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Never Second Best

Actress Tina Desai stars in the uplifting film The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Tina Desai in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Actress Tina Desai’s path to Hollywood has been anything but conventional. Her first taste of stardom came at the hands of a popular reality competition show in India called Get Gorgeous. The series followed a handful of young women, all hoping to walk away with a prestigious modeling contract. Desai didn’t win the competition – though she was signed by a modeling agency shortly after her time on the show ended – but that was okay with the aspiring actress who holds a degree in business management and is fluent in five languages.

In an interview Desai did with Anokhi Magazine, the star of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel revealed the hard work she’s put into planning a career in film. “Once I decided I wanted to be an actor, it was like that for me — constantly sitting and plotting how I could enter the industry while I was still in school,” Desai told the magazine. “I thought the best way to enter the industry would be through modeling because that way, I would gain experience, learn about camera angles, lighting and basics of acting. My idea with this was so that when I go to meet directors for films in the future, I have something to show them in terms of what I can look like on camera and to also give them a sense of my acting abilities.”

Desai’s future directors are certainly getting a sense of the star’s abilities now. Her first ever Hollywood movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, was an international box office success and saw the young talent working with the likes of some of the industry’s biggest heavyweights. Icons like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy have all become Desai’s Facebook friends and email pen pals. “We all actually kept in touch from the first movie. We’d email and Facebook each other,” Desai told Guideposts.org, and with the release of the second installment in the series, Desai is getting even more screen time and a second chance to work with actors who served as inspiration when the rookie was just getting her start in Bollywood.

Guideposts.org spoke with the star about what it was like checking back into the Marigold hotel and why she hopes fans draw inspiration from the movie’s uplifting message.

Did you all know there’d be another movie when you were filming The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?

We were all joking about it at the end of the first [movie] because we all had a marvelous time making the first one. It was the only way we’d all ever meet again. We never thought it would actually happen. Then immediately, we all wanted to know what the story would be like because we didn’t know what more was left to tell. The first one ended very happily, but there’s actually so much more of the story that happened. The first one is all about them coming to India but how their life actually is once they’ve lived in India, what happened to them, there’s a huge story to tell.

What was it like getting the cast back together again?

It was a big family on set. Everyone was talking about how special it was and how it doesn’t happen often that everyone actually gets along with everyone on set. On set, everyone had a relative visit. So we’d be meeting somebody’s father, or husband, or children or best friend. There were at least two guests that were on set every day. I know everyone’s father, daughter, mother and son now. But it was a very, very special experience. I know it doesn’t happy with every project, that’s why I find Marigold so special.

What was it like working with experienced, celebrated actors like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith? Did you learn anything?

I think I’m very grateful for the fact that I got to work with them for my second project ever because it’s setting a standard as an actor. You have to learn, if you’re passionate about the job, if you’re ambitious, if you want to do what they’ve done, which anyone would want to do because they’ve got amazing career paths. Their discipline, their professionalism, their attitude towards their work, their attitude towards other people, their preparation. There’s no hierarchy. No matter how cold it was, they’d still be in the background for an out of focus shot, retake, after retake, even if it was an over the shoulder shot, even if they weren’t in frame. I think that’s just a great amount of dedication and respect for other actors and the job and I love that.

You play a strong female character in the movie. Are those roles your favorite to take on?

Absolutely. I do like playing the role of a strong woman. I don’t like playing the wuss. I always watch people in real life who don’t stand up for themselves and think for themselves, and I always think, ‘Why? Why don’t you be your own person?’ So yes, I like playing the strong girl. And Sonny’s character invites trouble. [Sunaina] being the rational, sensible one but also the emotional one, stands by his insanity and tries to be supportive and be there for him no matter what. They’re in love. I like that mix of being the emotional one and being understanding but also being the sensible one who can draw him in.

Who’s the funniest cast member on set?

Dev [Patel]. Undoubtedly. He’s just a clown. He’s Jim Carey on 500 Red Bulls. He’s funny, he’s energetic, he’s mad, he has zero inhibitions, he doesn’t care who’s around. It could be Judi Dench, it could be a spot boy, and he doesn’t care. He just goes about his business. He’s fearless with his jokes. He’s got a very clean heart, he could say the most obnoxious things but he’s just so innocent about that that you just have to laugh. When he’s on set, everybody knows. It’s a very infectious energy. Everyone comes alive in his company. It’s a joy to watch him.

What’s the overall message of this film?

I think it’s just that you should never stop living. Death can come the second you stop living. No matter what your age, your problems are the same. What [you] feel at the age of 70 can be what you feel at the age of 25. You’re worrying about your career, you’re worrying about the future … it never ends. You should never resign yourself to the fact that life is over. That is something that these actors believe as well. They’re already independent. They still travel, they still have active careers, they still have active personal lives, they keep abreast with technology and current affairs. I like that their characters and their real-life personalities are people that live their life to the fullest everyday and that’s what the message of the film is. Never give up and never lose hope.

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