Bollywood didn't want Freida Pinto.
Perhaps it's because she's small-boned and delicate-looking, or that her name isn't typically Indian, or that she doesn't have any connections in the industry, but whatever the reasons, the Mumbai-born aspiring actor couldn't land a job in an Indian film.
She turned to modelling and hosting a TV travel show before a British director by the name of Danny Boyle finally cast her in her first film, 2008's Slumdog Millionaire.
Her graceful turn as Latika, the object of affection for teenage game show contestant Jamal (Dev Patel), turned heads around the world. Don't take our word for it, just five days after Slumdog Millionaire's limited North American release in November 2008, Yahoo reported web searches for "Freida Pinto" increased 65,740 percent in one day.
Suddenly, Pinto could envision a career that went way, way beyond Bollywood.
"I feel when you've been given a golden opportunity it's honestly really stupid to just waste it by doing nothing about it,' says the 26-year-old actor during an interview in Montreal last year.
"When I can be one of the Indians who tries to break the stereotype and comes out here to the West to make films that are more appealing to the global masses rather than one particular country, why not? I should just do it."Her newest film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, takes dead aim at the global masses.
Not only is it a reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise — which released five films between 1968 and 1973 — it's also a mash-up of sorts. Rise does what films number three and four of the original series — Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes — did; focus on how the apes go from zoo and lab animals to angry, sentient beings who rise up against their human oppressors.
James Franco plays a scientist searching for a cure for Alzheimer'[s who inadvertently alters the genetic code of ape Caesar (Andy Serkis, with a helping hand from WETA digital effects), turning him into the film's brainy simian revolutionary. Pinto plays a primatologist sympathetic to apes who questions Franco's experiments.
Pinto was never a diehard fan of the Apes series (she grew up loving animated movies), but appreciates the message in the reboot.
"I don't remember when I watched Planet of the Apes, it was ages ago," she says, "but then when I read what this story was about, and yes it was a big-budget film and all of that, but it had soul. It's this battle between human and apes, with humans trying to make themselves superior by exploiting the space of another animal."
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just Pinto's fourth film. After making Slumdog Millionaire, Pinto — who never officially studied acting — took a three-month course. She says the program taught her technical aspects associated with film acting, but she credits the six months she spent auditioning for Danny Boyle as her best training ground.
Slumdog led Woody Allen to cast her as Josh Brolin's muse in 2010's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. She then changed course completely with Miral, playing a Palestinian teen whose love for a PLO leader leads her down a dangerous path.
It's not a long resumé, but it certainly is a diverse one.
"I take that as a compliment," says Pinto. "What I try to do with my characters in the four films I've done so far, is to try and bring something different to all of them."
What she brings, aside from her talent, is a visible ethnicity that is sorely lacking in Hollywood films. However, Pinto doesn't blame her lighter-skinned, fair-haired peers for the sad state of onscreen minority representation.
"They have their own appeal and they bring whatever they bring to a film, and I bring something that I do not feel has been explored much in Hollywood, or in any other industry for that matter. I feel really happy that I've broken the stereotype that making it is not possible for Indian actors — because I think anything is possible," she says.
"And I feel that the timing is right as well. The world has gotten much smaller. If you go to America it's not just 'Americans' there, everybody's there, there are so many Indians I meet in New York. And I really don't know what it is with people believing that if you live in India, there are only Indians there. I have an English friend living in India who is a makeup artist.
"So this is a brilliant opportunity," adds Pinto, "and I'm glad I've been embraced with arms wide open."
Ingrid Randoja is the deputy editor of Cineplex Magazine.
Evolution of Apes
Just as we're fascinated by the digital special effects used to create Rise of the Planet of the Apes' simian Caesar, played by motion-capture magician Andy Serkis, some 40 years ago audiences were amazed by the big-screen apes they saw in 1968's Planet of the Apes.
No film had ever attempted to transform actors into believable, talking apes — let alone on such a large scale with scores of onscreen simians. Famed makeup artist John Chambers was brought in to oversee the task. He assembled more than 80 makeup artists and three full-time wigmakers, and he demanded a budget big enough for the job (it eventually hit a then unheard of $1-million).
Chambers created foam rubber components — cheeks, chins, muzzles, noses — that were applied, one-by-one, onto the actor's face to create the ape mask. Then a wig, made out of human hair imported from Korea, was attached.
It sounds straightforward, but Chambers and his team actually invented new types of foam rubber, adhesive and paint to make their prosthetics durable, yet pliable enough that the actors' expressions could be seen under the makeup. Even with their upgrades the masks were brutally hot, and the actors were given special refrigerated trailers in which to cool off.
For Roddy McDowall, who played chimpanzee archaeologist Cornelius, the makeup process took almost four hours each day. As McDowall told Planet of the Apes magazine in 1975, "I'm not a true claustrophobe, but after a time, not being able to scratch my nose, eat anything or drink except through a straw really works on my nerves. After about five hours I really become a basket case!" And as a chain smoker, McDowall had to use an extra-long cigarette holder to keep up his habit.
McDowall starred in four out of the five Apes films, and in the short-lived "Planet of the Apes" TV series. His commitment to the Ape universe can be measured by the fact that while making Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), he had to have three small cysts, that were caused by the repeated application and removal of his ape makeup, surgically removed from his face. —Ingrid Randoja