Romancing the Russians

Romancing the Russians

Romancing the Russians

It is not easy to conclude if an actor has made it to the top rung. However, a strong presence on international television is a good indicator of that. As it stands, Rahul Khanna has now joined this elite club with his entry in the FX drama series ‘The Americans’.

  He made his appearance in the chilling Cold War drama towards the end of Season 2. When he returned recently for an arc in Season 3, his character had grown, with dimensions, at once intriguing and powerful.

So what made him choose the drama series? “International TV, today, is of such high quality — it has reached the same level, if not surpassed, that of feature films. But, it’s rare to come across a really interesting role written specifically for a South Asian actor.

‘The Americans’ is one of my favourite shows and unquestionably one of the finest shows on TV today, so I was thrilled when they approached me with the character. He’s a high-ranking ISI officer named Yousaf. An Oxford educated, ex-cricketer with a bit of a roving eye who visits Washington for meetings with the CIA. He becomes a target for the KGB and, through a shocking twist, ends up being one of their “assets”. I feel really lucky to have got this opportunity!” he adds.

The Russian spy act comes out tour-de-force, but was it complicated to essay? “Not at all, actually. The joy of working on a project as intricately crafted as this, is that everything you need is already in the script. All you really have to do is prepare your own character’s inner emotional arc, learn your lines and put yourself in the hands of the director,” he explains.

So there is his character — Machiavellian — who kills a lady and then packs her in a suitcase. He explains, “As an actor, it was a dream come true! How often does one get a role where one has to strangle a woman mid-copulation and then help two KGB spies to break her bones and stuff her into a suitcase? It’s so dramatic it’s almost Shakespearean! But as a person, it was terrifying — because it so outside of one’s comfort zone. They were both very technical scenes to shoot and we filmed them over two days.”

“For the suitcase scene, we shot with three different elements. One was Gillian Alexy, the actress herself, who was in a few shots. Then there was this incredible contortionist, who we used for some of the other shots and there was also a prosthetic dummy that was brought in for the actual breaking of the bones. Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell and I were going through this process together and there were several times we’d just look at each other and shake our heads at just how bizarre this all was and wonder if we were all going to go to hell for doing this!” he recollects.

“This is one of the nicest teams I’ve ever worked with. They went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable. Everyone is super professional but also has a great sense of humour. If you’ve watched the ‘Baggage’ episode, you see Keri Russell takes a picture of us breaking the body. In between takes, Matthew and I were rehearsing the scene — bent over a dead, naked woman, dislocating her joints — and Keri actually took a picture of us with the prop camera and threatened, ‘I am going to send this picture to your mothers in Wales and Bombay!’ It was very funny and cracked us up.”

Surely, there may have been lessons to pick up from the American working style? “American TV today works almost identically to film. On a TV show like ‘The Americans’, because they are filming, basically, the equivalent of 10 feature films for a season, everything is precisely planned and scheduled down to the last detail. And since the team has been together for so long, everything works very smoothly and work gets done very fast. Also, the catering is spectacular. When you work in the film and TV industry in the States, they feed you like kings!”

That he leads a multi-hyphenated life as actor, writer, culinary enthusiast is, well, legendary. But at the moment, Rahul Khanna is in a good place.

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