With increasing calls for more diversity on film and television along comes Amar, Akbar & Tony… the new British comedy that is not afraid to ignore stereotypes and share the diversity everyone has been crying out for. The lead in this film Rez Kempton plays a British, turban wearing Sikh, Amar, which is a first in British film. Martin Delaney plays the title role of Tony, who comes from a different background and religion. Akbar played by Sam Vincenti makes up the trio, all have been brought up in London, thus sharing real reflection of modern day London.
We speak to Rez and Martin about their new movie, why the entertainment industry needs to reflect modern society and find out which one of them would love to play Han Solo.
Your latest film Amar, Akbar and Tony is out now. What’s it about?
Martin: Amar, Akbar & Tony is a comedy romance film about three best friends growing up in West London- A Sikh, a Muslim and a Catholic. It’s about them making life choices which affect their journey into adulthood. It’s about friendship, about family dynamics and also falling in love.
What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Rez: Honestly it was money. Amar, Akbar and Tony is not financed by a studio nor does it have any support from the established funding bodies – Atul Malhotra, our director, had to raise the money himself to get this made. He believed in his vision and script, that is what any filmmaker needs to have to see their project through. Unless you are an established name with a track record, it’s incredibly difficult to get any money from anywhere. Testament to him and every filmmaker that gets this done. When resources are limited you have to get creative and I have to say what Atul put up on screen doesn’t reflect the budget he had to get this made – It’s pretty impressive. I remember hearing people say at our premiere that “they must have had quite a bit of money to get this looking so good”, that made me laugh a little bit.
Martin: The biggest challenge was really trying to get an independent movie into the hands of the audience, without any studio or film organisation money. That has been the biggest challenge so far. Distribution of a movie is always problematic but it doesn’t have to be impossible or outrageously difficult. I think with Amar, Akbar & Tony it also was a hard pitch. It’s basically a Bollywood movie, in terms of tonal shifts and genres, but set very much in a Britain we all know. That in itself is new and fresh. And new and fresh is a hard one to sell to some people. Distribution channels want models and formulas. ‘Same old thing’ that cinema fans complain about, is easier to sell, because it happened before. So it’s really up to audiences to vote with their feet.
The film was independently financed; did you feel that this allowed you more creative freedom?
Rez: Great question. Yes, not having money limits you but you don’t have people above you telling you what to do and how your film should be. I felt, as an actor, Atul was able to make the film like he wanted, and was able to make some bold choices and push the boundaries of where he’d like to take the film. I’ve had friends who have worked with people breathing down their necks whilst making a movie and they felt like it was very restrictive, even though they felt sometimes that what they were being told to do wouldn’t work they still had to do it.
Martin: I think it did. What you gain there, you lose in financial support when there’s no one throwing huge amounts of cash at the project. I think Atul Malhotra the director, got to make the movie he set out to, and that was important to him. He got to cast who he wanted. So I would say yes, there is some creative freedom there.
Do you think that one day a film such as Amar Akbar and Tony would be financed by a studio, and would you want it to be?
Rez: I think the industry will and needs to listen to what the audiences want. I feel there is movement but there is a long way to go before we are there. If however movies like Amar Akbar & Tony with a multicultural slant/cast and themes does well –then yes the studios will come on board and champion movies like this. I hear from my friends over in Hollywood that diversity is a big issue there at the moment and the powers that be are looking to see how they could do things differently. However if a studio were involved in making a movie like Amar, Akbar & Tony then the “maverick” spirit of our film would maybe not have been there – It would probably have been be called Andy, Will & Raj!
Martin: I think there’s no reason why not. I mean studios do finance multicultural projects but they are often in need of stars, or celebrities to drive them. They also often have themes which are more in tune with a type of political view. The reason why Amar, Akbar & Tony has been popular with British-Asian audiences, is because it’s a positive look at multicultural London life. And I think that’s more important than ever right now.
Hollywood, and the film industry in the UK is being attacked on numerous fronts for lacking diversity on-screen, unequal pay and virtually no quality roles for older women. Do you think we’ve reached a tipping point in what the viewing public is willing to put up with in terms of who is represented on screen?
