LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Indian actress Freida Pinto got her big break when director Danny Boyle cast the ex-model as the love interest in the 2008 Oscar-winning hit “Slumdog Millionaire.” Now, she’s hitting silver screens in her first big-budget, effects-driven Hollywood movie.
Since then, the 26-year-old has appeared on People magazine’s “Most Beautiful People List,” starred in smaller, art-house films for Woody Allen and Julian Schnabel, and is the current face of L’Oreal cosmetics.
In “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which hits theaters on Friday, Pinto plays an expert in primate behavior opposite James Franco and a bunch of genetically enhanced chimps who prepare to take over the world.
The movie is a prequel of sorts to the popular “Planet of the Apes” movies of the 1960s and ‘70s, and it follows director Tim Burton’s take on the series with 2001’s “Planet of the Apes. Pinto sat down with Reuters to talk about making the film and why she is a Hollywood — not Bollywood — star.
Q: It’s been over 40 years since the first “Apes” film with Charlton Heston. Where does this film fit into the story?
A: It’s a modern-day origin story, set now. It’s about how a scientific experiment with a potentially life-saving new drug goes terribly wrong and leads to an ape revolution. I think the fact that it deals with topics such as animal testing is very relevant and current. It’s very different from the original.
Q: You play a primatologist. Did you do much research for the role?
A: A lot. Like most people I only knew what I’d been taught in school about chimps, and that’s not enough. So I watched a ton of videos about Jane Goodall, who I’d love to meet. All her research was fascinating and so useful, especially in how she studied human behavior in comparison to chimp behavior.
Q: Did you get to work with real chimps, or was it all performance capture?
A: No real chimps. It was pretty amazing. We’ve progressed so much with visual effects technology that we didn’t need to use real animals. “Avatar” was a huge step forward, and in this film we’ve gone even further, in that we could shoot scenes with the motion capture apes outside — we didn’t have to be confined to a studio like before.
Q: Any surprises working with James Franco?
A: I always try to go into every film with flexibility, because all actors work differently and have different styles. Some are very intense in between takes and scenes, but James was very relaxed and always so prepared. So he could be reading a book and the moment they said ‘Action!’ he’d be totally present.
Q: This is quite a cautionary tale about human’s tampering with nature, genetics and science. What did you learn from it?
A: It’s a message film in a way, but it made me realize how important it is to start a conversation about very serious issues and not just be numb to them. How far do you go in order to better people’s lives and fight disease, and at what cost? It definitely made me think about it all.
Q: You’re next playing Phaedra in another big action film, “Immortals.”
A: I actually shot it before “Apes” although it’s not out until 11-11-11 (November 11, 2011). I’m the oracle priestess who can see and predict the future, although she doesn’t quite know how it’ll unfold. Although it’s set in ancient Greece, we shot it in Montreal, and it was an amazing experience. Tarsem Singh created a living set, with all these fantastic cliffs and shrines, so it wasn’t just all green screen.
Q: You’re starring in all these big Hollywood epics. Will you ever make a Bollywood film?
A: I am trying to balance it all with smaller indie films, and I just did “Trishna” with Michael Winterbottom, which is my second Indian film after “Slumdog.” So I feel I’ve done the Bollywood thing in a way.
Q: Where are you based? Any plans to move to Hollywood?
A: I live like a gypsy, all over the world. My main bases are Bombay and London, but even when I’m back home in Bombay I still live out of a suitcase, because I feel like if I unpack, within a few days I’ll get a call to go somewhere else. So I prefer keeping that one bag always packed. And filmmaking is so international now. We did “Apes” in Vancouver, although it’s set in San Francisco, and all the effects were done in New Zealand. Hollywood’s really more a state of mind now.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte