Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following interview with actor, RAJESH BOSE, appearing in Westport Country Playouse’s production of The Invisible Hand
Rajesh Bose appearing in The Invisible Hand
At Westport Country Playhouse through August 6th
Rajesh Bose is a graduate of Boston’s Emerson College. He also received training at Shakespeare & Company, a Massachusetts performance venue and program for professional classical actors, where the likes of Richard Dreyfuss, Oliver Platt, Keanu Reeves, Sigourney Weaver, and Olympia Dukakis have been notable actors and alum. Rajesh has a long list of theatre, film, and television credits to his name, including Off-Broadway’s Indian Ink and Masked; the film Frozen River with Melissa Leo; and appearances on television’s The Good Wife, The Sopranos, Elementary, and Nurse Jackie among others.
Rajesh took time out of his busy rehearsal schedule to speak with us about his upcoming performance in Westport Country Playhouse’s The Invisible Hand by playwright Ayad Akhtar. We also discussed with him the power of live theatre, the differences he finds between film and stage acting, and the challenges of the actor’s life. This also isn’t Rajesh’s first time performing in one of Akhtar’s powerful works; Rajesh has starred in regional productions of Disgraced in Connecticut (where he won the Connecticut Critics Circle Award for outstanding actor in a play), Boston, and North Carolina; and in The Who & The What in Florida.
Please read on to learn more about this very intense, driven, versatile actor,
PT: Great to meet you! We’re glad to have finally connected.
RB: Yes! Absolutely.
PT: Our readership loves these interviews, so thank you for granting it to us!
RB: My pleasure!
PT: So yesterday, we interviewed your costar Eric who told us a bit about The Invisible Hand. We may end up talking about some of the same things, but first, tell us a bit about yourself – we know you went to Emerson College in Boston.
RB: I was at Emerson many years ago and I majored in theatre and film. I wasn’t originally from the Boston area; but when I was a little kid we lived in the Tewksbury, Massachusetts, then my family moved to the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. But somehow I ended up deciding to go back to school in Boston. Right out of school I moved to New York, I made some stops back to Pittsburgh where I grew up, then I went to Los Angeles for a number of years. I’ve been acting really since I graduated – certainly with some ups and downs – but that’s been my fairly consistent career path since college.
PT: Did you come from a show business family?
RB: No, no, not at all. My father is an engineer, my mother is an accountant. No show business at all in my family except for me. It was something that sparked my interest when I was very young and when I was a senior in high school I had an internship at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre which is the largest LORT [League of Resident Theatres] in Pennsylvania and I was so impressed – I got to see every show that season and I was so incredibly impressed by the actors and what they did, I just found myself wanting to do that. And I also was just enamored with them – we got to be there for the talk-backs with the actors and I just thought they were, you know, they were rock stars to me.
RB: Yeah, they seemed like the coolest people on the planet. Watching what they did night after night just seemed extraordinary to me. I remember specifically, there was a production of Fences that I saw. And there’s the scene when Cory comes back from the military for his father’s passing and in this production, he just walks down center and he breaks down and I was sitting in the front row – seeing that live, I was just in utter awe of that craft and that vulnerability. I think then for me it was like, This is what I want to do. And the power he had in the room – for everyone in the room there was just dead silence and everybody was on the edge of their seats. That was maybe the most inspiring thing to me and made me want to learn this craft.
PT: Wow. So powerful. What did your family think when you first said you wanted to go into the business and what do they think now?
RB: They were far more supportive than many I know. They didn’t try then to force me to study something else or to get a degree in something practical that I didn’t particularly care to do. They let me go to Emerson. They let me study what I wanted to study, so…but I think in the back of their heads they didn’t necessarily understand what it was – they had nothing to base it on from their own lives. And my brother’s not an actor, he’s an academic, but he’s had a very strong interest in theatre as well. I think they didn’t understand how both their children became so obsessed with theatre (laughs).
RB: But I think now, especially with the [productions I’ve done] – they came to see the first Disgraced in North Carolina and they were very impressed by the entire production. And I think when they see something like that, they realize how much work goes into it. There’s a respect for how difficult it is. I have friends whose parents are very anti-arts, my parents were never like that. But as they’ve seen me act more and more, they appreciate more about what goes into it.
