The final season of “24” is about to hit DVD and Blu-ray. Joining Jack Bauer for Day 8 is “Slumdog Millionaire” star Anil Kapoor, who plays the role of President Omar Hassan of the fictional Islamic Republic of Kamistan (IRK) who visits US for a peace conference with President of the United States.
Tell us about your character
He is real, he is human. He has his flaws. He is charismatic. He is larger than life, but still, all leaders, all over the world, people look up to them when they become leaders, but they are very human, very real and they have their flaws—and that’s what Omar Hassan is. In spite of being the president of a fictitious country—supposedly somewhere from the Middle East—he has tremendous responsibility because he is living in that country, he is liberal. Not only is he thinking for his country, but thinking much beyond that.
Is he a Muslim?
You have been a successful actor for so many years, most obviously in ”Slumdog Millionaire”. What is the public reaction when you are out and about? What do people say to you?
They are very happy for me and they are very proud of me, especially people who have been seeing me in the past 30 years as an actor. I have been an actor since 1978 and they have been watching me as not just a mainstream leading man. It’s like 360 degrees, the kinds of roles I did. From children to parents to grandparents, they all appreciated my work. So for them, I am not just an actor, but someone who is part of their families. I am like their son, especially in India. For them, my success is their success, so they are
Were you hired for 24 thanks to the success of ”Slumdog Millionaire”?
No. Obviously, there have been actors I have seen who have been part of very successful films, but they won’t risk casting them… For example even Danny Boyle won’t risk casting me in Slumdog Millionaire just because I am a star in India. He would see my body of work and see that I can deliver.
But the success of Slumdog helped you for ”24”?
Yes. But there are some actors who have been part of such huge successes, but they have been jobless, they don’t get work. You are part of the success, but so is the director, the writer… There are other reasons for the success of the film. So, it does help, but not completely.
How was your first meeting with Kiefer Sutherland?
I felt like I was Kiefer Sutherland when I met him! He made me feel so special. I said, ‘Am I meeting Kiefer Sutherland?’ He said, ‘I saw your work, I loved your work.’ And I was taken aback. I was so humbled by his whole approach and the way he came across. I am an actor and he is actor. And of course, I respect his work, the kind of work he has done, and the way he made me feel as if I was special. That was so gracious of him. He doesn’t have to do that. He could have made me feel uncomfortable. So it was wonderful that the first meeting just broke the ice. He came on the set to work and we were just two professionals. What I observed about him was, after working for eight to nine years on the same show, doing the same role, his commitment and his enthusiasm was … Well, I am tell you, I would be bored. I don’t think I would be able to do it because I need a change. It needs a tremendous amount of concentration and commitment. But Kiefer can do the same thing and still deliver something which is very fresh and special in every season. That’s the reason of this success of 24 worldwide. Kiefer is 24 and 24 is Kiefer.
Is ”24” successful in India?
You know, 24 is like football [soccer]. Cricket is a national sport in India—people are obsessed with cricket, but the younger generation is changing now. They want to see football. My son is in that new generation, which is educated all over the world, and he wants to see football. They find cricket as boring—but the masses love cricket. It’s the same with 24.The young generation is hooked on 24.
Were you a fan of the show or did you have to catch up on it?
I can’t say I have ever been a fan of any show or any film. Because I keep on moving ahead. I see something and absorb it and I move ahead. I just So, when I saw 24 I loved it, but I just don’t get obsessed with anything. I want to see more and more and absorb as much as I can, all over the world. But my friends, my colleagues and fellow actors, they are really big fans of 24.
Did they come and visit you on the set?
They were dying to come on the set and they wanted to meet Kiefer. They wanted to meet Jack Bauer.
What surprised you most when working on ”24”?
That it is a very well-oiled machine. It just works like clockwork. But everything is still so creative. With something that is like well-oiled machinery you would expect it to be mechanical, but on 24 there is still a lot of spontaneity. There is room for improvisation. Everyone does his job so brilliantly—every department, from the top to bottom. But there is still room for changes and everybody can give suggestions and they are taken seriously.
The writing is top class on 24. Every scene, every bit of it. The way they write it is absolutely phenomenal. It’s an art. It’s great that they keep on writing episode after episode, still keeping everybody on the edge. There are various layers to it and all keeping the world politics in mind. Politics can become very boring, but they make it so exciting, so entertaining. That’s the reason 24 has such a fan base—because the common man can relate to it. And get excited about it. It’s this larger than life situation, but still it’s so real. Sometimes you think, ‘Oh God! How can it be possible? It’s so unbelievable!’ But the way they do it, it looks as if it’s actually happened.
Who did you look to, to base your character on?
You know, this role me an opportunity to really go through lot of leader’s work. Martin King Luther and Mahatma Gandhi to the Shah of Iran, to Obama’s speech, John F. Kennedy, Clinton and the King of Jordan. Then there was a book which I read on all the leaders and all the great people who have won the Nobel Peace Prize. That was a real inspiration for me to do this role. What they have done for the world peace and the speeches they gave. It’s a wonderful book. Every speech I read—Mother Theresa, Sadat, the President of Egypt, all of them.
