I turned down SRK's Raees because the role was too small for me: Sampath Raj
The Kaala actor talks about the Rajinikanth film and his general choice of films
While most actors seem to play roles much younger than them, Sampath Raj has no qualms about essaying characters close to his age. "I want to play my age; that makes me feel more comfortable. I can never see myself running around trees, singing, dancing and romancing heroines," he says and bursts into laughter.
The actor, who has worked predominantly in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema, believes that he has been getting to experiment with different kinds of roles of late. "I want my films to be as versatile as possible and essay characters starkly different from each other. My roles so far have given me the scope to portray a variety of emotions," he says, citing Paruthiveeran and Aaranya Kaandam as examples.
A product of the theatre, Sampath's fascination with cinema began when he was barely seven or eight. "I grew up watching Amitabh Bachchan on screen, and he has inspired me to a great extent," he says.
Though he has been working in cinema since 2004, the actor believes his best is yet to come. "I have done some fantastic films like Saroja, Mirchi, and Goa. But it's tough to satisfy the artiste in me. I don't think I've got the roles I deserve. For instance, I like Irrfan Khan's films in Bollywood. I can relate to them quite well. I am confident that I can pull off those kinds of films--something like Piku--here with ease. As an actor, I look for certain sensibilities in a role. If I am not convinced, I won't accept a project. I'm not referring to preachy films, but well-defined entertainment," he says.
I find it ridiculous when I listen to directors say funny things about a don. Rowdie naa well-built a irukanum, periya meesai irukanum, and so on. When I was 18, I knew a don, who was a distant relative of my classmate in Bengaluru. He was in newspapers often. I was keen to meet him. Finally, I did. To my surprise, he was 5 ft tall, soft-spoken and puny. Tamil cinema needs to come up with such realistic villains.
Playing a baddie has never affected him on a personal level, adds Sampath. "I neither take my characters home nor let them get into me. Acting is just a job."
Has he ever felt bored with playing a villain? "Not at all. I enjoy them. Also, I try to bring in variations in every role that I do," he smiles.
Saroja is one of my favourite films because the villain (me) was more handsome than the heroes, had a love interest, and a song!
Speaking about how he bagged Kaala, he says, "I know Ranjith from Chennai 28 days, and I was quite sure when he had called me, it would be something solid. I knew Nana Patekarji was the main villain. Despite the limited screen time, I agreed to play Vishnu because of the impact. I didn't want to miss a Rajinikanth film, too." He recalls what Ranjith had told him: "Enna nambi vaanga, anna. Nalla padam!"
The actor is all praise for Rajinikanth. "We both are from Bengaluru. Naturally, we discussed a lot beside cinema. He's familiar with the place where I spent my childhood. We also bonded over books and spirituality."
I've directed a short film called Pachchondi. I am into writing scripts. If everything goes well, I may direct in future.
Sampath says he listens to the whole script before he signs each film. "I am a selfish actor, and I always consider if people will remember me after they watch the film. I never blindly accept a project without hearing the narration. There are directors like that, and I don't work with them. They know who they are."
Why has he never done a film in Hindi? "I was supposed to do a big-budget film, but it never took off. I am familiar with the language, but I don't want to go to Bombay just for the sake of it and do roles that have no value. In fact, I turned down SRK's Raees. I told the makers that the role was too small for me," he says, adding, "I don't come from a film background, so I have to fight for my space. I quit my 14-year-long stint in corporate for the love of acting. I am here to do films that I enjoy."
Dream role? "I'd love to play a 90-year-old man, because I am not sure if I'd be alive that long. I like such roles. Songs in Paris, The Eiffel Tower, etc. don't interest me," he grins.