Martin Henderson Talks About "Bride and Prejudice"

On India, Bollywood, and Working with Gurinder Chadha

Martin Henderson and Aishwarya Rai in Bride and Prejudice
Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson in "Bride and Prejudice". © Miramax Films
Feb 9, 2005 - Director Gurinder Chadha ("Bend It Like Beckham") unites Bollywood with the classic novel by Jane Austen to create the wildly energetic musical, "Bride and Prejudice." Starring Aishwarya Rai (The Queen of Bollywood) Martin Henderson, and Naveen Andrews, "Bride and Prejudice" sets Austen's story in modern-day India.

In this exclusive interview, "Bride and Prejudice" star Martin Henderson provides a behind the scenes look at filming in India and what it was like working on a Bollywood-style production.

Henderson also talks about why this modern version of the classic story should connect with Western audiences.


What was your first reaction to getting a script for a Bollywood-style “Pride & Prejudice” film?

My reaction was what an interesting idea (laughing). I instantly wanted to sit down with Gurinder [Chadha] only because from “Bend It Like Beckham” I knew she was the kind of director who makes very entertaining movies. She’s a crowd-pleaser, she’s very audience-driven. She doesn’t get caught up in doing anything fancy and showing off as a director. I thought that there was just a real innocence to her storytelling that was going to, obviously, serve the script. And it’s just such a novel idea.

I was somewhat familiar with Bollywood films. I used to travel a lot through Southeast Asia and around when I was younger, just backpacking around. I’d see the odd one.

Although I don’t think that traditional Bollywood films would be taken that well here in the West, to sort mix the Eastern and the Western film language the way that Gurinder did, I just thought it was such an interesting and original idea.

That brings up an interesting point. Americans are not used to Bollywood style films. What is going to drive a Western audience to see “Bride & Prejudice?” What is it about this film that really sells it to an audience that’s not familiar with Bollywood?

You know, it’s interesting because the reaction of everyone who has been seeing the movie has been pretty much across the board very positive. A lot of what seems to be the reason for that is that the movie is so light and fresh and there’s a lot of energy and fun. It’s the kind of movie that I think people want [to see] to just forget about the world for a while. God knows the world seems to be in a bit of a mess every time you turn on the television or pick up the newspaper. It’s one of those stories and one of those films that just makes you feel good. It’s not complicated. It doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s certainly not cynical. It’s just a really good fun.

In the Bollywood tradition, one thing about Bollywood that I found is that there’s almost like a naiveté to their films and the themes of love and marriage and romance and whatnot. Obviously in the West we’re a lot more cynical about affairs and divorce and the pain of love, you know? Whereas there’s something almost like a fairy tale about the way Bollywood films, and this film, sort of tells the modern romance. I think it’s really refreshing, along with the music numbers and the dancing and the Indian locations and the colors of the film.

A lot of people love how colorful it is, the costumes. The songs, people tap their feet along to the music. Obviously I’m hoping that that’s what’s going to drive people to see it. And then based on all the reactions from journalists and some of the test screenings, people have really loved it.

Have you been doing Q&As after the test screenings?

Yes, I just actually did one the night before last.

What’s the most interesting question the audience has asked you?

It depends on who they are. Everyone wants to know what it was like working with [Aishwarya Rai]. She’s so beautiful. I don’t know if that qualifies as an interesting question, but it’s certainly one a lot of people want to know the answer to (laughing). A lot of it is just like the style, “Was it different working in a more Bollywood style film than Western?

Was it a challenge as an actor?” In some ways the answer to that is yeah, because it was quite a tough job, I think, to play the token Westerner. And in some ways my character is the most ‘straight’ of the whole piece.

It was an interesting thing. When we were getting ready to shoot the film, Gurinder and I spent a lot of time talking about the character of Darcy. There was always a temptation to just sort of play him as the cool, charming, sexy leading man. But we decided there was a lot more mileage out of what we considered was serving more of the Jane Austen tradition of the story. To have him as more of an anti-hero, especially to begin with, so he becomes quite an unlikable character at the beginning of the film and even in the second act.

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It’s not really until the third act that, as we learn through Ash’s character, we learn more about him and his family background and why he is the way he is. He becomes a much more sympathetic character than what we maybe would have originally judged him as. In doing that, hopefully we pushed the whole theme of film – pride and prejudice – that Jane Austen was writing about. How we judge people based on our perception of them and that’s relative to our own values, or in this case, cultural system.