Thanks to YouTube today, you can really do a lot of research. Yes, I found the footage of all these speeches on YouTube! I made this film on Gandhi, My Father and Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most documented leaders. So, in the film it had to be very authentic and very real. Earlier when we had to do research to make movies we had to go to the archives. There were some connoisseurs who collected lot of materials. But now, thanks to YouTube, they’re right at your finger tips. So, I had a great time preparing for this role.
I also worked on my voice in this film, because when you are a leader, you normally don’t throw your voice but you want to reach out to people. Leaders speak so much but there is a certain kind of range they get. That’s what I tried to create in this character. I took all the qualities of these leaders and tried to imbibe them in myself.
For the scenes in the United Nations there was a lot of academic words, which I was not familiar with, to be honest with you. But I said, I don’t want to just rattle these lines off; I want to understand what they mean. What is the history behind everything? So, I just went through each and every thing so I could understand. So every word I have spoken in 24, I have understood it. I spoke to my friends who are much more educated and knowledgeable than I am. I didn’t feel shy to speak to them to and absorb whatever they could tell me. So that when I am on the set, I would know and understand what I am talking about rather than just repeating those lines. That was my preparation.
In 24, I speak in English and English is not my first language in India. I have done almost 100 films, but I have done it in my local, Indian native language. As an actor, people say that you should know your dialogue, your words, more than you know your mother. And I didn’t know these lines more than my mother, so I had to own them. I had to go over these lines again and again, and again, and again, so that by the time I went on the set, they start belonging to me. That’s the effort I have put in.
You said a lot of your friends wanted to meet Jack Bauer. But on one level, he is a rather unpleasant character. He kills hundreds of people. But people love him. Why do you think people love him so much?
He doesn’t kill without rhyme or reason. There is a reason behind it, and I think every mother would want a son to be like that. Every country would want a citizen to be like that, a real hero. That’s the reason people want to meet him.
Playing a Muslim world leader in a sometimes controversial show like ”24”—how much responsibility did you feel depicting the character? It can be very sensitive in these political times.
I think the writers have been very clear and, sometimes you have to take a stand in life. As an actor sometimes you are also a professional who has a certain responsibility towards society. When you achieve so much, when you are a success as an individual and as an entertainer, that’s your responsibility. If you believe in it, then you don’t fear all these things; you go for it.
How did it feel to play a president? Did you feel powerful? Did you feel the responsibility of that position?
Well, the person sitting on the throne knows what it is, and yes, you feel responsible. You feel you are cornered from every angle. Everybody is looking at you and you are responsible towards the world and towards your people. So it’s a tough job. I didn’t feel powerful—but rather powerless sometimes. I felt the need to feel more strength and more wisdom rather than power.
When you are giving so much of your time to achieve what you have wanted to achieve, the people are your children. And sometimes when you are devoting so much time to so many children, you tend to ignore your own children and you ignore your own family. That’s what happens to most of the leaders, including Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. They have been great leaders but in their personal lives they have not been really successful.
Was there any difference between American TV production and the Indian film industry?
I haven’t done television in my life. This is my first television experience. But 24 is bigger than a film. The budgets and the way they shoot it makes it bigger than a film. I have done small independent films, like Slumdog Millionaire, which became huge. But, this is a studio television show. I have not done a studio film yet so I don’t know how they work, but for me this was really big.
The people in L.A. are known for days of partying on and after Oscar night. How many days did you party?
No, can you believe it, on Oscar night I was still in Bombay. I was awake the whole night trying to sort out certain personal issues. I didn’t sleep on Oscar night and then in the morning there were interviews, so I was awake for about 26 hours. So, I have hardly partied during this entire year.I have just kept on working, in L.A. and in India as well. I have really not partied. I am going to party after 24!
”Slumdog Millionaire” was a very important success for India, but there were some controversy, too, because it shows the poverty in part of the country. What is your opinion about all of this?
Well there is no opinion because whatever you have heard is not factual. There was a controversy, I agree, but anything which is creative has to have agreement and disagreements. With Slumdog Millionaire, the percentage of criticism was so marginal. Most people appreciated and loved the film. Even in India, it got a five-star rating in all the newspapers. All the thinkers, all the intellectuals and all the leaders of our country loved the film. Except for a few of the people who looked at it with … you can say envy—because, nobody likes something to become so hugely successful. That’s the reason the criticism came up. People love to read it and it becomes interesting fodder for the media to accentuate and write about. Otherwise, it was a beautiful film and it depicted what is real. We have to face reality and that’s what it is. So, with the success of our country, which is economically growing leaps and bounds—it is one of the greatest democracies in the world today—there are certain issues which have to be sorted out. There are slums, you cannot deny it. You should not run away from it. You should not hide it. That’s what our country is. There is nothing which was a set. It was real. But a lot of work has been done by those ruling our country. The gap between the haves and have-nots is decreasing and the middle class is growing. The country is really developing into one of the most powerful nations in the world.
24 : THE FINAL SEASON is on DVD and BLU-RAY December 1