Prasanna is part of Project Agni from Navarasa, a science-fiction story in which he plays an ISRO scientist. He was also last seen as Diwakar in Mafia: Chapter 1, and reprises his Watson-inspired role, Manohar, in the upcoming Thupparivaalan 2. In this interview with Baradwaj Rangan, he talks about getting his break as an actor, his advice for aspiring actors, and why he wasn't worried about his image when signing Kalyana Samayal Saadham. Edited Excerpts…
You debuted in Five Star, almost twenty years ago. Back then, when you responded to the audition call for the film, were you thinking you wanted to just get into films or did you want to be a Rajini or a Kamal?
I never thought of becoming somebody but I always wanted to be an actor. It was a great dream. In school, the first time I was recognized for my work was as an actor. The applause I received gave me a high. I was popular in school only for my extracurricular activities. Naturally, I had a desire to get into cinema. That I got into it and have been able to survive for eighteen years feels astonishing. I still can't believe that all of this just happened.
After all these years, are there lessons you've learnt? Or is each film it's own lesson? If a little boy stopped you somewhere and asked you for advice to become an actor, what would it be?
I don't think I could tell him anything because it's changed into different things at various times. When I got in, everyone would have a collection of their photos called a portfolio. People would dress up in various get ups and shoot colorful pictures of themselves. You had to give it to a director if you met him.
Today, anyone can get an opportunity anywhere, even through Facebook or TikTok. There are people who're famous just through TikTok or Instagram without any connection to media or films otherwise. So, I don't know what advice I could give. Because, I've never walked up to someone and asked for an opportunity.
When I was once a bit down, I forced myself to go and meet a few directors I really respected. The experiences I got then made me realize that I only wanted to do well in the roles I was getting; I didn't want to ask for them. So, I've learnt lessons the hard way but I don't know if they will be useful to someone else. Everyone's journey is different. At one time, it was a big deal to crossover from Television to Cinema. Today, a lot of people have transitioned and succeeded in films.
'Masculinity' is one of the cherished concepts in our films. It's directly tied to the hero's machismo and sexuality. Do you think maybe you shouldn't have a film like Kalyana Samayal Saadham. Did some directors have second thoughts about casting you in their films because you might not be macho enough?
I did Thiruttu Payale 2 after the film. Though the film didn't do well, I was excited by my role. I'd come in only thirty minutes after the start. People were applauding and happy to see me. The physical transformation surprised everyone. I won the Filmfare best supporting actor for that role.
I didn't think too much about Kalyana Samayal Saadham. When I read RS Prasanna's script, I agreed to do the film. It was as simple as that. When people like Baradwaj Rangan write that "a small shrine must be built for Prasanna for taking on his role" I realize what a big role it was. Otherwise, I just had fun doing that film.
Do you think if you did a film like Valimai, it could push you to a different dimension?
Working with a big star like Ajith is definitely going to give me a lot of visibility. It's a proven formula. Gautham Menon sir's Yennai Arindhaal was a big break for Arun Vijay. It was his talent, of course, that helped him continue the streak. But definitely, a space like that will help. But it depends on how strong the role is. Just doing a film with a commercial hero where the villain speaks reams of dialogues and then gets beaten up in the end will not help at all.
What matters is how strongly the character is written, how it's delivered and packaged. If I had an opportunity to work with a star like Ajith sir, it would have a positive impact on my career. Unfortunately, it didn't happen with Valimai. As I said, I believe that God has something better for you when things don't happen. Maybe, I might act in Ajith sir's next film. Something better is waiting.