1883 Magazine

This week I get a chance to chat with actor, producer and director Manish Dayal. With work across television, film and theatre as an actor and currently producing the feature Stringer, Manish holds a lot of strings to his bow.

In this interview Manish shares favourite roles, film festivals, type casting, his development into producing plus a few tips for his younger self along the way. We also chat about his exciting new roles in the IFC historical drama feature Viceroy’s House, in theatres now.

When you began acting, you started off in commercials for huge brands such as McDonalds and Nintendo. How much do you feel they helped jump start your career?

Commercials helped me get my SAG card. They offered me some early exposure to life on sets.

You have a flavoursome backdrop across both short and independent films such The Domino Effect to huge features such as The Hundred-Foot Journey, where you starred opposite Helen Mirren. Which style of cinema do you prefer?

I think it’s about the character first. Whether the film is a small budget independent film or much larger in scope, to me the character’s point of view and the world they’re in are the components that typically appeal to me. 

You are currently producing and starring in the feature Stringer. When acting as producer how you do feel it effects your position as an actor within the crew? How do you separate the two?

I’m still new to the process, but at the moment my focus is on producing Stringer. Once I got the option, I had to fundraise and find the right writer to adapt the book - a writer that best fit our story. Stringer is based on a book and it is episodic so it’s a tricky one to adapt. We wanted a writer who could tap into the story’s action-driven elements as well as embrace the story’s vulnerability. We brought on Matt Billingsly (Code Name Veil) and we’re very proud of the script. As an actor, I was able to help character build while we worked on the script together. I gave feedback on the characters, spoke about what moments were playable or could be made more so. My role as a producer and actor in this film definitely intersect, however, once we’re in production, I’m sure my focus will shift to acting.

Talk to me about how you came to be producing this film.

I first learned about Anjan Sundaram’s memoir while watching his Jon Stewart interview on The Daily Show. He was an ambitious Yale math Ph.D. who turned down a six-figure job at the age of 22 to work as a freelance journalist in the Congo, during the country’s first democratic election in over 60 years. I reached out to Anjan directly to talk about adapting his story to screen. I optioned thebook with Industry Entertainment, and we brought on a writer. I was struck by his true story. He travelled to a country after decades of dictatorship in the middle of a bloody civil war that had already killed six million people. A war that no one was even talking about. We’re living in a complicated world and like many of us, my character learns very fast that it takes more than the truth to hold the rich and powerful accountable.

The story takes place during a pivotal election in Congo’s history - one that could bring democracy to the country or not. Stringer is just one example of the concentration of power in the hands of a few elites. A power that threatens to undermine democracy not just in our story, but here at home as well. It’s a political thriller and a coming of age story about youth and the risks we take to figure out how the world works.

As a producer, how important is it to understand in more detail the world behind the camera?

The crew of artists who work tirelessly behind the camera is vital to filmmaking. It is super important that I work to understand and respect everyone’s job and contribution. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a range of crews in the US and abroad. It’s given me valuable perspective.

Do you ever see yourself moving into producing full time, or even directing?

Most definitely. Directing is a long-standing goal of mine. I just finished directing my first short film, Fifteen Years later, which I acted in along with Matt McGorry and Rachel Brosnahan. It’s about two young and once promising men, Jason and Samir, as they independently deteriorate post-9/11. Their lives come face to face fifteen years later when their separate tragedies align. It’s a short film that I wrote and directed to promote discussion and debate about racial justice and our law enforcement. Incidents against people of South Asian, Sikh, Arab and Muslim descent have significantly grown in post 9/11 America and recently there’s been a disturbing resurgence. Many of these incidents are largely unreported and ignored so I wanted to make something about the

challenges immigrant communities face in today’s diverse world.

Looking back across your shorts, TV and feature experience to date, which character do you feel most connected to and why?

