‘I just loved the fact that I would be portraying a character who was probably the first turban wearing lead character in western film,’: An interview with Rez Kempton

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Rez Kempton has previously starred in BBC’s Spooks and Channel 4’s critically acclaimed Adha Cup. With Neil Patrick Harris pointing out at the Oscars that almost every nominee was white and middle class we catch up with Rez before the release of his new film, Amar, Akbar and Tony which boasts an extremely culturally diverse cast and roles covering multiple religions, races and sexualities. It seems we’re finally seeing a real world representation in cinema.

First of all thank you for your time. You’re starring in upcoming British Comedy Amar Akbar and Tony, can you tell us a bit about the film without giving too much away?

REZ: The film is about three lads from West London who have grown up together. It follows their journey over a 10-year period and sees how the boys fair in matters of friendship, family and love. It’s a British comedy/drama with elements of both – as there are in real life. When the director first spoke to me about the project I felt that it was a realistic depiction of modern British life. It could be set in any British city with a diverse community that sees multicultural backgrounds living side by side. The story follows these three friends who have a strong bond; one is a Sikh, one is a Muslim and the other is an Irish Catholic.

What drew you to your role?

REZ: I just loved the fact that I would be portraying a character who probably the first turban wearing lead character in western film. The director and I tried to think if this had been done before and couldn’t think of any. I loved the fact that Amar has two best mates from different religions who are like brothers to him especially given what we read in the news today about religious and cultural issues generally. He’s the “sensible” one of the three – loyal and honourable. I found that studying the religion really helped me understand the character and bring him to life for me. 

Do you feel like the film industry struggles to represent the real modern age and often lacks diversity?

REZ: It’s certainly a hot topic at the moment. Many of our leading British actors such as Lenny Henry, David Harewood, Lenny James and even Benedict Cumberbatch have spoken about the importance of the industry reflecting a true picture of British society. What I love about Atul’s film is that it does depict a realistic and accurate snapshot of multi-cultural Britain today. It mirrors the trials and tribulations that could face any one living in Britain regardless of their cultural or religious heritage. And that’s why it is my hope that Amar Akbar and Tony will resonate with our audiences whatever their demographic because it really does reflect a true picture of British life in 2015.

What for you is the biggest issue facing actors within the movie industry?

REZ: I think an important factor that now comes into play is “celebrity” and hence actors are often faced with a lot of pressure to have a “high profile” in order to be deemed a success, where as some of the most talented actors I know are not ‘big’ names in a commercial sense, but have spent years developing their craft in a more understated way. Whilst social media is advantageous on many levels, it is also an added pressure to manage so many things like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc – it’s never ending so it can be hard to switch off at times and just enjoy a bit of time with family and friends. I’ve heard a few stories of actors being hired on the basis of how many Twitter followers they have, so I guess it could be frustrating for actors to feel their talent is not always what wins them a role, but rather other factors. I try to be understanding of the business and realise that sometimes these decisions are commercial and are taken for financial reasons by executives who have justify their budgets. 

Do you feel like films still largely lack diversity of race and gender?

REZ: I feel things are getting better but slowly. If we look at the opportunities for actresses for example I think it’s terrific that there’s more significant roles in film and television then there was say 5-10 years ago. Yes there are still the roles where they are just the ‘love interest’ etc. but if you look at the Scandinavian detective shows for example and even American ones like Homeland, leading roles are going to women and that’s great to see. In terms of race, things are changing even more slowly. I think the US is definitely leading the way (partially because of the law there), more than the UK at the moment – so much so that a lot of talented British ethnic actors have moved across there for better opportunities. Just have a look at the careers of Idris Elba and Dev Patel for example. But I have to say in terms of disability I feel there’s a long long way to go yet.

Do you feel as if your gender or race should hold you back from a role and do you feel like this is the current situation in the film industry?