PT: (Wayne) I creeped your IMDb page and I know you did the last episode of The Sopranos—
RB: Yes, I did.
PT: (Wayne) Is Tony dead or not, tell me (laughs).
RB: (Laughs) They never told me but, uh…I’m gonna say he’s alive.
PT: (Wayne) Yeah (laughs) I like happy endings!
So how is it different from stage acting and film acting – you’ve done both we know. How do you perceive the differences?
RB: I think for most actors and certainly for myself, we’re trained as stage actors. That is the bulk of our training, our schooling, our education. To study Shakespeare and Chekov – and using that material to be trained, certainly for myself, it is what turns us on and gets our juices flowing. For me personally, I remember as a kid at the big movies like Star Wars or Superman, I loved those movies but I never watched them and thought after, I want to be an actor. I just loved the movies or the stories or the special effects. It was more of watching live stage that made me want to be an actor. With the experiences I’ve had of being on sets on a television show or film – you realize how small of a cog in the machine you are with what actually ends up being on screen or on television – it’s a miniscule amount of what I might actually have put into it. At the end of the day, what we’re doing is that we are playing – when I’m doing a show, I’m playing for two, three hours every night. And when I’m shooting for television or film I’m playing for maybe thirty seconds at a time and then I stop. Then I have to wait another hour and then I get to play for another thirty seconds. It’s obviously a very different process. Of course the paychecks are much higher in television, so that’s always welcome! But as far as just the pure joy of playing, it doesn’t have that. And of course the pure joy of the feedback – there are moments on stage when we know it’s going well. When we know everybody’s listening. When we know we’ve moved an audience or shocked an audience or done whatever is required in that show. The feeling is irreplaceable and so enlivening. A half hour before a show I might be a little tired or stressed or [affected by] whatever is going on in my life, but when a show goes well, at the end of the show I’m wired because of the energy of the audience that night and it will take me a while to go to sleep. Those experiences don’t generally happen filming a television show or film.
PT: And there’s that post-show depression when a show closes.
RB: Absolutely! Because it seeps into my DNA a little bit. I did Disgraced for quite a while and after it ended, I mean, I needed a little bit of a break, but it was like I could feel the process of it slowing leaving me and there’s a depression in that.
PT: We saw Disgraced on Broadway and we loved it – it was well-deserving of the Pulitzer. What was it that attracted you to The Invisible Hand – obviously we know it is by the same playwright. Was there something about it that really attracted you to it?
RB: I remember reading The Invisible Hand about five years ago and it was actually a very different play then. The central idea presented is one that certainly caught my attention – without giving too much away, this idea that a currency can be shorted and can be profited from that way that obviously leads to the question that somebody could create the conditions for a company to fail or a currency to fail. And that someone now has the idea to do that. Just the idea that if we take it to its logical conclusion, it’s very ugly. On the very first day of rehearsal, David Kennedy, our director, who is wonderful, did this very thorough presentation. He’d done this enormous amount of research, and he brought up this fact that on September 10, 2001 there were 4500-plus put options on United Airlines stock – a put option is what somebody would place when they are trying to short a stock. And 4500 was something like 100 times higher than the average of any given day of put options for United Airlines or any airline. So that leads to the question that somebody must have known what was going to happen and tried to profit off of it. The 9/11 Commission concluded that there was no malfeasance and it was just a coincidence, but just the idea though, that there is an incentive to create havoc in the world and profit from it is part of our financial system that is intertwined – I didn’t know any of this about the United Airlines stock and I found that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The idea that – the more I think about it, the more absurd and heinous it is. And you know, financial people will tell me that it’s not nearly as absurd as I’m making it because there are checks in place to stop this, but still…the difference between The Invisible Hand and [Ayad Akhtar’s] two other plays is that The Invisible Hand is more about this larger idea about the structure of the world whereas both Disgraced and The Who & The What I feel are a little bit more relationship-centered. The tragedies or the conflicts are between the very human people. And not that it’s not the case here, but the overwhelming idea about the structure of the world is one that I find myself not able to stop thinking about. And that’s what compelled me.
