Kevin McGowan recounts his experience of shooting for the bilingual biopic, Ramanujan for which he revisiting his maths books and was taught cricket by the crew
Ramanujan, an Indo-British collaboration about the maths genius, will be out early next year. The bilingual film (English and Tamil) is directed by Gnana Rajasekaran and produced by Camphor Cinema. The cast is a mix of the best and brightest stars from India and the U.K including Abhinay Vaddi, grandson of Gemini Ganesan and Savitri and Suhasini Mani Ratnam.
British stage (Death of a Salesman) and television (Eastenders, Coronation Street, Silent Witness, Doctors, Jonathan Creek) actor Kevin McGowan who plays the mathematician and Ramanujan’s mentor, G. H. Hardy, talks about his role in the film. Excerpts.
How did you come to be attached to the project?
My agent called me to say that he had just had a call from Camphor Cinema in India and they were interested in me for the role of Hardy in a biopic about Ramanujan to be directed by Gnana Rajasekeran. I was doing a play in Germany at the time and so I flew back to London to meet two of the producers, Sushant Desai and Sharanyan Nadathur, we talked and I am very happy to say they welcomed me onto this exciting project.
Can you tell us about your role?
I played Godfrey Harold Hardy, a fascinating and complex man. Hardy was one of the foremost British mathematicians in the 20th Century. His parents were both teachers and while he was painfully shy, he showed himself to be exceptionally mathematically inclined from a very early age.
He was a devout atheist, which of course was a stark contrast to Ramanujan. While he was at Winchester College he read a book called ‘A Fellow at Trinity’, he was so fascinated by this fictional life at Trinity College that he decided that is what he wanted to be, ‘A Fellow at Trinity’, and he became one.
One of his ambitions was for Ramanujan to join him as a Fellow of Trinity and also as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Ramanujan became the first Indian to become a Fellow at both of these institutions.
Hardy was quite a cold, self-contained person; even his interest in Ramanujan was initially one of cold mathematical fascination. He loved cricket. (A contrast to me unfortunately – I’m more of a football person). He classified mathematical proofs by the names of the great English cricketers, the highest was ‘in the Hobbs class’ named after Jack Hobbs. In all, Hardy was a brilliant, eccentric that it was an honour to play.
What kind of preparation did you for your role?
Books were very useful. I started with Hardy’s own A Mathematicians Apology. Fortunately this book is written for the layman, and it gives a great insight into the mind of a mathematician (even though I thought it was a little sad overall. I read A Mathematician’s Miscellany by JE Littlewood, Hardy’s other lifelong collaborator.
As further background, there was a BBC documentary made in 1987 called Letters from an Indian Clerk made by Christopher Sykes, who actually came to visit us on set! So I picked his brain as well!
I did Pure Mathematics at school at A level (aged 18) and, while obviously a million miles from Hardy’s mathematics, I thought I would revisit a few of my old books and try to decipher those old mathematical squiggles in an attempt to appreciate the beauty of mathematics.
What was your most memorable moment of the shoot?
Difficult question, so many! In the film…, bringing the news to Ramanujan that he had received his Fellowship and been officially recognised as the genius that he was. On the shoot, AbhinayVaddi and the crew teaching me to play cricket was so much fun. Abhinay’s face when I told him I didn’t know what a ‘cover drive” was will live with me for a long time. Very funny.
Can you tell us of your experience of working with an Indian cast and crew
Linguistically crazy!! So many languages being spoken, but it all seemed to make sense as we were doing the film in English and Tamil. The warmth of the whole team made it an experience I will cherish for a long time. I’ve never been to India and hope my first visit will come soon.
How different is working on a bio pic and fiction?
In fiction your job is to interpret the words of the writer and to help the director tell his story. On a biopic, in addition to the above, you have several unseen people on the set with you! You have a duty to honour people like this by portraying them as truthfully as you can.
I’m filming what you could call ‘a gritty drama’. It’s a film called Solitary and it’s about the hidden secrets in a family. I’m playing the father and it spans 20 years. It’s full of challenges, the emotions and the physical decline are extreme. It’s a debut film by a production company in Los Angeles. Very exciting.