Freida Pinto has come a long way since her role in Slumdog Millionaire. In fact, the actress and activist wonderfully describes herself as "32 years old, but just a two-year-old woman." She's done a lot of growing up during her time in the spotlight — not to mention a ton of incredible work for girls' education, including being a producer on the documentary Girl Rising — and now she's taken on a new role: Jas Mitra on Showtime's new miniseries, Guerrilla.
Guerrilla, set in England and created by John Ridley, tells the story of a part of history that not enough people know about: racism, immigration, and resistance in 1970s Britain. Pinto herself had to do a lot of research to prepare for the role, and the fact that it's so unknown was a huge part of why she decided to pursue it.
Ahead of the series' April 16 premiere, Refinery29 sat down with the actress to talk about the upcoming show, the cast's hilarious group texts, and how Pinto has navigated Hollywood as an Indian actress (surprise, surprise: it's not easy).
What was it like reading the script for Guerilla?
"It was hard to believe because for two and a half years I’m like, Come on, there has to be a strong female character who just happens to be Indian. Why is it so hard? We have like 1.2 billion people, are you telling me there aren’t good enough stories?"
Do shows change certain roles a little bit after you’re cast?
"Yes, they’ve had to change it to suit the American audience. At first I thought that was the way to go, but now I’m beginning to think it’s wholly unnecessary because we are a global world. You look at the population in America or in England or in any part of the world and there’s Indians everywhere, there’s Americans everywhere, there’s Brits everywhere. We are everywhere, as people. And really, when it’s not culture-specific, I don’t understand why the color of someone’s skin or someone’s ethnicity really has to matter."
"I don’t understand why the color of someone’s skin or someone’s ethnicity really has to matter."
Did you audition for this role?
"My manager and my agent read this role, and they go, 'It’s like it was written for you, you should go meet John Ridley.' And I meet John Ridley and he’s really surprised that I’ve come to meet him because he’s not meeting other actors. He hasn’t even thought of who is going to be cast in it. And I know that in England, Sky Atlantic had simultaneously started an audition process, so as much as John liked me, I had to go through an audition process to kind of convince Sky Atlantic that I was the girl. Because they were looking for someone authentically British-Indian. And I’m just 100% Indian...which kind of makes more sense for my character, because I was able to give it that flavor that she migrated from India. Which is what really happened for a lot of people in the '50s and '60s, a lot of Indians migrated from Kenya, Uganda, India in hopes for a better life. So I put myself through this audition process and won the part fair and square."
When you read the script, what was it that made you go “Yes, this is for me”?
"It’s not a part of history that I’m really aware of and a lot of people are not aware of, including those from England who lived in that time. There’s so much ignorance around what happened in their own country and really the depths of the issue. It was so intriguing and almost inspired me to get back to the history books and go into archives and find more information on it that I was like, 'Wait, wait, this is so up my alley. This is the kind of prep work that I like doing.' And then the added bonus of working with John Ridley, Idris Elba, and whoever they were going to cast as Marcus, who wasn’t cast yet. And then they cast this amazing actor Babou Ceesay, who plays my partner in this series and a true partner he was. I feel like it all came full circle. There was something about working on this film set that felt a lot like working on Slumdog — none of us know how it’s going to land, how it’s going to be accepted, and we don’t want to even think about it. Everyone wants it to do well, but the synergy was just right on set."
Did you all bond?
"A lot. We have these silly group chats that we have. One is called… 'Gorillaz.' The other one is like, 'Let’s have dinner one Sunday.'"
What similarities do you have with your character, Jas, and what about her is different?
"I think her activism, there are similarities. I’m not radical enough, like her, that’s the difference. We’re both volatile, good luck to whoever our life partners are going to be! Let’s see if Marcus stays with Jas until episode 6."
Do you think actors change every time they play a new character?
"I think you do. A little part of you does change. I feel like I grew up the most in the last two years. When anyone asks me, 'How old are you?' I’m like, 'I’m 32 years old, but just a two-year-old woman.' Because it’s just been two years of finally getting to know my authentic self and being fully authentic as well, and that’s life’s journey."