Ileana D’Cruz
Sarita A Tanwar (DNA; July 4, 2017)

Ileana D’Cruz is perhaps the only actress, who is working with the senior brigade — Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, the Gen Next heroes — Varun Dhawan and Arjun Kapoor and the middle order — Ranbir Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor. Besides, she has acted in over a dozen films in the south with all the top actors, including Prabhas! For someone who hasn’t learnt acting, she is surprisingly at ease, no matter who she is paired with on screen. She will be 31 this year, yet she has the newbie vibe, which is perhaps about to change. She has two releases in the next couple of months. Here, she talks about why she won’t play by the rules, why she won’t act forever and the love of her life. Read on...

You are an accidental actress, right?
I started with modelling, and I did a very shi**y job. Because of the few ads I did, I ended up getting movie offers. I got my first (Telugu) movie offer, when I was 15, I think. The director was telling me that the film is going to be shot in America and in 45 days. In my head, I was going, ‘Free trip to America! Let’s do it’. I remember telling him I can’t act, I can’t dance and I can’t even speak your language. He said, ‘Don’t worry, we will manage’. I couldn’t imagine money like that when I was 18. I was earning far more than anyone in my class and it seemed great. My co-star Ram was a sweetheart. I am still in touch with him.

How was your first day on the set?
The AD gave me this line and I asked him to say it once and when he did, I burst out laughing. It was very disrespectful on my part. I thought he was joking. I don’t remember much about my first time. I remember blurting out words and I do not know how sincere I came across.

Did you get good reviews?
I actually did. I remember one that said she is good at histrionics and I Googled it to see what it meant. I was surprised because we were taken to the theatre to see the reviews and response of the audience and I expected people to throw their chappals at me. Everyone had scared me. Though the director he had a lot of conviction in me, even he lost it a few times. I had ADs coming up to me and saying, ‘You shouldn’t be here, you are not going to make it’. So obviously my confidence was pretty much shattered. I was surprised people liked me. Also, my weight had fluctuated so much because when I came to Hyderabad I was skinny and then halfway through the director is like, ‘You are too skinny, you have to put on weight’. Then I began eating like a pig. Then I became a mini piglet in the middle of the film. I was shooting in the Grand Canyon in the middle of summer with coconut oil all over my body because the director thought I would look hot if I was all shiny and glistening and I was literally roasting under the Sun. I was five different shades in the film as well.

Wow, must look up that film now
I hope you never watch it, I’d be really embarrassed. Even before it released, I had another film and before that released, I signed another film and it became a process. I was like Akshay Kumar of the south. I used to do four films a year. I have worked with Mahesh Babu, NTR, Prabhas, Pavan Kalyan and Ravi Teja, who is one of my favourites. I did three films with him.

Then you did your first Hindi film!
Yes. Barfi was my first film. It was very different. I was like Chikni Chameli in the south and then I played this demure girl in Barfi.

Did you speak Hindi at that time?
Barely. I only spoke English. During promotions when they wanted me to speak in Hindi, I had a panic attack and which is why, I fled the country. I said, ‘Please leave me alone for three weeks.’ Again, I didn’t expect people to like me. I was like, ‘How could I pass off as a Bengali in the film,’ and Dada (Anurag Basu) even made me dub for the film. It was a little too overwhelming.

One actor who has worked with you said you are professional and hard working but you don’t seem driven. Is that correct?
Define driven.

What he probably meant was that you don’t have a plan...
Exactly. I don’t.

You are never seen at the right parties, or networking...
I do go to certain parties. I have gone to my success parties. It feels funny to go to a party where you don’t know anyone. I am one of the lost people in the corners you see at parties. I am socially awkward maybe, I don’t know. I have self-esteem issues. I consider myself very blessed, but unfortunately where I am, it is all about looks, in a way. I am okay when I have my make-up on. When I am in front of the camera, I am like, ‘I can do my sh*t and I can act like I am a freaking glamazon’, but when I am alone, I go back to my goofy self.

You don’t have a wishlist of actors or directors you want to work with?
No. Why be like everyone else?

