Interview: Jeffrey Ho

After watching Vikas Bahl’s Queen, it is impossible to get the face of the endearing Japanese boy, Taka, whom Kangana Ranaut befriends on her solo honeymoon, out of your mind. Played to near perfection by London-based actor Jeffrey Ho, Taka struck a chord with his wild child antics and his emotional backstory. In Mumbai to promote his debut film, Ho shares with THE WEEK his experience on board a Bollywood vehicle.

Excerpts:
Tell us a bit about your background.
I am originally from Malaysia born to Malay-Chinese parents. But I moved to London in 2008 and have been living there ever since. I graduated from the London School of Dramatic Arts in 2011, after which I have been active in theatre.

And how did Queen happen?
I got to know about Queen from a casting agency in London, which Vikas had hired to cast the foreigners in the film. I was called for several rounds of audition, first with only the casting directors, and later with Vikas and my co-stars. Finally, Vikas decided to go with me for the role of Taka.

What were the auditions like?
The initial audition was done by a casting assistant. There is a scene in the film in which Kangana’s character is challenged to a cooking contest by an Italian chef. That was the scene which we auditioned for first. They also asked me to do a couple of dance steps, which were recorded and sent to Vikas. The next round had Vikas, too, and we did a very important scene where Taka and Rani [Kangana’s character] connect emotionally. It was a challenging scene because we had to bring out the fact that two people, who belong to two completely different cultures, who do not even understand the language each other speak, connect with each other over their losses in life. We had to do the scene again and again. Another fun scene we auditioned for was one in a sex-toy shop.

How was the experience on the sets?
We shot in Amsterdam and Mumbai and it was great fun. We were a small team and we covered 150 locations in very little time. We had very limited permissions to shoot at certain places which meant that we could do only single takes most of the time. So it was like we were always on the go. Just like in the film, all the actors were meeting for the first time while shooting and we didn’t know each other. As the shooting progressed, the friendship between us also grew with it in an organic, natural way. So most of the time we weren’t acting, we were just being ourselves and that was what Vikas wanted. He wanted the film to look real and not scripted and I think we all have done justice to it.

Image via Google Images
Image via Google Images

Considering such tight schedules, were there any workshops or rehearsals before the actual shot?
Rehearsals….not really. We knew our lines and we were told what the scenes were, so it wasn’t like we rehearsed a lot. Sometimes during take someone would improvise, so it was all spontaneous. We were always reacting to each other as Vikas was a very flexible director.

The character in the film speaks Japanese. Did you undergo any training or diction classes for Queen?
Yes… learning Japanese was the preparation I did for the role. Instead of going for a formal class and teacher, I seeked help from a Japanese friend of mine who tutored me for a month. We translated the dialogues into Mandarin and English and I tried to understand the meanings of each and every word while saying the dialogues. It is a different thing that a large percentage of the Indian audiences do not understand Japanese, but I didn’t want to lose out on the authenticity of my character.

Which is your favourite scene from the film?
It has to be the scene just before we leave our hostel room in the film. Everyone has to stick something to the wall collage before leaving. It is like leaving a piece of ourselves in that room, be it a sweet or a sad memory. When we shot for that scene, we all suddenly felt really emotional and without any cues, all four of us hugged each other and we had tears in our eyes. It all happened so naturally and that was an unforgettable moment in the film. I think the hug has been edited out of the final cut.

How has the response to your performance been?
Overwhelming and humbling. At the premiere, everybody congratulated all of us and told us that they have never seen anything like this in Bollywood before. So we are all happy as a team.

Image via Google Images
Image via Google Images

Have you watched any Indian films before?
Not really. I haven’t seen much although in Malaysia there are Bollywood films releasing and Indian films are shown on TV also. After working on Queen, I saw Kangana’s Tanu Weds Manu and Gangster, and Vikas’s Chillar Party. I liked all of them and I am looking out to see more Hindi and other films. It was a very humbling experience to work with people like Vikas and Kangana who are so passionate about what they are doing and have a vision.

How is Mumbai treating you?
Mumbai has always been too good to me that I can’t explain how happy I feel when I am here. The people here are so warm and the fact is that back in Malaysia also I ave a lot of Indian friends. So Mumbai is not entirely a new place to me. It doesn’t feel like I am away from home because be it the weather or the food, I am quite used to it. So I feel happy and at home in Mumbai.

Future projects?
Nothing in film as yet. But I will be leaving to London soon and am preparing for my next theatre production.

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