I’ve had the chance to speak with many great actors and filmmakers but one person I wasn’t expecting to cross paths with was Brett Lee. He hasn’t won an Oscar… be has taken 310 test wickets for Australia. Now that his cricket days are behind him, he’s branched out into acting and has the lead role in an Australia film, UnIndian, which is about to be released in cinemas.
Matt: We all know you as Brett Lee the cricketer. Are you actually a big movie buff? Do you watch a lot of films?
Brett: I do watch a lot of movies. We spent a lengthy periods of time on the road when playing cricket so it gave me the chance to watch them. I’ve got a weird taste in that I love old Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey movies but then again I also like a Leonardo DiCaprio drama.
Matt: Was there ever point where you actually thought you might star in an Aussie movie?
Brett: Absolutely not. If you asked me that a decade ago, I would have laughed. A lot of offers have come through in the last few years to make Bollywood movies but I wasn’t ready as I was still playing cricket. This film was first presented to me in early 2014. It’s an Australian film with a love for India and some beautiful messages. It had 119 scenes which had me worried but we sat down, spoke about it, and went and did it.
Matt: Your casting in the film is no coincidence given it will have appeal in India where you are a renowned cricket. I’d love to know though – were you always the guy or were there other cricketing buddies they approached about being in the film?
Brett: I’m not sure. If you peel back the layers, a conduit between Australia and India is sport. Every time I’ve been lucky to go to India, people recognise me as an Australian cricketer. I’m hoping that when the film does get released in India, audiences will go along and appreciate it. We had an absolute ball making it.
Matt: What sort of reactions did you get from friends and family when you said you were taking on the role?
Brett: They were like “sorry, what?” My parents have always backed me 100%. I was never pushed into cricket but they helped me as much as they could along the journey. This is no different. Once I told them about this movie, they were extremely encouraging. I love new challenges in life. Cricket is not my only passion. I love music and movies and going fishing. This was an opportunity I didn’t want to let to go. I’ve known the director, Anupam Sharma, for a decade. I trust him and he’s a terrific friend. The best compliment I’ve received from my family is that they say after the first few minutes, they see Will the character as opposed to Brett Lee the actor.
Matt: There are students who spend years at NIDA trying to perfect the acting craft. Many of us think we could be great actors but how easy was it doing it for the first time?
Brett: It wasn’t easy. I’ve had the utmost respect for actors. I’ve done simple commercials where you get a piece of paper and have to regurgitate lines. This is different though. I thought it would be hard to memorise the lines and that the acting would be easy part. When I got to the end of the process though, I realised it was the opposite.
Matt: You’re a professional athlete and so you’re used to seeing yourself on TV… but what was it like watching this film for the first time and seeing yourself try to be an actor?
Brett: Weird, exciting and nerve racking. My hands still get clammy just thinking about it. I never got nervous while bowling but sometimes I did when batting. At the premiere, we had two packed cinemas and I was there with my family. I did a quick intro, sat in my seat and said to my wife – “this is real, this is actually happening.”
Matt: An interesting touch in the movie is that we do get to see some photos of you as a youngster. I’ve always wondered how filmmakers go about that? Did Anupam Sharma ask you to bring in some old photo albums?
Brett: I’d wondered the same thing. When they show a really young photo of an actor, is it a look-a-like or is actually them? All of those photos were mine. There’s one of me at my old high school holding a basketball.
Matt: There are some kissing and love making scenes which is a big step for someone making their feature film debut. Piece of cake or quite challenging?
Brett: To use a cricket metaphor, it’s not facing a 120 km/hr straight up delivery. The ball is travelling at 160 km/hr and it’s swinging both ways. It’s full on, it’s jumping in the deep end. The challenge for me in sport is living on the edge and trying to bowl the quickest ball every single time. Sport and business are very similar. In cricket, you are made up of 11 players who constitute a team. In this film, I’m working with Tannishtha, my co-star, as a partnership. We work off each other. It’s the advice I received from Kevin Jackson at NIDA. He said you’ve got to be a good listener. Don’t think about what your next line is, look her in the eye and listen to her.
Matt: There are couple of moments, including the end credits, where we getting involved with an elaborate Bollywood dance number. Do those scenes take a lot of rehearsal time?
Brett: If we go back a step, the dance number in Parramatta for the holy festival involved me dancing normally which of course was horrible. I had to look like I was an awkward dancer and that was easy to do.
Matt: Are there plans to take the film to India? Will you be touring there as part of the promotion?
Brett: It definitely will. The investors want to give it a red hot crack here first in Australia and see what type of reception it gets. We will then go to India. We’re getting a lot of questions on social media about when it will go to India and hopefully it will be soon.
Matt: What are your plans going forward? If this film is a success, would you think about doing more movies or is this just a one-off venture?
Brett: I would love to do more movies. It’s hard work, it’s long hours, it’s 3 months of your time, and it’s a big commitment. I’d love to do it again though. I had a great team around me. With cricket, you don’t want to go home after one wicket. You always want more.