Posted on: Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Actor in the zeitgeist
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
On issues ranging from religion to tabloids, "Lost" co-star Naveen Andrews doesn't pull any punches.
As "Lost" star Naveen Andrews sees it, people simply need to wake up.
To the inherent racism of Hollywood.
To the trapdoors of dogma and religious extremism.
To the brutalization of women in paternalistic societies.
To media that erode our ability to think critically.
To sexual hypocrisy as rife in America as it is in England.
(You know, for starters.)
And if awakening is the order of the day, Andrews, as unfailingly gracious as he is unapologetically outspoken, is all too happy to bang the pan, rouse the rooster, and boil the double-espresso.
The 36-year-old actor spent a few minutes with The Advertiser during his appearance at the Honolulu Marathon Expo. Needless to say, it was an eye-opening exchange.
Q. Judging by all the activity in the English tabloids, "Lost" has really taken hold back home.
A. It's huge in England. I'm an actor, not a celebrity, so I'd like to concentrate as much as I can on the work (and not on) any of the stuff that comes in those hideous magazines, which just seems to encourage people to sit back and not think for themselves. I think those kinds of magazines encourage people to know their own place and stay where they are, which is really disgusting, especially in this current age. I can't even take them seriously. They're a joke.
Q. You've taken your share of lumps from the tabloids over the years.
A. I've had it since I was first getting known in England, about 1992 or 1993, just because I had a relationship with my teacher, who was 15 years older than me. As far as I'm concerned, that's normal in Europe, for people to have relationships with older women. It's only in America that they have an allergy about that, because when it's the other way around, nobody says a (expletive) thing. I call that hypocrisy.
Q. Given your experiences with the media, how do you respond to what Michelle Rodriguez is going through now with her DUI arrest?
A. I'm an alcoholic, although I don't drink anymore and I haven't in a long while. It's a very human mistake. It can happen to you or to anyone. Just because she's in the public eye, there's a different kind of scrutiny. I feel a lot of sympathy for her at the moment.
Q. What turned it around for you? What finally made you get sober?
A. I had no choice. It was either get sober or go down the toilet very quickly. It wasn't like I wanted to save my career or do this or do that; it was basically "save your life."
Q. How long has it been since you've had a drink?
A. It's been three years.
Q. You play Menerith in the new TV miniseries version of "The Ten Commandments" (now in post-production). What can you tell us about that project?
A. Our version of the story of Moses is a little more subversive. Our Moses is portrayed as a nut case. What would you think if someone tells you that they've been speaking to a burning bush and God was talking to them? I mean, God basically orders genocide in the name of "You do what I tell you." It's the study of dogma. Especially in this day and age of the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the west and Islamic fundamentalism in the east, it seems that we're being called to the extremes and we're all stuck in the middle. You know we don't want any part of it. I think it's very relevant in a way.
Q. Are you religious?
A. (Pulls a cross pendant from inside his shirt) I was brought up heavily (religious). My mom was a Christian maniac, but like many people I don't follow any established religion. I believe there are many ways to God, not just Christianity.
Q. How was it working with Omar Sharif?
A. He had already shot all of his scenes before I got there. It was a shame, because my mom loved Omar Sharif. I will actually get to see him when we do this publicity tour in a month's time.
Q. You also have a new film coming out, "Provoked," in which you play an abusive husband. That seems like quite a departure for you.
A. It's a true story of an ordinary, homely Indian woman, not very rich, probably from what might be considered the lower social orders, who has an arranged marriage with this guy in London. She comes over, doesn't speak any English, and he just beats the (expletive) out of her. This is pretty prevalent in our culture, not just in the East but in the West as well.
Domestic violence is a problem everywhere. He was an alcoholic and he just used to beat the crap out of her until she basically wouldn't take it anymore and (expletive) burned him — poured kerosene over him and killed the (expletive). You know, that's quite controversial for people in India, because the man is still top dog and any kind of threat to that kind of authority is, I don't know, they get freaked out about that. So that was good to do.
I loved it because it was part of my background as well, to be honest. I grew up in a very traditional household where the man is supposed to be a symbol of something. It seems that so many men fall victim to trying to be this thwarted sort of ideal of masculinity — and it's a load of bullocks. It's a lie.
Q. People are crediting "Lost" with bringing ethnic and cultural diversity to prime-time TV at a level that hasn't been seen before — people from different backgrounds not just present but interacting in meaningful ways.
A. We do live in a world that is populated by people who are other than white. We are using the medium of television to make that clear to the Hollywood studio system, which is inherently racist and always has been. There is a different kind of reality to be portrayed — and it's the real one.
Q. With the release of "Memoirs of a Geisha," people are looking at the issue of cultural appropriation again — Hollywood doing a film about a Japanese subculture, Chinese actresses playing Japanese roles. How do you feel about this, given that you've enjoyed a lot of success playing characters of other races.
A. I have to be fair. I play an Egyptian prince in "The Ten Commandments." That would not have happened if I had been in England. They would have said, "We'll get an Egyptian." And this part here, Sayid, he's Iraqi. He's a good example of (how) you are able to stretch and do radically different roles. It's not just Hollywood, it's the English as well, they're just as (expletive) up about it and they pretend they're not.
At least Americans say they'll call a spade a spade. The English are a bit more hypocritical about it. In (Sayid), we were all pretty nervous in the sense that we all felt we owed a real obligation, not just to Iraqis but the entire Arab world about how this character would be played.
One of the biggest kicks was getting a letter from the Arab League saying how pleased they were about this. It was the first time they had seen an Arab character like that on TV. He's romantic, and not just to other Arab women but to white women as well, which is a big no-no in Hollywood. It's all right for a white geezer to be with a black woman or a Chinese woman, but never the other way around. And we do that on this show. That's what we need to see more of.