Movies

Ali Fazal and his Christie caper

On the first day of filming for Death on the Nile , Ali Fazal found himself on a small boat with most of the principal cast that included Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and actor-director Kenneth Branagh. Though the cast had gone through table reads together, the ensemble didn’t really know each other very well. “Ken and Annette were sitting right in front and he took out these little notes that had clues about everyone on the boat. Like ‘this person appeared in Friends and became blah blah blah’. Everyone guessed Jennifer Saunders because she played Emily’s (Ross’s British girlfriend) mother. It was a sweet way of breaking the ice,” the 35 year-old actor remembers.

 

Diversity on board

This adaption of the famous Agatha Christie novel, Death on the Nile (‘that released on November 1, 1937’), has Branagh reprising his role as the famed literary detective Hercule Poirot, complete with an extremely bushy moustache. Fazal plays the slippery Cousin Andrew, who is one of the suspects. “In the book, this character was Uncle Andrew so the character’s age had to be reduced.”

With Gal Gadot in a scene from the film

With Gal Gadot in a scene from the film

That’s not the only tweaking that Branagh and team have made to the original. What was written as a story of predominantly white characters, is in the film being portrayed by a host of actors of colour. There’s been a call to action in Hollywood for more diverse casts and films like this one are a statement to the major strides they’ve made. “The world is moving towards inclusion, towards times where we want to cater to and to be able to make sense to everybody across the globe.” In Fazal’s case, a little recommendation from Dame Judi Dench, his co-star from Victoria and Abdul (2017) couldn’t have hurt. “I know for a fact that Ken had a nice chat with Judi Dench about me.”

“It’s been a conscious choice to not immediately jump the gun and move out of my country. I might already have lost a couple of opportunities (because I didn’t move) but I’ve gained so many here.”

Growing up in Lucknow, Fazal was surrounded by copies of PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie’s works. “My mother was a big fan of whodunits. But I have to confess I’d never read any of the Agatha Christies before, never. It’s almost like I didn’t want to get into it because I had them all around me. Death on the Nile was actually the first Agatha Christie book I read. When I was offered the part, Kenneth Branagh signed a copy and gave it to me.” The cast features some of the funniest people in the business today but the most fun to be around, according to Fazal, was Tom Bateman. “The green room would always be packed and it was so lively. Dawn and Jennifer were a riot together.”

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Grateful for a theatrical release

Shot in the UK and on location in Morocco, the film is releasing in theatres around the world. And this is at a time when the pandemic is still a huge part of our lives. Also, there are still raging conversations about the end of theatres in the face of streaming platforms. “I’m really excited because I honestly thought the movie would probably come straight on OTT. Even if people don’t like the movie, it’s going to look beautiful because we’ve shot it on film cameras; with these huge 70mm bazookas. I’m very excited that we’re releasing in a record number of screens across the globe. It’s one of my biggest releases and I’m quite pumped about that as well.”

“For a really small part that I did in Fast & Furious , I still get residual cheques. People don’t discuss finances ever, but this is important, specially during the pandemic when so many actors left Bombay and went back to whichever city they came from [because they had no work]”.

Fazal’s career in Hollywood started with a cameo in Fast & Furious 7 in 2015. He describes his journey as ‘democratic’ and taking ‘one step at a time’. “It’s been a conscious choice to not immediately jump the gun and move out of my country. I might already have lost a couple of opportunities (because I didn’t move) but I’ve gained so many here.”

While explaining his use of the word ‘democratic’, Fazal goes where few actors ever do – talking about money. “For a really small part that I did in Fast & Furious , I still get residual cheques. Every time it plays somewhere around the globe on television, I’m getting something. They’re small cheques but I still get them. People don’t discuss finances ever but this is important, specially during the pandemic when so many actors left Bombay and went back to whichever city they came from [because they had no work]”.

Four films and a production

The last two years have been a mixed bag for the young actor. Even as he’s still coming to terms with losses he’s suffered, professionally he’s had multiple wins including signing and filming his next Hollywood project – Kandahar with Gerard Butler – and being a cast in Vishal Bharadwaj’s thriller Khufiya . There is also an untitled Aarti Kadav film and the third instalment in the Fukrey franchise. Last year, Fazal and real-life partner Richa Chadha announced their own production house, Pushing Buttons Studio. Their first film will be Girls Will Be Girls , helmed by Brooklyn-based filmmaker Shuchi Talati. “We are very excited to be opening up a medium where artists can come work with us and then leave. We felt very caged in our grooming years where joining up somewhere would mean getting stuck in that system. We want to be fluid because there are so many artistes and technicians. We want to collaborate and have fun at the end of it,” he concludes.


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Printable version | May 6, 2022 9:16:40 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/ali-fazals-journey-in-hollywood-and-working-with-kenneth-branaghs-flashy-mystery-death-on-the-nile/article38412508.ece