(Laughing) And sh*t – I’m going on and on now!

That’s a good thing. Keep going…

(Laughing) At least that’s what I was trying to do. Gurinder agreed and we sort of did that. And I think some people when they first saw they dailies were like, “What’s he doing with the character? He should be more charming.” I was like, “Well, that would be easy to do but then there’s nowhere for the audience to go with Lalita’s character to actually find out who he is.” And really, that’s what the whole film’s about.

So the character is a lot different than he was originally scripted?

It was kind of there. But a bit of it was my own interpretation. And then reading Jane Austen and trying to serve, I guess, what she initially was doing in her novel and just trying to explore some of those themes. Yeah, I just decided it was more interesting that way. On the page I guess he was a lot more straight-laced. And we took that risk of making him arrogant, of making him a bit of a d**k really (laughing).

We don’t get to hear you sing and we barely get to see you dance in the film, but you took part in the dance training even for scenes you weren’t involved in. Were you trained as a dancer before making this film?

NO. No, no, no, not at all.

What was your skill level like before making shooting started?
Pretty bad.

Luckily for everyone who goes to see the film, I don’t dance a lot in it (laughing). I’m like so white I even have like an overbite when I dance.

You don’t really, do you?

I think I do. I think there’s moments where I start really getting into it, I start really trying to feel it, and my teeth come up over my bottom lip and my ass sticks out and my elbows stick out. I mean, it’s not a good look. No, I’m being a little too self-deprecating (laughing). But I’m not the world’s greatest dancer. But obviously my character was the most reserved one in the film and didn’t really embrace the Indian culture, so I didn’t have to be very good at it.

It’s funny I should play a character like that because as soon as we would wrap or the film wasn’t rolling, I’d be dancing around and getting into it. My time off from traveling while we were in India, I was backpacking around through Kerala and up Jaipur. I just loved it and it was really odd to then sort of go on set and put on an Armani suit and look down my nose at it all and act like a conceited [person].

You must have felt like you were missing out on the fun during the shooting.

Yeah, a little bit, but I was having a lot of fun off the set. I kind of took some weird pleasure in pretending to not embrace it.


Gurinder said she wanted to cast Indians who were truly Indians, Brits who were truly Brits, and Americans who were really Americans. You’re from New Zealand…

(Laughing) That kind of blows a hole in that theory.

If she was looking for an American, how did you get hooked up with the project?

Well, the script was sent to me. I live in LA now so I was in Los Angeles. The script was sent to me. I was sitting around reading a bunch of scripts trying to figure out what would be a good thing to do next. I think she’d been told about me by someone, like her agent or whatever, and then the script was sent to me. I just thought it was such an original idea and the two of us set up a meeting and that was about it. I mean, about a week or so later I got a phone call that said she wanted to cast me just based on the meeting that we had.

I don’t know. Maybe part of it was the fact that I wasn’t an American. She liked the idea of having someone who would maybe be more prepared to play a character who was representing the West, and specifically Americans, as albeit a stereotype or cliché of being the arrogant, conceited, capitalist.

And it took someone from New Zealand to play this role?

(Laughing) Maybe. Maybe I was more willing than someone who was American. No, I’m only joking. I think part of it was just our personalities. I think we got on.

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What makes working with Gurinder Chadha so special?

Gurinder, I think she loves the filmmaking process just as much as she does the end result. I think it’s very important to her to have people on her set that she can have fun with. And if you look at the outtakes and the end credits, she always has some shots from different locations while we’re filming and you get a sense of how she likes to run the set.

There’s always a really jovial, fun atmosphere and that stems directly from Gurinder’s personality. She’s very vivacious, just a – I would say a hedonist – but she certainly loves life, you know? She loves food and she loves music and she loves film and she loves to laugh. I think you see that in her films, especially in “Bride and Prejudice.” There’s just such a love of life. It’s a fun movie.

How long did it take you to get accustomed to working in the Bollywood environment?

I don’t know. I just take it as it comes. I didn’t see it as a big deal. For me, I was just excited by the opportunity to have the chance to work in another culture, another part of the world.

There were many differences but ultimately it’s the same thing. It’s jumping around and pretending to be someone else.

There were certain, obviously, cultural differences between the way things were done in India versus here, and sometimes it was hard not to judge those because we’re used to a way of doing things in the West.

Frankly, in India the way things are done sometimes just feels completely disorganized. And there’s times where you are judging that. But then you just sort of embrace it. “Yes, this is the way it gets done here.” And you have to respect them because they make a hell of a lot more movies than we do and some of them are really good.

