Malayali maverick Jayasurya on sloshing his way through another stunning performance in 'Sunny'

Jayasurya says he couldn't get Sunny's soul the first time around. Then a week later, "I called Ranjith again. We found so many layers to the character. This time Sunny triggered something in me,"

Jayasurya
Jayasurya
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Subhash K Jha

First Vellam and now Sunny, you are now in the danger of being certified a boozard?

Ha ha, no no. I do drink in real life. But I won’t touch a drop when I am playing a character, not even an alcoholic. How can I act when I am drunk? It is Sunny who drinks, not me. I had to go into my soul to get into his skin. If I drank even one beer, I’d not be able to go from one room to another (laughs).

I agree. I heard you are not well?

(coughs ) Yes, I’ve this terrible throat infection. I have tested negative (for Covid). But I seem to have the flu.

At the end of Sunny, your character heads towards the hospital for Covid treatment?

Luckily I am at home with my family. I left Sunny to his own devices the day shooting was completed. I don’t carry my characters home.

Sunny is a life-changing experience. Tell me how it happened?

At the beginning of the lockdown, we were toying with many ideas on a one-character movie. I felt that kind of set-up like Castaway and 127 Hours is a big challenge for an actor. It gives an actor a chance to establish a very pure relationship with the camera. But when director Ranjith Sankar who is a close friend, narrated Sunny I didn’t think I could pull of this character.

Why?

I couldn’t get to his soul. We decided to do another film together. But after one week I called Ranjith again. We sat together again. We found so many layers to the character. This time Sunny triggered something in me. At that point of time I decided I will play Sunny.

What is your criteria for selecting a part?

I have to connect with the character as an actor and as a member of the audience. Otherwise there’s no point in doing a film. In Sunny... how do I put this? I had to carry the whole film on my shoulder. It was a huge challenge for me. For one and a half hours, audiences had to see only me on screen. This is the most difficult role of my career. Actually I’ve done seven other films with Ranjith Sankar. In each one I had a challenging role. I’ve even played a transgender in one of his films.

What was the special challenge in Sunny?

See, in other films of the director I had external traits, like a stammer in one. Sunny was just a normal guy with problems. The challenge was to play him normally. Sunny had no props. He has… nothing. He wanted to be a musician. But ended up in a shitty job. I could see myself on the screen. I could feel Sunny’s bitterness and anger. So many things he wanted to do. He ended up doing nothing. And he has no friends to turn to. He is so desperate for company. He forms a father-son relationship on the phone with his therapist.

How did you prepare for the role?

The process of shooting was easy. Normally actors and technicians stay in different hotels. But this time we were all staying together at the Hyatt where we shot the film. Because of Covid there were no guests in the hotel. There was no difficulty in shooting. Outsiders were not allowed so we could shoot in peace. It was a lot of fun. It was not a hotel. It was home during the shooting.

You started your career as a junior artiste?

Yes, sir. From childhood, I wanted to be an actor.

Are you from a film family?

In the sense that everyone watched films. But if you mean were there any actors in my family then the answer is no one. I am the first actor in my family. My father was a producer. He produced two children. Me and my elder sister. When I was a child I was the entertainer of my family. I was a good mimic. From the age of 10, I began a career in mimicry. I was also a dubbing artiste and an anchor. Also a junior artiste.

How did films happen?

I had done a programme on a local channel when a producer saw me and that’s how my journey as a leading man started.But I didn’t believe I was a good actor. I still don’t. I have played villainous characters. Even as a hero, I did something different each time, so now I’ve the confidence to attempt anything. If I get a good director, I can take up any challenge.

You weren’t trained as an actor?

Formally never. But with every film I’ve learned a bit more about acting. Sir I don’t know how anyone can learn the process of acting. Only experience before the camera can teach you acting. There is no grammar for acting. You have to find your grammar. Films like Kangaroo, Cocktail and Beautiful were game-changers for me.


Do you like doing commercial films?

Definitely. But not mindless masala. Only if the story is good and if there’s a graph to the character. Ranjith Saran and I have done commercially successful films. He is also a writer. So if I bounce an idea to him, he listens.

Are you possessive about Ranjith?

Never. Not at all. He works with other actors as I work with other directors. In Malayali cinema, there is room and space for every actor. Every actor, be it Fahadh, Dulquer or me, has his own space. I don’t see them as competition. When I get to play a character, I surrender to my character. Competition causes frustration. I don’t even want to think about it. When I see a good performance by Fahadh, I call him and praise him to the skies.

How will you find roles that take you beyond Vellam and Sunny?

There is no space for Jayasurya. There are only the characters I play. Sunny doesn’t need Jayasurya. But I need Sunny and all the characters that I have played and will play. I entered Sunny’s emptiness and now I am done with him.

I can’t recognize you from one film to another?

(Laughs) The veteran actor Siddique who has given voice to one of the characters in Sunny called me the other day. He said, ‘After you shaved off the beard, there is no Sunny.’ He’s wiped out. I am ready to move to another character.

You’ve shaved off your beard?

Yes, I am now playing a cop in John Luther IPS. I need to be clean-shaven. This is a commercial thriller. Then there is Eesho, a one-night story. Kathanar is a 75-crore spectacle directed by Rojin Thomas who did the recent film Home. I was in his first film. Now I am doing Kathanar in 3D with him. We were supposed to do it in two parts. Now it is only one film. For me, the challenge is to not repeat myself. I have to guard myself against repetition. My job is to find layers to a character.

Who are the actors you look up to?

I look up to all actors and none. I look for performances. It could be a small cameo by an unknown actor. I could get inspired by any moment in a performance. Any actor who does something impressive at any given moment, is my role model.

Any role that you especially want to play?

Jesus Christ. I don’t know why. But I want to play him.

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