Poorna Jagannathan: Couldn't sleep the night before my shoot with Nicole Kidman
'Overwhelmed' Poorna Jagannathan on standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep in the second season of Big Little Lies
Standing tall at 5 feet 7 inches, Poorna Jagannathan greets me with a sunny smile when I catch up with the actor, who has suddenly become the talk of the town. Reason — Jagannathan can be seen rubbing shoulders with Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman in the second season of the highly acclaimed Big Little Lies. In an exclusive chat with mid-day, she talks about playing a lawyer on the Star World show and how lack of interesting offers in Bollywood left her West-bound.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
How did you land the role?
In the West, when it is a high-profile show, they change the material for the audition. At the audition, I didn't know what the show was or who I was working with. All I was told was that she [her character] practises family law and will be fighting a custody case. To prep for the role, I went down to the family court in LA and saw how lawyers interact with their clients and tried to assess their personality. I used to think lawyers are 'out for blood'. But family lawyers are sweet and nurturing.
What was your reaction on learning that you will work alongside Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon?
It was overwhelming. I learned much later that I would be acting with Meryl Streep. When you win a lottery, you are not only happy; the feeling is that of shitting in your pants. It was too much of good news [laughs].
How was it to share screen space with Kidman?
Day One was so scary, I couldn't sleep all night. I usually don't sleep the night before, but in this case, I couldn't sleep well for three weeks. Nicole is a private person and we got to know each other better over the course of the filming. My first scene with her was where I [nudge her] to accept the settlement. Nicole maintained [the commitment to her character] throughout the shoot. While I can hold on to emotions and the circumstances of the script for a long time, I can't be in that space for months. But Nicole did that with such ease. It's not because she is a commendable actor but because she had become the character. I have not seen such investment in a character, from a performer, before.
You had written a play, Nirbhaya, that dealt with sexual abuse. What new did you learn about the subject from Big Little Lies?
I was torn by the sexual violence mixed with love. In season two, you learn that Celeste [Kidman's character] doesn't have a family, and he [Perry, husband] picks up on that. That's how he is a predator and she is the prey. She doesn't have a reason to stay with him, but still, she does. It is complicated. People question why she stayed with him for so long. But the inner working of marital rape is scary. I am well-versed in sexual violence, but marital rape is much more nuanced. It is not even considered rape [in India].
Why don't we see more of you in Hindi films?
I stepped away from Bollywood. I am attracted to different kinds of stories and I was not getting those at the time. Now with [the advent of] Netflix and Amazon Prime, we have series like Delhi Crime that resonates with me.
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