It was kind of like life mirroring art. It was about not having any prejudices and putting them aside, and trying to look at the similarities and not the differences. And if there were differences, maybe trying to celebrate those. I personally found it a great experience just seeing a whole other way of living and then specifically making a movie in a whole other way of working, which not many people from the West would ever get a chance to do.

Did you do anything special to bond as a cast?

We had quite a lengthy rehearsal process actually, which was pretty unusual for a film – considering the shoot was so long as well. But everyone managed to be in London for quite a few weeks. There was a lot of dancing rehearsals and stuff for most of the cast, and working out the song numbers. It was great just sort of hanging out and going to dinner. I made some really good friends. Naveen Andrews who plays Balraj in the movie, who is a fantastic actor…

Everyone is falling in love with him on the TV series “Lost.”

Yeah! I haven’t seen it yet.

He’s so good.

He’s brilliant and he’s the nicest guy. He and I spent a lot of time hanging out in London and in India. Indira Varma, who played his sister Kiran, she’s a very funny, very talented actress.

Anupam Kher, who played the Indian father, he became a very good friend of mine. It was just great spending that amount of time with people who you wouldn’t necessarily normally meet. People really looked after me in India. Anupam sort of showed me around his world and his industry. It was a pretty great experience.

Was there anything you learned from working in India that really just blew you away?

It’s funny. Before I went to India, even before I knew I was going to do this movie, it was somewhere I was always curious about. I love traveling and many of my friends had been there at different times. I had read books and seen things about India. But the one thing people always say when you ask them about it, “What’s it like? What was so cool?” They sort of have this weird look where they start trying to reflect and remember all the things that happened and all the things that they saw.

And then they turn back to you and say, “You’ve got to go there.” And that really infuriated me because I wanted to know what it was like (laughing)! But it truly is that kind of place. It’s so rich, it’s so diverse. It’s so colorful. It’s so fragrant, in a good way and a bad way. It’s so crowded, it’s so picturesque. It’s so noisy… It’s incredible. I don’t think I could explain it. It really is the kind of place you have to experience because it truly is another world. It’s not like another world, it is another world. It’s just on planet Earth. It’s magic.

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It sounds like you’d do this film all over again.

Absolutely. The whole time I was there it just sucked that I didn’t have enough time to see the country for what it is. It’s so vast. It’s so interesting. I mean, it’s very hard to take a bad photo in India. Just point your camera and they’ll be a cow on one end of the frame and they’ll be some person with no arms riding a bicycle at the other end. Some big barrel of fruit that you’ve never even seen the color of before.


It’s just that kind of reaction. You’re like, “Wow.” It really is so rich and I would want to spend at least three months going around catching planes and trains and buses and taking photos and getting to know the people. Every region is different and there’s a different kind of person with a different ethnic background. The idea of what an Indian is is such an interesting debate because it is so diverse.

Do you consider yourself a risk taker when it comes to choosing your projects?

Yeah, I do. I mean, I try not to make stupid decisions, you know? (Laughing) I always feel like, for me, I’m pretty easily bored, so I like things to be different or interesting somehow. I guess that’s just my personality. That’s why I’ve always traveled. I’m curious. I want to go to new places; I want to see new things. I think I’m at my happiest when I’m learning something so the idea of something being new has always appealed to me.

This was certainly [a film] where people are like, “Wow, that’s risky and brave.” I didn’t see it as brave as much as it’s an opportunity to do something that I certainly had never come across. When you think about it, nobody in the West has really had an opportunity to do something like that. I mean, I guess it’s risky to some people.

It will be interesting to see. Americans may not take to it, but I don’t know. You can’t make every decision because you’re worried about what everyone else thinks. You can always run off and do something generic and formulaic (laughing).

But what’s the fun of that?

It’s not as much. It’s not as interesting.

Does your desire to learn and discover new things make it so that when you’re considering a script, anything that’s similar to what you’ve done before gets an automatic no?

Well, it’s just that there’s got to be some element to it. Often I’ll call my agent and say, “I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.” And often then it’s a conversation of your agent saying, “Yeah, but, you’ve got to sit down with the director because his or her vision is blah, blah, blah.” And then if that is compelling, if there’s something original about that, or there’s something original about the casting, you know? There has to be something that makes it interesting to do. Otherwise it’s hard to get enthusiastic and I don’t think I’m very good unless I’m passionate about something.