PT: When we saw Disgraced on Broadway, we both felt it was very even-handed; not biased toward one point of view. It really brought up a lot of issues to think about on all sides – not necessarily one point of view that was more dominant. Do you think that is a common motif by the Akhtar?
RB: Yeah. I think so. I think there is certainly the same case to be made with The Invisible Hand where every character is advocating for something equally as present in the room. The character I play, Imam, has very valid, very specific reasons as does Eric’s character, Nick. Very much like Disgraced, I don’t know that anybody leaves…you might initially be more sympathetic to one character but as you talk about it with somebody, you might think, Yeah, they made a good point. There’s no way to easily conclude. I think The Invisible Hand will have the same effect on the audience, where it will lead to almost unending conversation. That was my experience with Disgraced that people always had something to say about it – no one was indifferent – like, Yeah, whatever. Nobody had that reaction. They’ll want to advocate for a side, talk about. And like you said, there is an even-handedness about it so it isn’t easy to latch on to just one side, because right around the corner there is something that will skew that. That’s a great piece of art. A great piece of theatre.
RB: That’s a very good question. I think we’re going to see a world that virtually no one has ever seen or been a part of – and I think the Pakistani characters will be very humanized as well as, regardless of where one might fall in their opinions about the structure of the world or the inequalities of the world. I would hope that the power that stories have to illuminate and to humanize – with this one, in addition to the overarching arguments of the world’s structure, it is presenting very real people who are doing the very best they can in certain situations – and if I were in that situation or if you were in that situation or if an audience member was in that situation, certainly I think we would be watching and thinking, I don’t know if I would be doing anything any differently. Certainly if that was the lot we were given in life, what would we do? Most likely the same thing. That’s easy to say, but when that’s illustrated so clearly in a story, then it’s not just an intellectual thing anymore, it’s real. If there’s a way a story can do that, I think this one will.
PT: (Stephanie) As playwrights ourselves, that is such a valid point. We are planning a staged reading of a play we’ve written and it is pretty controversial on a different level. It has the same kind of thing you were just talking about – the decisions made and the actions made by the characters – people will agree or disagree but whatever position they take, the audience likely will have an understanding about why the character chose the path that they did. We enjoy very thought-provoking theatre as much as what Wayne loves to call “mindless entertainment.” But we love theatre that leaves you feeling something long after.
RB: I would concur. I think that’s true, too of all of Ayad’s plays. The Invisible Hand walks that line of being both even-handed and incendiary at the same time. And it’s that thing when you leave the theatre, right away you might have an initial discussion and the next day you might think, Actually, and then you change your mind. And then it might happen again the next day (laughs). I’m fairly certain that’s the reaction that most might have.
PT: (Wayne) I had mentioned Emerson – we always talk to actors about training. What was it like at Emerson?
RB: I had a wonderful time at Emerson. The program is different now – I don’t know if I can speak to it today. But I benefited from that [training]. A teacher with whom I had most of my classes I’m still in touch with, more than 20 years later. When I went to Boston to do Disgraced, we hung out for a while and he came to see me. I think it’s a great institution. I’m very jealous now – when I was there we lived in these very old dying dorms where we could only put in 25-watt lightbulbs (laughs)—
PT: (Laughs) Wow!
RB: –and now they have these state-of-the-art dorms with these LED TVs everywhere. I’m looking around like, What? We didn’t have any of this! And their facilities are much better now – we had this little, tiny black box. Now they have the Emerson Majestic and this other theatre that they own – these huge sort of Broadway-type houses. The Emerson Arts – my friend who is a playwright had his play produced there. Emerson Arts really wonderful programming in Boston. There seems to be a lot going on there. Martha, the associate company manager [at Westport Country Playhouse] just graduated from Emerson. There seem to be Emerson grads everywhere – especially out in L.A. It’s a tiny school – when I was there I think it was only about 500 in the freshman class. But I run into Emerson grads – particularly in television – quite often.
