires. "Indian productions aren't as caring about studies. There's more work pressure, more work hours," he says.
Jaiswal looks back at his experiences with disbelief but admits he was bummed about having to give up parts in Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior and the Gunjan Saxena biopic to do Extraction. Still, he's counting on the film to introduce him to a wider audience. It's already happening on Instagram, where he now has close to 30k followers. "There are times I get DMs saying, 'You're not the person who should've worked with Chris Hemsworth, you are nothing.' I feel sad when I read them, these are people who don't think I deserve being part of a large movie. But I have good messages also. I've proven the haters wrong finally. They've turned into my fans now," he says.