The making of “ASHES”

 Ajay Naidu is an established versatile actor. He got trained with the American Repertory Theater’s Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University. His first professional acting job was the film Touch and Go, which in turn led to many film and television jobs. He is the nephew of legendary Indian freedom fighter Ravindra Varma and the great grandnephew of the Keralite painter Raja Ravi Varma.

Interviewed by Stephen M. Thompson, Ph.D.

Welcome Ajay. Tell us about yourself?

I grew up in Chicago, but really all over the world. I can breakdance, I make my living as actor and I directed a film recently. I was married this year but spent the better part of it on tour in Europe with the theater company I often work with called Complicite. We are doing a stage version of The Master and Margarita. To answer your later question it is the best thing I have ever done. Usually I treat whatever I am working on as my favorite project.

How and why did you get into acting?

When I was eleven years old my teacher, Roberta Baldwin, whose son is Adam Baldwin (My Bodyguard, Full Metal Jacket), used to see me doing Shakespeare to myself, because I loved the words. I was very close to her, and I loved her very much. One day she saw an open call in the paper for an “ethnic” boy age 10 to 12 to play the lead in a feature starring Michael Keaton to be shot in Chicago. She asked my mother if she would take me in for it. Long story short, my mother took me in, and after what felt like thirty call backs that spanned three months, and having flown to LA to meet with Michael Keaton, the producer and writer called me in and told me they were going use Sissy Spacek for the mother. I said, “great”. They said “well that means we can’t use you”. So I started crying and they got really shocked and said “well your very talented, you should tell your mother..”I said, ” she didn’t want me to come” they said “Well you should tell your agent…” I said “what’s an Agent?” they said “well your very talented” and we all just sat there while I cried. Then all of a sudden I stood up and said “If I’m so talented then find a new mother!” then I stormed out and they chased me down the hall and said “we’re going to give you the part”. I did that movie and 2 more features and three TV films by the time I was fourteen. Then I quit and went back to school, and at around sixteen I started studying classical theatre after remembering I loved Shakespeare. When I got out of high school I worked extensively in Chicago theatre and went to Columbia College then attended conservatory at ART at Harvard. When I got out, I started working in Film again. The first movie I did out of school, SubUrbia, got me an indie spirit nomination. It’s been dipping and rising now for the last fifteen years.

What is “ASHES” all about?

“Ashes” is a myth that haunted me for many years after my sisters suicide. There was a time when I was running around with small time fake Indian gangsters, smoking weed and living with my sister who at that time was just becoming ill. Ashes is sort of an mythified and re-imagined cautionary tale about that moment in my life. But the story of Ashes in short is about a small time drug dealer who tries to take care of his brother who is sick and is unable to really ever do that. The sounds-cape created my dear friends Karsh Kale and The Midival Punditz was inspired and drawn from my many years as an emcee and dancer in the Asian Underground movement. The film never would have occurred if the music hadn’t inspired it. There are strong universals in that sound that reverberate within the decentralized Indian community.

What motivates you?

Uncontrollable dreams that spin themselves into stories that I feel only I can tell.

Any upcoming projects you would like to discuss?

My wife is writing a feature film I hope I can be instrumental in making. Also I will play in the Master and Margarita again at the Barbican Center in London this winter and also in Paris.

What’s your one best gig thus far? 

Like I said before what I’m working on is usually best, but Office Space, SubUrbia, and Where the River Runs Black were all landmarks.

What are your leisure time activities? 

Dancing, Snowboarding, seeing art, or movies, or just walking around wherever I am.

If you could live anywhere where would you build your dream home?

I have done that in New York City.

Thank you.

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