PT: A lot of our readers are artists and actors and writers. I asked the same question to Terrence McNally, one of our greatest American playwrights but he didn’t give anything away. But we do ask actors, what is your process in approaching a film or stage role?
RB: It depends on the part specifically. Generally for me, words matter first. Particularly with anything on stage – the words matter first before anything else. If something is worded in a very specific way, I find that in the process of learning a script, something happens in saying these words again and again and again. Something changes in myself and it’s important. Some actors start without the words first, trying to figure out something psychological. For me, the words always lead me to that. That’s the quickest path for me. To me that’s the most specific way of finding somebody – the words that they speak and when I learn a script and I learn it exactly, there’s always clues simply in the language – the playwright has spent a lot of time deducing what the specific word is to be – this one, not something else. So just in respecting that and in starting with that it generally leads me down the right path.
PT: Is there a part that you haven’t played, a type of character that you would really like to play? Is there a part that you are itching to do?
RB: Yes. It’s funny, I just went in for King Lear at Connecticut Rep (I’m far too young for it)—
PT: We love Connecticut Rep!
RB: And when I got that audition in New York, I asked my agent, “What? Now?” And he was like, “Yeah, they want to see you for King Lear.” So I was like, “Okay.” But King Lear is a part I really want to play one day. I don’t know that I will play it in the next ten or fifteen years, but that’s a part one day I would be very happy to play before I hang it all up sometime.
PT: That’s great. We have to ask you, have you ever been to Connecticut Rep or are you familiar with their program?
RB: No. I have a friend who worked there once, but I didn’t really know anything about it, until I got that audition.
PT: We’ve reviewed there a number of times. There have been recent changes – the artistic director Vincent Cardinal is moving on and there is someone coming in who I assume will put their own creative bent on things. But overall they really do some phenomenal productions. It is a great training ground – you get these uber-talented young people who are so hungry for knowledge and training, then they get to work with Broadway and other professional actors. It melds the talents in such a way that it is a really exciting place to be. The energy is incredible.
RB: I was very flattered to be in the room.
RB: And Boston.
PT: And you won the Connecticut Critics Circle Award.
PT: What advice would you give to young actors coming up?
RB: I think for most actors, although there will always be exceptions, it’s going to be a lot of up and down. And for some years, more down than up. And to weather that productively or constructively really takes a level of adulthood. It’s not easy. It tests how much you love what you’re doing. I think everyone goes through a journey of discovery about themselves and taking this path of wanting to be a theatre artist is no different. Very few people are doing this because they want to get rich, if that’s somebody’s goal, it’s certainly not [going to happen] in theatre. I think for somebody young, it’s embarking on the journey and being open to realizing how much you love doing this – and thinking, Yes, I can’t stop doing this. I love this. Then the downs are much easier to handle. I have friends who have decided they don’t want to do it anymore – many people come to that decision because it is very difficult – it’s trying at times. But for somebody young who realizes how much they love it, then it is worth going on the journey, going through the ups and downs.
I would tell anyone young – someone out of college who is going to New York or Chicago or wherever they are – to take every experience from the littlest, tiniest stage, even Off-Off-Off-Off-Off-Broadway (laughs). Each experience is valuable, each experience teaches you something, while it might not feel like it at the time. But when I think back to the shows I did in my twenties, and the things that I learned, they are still with me now. I would savor every moment – every moment I get to perform is a gift – it really is. It is a privilege. I feel very fortunate that I have a life where I get to pursue what I love to do. For anyone young, if you find you have an opportunity to do that and you find that you love it, certainly go for it! Enjoy every moment you get to perform.
I also think that it’s the kind of thing that when it’s happening we take it for granted – but don’t. Opportunities are rare – but they are certainly something to savor and enjoy. If you’re not enjoying it, do something else.
PT: That’s such great advice. We always should be doing things that we love.
So tell us, if you weren’t an actor, what do you think you would be doing?
RB: If I wasn’t acting, well, when I was younger I thought I would be an architect. I think something along those lines. It’s sort of like building a person or a character versus building a house.
