THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST
As the script was being written, actors were being hired from around the world by New York based casting director Cindy Tolan, who had cast Nair's The Namesake. Liaising with casting contacts in Europe, her months of searching spanned North America, India and Pakistan.
"Liev wanted to meet with me to lobby for the role of Bobby," says Nair. "We had lunch and I saw he could certainly play Bobby. He was the first."
"To be honest, what initially attracted me was Mira," says Schreiber. "She was someone I admired and was eager to work with, on anything. Then I read Mohsin's book and I felt it was a really timely piece, and provocative in a way I was drawn to, and even incendiary a little bit, in a way I think is healthy."
Nair was impressed by Schreiber's work on stage in Talk Radio and A View From The Bridge. "He is deeply charismatic, with an amazing voice," she says. "He has an authority and a stature that raises the bar on everything." The actor had also lived in India for some years in his youth. "That was good for me," says Nair. "He's like a worldly hippie."
Kiefer Sutherland next boarded the project to portray Jim Cross, the managing director of a fictional high-end boutique Wall Street hedge fund called Underwood Samson. He hires Changez and becomes a father figure of sorts to the young Pakistani man as he initially thrives in this meritocratic environment.
"He is someone with a job to do," says Sutherland of Jim. "He is very pragmatic and straightforward about that. It is a story about how through our own fear, and I guess our own ignorance on some level, we have taken some of our greatest allies and turned them into enemies," he says of the movie.
The process of casting Sutherland was pleasingly straightforward. "Kiefer was very passionate about our screenplay and immediately committed," Nair recalls. "Jim is a three-dimensional, complex person, not a cipher for everything wrong with the Western world's financial system. He represents many positives about Western society, particularly the clear-sighted way in which he sees Changez."
"Jim is the best of America," says Nair. "He comes from the America where somebody like Changez can come in with the wrong skin color, wrong last name, at the trickiest of times and still be treated brilliantly because of his mind." Nair uses the world of Underwood Samson to explore the concept of economic fundamentalism alongside that of political fundamentalism. The film suggests there are many belief systems based on their own fundamentals, which ignore the views and fate of those people who do not share their opinion. The world of finance, the film suggests, is based on the notion of profit at all costs, a notion where the end always justifies the means. This is exemplified by Jim and Changez's ruthless rationalization of companies, which results in hundreds of faceless employees losing their jobs and their livelihoods.
"It was very exciting to have these parallels in our story between the fundamentals of money and terrorism," Nair says. "It is about how belief systems can subordinate ordinary lives." However, the director is quick to point out the film is not equating a banker with a terrorist. "I wanted to think about belief systems and how they impact us," she explains.
While at Underwood Samson, Changez meets and falls in love with Erica, a young and enigmatic artist. The relationship between Erica and Changez develops through the tragedy of 9/11, and we see the impact on them, as well as on the city itself. Kate Hudson was eager to play the role of Erica. However, when Hudson and Nair first met, in early 2011, the actress was pregnant with her second child, and it was clear the timing wouldn't work. "We really fell in love with each other," says the director. "We hung out for hours, which is something I never do. And then we went through many others and Kate kept sending me love notes. Then we got delayed and the baby came and she was available. It was meant to be. By then I had cast Riz."
Riz Ahmed was thrilled to be partnered with Hudson. "Kate is a joy to work with," he says. "She's an incredibly down-to-earth and cool woman and it made our intense scenes much easier."
As with Jim, the duality in Erica is what makes her character recognizably real. She embodies elements of an artistic, bohemian, aspirational, American way of life. But life and love and people are not simple. And as America ultimately betrays Changez, so too does Erica, unwittingly, when her Brechtian political art installation has the opposite effect on Changez than she had intended.
"I couldn't film a female character I didn't want to be with," says Nair, of her intentions for Erica. "For the film, we reconceived her as a struggling artist, made more complicated by the privilege she has been born into, and wounded by a secret in her past. She is so immersed in herself, yet porous about the world around her, so much so that she doesn't see where art ends and exploitation begins."
The legendary Indian star Om Puri plays Changez's father, a poet steeped in the traditions of rich Lahori culture. Changez's mother is played by Shabana Azmi, an acclaimed Indian star who comes from an esteemed literary and theatre family. Changez's parents imbue the elegance and soul of upper middle class contemporary Lahoris, living and surviving in a country that deals with the pressure of constant economic and political challenges.
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