Edited excerpts below:
Generally, when people talk about their movies, they talk about their sets and the shoot but there's this very NCERT word you keep using — research. What is this research?
I do have notebooks and notes for each character. So, I'm reading Mathew McConaughey's Greenlight, not something as profound as he's written but I always have these little pieces that I have on the sides of my notebooks. Research as in there are probably pages about my favorite curry, like sometimes where the character was born, what her father did or something like that.
For instance, this one character I felt knew math really well and I'm terrible at math. So every day I'd wake up and do multiplication tables. Not like this was going to do anything for me but just so that I would be comfortable around numbers. So, research is a mix of everything. For certain characters, I've made notebooks from different paper cuttings and everything. But it has to be paper and pen, it can never be on my iPhone or any other device. It feels very distant then.
The notes all just for me and nobody has ever seen it, but it is never like something that's preserved. Nobody can make sense of it unless it's me. I recently saw a bunch of notes I had made for Maari in Poo. I had no idea what I have written, it has no connection to what I have done. So it is over once the film is done.
What about characters you just cannot empathize with, what happens then?
It's definitely tougher but I don't aim to empathize while performing. I might get to the empathy after the movie's release or even ten years later. I don't need to form an empathetic relationship with the character that I am playing at that given time but portraying the character will help me get there. It's because when you perform you're behaving like them, you will have to justify it in your head to make it believable in front of the camera. I also have to let go of some of my reasoning. So the first step is to remove Parvathy from the equation.
The moment I am reading something and I am like, "Oh I don't know why she is doing that", I tell myself, "If you do something else, you get out of the room right now; let's see what she does, let's see all the things she does and let's not question her." I genuinely have to trust it.
When you were doing the Take-off (2017) interviews, you were saying you have a stalker and when you go out you think he will attack you and throw acid at you. The next film is Uyare (2019). It's kind of freaky right, somebody who talks about method acting, you talk about your fear at a particular time and later on, you internalize that and do a movie where you're an acid attack victim, aren't you kind of screwing up your head by doing these kinds of roles?
I think I'm manifesting amazing roles. Well, messing up my head, that ship has sailed. That's not a concern really. For me, it is whether I have had a delicious experience. It is about just me and my character and this thing called a film set where a bunch of people with varied levels of ego and creativity come and somehow, we agree on one shot. I still get amazed when I'm on a film set and for 15-20 minutes or even longer there are light boys, generators, crane people and all these technicians are working hard to get one shadow right somewhere in the background which is out of focus when I'm saying a dialogue.
If that can be called meticulous, why cannot I be allowed to have fun with getting research done, to perform in a certain way because what it does for me is that I can move any which way. You need to have a flexible mind and emotional muscles. Method gives me all the ammo to fly any which handle I want because just depending on these little tricks helps me just jump off to different directions with my imaginations otherwise if I'm just tapping into myself and my experience, that scares me because it's not a well that keeps giving.
It sounds amazing when you say it but you have done it to the point where you have nightmares and dreams about your characters.
I don't find that disturbing, maybe I am weird that way. Definitely I am not going to glamorize emotional pain but I think what if it is the way the system is coping to tell you that your dreams and nightmares are ways of your body reminding you that what you performed was a performance and your life is this. It's a reminder for me to make sure this distinction remains. I do not have as many nightmares now, I think I detach quicker now. Maybe 10 years younger, I didn't have these ways to get out of it pretty quickly.
What do you do in those films where it's not your universe and you don't understand the movie?
I do the same amount of research for all my films. I have done the same amount of research for my Kannada films where I'm dancing around the Alps.
Hypothetical question, someone gives you a thousand crores and says you can make any movie. What movie will you make then?
Personally, I feel I haven't had a single moment where I've thought about the budget of the project or the opulence of the project. For me, the kind of projects I envisioned or see in my head is the most intimate films. So, I have to work really hard to create a choreography of visual opulence. In my system, it's something like Blue valentine (2010). For me, that is my cheesecake and I can probably spend a thousand crores on that. There is one subject I know is extremely commercial, a kind of a mind game project I have envisioned, that can use so much money but I'm like give me a good five to six crores, I can make a really good watchable, fun and entertaining movie.
There's so much talk about how much you go through, how do you remain strong through all of this without getting bitter?
Oh, I am bitter. I am like this in front of you guys. I get very hopeless and cynical but I do have my people who put me back on track. Right now, I am in a good space like I am in a good mood today and not bitter but otherwise my answers are probably going to be laced with this impending doom that we are heading towards. I think I'm making my peace with that also. So, bitterness isn't working out right now but it can happen at any point and I'm someone who's actively struggling with mental health issues. So, I know at any point that veil can come on and I can do nothing about it. So, it comes and goes. I'm definitely not someone who can keep happy all the time. I get angry super-fast, I'm working on it. That's why I say therapy for the win. Anybody working on themselves, going to therapy is like my heroes. As long as I know there is a way out and my people are taking care of me, my bitterness is kept in check.