REZ: I feel the director should be able to cast the best person for the role regardless of gender or race. We work in an industry where the normal employment laws regarding diversity don’t always apply and what you are can and often does determine what you can play or not. I feel I’ve been one of the lucky ones in that has not suffered from this too much. I hear that in the US they have a quota system and it seems that they are producing more diverse work – which a producer told me equates to more revenue for them because they are able to sell those shows to a larger global market. Maybe we in the UK need to look at that? 

Speaking of diversity Cate Blanchett once portrayed Bob Dylan and Eddie Redmayne is now taking on the role of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe in the Danish girl portraying a fictionalized account of someone undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Do you feel like it is these roles that is breaking down boundaries and working towards a more real representation of the diverse population?

REZ: Both Cate & Eddie are amazing actors and I’m sure both are fabulous in those parts. Yes, it’s great to see a growth in this area and it’s much needed, as these kinds of characters don’t often get portrayed. If these projects are successful then hopefully they will pave the way for more stories from diverse backgrounds to be told 

Do you feel like you could ever portray a woman?

REZ: I’ve not played a woman per se but I have played a “Hijra”. In the subcontinent these are men who call themselves the Third gender. They’ve usually had “the op” and live and dress as women. I certainly had to do quite a bit of research on that particular play and overall it certainly enriched not only my knowledge but understanding for that community too.

You portray Sikh Amar, did you research the religion to be able to portray this accurately and what did you find out if you did?

REZ : I grew up in a very diverse part of London and have always had exposure to different religions and cultures. So whilst there was a strong familiarity, there was still an element of research to really do the role justice. I wanted to make sure for example that the turban was tied correctly – so I really made an effort to get this right and a lot of Sikhs have really appreciated that. It was also important to me in that we got all aspects of the faith right because between us we couldn’t think of a single western movie in which the leading character was a turbaned Sikh man. I think we may be the first.

Rez your career has been extremely commendable with performances in Channel 4’s Adha Cup and BBC’s Spooks but you have another upcoming film coming up called Monsoon Tide. Can you tell us a bit about that?

REZ: For Monsoon Tide I was very lucky to go to Kerala in India to shoot. It’s set just after the Tsunami in 2004 and follows the story of a young woman’s search for her mother. Kerala is so beautiful with amazing lovely beaches and fabulous food. It didn’t feel like work but more a working holiday.

Is filming for a movie different from TV and in what ways?

REZ: TV is consumed at home and in people’s living rooms generally. Also the turn around on TV shows is a lot faster and even though some TV shows can have big budgets the production values aren’t always the same as on a high budget movie. However saying that most British film don’t have Hollywood budgets and generally the filmmaker in the UK has spent many years raising the money to make that script they are passionate about. On film the set up can be longer as generally its single camera on TV often they are multiple cameras so things have a chance to move along a lot quicker. Even the style of acting is different on film and TV I feel. Because film is seen on the big screen I feel the level of performance has to be tailored for that. If the acting is even a little bit big on film it will be magnified 30 fold on a huge screen. On TV the screen is smaller and the scripts tend to be more dialogue driven. Film is more about the spectacular images. These are all very general points I’m making. In truth both mediums are coming more close to each other as society changes and how it consumes content.

What makes you proud to be a part of this film and why?

REZ: The fact Amar Akbar and Tony is an independent British film made on a small budget- has a great story, which I feel is very relevant to a British audience and a fantastic cast that all got on so well – we became a family on set – and the film is genuinely funny! It relevant and celebrates what’s best about Britain in that it’s a tolerant accepting society all striving for the same things.

Finally, do either of you have any hidden talents that come in handy with acting or any odd skills?

REZ: Well I’m not great in the kitchen although I did give Martin a run for his money in a cook off we did yesterday with Celebrity Chef Dipna Anand! Sorry bud. I do like my technology and quite often my mates ask me to setup their devices etc. and I’m a bit of a science geek. Don’t really know if any of that will help with my acting though?!

Amar, Akbar and Tony is set for nationwide release on April 17th.

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BA English student at University of Southampton and Editor for The Edge (2015-16). A deep love of reading, theatre and all things entertainment.

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