Edited excerpts from an interview between Baradwaj Rangan and Tovino Thomas.
Rohith, the director of Kala, said that your meter and method stunned him. What is that he is talking about?
After getting committed to a movie, I do not want to make any compromises. I am dependent on the director. I had long conversations with Rohith everyday. I wanted to give more than what Rohith expected from me. Through these long conversations I will get to know how Rohith wants me to play the character and in what meter he wants me to deliver and I perform in that meter. That is my method too. Actually, I am dependent on the entire crew. I want everybody in the crew to contribute. If the crew is good, any actor can perform well.
You once said that looking at yourself in the mirror helps you get into the rhythm of the character. You try various looks in your films, for example in Kala there is a big beard. Is that a trick you use to yourself in your acting?
I try and experiment looks in every movie. When I make changes for every movie and wake up everyday and look into the mirror I see the character and not myself. I keep doing something. I lose weight, I put on weight, I grow the beard, I can ever grow my eyebrow. In Kala if you notice, my beard is very long. I don't know if that happens to everyone, but it happens to me. If I do not trim my eyebrows, it will grow even longer.
For Kala, I thought a longer eyebrow would suit the character more. Whenever I looked into the mirror, I saw Shaji and not me. It is one of my tricks which helps me get into the character. Another way is I use the same perfume throughout the movie. If am using one particular perfume on first day of the shoot, I will use the same perfume throughout the movie. I believe that our memory and smell have major role to play. Whenever I smell a book, my mind goes back to my LKG days. I believe it is helping me get into the skin of the character. During Mayanadhi, I wouldn't go for a strong perfume as the character was soft. For Kala I wouldn't mind going for a strong perfume as the character is intense with mud all over his shirt. It will also make other actors comfortable as he can stay away from my sweat…
Okay let us talk about Theevandi. I found that movie fascinating. What is that made you feel this is the movie you should be doing?
Theevandi helped me get critical acclaim and it was also a box office success. I was smoking many cigarettes everyday for that character. One good factor about the film is that, it not only entertained people but also encouraged them to quit smoking. I started getting lots of messages with people thanking me. That is a good thing, I ruined my lungs not only to entertain people but also in helping them quit. I also believe cinema is one of the most popular and influential mediums, it can influence people in a good way and also in a bad way according to their perspective… the film portrayed the troubles one faces due to smoking. We were able to achieve what years of statutory warning couldn't.
Is there any role that Tovino Thomas won't do? For example: a rapist, a child molester?
Nothing like that, I believe I should not restrict myself as an actor. Everybody knows it is acting. As long as I am excited with the script and my role…it is okay to do any role. I should be doing all kinds.
Let us talk about Maari 2, your first non Malayalam movie?
The first thing I want to say is I am a big fan of Dhanush. He is an amazing actor. I also watched director Balaji Mohan's movies and loved his work. I saw a great scope of acting in the role which was offered to me. So I said yes to it.
By its very nature, a film like Maari 2 is over the top. Do you feel easy to enter that zone? And what was it like to get the taste of the Tamil Film industry?
As I said earlier, I don't want to restrict myself. I want to do all kinds of movies. I want to do mass movies, realistic movies, fantasy movies, I want to be everywhere. If I try and fail, it is completely fine, I will try again. Coming to Tamil Industry, the filmmaking method is pretty much similar. Malayalam industry is comparatively small in terms of the budget. There is some beautiful content coming out in Tamil cinema especially Asuran and Karnan done by my favourite actor Dhanush.
When it comes to a film like Maari 2, what is your process of dubbing that language?
I did my engineering in Coimbatore and worked in Chennai for a year. I can speak Tamil, but not perfectly. When it comes to performing a dialogue, it should be perfect. Maybe this time I had that Malayalam accent, maybe next time will not have that and I'm working on it. I speak Tamil to an extent, but of course I am most comfortable in Malayalam. But I don't want to restrict myself.
Let's say if you are getting a great Telugu script or a Hindi script. Will you learn and dub for yourself or will you concentrate on acting and let someone else dub for you?
I would try to learn and dub for myself. I learnt Hindi in school but I haven't spoke much. I believe one's voice has a lot of role to play in acting. The modulations and everything, sometimes we express those emotions through our voices. If I'm getting a good Telugu script, I have to learn the language and go to them. Preparation is important for every movie.
What about Maradona?
Maradonna is another movie which is close to me. It is nowhere related to football. It is about how a positive surrounding is important to a human being, when you have a positive surrounding, everything becomes positive. It had great scope for acting. I had a dog with me as my co star, it was directed by Vishnu Narayanan, who worked with Ashiq Abu. It was written by Krishna Murthy and of course it was tiring. Sometimes with limited budget, you will have to go on board. We shot for 38 hours continuously at times, the movie too got decent theatrical run and critical acclaim.
How do you do this? Making a movie is already hard work, you will have to remember the lines, maintain your looks, on top of that you will be doing movies continuously. Isn't it stressful or there is no stress at all?
There is definitely stress. I take power naps, surround myself with positive people who help me relax. We will have to work very hard and I am aware of the fact that Malayalam Industry is small in terms of budget. All we can do is compensate those budgets through our efforts. At times, I have always given priorities for movies. I am lucky to have a family who understands that. 2-3 years back when I was many movies, I was not able to spend some time with my family. I couldn't say no to my commitments. One day I came home, told my wife and kid that we are going for a long journey and we traveled for over a year whenever there was no shoot.
When I am shooting, my wife goes out to explore Trivandrum and if the shoot is in Calicut, she explores Calicut. That gave the opportunity for them to go places and for me to give priority to movies. It was a crucial point of my career, if you google my wedding pictures, I will be with the pencil moustache and long side beard. It was the look of Ennum Ninte Moideen. The shoot was about to get over before my marriage date, but for some reason it got extended. I decided to go retro style for my marriage and told my wedding dress designer. I don't like making these compromises. But Ennum Ninte Moideen was a turning point in my career.