After a riveting performance in Shoojit Sircar's Sardar Udham, Vicky Kaushal, in an exclusive session on FC Front Row, talks about his acting process, the meticulous mental preparation that goes into the lead up of shooting his scenes and how he almost said no to Aditya Dhar's Uri: The Surgical Strike, which eventually earned him a National Award.
AC: During our session with Ayushmann Khurrana, he was talking about how his process changes with the character. He said that he used method acting if the character is very removed from his reality. Is it something like that for you as well?
VK: The only time where I can categorically say that I am doing method acting is when I have to perform drunk scenes. I cannot do them without actually being sloshed. Otherwise, my mind would constantly think whether I am being drunk enough or am I being the same drunk in every shot. My heart wouldn't focus on the emotions. Usually, drunk scenes in films are highly-emotional scenes. So, I take care of one aspect of it because I'm actually drunk, nobody can question that.
AC: But how much do you have to drink to be functionally drunk, since you're acting as well?
VK: It depends. I'm also a Punjabi, so it's ok. (laughs)
Also, it changes from region to region. For Manmarziyan, it was more desi. When we were shooting in Russia for Sardar Udham, it was more single malt, but it really does help me. Strangely, I'm extremely aware during those scenes and I really enjoy them too. But otherwise, yes, the approach changes from character to character and the world that I have to get in.
AC: What do you do on the night before shooting a major scene? Is there any specific prep apart from learning your lines?
VK: The way I learn my lines doesn't involve me sitting on the script or scene and learn the lines. I never mug. It could be a five-pager scene but I never mug. I just read the script 200 times before going on floors. I want to remember the flowchart of the thoughts rather than the words. If it's an intense scene, then I tell myself it's not an intense scene. I take the heaviness out of that intense scene because it's just another emotion, as if I'm laughing. It's just that we are conditioned to not cry, to not express that we are vulnerable – that's what makes it heavy. I take that pressure off myself. What I do the night before is that I would read the script again, from page one till that scene [which is supposed to be shot].
AC: Why only till that scene?
VK: Because I don't want to know what happens after that. Tomorrow, what I'm going to live is that character till that point in his life. I don't want to know where the conflict gets resolved. I don't want that comfort in my mind. I would just read it till that point, shut the script and go to sleep. I would read the world the character has seen for himself. For example, when I was shooting for Raazi, I had read the whole script only once. After that, I never read what Alia [Bhatt] was doing behind my back, because I didn't want to know. The only other time I read the whole script in detail again was just before that scene where they confront each other. That's how I went into that scene.
AC: I've heard actors saying that they know in the first few minutes that 'This is it. I'm doing this.' Does it work like that for you?
VK: Most times, it has happened that way. Sometimes, it's been like, 'Let me just sleep on this.' Not many people know this but Uri was something I almost was going to give a skip. I was shooting for Raazi when I got the script. I got very excited that this was the story that had come to me. After wrapping up a particular day of shoot, I went home and read the film. I was probably in a tired state of mind, but I took five hours to read the script and wasn't able to connect with it. Something wasn't clicking. I almost thought I'd take a few days and call them to tell that it's not really [working out]. I came back home the next day post shoot when dad [Sham Kaushal] happened to read the script. It was lying there and he read the title and got excited to know the story behind what had happened. He casually asked me if I'd read it. I told him what I felt and he said, 'If you don't do this film, it'll be the biggest mistake of your life.' Usually, our opinions would barely vary when it came to scripts. It was never this different. That's when I thought that it was probably best for me to take some more time with it, finish my current schedule, take a break for a couple of days and then revisit the script with a fresh state of mind. When I did that, I finished it in 2.5 hours and it felt like I was reading a completely new script. I remember calling Sonia Kanwar, the EP of the film, at 3 in the morning because I was so excited and so scared that the film would go to someone else. Luckily, she answered my call. That's how it happened.
AC: You are of course, second generation Bollywood, but like Ajay Devgn, you are an action director's son. Do you think that this upbringing has prepared you better to navigate the film industry?
VK: 100%. My father is a part of the industry. I always say that I do have an advantage but the advantage I had was not that I could easily go to somebody's office and get a film or a job. That was not what I had. The advantage I had was that I knew the harsh realities. I wasn't disillusioned by the glitter and glamour. I knew the kind of sacrifices and discipline it demands. I knew how tough and insecure this job is. When you're doing a project, your mind is already thinking about what's next. Sometimes, you're busy 30 days a month and sometimes, you're home for five months in a row. I've seen my family grow from a 10×10 chawl room where I was born in, to where we are now. It's not in everyone's destiny to have that journey. It requires a lot of hard work.
I had to be really good at the job. I wanted to earn a job because I knew the job. So, the advantage what people may think you had, was not what I had. Every day, I would leave the house at 11 am, go to 15-20 new offices everyday and come back home. Then again, I would leave and come back home. What people know is that I have cracked 10 auditions and 10 films but what they don't know is that I have failed in 2000 auditions as well.