I have two:

Hassan Kadam in The Hundred-Foot Journey. It was a role that didn’t come with the resistance people have to a person of color playing a main protagonist. The story is about an immigrant family that moves to France to open a restaurant. I think the role goes past racial and cultural expectations and encouraged folks to go beyond their limits. Personally it inspires me and pushes me to be better.

I played a character suffering from a terminal illness on 90210. I was opposite a white, blond surfer chick. Raj was a real portrayal of a young Indian-American kid in California. Many folks called it risky for network television. The response to that role was incredible. It was encouraging to a lot of young people to see an Indian-American character exist on television without typical stereotypes. While there’s been some progress towards diversity, these types of characters are still too few. We’ll get there.

You graduated from college and decided to pursue theatre and film after.

What did you study and what propelled you into the acting sphere?

I got a liberal arts education and a degree in business, however, I was always latched to film and appreciated well-acted and complicated performances. I studied filmmaking as well which shifted to acting after I played a bit part in a friend’s student project. After that, I was hooked. Additionally after 9/11, many of us had to re-evaluate ourselves. It was important to hone in on what exactly I could legitimately contribute to the discussion. People with brown skin, for example, were not being represented with any dignity and the larger and more dangerous consequence was that our country wasn’t being reflected properly. IMO, after 9/11, acting and film went from passion to a responsibility.

You have moved from South Carolina to New York and LA. What challenges have you faced in pursuing acting?

Balancing the need to work and staying true to yourself, your point of view. It’s a balance I work on all the time. I’m grateful for my career , but escaping minority tokenism is often tricky. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with game changing filmmakers and actors. I’ve learned a lot from them, and my hope is to give back to my community in the same way. Acting is a competitive business and it requires a great deal of patience…not just with yourself. New York is a city that challenges you and pushes you. That’s why I love NYC. It seems to always turn panic into something creative.

What training have you had as an actor?

I studied at a conservatory, but I’d say most of my training happened on the job. I think it’s how I learn best – by practice.

Have you ever been attracted to theatre work?

Most definitely. I did a play in NYC years ago. It’s something I will do again for sure.

What particular skills have you had to learn on set for roles?

I’m currently working on a new drama series for FOX called The Resident. It’s about the harsh realities of medicine. I think it’s a big responsibility to portray a doctor and it’s one I have to get right. For example, I’m learning how one would do a central line – where you insert a catheter into a large vein in the neck. In The Hundred-Foot Journey, I learned some unusual types of cooking techniques – like molecular gastronomy. In Viceroy’s House, accent training was a large component since it was a time period piece. My character is a Hindi speaking police officer who learned English as a second language during British rule.

Every actor across all mediums of the industry will agree that it is a tough one to crack. What advice would you give your younger self with the power of hindsight?

Read everything you can on whatever it is that you focus your life on. I would tell my younger self to ask more questions and that respectfully challenging authority is not a bad idea. I’d tell my younger self to experience success and failure with the same level of excitement. Something someone told me once -auditioning is the job. Each audition is an opportunity to flex, to practice, to exercise.

This September you will be seen starring in the IF historical drama feature Viceroy’s House which recently premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. What are your favorite film festivals you have been to date?

Berlinale was a blast. I’m also a fan of Tribeca, SXSW and Sundance. I think film festivals are committed to the filmmakers they spotlight. It’s where filmmakers can showcase their diverse and cutting edge ideas. My latest film Viceroy’s House based on Freedom At Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, is about the Partition of 1947. Its based on a true story of the division of the Indian subcontinent into two countries: India and Pakistan. Close to 15 million people became displaced and close to two million people died. It was the greatest mass-migration of modern history and it’s been relatively undocumented on-screen. I play Jueet Kumar in the film.

What career plans do you have for the next five years?

I am looking forward to beginning physical production on Stringer. I also want to direct a feature film.


Catch Manish playing the role of Jeet in his new film Viceroy’s House out now in theatres in the US.

Interview Katie Rice

Photography Stephanie YT

Grooming Sonia Lee at Exclusive Artists

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