You said you live in LA now. Do you prefer working in America?

I love America. I’ve got to be honest. There’s many things I miss about New Zealand that I love and that you can’t find anywhere in the world, but there’s things about America that I truly love.

For now I’m really happy living and working here. I’ve got a lot of great friends and it’s exciting. I really enjoy being in LA, the epicenter of our industry. I’m constantly meeting really creative, interesting people. And there’s obviously a lot of opportunity. For now it makes sense.

And next up you’ve got “Little Fish” with Cate Blanchett?

Yes, we just finished filming that.

What’s your role?

I play her little brother. I play Ray Heart who is her suburban drug dealing amputee brother.

Suburban, drug dealing amputee brother?

(Laughing) Yes.

So, let’s see. You’re riding motorcycles in “Torque,” dancing around in a Bollywood-style musical, and next up you're playing an amputee drug dealer. You do pick things that are dramatically different.

It’s weird when everyone asks me that. I don’t think it’s conscious like, “I’ve got to find something different.”

It just comes up that way?

Yeah, I guess I’m just interested in a lot of different things.

What body part are you missing in the movie?

My left leg is missing in the film.

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How did you prepare for playing an amputee?

Spent a lot of time with an amputee. A lot of questions, talking to him, just about what it was like to experience it. Luckily the director of the movie, Rowan Woods, is amazing. He’s such a stickler for research. He actually found a bunch of people and he interviewed them. I had all these DVDs with amazing interviews with them about what it was like, their accidents and the rehabilitation, and psychologically how it affected them - and physically.

That was really an interesting process. I think it was one of the best experiences of making a movie that I’ve ever had, was working with those people.

Researching the role or playing the character?

All of it. The research, the fact that it was so detailed. That added to the experience. You felt you knew your character in the world that the characters lived in more and more, and it was like an immersion into this whole world that you then got to play with. In many ways it re-enthused me for acting. It was certainly a different part than anything I’ve ever played. Just the caliber of people, too. I mean, working with Cate who is obviously just one of the best. Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, and Rowan the director. He did a little movie called “The Boys,” a little Australian film about six or seven years ago. This was his first film since then. He was just so passionate and excited to be back behind the camera.

So it was a lot of good energy.

What sort of project are you searching for?

It’s just about finding something that means something to me. The stuff I’ve been looking at lately – I’m just doing some meetings on different things – they’re slightly darker roles. I think I feel like I’d like to play characters that just have a little more edge to them.

Does that reflect your personality more – the edgy, darker characters? Or are you more of the cool, charming, sexy leading man as Gurinder Chadha saw you?

I think it depends. I think there are different sides of myself that I’m curious to explore and different roles bring it out. I think a human being is a pretty complex thing, really, and I’m sort of enjoying the opportunity to explore different parts, you know? I mean, I certainly have an edgier, darker side that would be fun to explore in different roles. I don’t know if I really want to explore it in my life (laughing).

Do you ever take your roles home with you?

You know, there’s a little bit that creeps in. I think it’s just an occupational hazard that I think if you really… I think you have to love your character. You have to. The more a character means to you, the more I think the deeper the love you have for that character. I find it a little hard to leave it behind. I mean, I’m not like totally ‘method man’ like I forget who Martin was. But I think there’s certain elements of your own personality that are needed to be expressed through the character that tend to become a little more prevalent when you’re working on the character.

Once the film leaves, that sort of goes away.

What character that you’ve played has really touched you deeply more so than the others?

Well, it definitely wasn’t the one in “Torque” because I just couldn’t wear leather pants like that all the time (laughing). I don’t know. It’s an interesting question. Maybe this last film that I did. I think, I really think in some ways he was a tragic character but I had a real sort of fondness for him in a perverse way. I don’t know. I think it’s just characters to me that are honest, you know?

Maybe I’m still looking for the role I think really defines what I want to do with my career and gives me an opportunity to explore some deeper levels. Most of the films that I’ve done have been not bad films, but I don’t know how much I’ve really given the audience.

I think ultimately as an actor you want to find those roles where you really feel you can give a lot of yourself. I think I’m looking to find that.

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Murray, Rebecca. "Martin Henderson Talks About "Bride and Prejudice"." ThoughtCo, Aug. 30, 2016, Murray, Rebecca. (2016, August 30). Martin Henderson Talks About "Bride and Prejudice". Retrieved from Murray, Rebecca. "Martin Henderson Talks About "Bride and Prejudice"." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 20, 2017).