It may have been hard to place Abhay Deol with his debut Socha Na Tha—was he in line to become a quintessential commercial hero? Or was this Deol cut from a different cloth?—but his next few, we’re talking Dev D, Manorama Six Feet Under, and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! set the tone for him to become the poster boy of indie cinema. Although his commercial picks like Aisha, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and Raanjhanaa were equally nuanced and far from run-of-the-mill. Sure, there have been a few underwhelming choices, including his production One By Two, Happy Bhag Jayegi, and Nanu Ki Jaanu, but Deol struck back with Chopsticks and Jungle Cry and continues to balance the mainstream and niche choices with equal aplomb, a craft we see in his latest series Trial by Fire.
Outside the world of films, he is a painter and an aspiring sustainable builder, and he seamlessly switches between his many roles and interests, as he does between his homes in LA, Goa, and Mumbai.
In an exclusive conversation with Bazaar India, he talks to us about acting, his interests, and his homes around the world.
Sonal Ved: The series Trial by Fire has received immense love from the OTT audience. But you have other projects you’re working on simultaneously, can you tell us a little about them?
Abhay Deol: I live between LA, Goa, and Mumbai. I do a lot of independent stuff that doesn’t get the same marketing and distribution budgets as most projects do. For instance, Trial by Fire was a bigger project so you knew when it was released, but not everybody knows when Jungle Cry was released.
SV: Considering most of Bollywood’s working is centred in Mumbai, and there is a constant influx of activity here, what made you take a break from the city and move to Assagao (Goa) and Los Angeles?
AD: I’ve always felt claustrophobic in Mumbai—there’s so much traffic, noise, and pollution. I love the people, and I have friends and family in the industry, but it was important for me to feel a little more free. Goa is very open—it is green and doesn’t get flooded during the monsoons. LA is like home; I studied in California and I have family there—my sisters lived there. To add, I’m anonymous in LA; it's nice to live like a regular, average person there.
SV: And what does everyday life in Goa look like?
AD: In Goa, I work on my health. I go to the gym four days a week, do yoga twice, do gua sha massage twice a week, swim, and attend dance classes. And then I go about the regular house chores, I read my scripts, attend phone calls, and sometimes when there is nothing to do, I relax. I wish I were more open to going to the beach, but I tend to be in my house more than out.
SV: What are your interests and passions outside of acting?
AD: I spend a lot of time expanding what I do in films—I started with acting, then went on to develop the script for Dev D, and also delved into production. I am interested in architecture; I’ve been looking to build sustainable homes and housing. I met an architect to build a completely off-the-grid experimental structure between Mumbai and Pune. My house in Goa is anything but sustainable, so the next one I make will be off-the-grid. I also draw and paint. I would love to do wellness retreats in Goa and am planning to start packaged wellness retreats for people at my property.
SV: Post-pandemic, we've all become so much more mindful about how we want to spend our time and lives, haven't we?
AD: I'm glad that people got there. I was already there before the pandemic, because I was in a self-imposed jail, if you may call it that. I was here for the first lockdown, and I had the best time because, of course, I was privileged to have this beautiful house, pool, and garden. I would get on my cycle and ride the empty streets. But I knew my case was unique. I saw a lot of people trying to move to Goa after the lockdown was lifted because they realised there should be more to life than living in a city and doing a nine-to-five job. It’s also about our health and extracurricular activities. I thought that was the silver lining in a dark cloud.
SV: How do you think you've evolved as an actor?
AD: It's hard for me to judge the quality of my work; that's really for the audience to say. When I perform, I always think it can be better. I can, however, comment on how I've changed as a person. I feel like I have made a good amount of effort, particularly in the last three to four years, in understanding my mental makeup—my traumas and where they come from, what I lack, my mistakes, what I can learn from them, all of it. And, for me, acting is so much about being, and as your being expands, your experience allows you to add value to your performance.
Acting and filmmaking are creative mediums; there's no right or wrong way of doing it. There may be technical rules and formulas, but when you are doing it from a space of creativity and artistic expression, there are no rules. So, the more you work on yourself, the more you can transcend or translate to the public complex theories and philosophies. Performances become simple to explain when you work on yourself.
SV: Speaking of diversifying your craft, what has been the major difference between working on an OTT show vs films? Which one do you enjoy more?
AD: Time is one of the central factors. With a show, you have more days to shoot—for instance, if we are doing seven episodes, each one-hour-long, seven hours of footage is edited for it. On the other hand, for a film, it is two hours. I can’t imagine playing the same character for a few years. I get done with a character in three months and am eager to move on. So that might be a challenge for me. The marketing for the two is also different—theatrical films tend to have a lot more travel and a lot more studios to record in, whereas OTT platforms tend to have their tie-ups with a handful of people.
SV: Which of your roles is closest to Abhay as a person?
AD: No one character is me entirely. For instance, in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! I related to Lucky’s ambition, but not to his idea of wanting a shortcut through life. I also relate to Dev D’s character because, in the past, I have been obsessive and abused my body. Like the character in Aisha, I have been there for someone I have loved but not necessarily told her. So, I relate to all my characters but none of them are entirely me. Trial by Fire’s Shekhar was alien to me because it’s a true story and I have never been through that kind of trauma. But if something like that happened to my family, I’d like to believe I will fight till the end.
SV: What kind of content do you like to consume?
AD: I truly enjoyed Euphoria; the first season of White Lotus and Landscapers, which features Olivia Coleman and David Thewlis. Dark comedy is my go-to genre.
SV: You have a distinct ease in your fashion choices. It’s nonchalant, yet there is a lot of style. Are you a fashion aficionado?
AD: I like to wear nice clothes and dress up in colours or styles that appeal to me, but I do not have a specific brand that I like or buy. I don’t like to try too hard. If you’re looking to dress well, you have to understand who you are and what makes you comfortable. You can read and put together what is trending, but you are just following a trend, never creating one. And it’s not like you have to create trends; when you find your individuality, anything can look good on you. It’s what you exude that matters. It doesn’t start with the clothes, it starts with you.
SV: What are some of the cool projects we can see you in next?
AD: I’ve signed a movie, but I can’t speak much about it. It came to me a month before Trial by Fire was released. I liked the script, and I’ve worked with the director previously and know the producer really well.