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03 March 2024

Hollywood's latest 'It' girl takes centrestage


By Bindu Rai

Walking down the red carpet at the Golden Globes, Freida Pinto's glam doll image is a far cry from a few years ago when she was pulling on a rubber red nose and slapping on the face paint to clown around at a children's party.

The things people do for a quick buck, and it seems Hollywood's current 'It' girl is no exception.

After wowing critics as the star-crossed lover in Slumdog Millionaire, landing a spot on the much-coveted Tonight Show with Jay Leno and even catching the eye of ladies' man, Gerard Butler, Pinto can be excused for letting fame go to her head. But the 24-year-old is full of surprises.

"I was a very independent child and always wanted to make my own money," Pinto tells Emirates Business. "By the time I was 13, I had promoted Act II popcorn in supermarkets, and done voiceovers in stadiums during matches. It earned me Rs125 (Dh12).

"When I turned 15, I threatened my mom, if you don't let me take up a proper job, I would go to Bacardi parties and serve alcohol," she laughs.

Her clown act happened when she started working at an entertainment company, knowing even then that her place was in the bright lights.

Recalling the day that would change her life forever, Pinto appears just as excited about that fateful call, like it happened only yesterday.

"My manager received a call from casting director Loveleen Tandon in 2007. Loveleen told my manager they were making a film in India based on Mumbai, and Danny Boyle was directing it.

"My manager rung me up and said, 'Freida, this is one audition you would not want to miss'," she says.

With no acting experience, barring her sporadic clown gigs, Pinto claims she wasn't even sure she would land the part, but was simply happy to just audition for "a Danny Boyle film".

A month later Pinto got a call from Tandon informing her she had been shortlisted for the role of Latika, the film's female lead. "The next audition was conducted by Danny himself and I was a nervous wreck. Little did I know it would turn into a six-month audition process."

Pinto would receive calls sometimes once or twice a month, sometimes to check her acting capabilities, the other time to test her younger version in the film (played by Rubina Ali).

Ideally, most budding actors would brush up on their homework – in this case, read the Vikas Swarup book that has inspired the film. But Pinto didn't even have that option.

"Even though I haven't read Q&A, my character doesn't even exist in the book. I was completely created out of the imagination of writer Simon Beaufoy. I consider myself his baby."

Ask her if she knew Slumdog would go on to become a champion for the underdog, and the one-film-old actress opts for a level diplomacy reserved for Hollywood veterans.

"I had no expectations when the film was first released," the actress reveals. "I didn't want to live in this world of expectations because when you don't anticipate the accolades and you receive them, it's all the more sweet."

So is Hollywood or Bollywood her career choice?

"My agent says the second project will be even tougher to choose because everyone will have their eyes boring into you," comes the giggling response. "Presently, Slumdog is my only love and no other film can even compete."