Alexx O’Nell has been actively working in the Indian film industry for a long time now. From Hindi film to regional films down south, he has proved his mettle in the films of many languages. Recently he played an important character named Bob in the Disney Plus Hotstar show Aarya.
While his character and performance were noted and appreciated by the audience, Alexx O’Nell makes bigger promises for the future as he has an interesting lineup. Also, for those of you unversed, Aarya also marks a comeback of Bollywood actress and beauty queen Sushmita Sen who plays the title role in the show.
During a recent conversation with Alexx O’Nell we asked him about Sushmita Sen and how it was working with her.
Read on the excerpts from Alexx O’Nell’s interview below:
Q. Sushmita Sen made a comeback to acting after a really long time. Was her involvement in the show, one of your reasons to come onboard? How was it working with her?
Alexx O’Nell: The role of Bob Wilson: the Sanskrit speaking, Bhagwad-Gita adapting, Saundarya- and India-loving musician that he is, was enough for me to come on board.
However, Director Ram Madhvani, with his unique and incredibly honest and vibrant process of film making (what he and his team refer to “360Degree”) made me even more sure of the decision.
And finally, getting to work with Sushmita Sen was the icing on the cake.
It was my pleasure, and indeed my privilege, to work with each and every one of these spectacular cast members that give life to the characters you see in Aarya, not to mention the crew that made those performances possible. Most notable among the cast: Virti Vaghani, and Priyasha Bhardwaj, who’s characters Aru and Soundarya have the closest relationships with Bob Wilson on screen. And on the crew, of course, my eternal gratitude to Ram’s Directors Vinod Rawat and Sandeep Modi (with whom I worked previously on the 2012 comedy ‘Joker’).
About Sushmita Sen: she is not only an incredibly competent actress, but she is also an extremely supportive scene partner, who despite her incredible celebrity, never displays an ounce of arrogance or superiority. She is not only an absolute joy to share screen space with, but off-screen, she’s one of the most graceful and positive people I’ve ever met.
When you’re interacting with her one on one, Sushmita has the ability to make you feel like you’re the only person in the universe (living up to her title) – and whether in person or on-screen, her eyes alone are enough to captivate you.
Q. Considering her star stature, did you ever feel intimidated by her presence?
Alexx O’Nell: This is an interesting question, and my answer might seem a little bit odd.
As you know, the first dialogues I delivered in Hindi cinema were to THE Amitabh Bachchan himself in R. Balki’s 2007 blockbuster ‘Cheeni Kum’. Since then I’ve had the distinct privilege of continuing to work with arguably the most intimidating personalities in Indian entertainment.
But I was not introduced to the Indian film industry until my mid-20s, and so I did not grow up with any knowledge of superstars like Amitabh Bachchan, Mammootty, Manoj Bajpai, Vidya Balan, Akshay Kumar, nor even Sushmita Sen. So while I regard them in very high esteem, and I certainly look up to them because of who they are and what they’ve accomplished, I’ve never been starstruck or intimidated by them. I have known each of these Indian artists (and so many many more) first and most significantly as co-actors, face-to-face scene partners, not celebrities.
So, no, I was not intimidated by Sushmita’s presence, but I was most certainly attracted to her charm, grace, positivity, and professionalism.
While I do, at times, lament my relative ignorance regarding Bollywood pop-culture, I suppose it is rather helpful not to be starstruck. And I admit it would be a different story if I was working alongside Robert Di Nero, Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, etc.
Q. You have now gradually started getting better roles in films and OTT platforms. In fact, your character is Aarya was extremely important to the storyline. However, do you still feel underutilised as an actor?
Alexx O’Nell: It invariably happens that some of an actor’s favourite scenes get edited down or removed completely from the final cut of the film or series – in fact even Chandarchur in a recent conversation with me expressed this sentiment with regards to Aarya. And while Bob’s presence is certainly felt, there are some moments that it was truly heartbreaking to have seen removed: Really tender interactions between Bob and Saundarya that make her death even more tragic and Bob’s resulting actions even more devastating. There were also touching Bob and Aru moments that made their relationship more robust and complex. But, I’ve been around long enough to know it’s going to happen, to expect it, and to and be thankful for the inclusion of scenes rather than the removal of others.
Nevertheless, that sometimes does make you feel under-utilized because you know how much potential there was to develop that character for the audience, and how important those moments were in doing so.
With regards to being underutilized in my previous projects, well, as you know, over the past 13 years I’ve had the good fortune to feature in over 35 films and series, in 6 different languages, across all major platforms… so that’s quite an analysis to do. But generally speaking my utilisation by the industry has had two turning points, one came in 2015 with the release of Main Aur Charles and a second in 2020 with Aarya.
You see, from 2009 – 2014 I could point to perhaps one really strong main role per year, but split between Hindi and South projects:
Jhansi Ki Rani (Hindi 2009), Madrasapattinam (Tamil 2010), Urumi (Malayalam 2011), Chittagong (Hindi 2012), Joker (Hindi 2013), and then supporting roles in Mangish (Malayalam 2014) and Gangster (Malayalam 2014).
So in 2010, 2011, and 2014 – I wasn’t visible in the Hindi industry as much because of my most significant projects, while hit films, were all in the South.
However, from 2015-19, each year saw at least one high-visibility Hindi project: Main Aur Charles (Hindi 2015), Chandra Nandni (Hindi 2016), Inside Edge (Hindi 2017), Bose Dead/Alive (Hindi 2017), 21 Sarfarosh (Hindi 2018), and finally Trial of Satyam Kaushik (Hindi 2019). There have naturally been non-Hindi hits well like Yeti Obhjijaan (Bengali 2017), but because of my consistent visibility in Hindi, India largest audience has been seeing more of me and that’s led to the impression, and rightfully so, that I’ve been doing a greater volume of work, and more significant work.
And now in 2020, I see another significant shift, despite the pandemic, with a long line up of projects in Hindi and other languages ready for release in 2020 and 2021. Following Aarya (Hindi 2020), there is Roohi Afzana (Hindi 2020), Rani Rani Rani (English 2020), Golondaaj (Bengali 2021), Banarsi Jasoos (Hindi TBA), Doctor Rakhmabai (Marathi TBA) etc.
In addition, I had the launch of my music in April 2020 with Still On My Mind. The follow-up Twenty Days is scheduled for July, and I’m targeting one single and music video every 45 days or so thereafter.
I feel immense gratitude to have worked with the very best directors and actors in India (and indeed the world), on some of the finest project ever filmed, at incredible locations, in six different languages, and across all major mediums.
Stay tuned for the next part of the interview with Alexx O’Nell.