Bengaluru-based actor Rohan Gurbaxani talks about his cinematic journey – and living the Hollywood dream
With no lineage in the entertainment business, 23-year-old Rohan Gurbaxani charted his professional journey on his own merit. This Bengaluru boy, within a year of graduating from New York University (NYU), bagged over seven feature films in 2019, including four acting roles in the following movies: action-comedy Chick Fight which released on 13 November alongside Alec Baldwin, Malin Âkerman and Bella Thorne; action-thriller Knuckledust opposite Moe Dunford and Gethin Anthony; action thriller Red48 featuring John Malkovich and Tyrese Gibson and Confession starring Sarah Hay. He has also worked with New York city-based indie film production company Yale Productions as an Assistant Director on their films. Gurbaxani speaks to Patriot about his endeavours and journey so far.
How did it all begin? When did you decide to pursue acting?
I definitely wasn’t a kid who always wanted to be an actor from the very beginning. I did have a knack for performance through dancing. In 6th grade, I was randomly enrolled in a drama class at the Jagriti theatre by my mother. I won’t say that was the moment I thought I’ll act but in school gradually I began realising what subject I am interested in, or what I want to do…then I had this dream of going to New York in the 8th grade for some reason. And then I thought of pursuing acting even though I didn’t have much experience. I was fortunate to have the support. So, when I got into NYU that’s when everything played out and I was able to tell myself that maybe I can do this.
You have acted in four feature films in Hollywood and even worked as an AD on the sets of three films. How has the journey been till now?
So far so good! I wanted to get in the dirt as soon as I graduated (from NYU) or while I was in film school. So I think in my opinion it’s important to learn the entire ecosystem of the industry because it informs you as an actor or a director. So, I was fortunate that I was able to audition for TV shows and films while I was in film school. And then I still felt that was not enough as I had not really started yet, so I wanted to assist on films and started meeting people and making my way in rather than waiting for opportunities through auditions. So I assisted and then subsequently acted in four films after that. And being the only Indian on all the movies I have been part of, it feels kind of nice that I have an edge. Now, I am back here in Bengaluru and I plan on working here as well.
You have acted alongside some big names in Hollywood. What was the experience like?
At the end of the day, I was just grateful to be in their presence, and to try and learn as much as possible. I think it’s important to surround yourself with people you can look up to, who are more experienced or better than you at your art form. I was fortunate to have that at a very high level, like working with Alec Baldwin. I didn’t have a lot of time with him but I had scenes with him, and I learnt by observing him. Plus, we both went to NYU, so that was a nice common ground we shared that helped me understand his experience. Hopefully, there will be more experiences like these in the future.
You’ve shot for your film Red48 amid the pandemic. Was it challenging?
It seemed like it went very smoothly but it was very challenging in terms of constantly having to take a Covid test. It was interesting because not many films were shot at that time, and we didn’t think we’d be able to pull it off because if people tested positive then we might have to shut down the entire production and lose money, but thankfully we are able to finish on time. And it also showed that one doesn’t really need a massive crew even for an action film. You can have a minimal crew and work productively.
Asian actors, especially of Indian origin, are often sidelined into stereotypical Indian characters in Hollywood films or shows. What’s your view on this? Do you see this trend changing?
Definitely. I feel like from Slumdog Millionaire to a lot of Mira Nair’s films, this has constantly been changing and there have always been stories that show our true culture and us as a non-minority. Now it’s picking up more on a larger scale. That’s also one of the main reasons that I decided to stay there (New York) after college and I haven’t really come across any opportunity or instance where I had to play the stereotypical Indian character. I think that comes with how you carry yourself and what work you do, then that’s the kind of opportunity you attract. So if not entirely, but this trend has definitely changed way more than it was five years ago.
Any actor’s work you draw your inspiration from?
I like Ranbir Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Cillian Murphy, Jake Gyllenhaal, Vicky Kaushal, Shia LeBeouf, among others. I think it’s important to have more than one actor whose work inspires you because for me I connect with one actor on a spiritual level more and maybe some others on an artistic level. As an actor, these two things are important to me…and I look up to those with whom I can connect to in these aspects as well.
Tell us a little about your upcoming projects.
Since I am back in Bengaluru and I haven’t tapped into the Hindi film industry yet, I am aggressively getting my Hindi back on track by taking classes and I have been fortunate enough to get two commercials here that came out in my first month of auditioning here. When you start in a new industry, it’s all about getting as many people to know who you are and what kind of work you have done…everything takes time. One thing is that you need patience and consistency, and I think I am very much ready to do some work in the industry here.
How are you keeping yourself positive and creatively engaged amid this pandemic?
I think it’s important to realise that you need to be grateful for the things you have. Like I feel fortunate to come back home in Bengaluru to my family from New York where I was isolated and locked down for six months. Also, I do that by constantly staying active with my craft and the passions I have. Else it is easy to slip into a hole and feel insecure that your next job might be in a few years or you will never be able to get back in the rhythm or momentum you were in before the pandemic, especially as an actor as you are constantly looking for work. So it’s very easy to fall into that. I think how you surround yourself with positive and supportive people – that in my opinion is an effective way to get through anything in life, not just a pandemic.
(Cover Image: Actor Rohan Gurbaxani)