The Delightfully Prickly Julian Sands

By Michelle Orange on 08/03/2009



On the screen, Julian Sands is known for a wide spectrum of roles that make the most of his seemingly contradictory mixture of glowering, antihero intensity and ethereal leading man looks. On the telephone, he presents an equally formidable hybrid: Sands has got delightfully prickly down to an art. The British-born actor, who began his film career in "The Killing Fields" in 1984 and broke through the next year as George Emerson in "A Room With A View," has worked steadily in film and television for the last 25 years, starring in cult classics like "Warlock" and working with directors like David Cronenberg, Mike Figgis and Dario Argento, and gaining a television following with roles on shows like "24." Currently, Sands is starring as expat actor Reg Hunt in IFC's upcoming miniseries "Bollywood Hero." I spoke with him about his career, what sparks his interest in a role, and what audiences want from a golf movie.

What was it about the character of Reg Hunt that appealed to you?

Reg Hunt is a character actor on the run, always looking over his shoulder, like many actors do. All actors are on the run from some demon or other. Actors have a magic gene within them -- I think they're the finest descendants of rogues and vagabonds -- and it's all too easily forgotten what the acting legacy is. Acting has been gentrified. It's become part of the bourgeoisie. But there was a time when it would be a great scandal if you announced you were going to be an actor.

I subscribe to that school of thespian -- to be a wandering minstrel or traveling player, a thing of rags and patches, of ballads, songs and snatches. You know? That's my idea of being actor, and that's Reg Hunt's idea of being actor. He has an eye for the ladies, not a bad thing to have, [that] keeps life interesting.

Within the story, he's working in Mumbai and is described as the go-to Brit actor for what I call "mutton chops" roles -- anything from the Victorian period. And Chris Kattan turns up for a role in this movie they're shooting, and I'm to play his father, so go figure that. Chris Kattan, I have to say, was so compelling and funny and creature-like. I'd never seen his work. I'd never heard of him, to be honest.


No, and when they said Chris Kattan, I assumed he was an Indian because I had read in the script that the producer had gone to L.A. to find a Caucasian. Then of course, when I meet him, it was very clear. He was not a Hindu shaman. He was born in L.A. And he's a brilliant man.

Was it all shot in Mumbai?

All of my sequences were shot in Mumbai --most of the series was. As soon as I got off the plane there, I felt entirely at home. So comfortable and happy and alive, you know? The thing about Mumbai is you go five yards and all of human existence is revealed. It's an incredible cavalcade of life, and I love that. There wasn't a market I didn't go to, a temple I didn't visit, a street I didn't explore -- the darker and the murkier, the more interesting. I can understand, though, how people might get freaked out by the intensity of it all.

Did you get a better sense of the Bollywood industry? It's number one now, and Hollywood is number three. Do you have any thoughts on what they might be doing differently or why their film culture is still so vital while ours has given way, at least comparatively, to television and other media?

Clearly, Bollywood still has a huge audience that likes to go to theaters, whereas in America so many people would rather see things at home. And I think there is an immense charm and humanity about the Bollywood structure, probably in the way there was about Hollywood film in the '30s and '40s. Somehow they were less distracted about hardware, and more about production values and people, you know?

The film culture in India seems much more focused on the audience and spectatorship -- they have retained that innocence and wonder and fun about the communal cinematic experience.

Yeah, and it's much more reflective of the audience too, in that there's a sort of mutual embracing. Whereas I don't think there's that mutual embracing in Northwest European films or American films.

Has the television work that you've done brought you a broader or different audience, and how does your following from television compare, size- or ferocity-wise, with your cult film following?

I would say that if you do a walk-on cameo in some TV thing, it's going to be seen by a billion times more people than if you do the interesting, arty films I like to do. And that's both meaningless and gratifying, I suppose. Most of the films I work on, I just assume no one will see beyond the director and their family.

The most worthwhile film I just did in Oregon is called "Golf in the Kingdom," which was a sort of cult book written in the early '70s, a philosophical, spiritual treatise on the nature of golf. I could give two shits about the game of golf, but I read this script and it was so interesting and moving and transcendental, and I thought, "I definitely want to be in this." But people who like golf want to see "Tin Cup," they don't want to see a bunch of people sitting around a table, like "My Dinner With Andre," talking about the flight of the ball. But I digress.

[laughter] What was it like doing a comedy again?

I just love doing broader work -- I always get asked to do fairly heavy-duty, intense dramas and interesting, psychologically intense characters. But you know [sigh], it's nice to make people laugh sometimes.

"Bollywood Hero" airs August 6, 7 & 8 at 10 p.m.


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