Amitabh Bachchan talks about The Great Gatsby and working with Baz Luhrmann
The much-awaited The Great Gatsby will finally hit the Indian screens this week. Big B who has a cameo in the film talks about how professional the atmosphere was, how wonderful his co-stars were and most of all, how impressed he is with the director’s attention to detail and professionalism. Excerpts from an interview with the actor.
Can you tell us how you first met Baz Luhrmann and how he approached you for this role in The Great Gatsby?
Baz Luhrmann was on a private visit to India, and I had a call from my office saying ‘Mr. Baz Luhrmann wants to meet you’. I was quite surprised, because, you know, Baz Luhrmann is Baz Luhrmann. But he came, he was very friendly. We just sat and we talked about things in general. It was a very happy meeting. And then almost a year or maybe two years later, I had a call from him saying he was making Gatsby and he wanted me to be a part of it. He said, ‘There’s a small little role, which I want you to do’. And I readily agreed.
Had you read the novel prior to becoming involved in the film?
The Great Gatsby is a universally recognised novel. I had read portions of it, not entirely. But Baz Luhrmann sent me a lot of literature to read as preparation for the role — I’m playing Meyer Wolfsheim. And I did go through it. And it’s quite unique storytelling. . They would send me recordings and we would talk over the phone. You know, how to develop a 1920s, 1930s New York Jewish accent. We had discussions. And during that process, of course, you come to know a lot about the film, the screenplay, and the book.
How is Baz as a director?
He’s very passionate about his work. He has a unique way of looking at a subject. He has his own way of looking at a subject, and it turns out to be extremely different and very uniqueI noticed that his interest in detailing is just beyond imagination. Also, the amount of research that he and his team have done, and the way he constructs the sets and the clothing, and every detail that goes in, right down to the kind of socks you’re going to be wearing, or the heel on your shoe.
Was the environment on the set similar or different from your experience on Indian film sets?
The only similarity is that there’s a camera and there are actors and you have to act. But other than that, I think it’s a very controlled atmosphere. Everyone has a designated job. You come and rehearse, and Baz will come and rehearse with you individually. We actually spent many hours in his house, in the privacy of his home, just sitting in his hall and his drawing room, and just going over the scene over and over again.
Tell us about your character Meyer Wolfshiem.
He’s a very prominent Jewish mafia leader of those times. But he’s very friendly with Gatsby. And Gatsby looks upon him almost as a mentor and a friend. Almost father-figure-like.
What was it like working with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton?
Wonderful people. Very, very normal. Very friendly, very down-to-earth. They are massively huge stars and have a great following and a great standing in the world of cinema. But just to be in their company and, you know, be like normal people is a wonderful experience.
What about the response from your fans on your participation in The Great Gatsby?
Well, when you say ‘fans’, you know, that already has demarcated a certain amount of feelings that fans will have. I’m on Twitter and Facebook, and I write my blog every day and I keep posting my experiences. And, well, the fans seem very excited and they’re all looking forward to the film.
What is your one favourite thing about making this film?
I just enjoyed the professional atmosphere. I’m not saying that we in India don’t have that. Maybe till even most of the 1990s, Indian cinema has been a very individual effort. Corporatisation started much later. And we have prominent corporations making films in India, following very professional ethics — accountability, marketing, distribution, contracts with artists... Obviously these are examples emulated by what’s happening in the West. And that’s what I like best about working with Baz Luhrmann and in a Hollywood production.