Edited excerpts from a longer interview between Baradwaj Rangan and Vijay Sethupathi:
Thiyagrajan Kumararaja described you as a spontaneous actor. But his process is very methodical and painstaking. He knows exactly what he wants. What is the difference between working with directors like him and someone like Mani Ratnam, whom you worked with in CCV? Shiv Ananth told me you improvised a lot on the sets. What is the difference? Do you like doing one kind thing over another? Or Do you mold yourself based on the directors?
I don’t know how to differentiate or label these things sir. I don’t know what methodical acting is I don’t want to know. An actor is someone who has to behave according to the director’s comfort. If I don’t like the story I am not going to act in the first place. So I act because I like the story and also I like the director as a person. Sometimes I like the story but I will not like their behaviour, so I won’t work with them. The art form is the greatest according to me. If someone believes they are greater than the art form, I will not work with them. You are nothing in front of art. You were nothing yesterday, you will be nothing tomorrow. You are here because of the art form. I don’t want such a person who thinks he is the greatest even in my set. I will always try to send him off. I will not spoil his ego. He is already corrupted and if I touch his ego he will corrupt me too. So I please him and do things in his favour and send him off my set. He can never be corrected. It is a basic quality, if someone who doesn’t even know that art form is greater than him then it is no use working with him.
Whether it is Kumararaja, Mani sir or Karthik Subbaraj, I know their taste in writing. I will decide whether to talk to them about how I am going to approach my character. I will only talk to them until they are willing to listen to me. If my behaviour irritates them it will spoil my work. So I listen to my directors. I will also not be so sure about the things I say. I will only say I have an idea in my mind. They listen to my ideas and take the things that are good. If they don’t take my idea then it is a lesson for me. Working with Mani sir was a big lesson for me. Working with Kumararaja is also a lesson for me. I had a lot of freedom with Mani sir. I went to his office and then read the script. He asked me for feedback. I told him that in the epic Mahabharatha brothers fight for the throne but Saguni and Krishna are the key people who play the actual game. I asked Mani sir if I can I play Saguni and Krishnna at the same time. He said it is good and he took me to the sets directly. He did not even make me sit through the dialogue reading session. I went to the set and worked like that. I was able to share whatever I thought. He gave me so much freedom. He also trusted me. We both shared what to keep and what to avoid. Even during the dubbing, I asked him not to come. I have only asked two directors not to come during my dubbing. One is K.V. Anand sir and the other is Mani Sir. I dubbed it with four or five options. They will come and choose one after that. I learn through their corrections. I am able to express the spontaneity that is happening on sets. When you accept the one thing that I say, then I get confidence that I’m on the right path. I will not bother about the directors, what they are, whatever their thought process may be; I will approach them through their writing style. It becomes a bridge between the two. I’m able to build my characters with their help. This is one formula. Like this, I have many formulae and it is not limited. It comes only during that time. If I stay in a single thing, then it becomes your root. I don’t want to stay the same.