PT: Interesting parallel.
RB: And I don’t know – I never studied architecture, but it strikes me as being just as personal. From what I understand, it’s almost as competitive to be an architect as it is to be an actor (laughs).
PT: That’s so true with so many things today.
What do you think is the impact of social media on the industry today?
RB: Oh, it’s gotten insane (laughs)! When I got out of college in the early nineties, there were no cell phones then. In fact, email was not really a thing until the later nineties. I initially resisted getting Facebook and Instagram and all those things but it seems a prerequisite – a necessity. I’ve heard that agents will ask how many Instagram followers a person has.
PT: It’s marketing madness.
RB: (Laughs) Yes! And I’m trying to get better at all of that, but so many of the interns and young people right out of college are so fluid with all of that and I feel like an old man (laughs). Like, How do you do this? What? It is so necessary now.
PT: We had spoken with a small publisher years ago for a book we’d written (we’ve since found a bigger one) and at the time, she wasn’t interested in taking us on unless we had a website and a following – it was all about self-promotion. It actually was the impetus for us to start this blog and promote all of our projects. We are all responsible now as individuals to market ourselves, and social media is the only way to do it these days.
RB: That definitely seems to be true. Any artist or actor has to be aware of promoting themselves and marketing themselves. There’s still an air with some artists that they are just going to focus on their work, but it just isn’t the case anymore.
PT: Except when you hit the big time, you get someone to do it for you (laughs)!
RB: Until then, you get to do it yourself.
PT: And that’s why they call it Show Business and not Show Art!
RB: Exactly (laughs)!
PT: What’s on your future agenda? After The Invisible Hand?
RB: I don’t have anything at the moment – I’ll be hitting the audition circuit as soon as we open, really. I’ll be auditioning hard.
PT: In terms of Westport, have you played there before?
RB: No, never have. This is my first time.
PT: It’s a beautiful theatre.
RB: It is. It’s gorgeous.
PT: We just started reviewing there. It has its rich history with Newman and Woodward.
In terms of your film career and your theatre experience, out of all the roles you’ve played, is there a specific role you’ve really loved?
RB: Disgraced is of the immediate, current one. But I can tell you many years ago, I was in The Cripple of Inishmaan, a play by McDonagh. I played the character of Bartley, who was a dimwitted Irish teenager – it was about 1999, 2000 – it’s a part that seemed like a miracle that I got. I was very proud of the show and felt very good about doing it and my work in it. That was certainly up there for me. It was a director who I’m still very much in touch with and friends with. But it’s an extraordinary part and the fact that I got to play it professionally was special for me.
PT: We’ve found that networking is so very important. For us as well as the actors we speak to – you make connections and get to do things or get parts because you’ve worked with this actor or this director before. And it also goes back to the social media aspect and connecting that way as well.
RB: I think that’s so true. I feel that basically every job I’ve gotten was because somebody had seen me or recommended me. I’m sure even the audition at Connecticut Rep was because of Disgraced at Long Wharf. David Kennedy, who is directing here for The Invisible Hand, got my name because of Long Wharf. That’s how it works. I feel it’s important to hold on to those connections I’ve made and make sure that my name and face stay with them. It feels somehow like that’s not where I want to be spending my time but it’s necessary.
PT: (Laughs) We agree and we feel the same way – we’d like to be getting back to doing projects ourselves as well as this blog. You have two jobs – your art and marketing.
RB: (Laughs) And for many actors they also have another full-time job!
PT: Yes, a day job (laughs).
RB: Life can be very, very busy.
PT: We know all about that!
This has been so great. We always ask all of our interviewees sort of our last, signature question: If you had to sum up your life in one word, what would it be?
RB: I know that sounds trite, but it’s absolutely true. I feel very fortunate. I feel that our profession is becoming more and more, one of privilege. It takes so much to be able to do all this – the fact that I’m able to – I just know I’m very, very fortunate.
PT: Other people we’ve interviewed have told us that they feel the same. Blessed is a great way to sum things up!
Thank you so much Rajesh for a wonderful, inspiring, and informative interview! Break a leg!