Aasif Mandvi vs. 30 Ninjas Part 1

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Dan Kaufman at 30Ninjas.com  just posted the first of a two part interview with Aasif Mandvi. Mandvi goes into detail about his past knowledge of Avatar: The Last Airbender, his experience with acting with “nothing”, and the similarities between theatric off-stage events and working with a green screen. He also talks about the rigorous martial arts training necessary to become Admiral Zhao. The best part was when Aasif and Dan talked about the shakesperian quality of the story, and how Aasif developed his own interpretation of Zhao.

DAN: Now, I get the sense that this whole project is kind of new territory for a lot of people involved. I mean, this is Night’s first adaptation of material that’s not his own. Aside from Spider-Man 2, this is your first huge, summer, tentpole action film. This is your first immersion into CGI, your first bad guy role…it’s kind of like dad is giving you the keys to the car for the first time.

AASIF: Yeah, yeah.

DAN: Was all this exciting? Intimidating?

AASIF: You know what? It was. It was all those things. It was exciting, it was intimidating. But you know, I’m thankful for my theater background. Because when you have CGI, people are always like, “How do you act when there’s nothin’ goin’ on? I mean, there’s a big screen of green, you know?” And I’m like, “But that’s what you do in the theater all the time.”

DAN: You act with nothing.

AASIF: I mean, in the theater, you’re standing there, and supposedly there’s a battle going on offstage, and you’re looking at this battle, and you’re going, “Ah-ha!” So it wasn’t that unbelievably weird. It was sort of like doing a play.

DAN: Right. And you had experience doing your one-man show, so…

AASIF: Well, yeah. I’d done a one-man show where I spent the entire show talking to people who weren’t there. So, the truth is I have a lot of experience pretending. In my [professional] life and my personal life, pretending things that don’t exist, exist. Like my supermodel girlfriend.

DAN: (laughs)

AASIF: So, that was exciting, and it was kind of fun. And the whole thing is, it’s a make-believe world, where it’s larger than life, so it’s very… it’s heightened. And it’s a world where there are bad guys and good guys, and it’s very Shakespearean to me.

DAN: Night said something like that in our interview with him. He said it’s a very Shakespearean story.

AASIF: Night doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. (laughs) No, it is. I got cast as Zhao, and people might be like, “Oh, he is this comedy guy, doing this villainous character.” And the truth is, what I think that Night liked about my audition and stuff was that he said, “I don’t want Zhao to just be this sort of caricature of an evil villain that [you see] in a lot of movies. I want the guy to have a real intelligence and a real point of view, that you may fundamentally disagree with.” But he has a real point of view, you know? I mean, when I read the script, I thought, “This is a very interesting social—there’s a sort of spiritual and social message here.” You know, it’s about imperialism—

DAN: Oh, sure.

AASIF: It’s about colonialism. It’s about aggression. I mean, the thing is that the Fire Nation, as it is seen in this movie, really represents a sort of a hybrid of the Japanese Empire, the British Empire, the Nazis, the American Empire, this kind of imperial aggressive force in the world. And not to touch too much on the race stuff, but what I will say about it is if you just look at it as brown people versus white people, you are reducing it a little bit. It is a little bit more complicated than that. Because when you look at the Fire Nation as created in this film, it is kind of a hybrid of a lot of different influences, Eastern, Western, European. It’s British, it’s American, it’s Japanese, it’s Middle Eastern. It is a lot of things. And that’s why I kind of liked it. Night really wanted Zhao to have a real intelligence about him, and not just be a guy who’s just driven by, I mean, he is driven by ambition and vanity at the end of the day—

Be sure to catch the rest of this great interview at 30Ninjas.com

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One Response to “Aasif Mandvi vs. 30 Ninjas Part 1”

  1. Expendables for any occasion | The Bicycling Training Guide Says:

    […] Aasif Mandvi vs. 30 Ninjas Part 1 « Last Airbender Film | Live … […]

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