Cannes Xpress 2023: Sunny Side Up

Sunny Leone opens up about her character in Kennedy, the significance of the film in her career, and much more
Cannes Xpress 2023: Sunny Side Up

Actor-model-activist Sunny Leone, aka Karenjit Kaur Vohra, is visibly emotional for having come this far in her career, against all odds. In her debut at Cannes Film Festival, she isn’t just walking the red carpet. The Canadian American actor of Indian descent, who was once a top star of adult movies, now has her new film—Anurag Kashyap’s Kennedypremiering in the official Midnight Madness section of the festival. At the picturesque Terrasse du Festival in Palais des Festivals, wearing an oversized, fawn-coloured jacket atop a gown, with the sea and the yachts behind her, she spoke to Cinema Express, about her role, the film and working with “Anurag sir”. Excerpts from the conversation:

On her character in Kennedy

My character's name is Charlie. She is a girl stuck in two realities. What she wants to happen and the truth of her situation. She is struggling through it. She’s a strong woman but is in a very sticky situation. I also believe that we know some of these people in life who hide behind smiles and laughs. And Charlie has this over-the-top laugh, and she has this very beautiful appearance but she's hiding behind that smile and that laugh throughout this film. 

On how Charlie came to her

Anurag sir called me and said that he wanted me to audition for the part and if I’d be willing to do that. And I said, yes, absolutely, let us make it happen. I went to the office, and I had this in mind that I will audition only before Anurag sir, or maybe the producer but his entire office was there for it. So many people in one room. When I did the lines Anurag sir said that I’d fit well for the role. And then—the most nerve-wracking part—he turned to everybody, asking their opinion. But it was a yes, across the board.

I was very nervous and anxious, not necessarily with the idea of giving an audition. But it was to do with this huge filmmaker, who creates films that are so amazing, calling me.

Then I found out yesterday that the whole office was being cheeky. They had already made up their mind that they wanted me to be Charlie, but they were testing me, if I would agree to the audition at all. They wanted to see whether I would be dedicated enough. In Bollywood, when you reach a certain point, people don't do auditions. So, I think the idea was to see if I’d be open minded enough.

On auditions

I think that when you work with certain filmmakers, and they want to know for sure that you can be a part of their film in the right way, then an audition or a look test is not so bad. All the pieces [in a film] must fit. So, what's the big deal? I don't think that it should be beneath us to do some of these things.

On the mode of working

So, Anurag sir gave me a brief for Charlie and for the film. He was very secretive; he did not give me the script. Apparently, he gives it to no one. He only gave it to Rahul [Bhatt] because he plays the lead role. He did, however, give me a brief for the character, who it was and what they were expecting. It all made sense. It was completely on the lines of what I felt I could do and accomplish. I tried to find out as much information from him as possible. He sent me some videos of this laugh that Charlie has. He wanted me to nail it. It required getting myself out of my own shell. I'm introverted. And here I would laugh in the car, I would practice laughing on the set, I would be shooting for a song in the middle of hundreds of people, and I would practice it. My team and everyone around me thought I was crazy. I was practising so that when I got to the shoot, I wanted it to become my second nature, like my skin.

On identifying with Charlie

I think that her character is something that we can relate to. How there are these things in life you cherish and that can get taken away from you. How you push past your troubled reality in life, how you must be strong, the walls and blocks you make up for yourself. Charlie has this glamorous appearance as a cover. I think it is very relatable.

On the significance of Kennedy in her career

This is the highlight of my career right now. This is one of the most amazing accomplishments so far. I am somebody who has had so many amazing things happen in my career. I'm very grateful for those.

But then there's this other side, that has not been so great. I've had to really fight, whether it's fighting for acceptance, whether it's fighting for position, whether it's fighting different groups of people who have had very nasty things to say. And then one day I get a call from Anurag sir. I could have never imagined it in my entire life.

Now that same girl is about to go walk the red carpet and be at the Cannes Film Festival in France with a film.

This is above and beyond anything that I could ever think of. I want to believe myself to be strong and a fighter and I want to push past all the [negative] things. And I think that our actions speak louder than our words and this is a very good example of that. And it's like beyond my wildest, wildest thoughts of where I would be in life.

On the busy time in Cannes

Everybody has been working so hard. I think that's the biggest difference between someone coming to Cannes to debut and walk the red carpet, versus having a film here. And our mission is to make this film as big as we can and keep working. I'm calling it Mission Kennedy, where we talk about the film as much as possible. I might not get to do some sightseeing, fine dining, shopping but I'm okay with that.

On the special outfit for the Kennedy premiere

I told my stylist that I don't want you to give me something that is crazy and over the top. I know what my personality is, I don’t want to feel like I'm not dressing for myself, that I'm dressing for somebody's opinion or what somebody wants. I think it's best to be the best version of yourself. 

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