Rez: I feel you’re right but things are getting better 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 then 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 way to go yet.
I hope so. I really hope so. Diversity in Film and TV is hugely important. However it’s also about audience. It’s a business and if millions of people only care about movies like Transformers, we’ll only get those movies. If we want quality content and roles for certain people-like politics right now- it’s up to us. WE have to view it, WE have to support it and want to back that content, otherwise people will stop putting funds into it. So if you care about stories in general and you care about film, it’s important to be diverse in your taste. Only when we are, are we supporting the industry as a whole and supporting the content we say we want and need.
And do you think the industry will respond?
Rez: I feel they’ll have to. They have to move with the times more, and more people coming through our industry start to get those top jobs where they get to decide, then attitudes will change and more opportunities will be available – I certainly hope they will.
Martin: The industry will respond each time it makes money. So we have to help it along. It’s the equivalent of shopping in your local farmers’ market instead of a supermarket. If you say you care and want it, you have to go and show that you care and want it. It can’t just be something we all talk about as an audience. As audiences, we have to be discerning and have to support what we say we want put out there. It’s a basic karma. Stop bashing what you don’t like about film and start supporting what you do, in the long-run you’ll be helping more of it appear.
It seems that actors are now primarily celebrities rather than ‘character actors’. Is clever image management standing in the way of talented actors getting good roles?
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.
Martin: I think we’ve always had stars. In fact you could argue that in the golden age of cinema, film actors were more protected and more celebrity-based than now. These days, yes we have a new type of celebrity but I’m not sure when it comes to acting. We have great actors in the UK who care about the job and care about the content that they’re delivering. If you meet an actor who just wants to be famous, you’re not meeting an actor. Image management has always been important. Actors have always chosen roles that sell their style or brand, because the audience has to buy it and believe it. I do think we have a responsibility to support new talent in the industry though. And I’m not talking new, as in simply young, so ‘new talent’ is possibly a misuse of a term. I mean actors who have been impressing audiences for years on stage too, we need to give them a voice and a shot at something bigger. Mark Rylance has only just started to reach a global audience because of Peter Kosminsky’s Wolf Hall. We’ve known that he’s a super-talent in this country for years, and yet for whatever reason, he wasn’t being supported on screen. It’s also about casting the net further than that, and discovering a hidden gem, someone underused, or truly the right person for certain roles. Again, it’s tough when producers feel like we need and want to see the same faces.
A lot of British actors are now in some of the most popular US television shows and movies, is this drawing talent away from UK productions?
Rez: As I’ve said before I can name many talented actors from the UK who have made great careers over in the States are we’ve discussed why I feel the diversity issue has played a part in that but generally speaking the trend for actors to move there is because the US treat their industry as a business and invest in it heavily. We don’t over here and it’s still seen as a fringe endeavour even though we have so many talented performers and technicians here – It’s a shame really especially as we do make some really great interesting work here. Let’s hope that the cottage industry mindset changes and we one day take on our US cousins.
Martin: I hear a lot about my friends from different backgrounds heading to the U.S. because diversity is tackled better in across the pond. I think America also draws talent because actors realise they can reach a bigger audience. Bigger audiences also mean more money, generally speaking. So actors find that an attractive prospect. There’s no doubt that us Brits are ‘in’ right now. We’ve certainly broken the mould of only playing the bad guys in movies and TV in the States, but it’s also business related. Some American films are made here now and they have use a certain number of British actors. So it’s not about losing our guys to the US necessarily. I’ve made three different Hollywood movies so far and all were shot in Europe, I didn’t make a single one over there.
If you could play any role, in any film, who would it be?
Rez: Wow so many come to mind – I dunno – Han Solo would have been pretty cool!
Martin: I’d love to play McMurphy in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ but that movie should remain untouched, maybe I’ll do it on stage one day. They’re yet to make a great film about The Battle of Hastings, I’d love to do something in that.