How can you not?
I was talking to a friend recently about being ambitious. You know, everyone says, ‘She is ambitious and she will do whatever it takes.’ I do not consider that ambitious, I consider that little desperate, honestly. For me, ambition is doing a great job at work when I have my producers coming up to me and saying — ‘We love your work’. That is something that matters to me at the end of the day. I mean I could get a PR agency, I could be like everyone else, I can network, I can socialise, but it is just not me. I cannot play like that. I did not even have a PR agency until recently. My father once told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t lose your individuality.’ I remember dad watching Indian Idol and he called me up and he was emotional. He said, ‘I loved that you were you’. That means a lot to me. Career, work is great. I love my job, but I can’t do all the crap that goes with it.

You think playing by the rules would have helped your career?
I do not know. Maybe. I am assuming it totally would. I have been... it is funny to put this into words. I do not consider myself attractive so when I have people come up to me... When I have actors flirting with me, in my head, I am thinking, ‘If I flirt back, I could definitely land a film with this guy. If I consider going to his house for drinks considering he has invited me, I could definitely get a film with him.’ But I just don’t want to do that. Why do I have to do that? If I am talented enough, why can’t I just get a film? I had a breakdown in London this time because of a film I lost, and I felt, if I have to be someone’s girlfriend to get a film, should I not be in this line of work? Eleven years of acting, and I still sometimes think, I am not cut out for this.

How many films has it been in 11 years?
Mubarakan is my 22nd I think. The difference between then and now is that now I genuinely love my work — which is why the breakdown, but I hate the bullshit that goes with it. I hate the people-pleasing that goes with it, and the stupid politics, but that is with every kind of work and job. But I do not want to fan someone’s ego around like, ‘Oh, you are awesome’ and act like an idiot on TV to get TRPs, I won’t do that, I have a little bit of dignity, I think. I don’t think that’s driven, I am driven in another way. And I am curious to know who said it.

You are in the midst of it, yet you seem disconnected. You don’t seem to eat, drink and breathe acting like most actors do.
Yes, I have a life. I mean no one goes up to a bank manager and says like — ‘Do you eat drink and breathe your job?’ It is a nine-to-five job. Acting is a job too. I like my family time. I like disconnecting from work when I come home, which is hard because there is so much that goes into making a film. I like being disconnected to an extent where I am like ‘Look when I am on a holiday leave me alone. I need to relax.’ And most people do not get that about me. They say it will cost you work. I am sorry. If I am worth it maybe a director will wait. I have had instances where it has cost me work but that’s okay. You don’t know how much time you have and I would rather spend that time, if I can, with my family. If I dream of sitting in my mum’s lap I will take a flight and go and see her. I have the luxury of doing that. I love my family and I am super close to them. I know it will make a difference if I go and see my dad on his birthday so I will do it. For me, it is like he will be surprised and he will be super happy and I will make his day. That matters to me. I do not want them to be like, ‘Okay, she is working and she is earning money, but we don’t get to see her.’ They will never complain, but I know it makes a difference.

Please continue...
But the minute you get like a team representing you, they push you saying you need to do this and that. And when you are lost and new, you think they know what they are talking about. I suppose then you listen to them. It is like cosmetic surgery. I had acne at one point, I went to this person to deal with it and she said, ‘Look you have laugh lines, I saw you in Barfi and it looks very bad. Do you sleep on your side?’ I am like, I do not know how I sleep, I am sleeping. Secondly what is it to you? She said, ‘Your jawline is very sharp, I will inject you here and there, it will become perfect. I said, I do not care. Let it be the way it is.’ I don’t mind losing out on films, but I do not want to touch my face. But so many of them get it done. I see half these girls, they are so pretty, but why do you have to be this stupid person and get their lips plumped up.

You’ve worked with actors like Ajay, Akshay and Saif, and Gen-Next heroes like Ranbir, Varun and now Arjun. Who do you share the best equation with?
I would have unusual and funny conversations with Saif, he is lovely. He is very honest. One of the first things he said to me was, “Why are you so defensive and aggressive?” That was honestly the icebreaker between us. I actually thought I needed to give him space as an actor but he is like, ‘Dude, talk to me’. He was lovely. Ajay was really nice to work with. He is really a great co-star and super professional. So yes, I definitely think Varun, Saif and Ajay stand out for me. I had great equations with them. It was an easy experience to work with them. Hopefully, I am not missing anyone else.

Two releases in a year, is it a first for you in Bollywood?
Yes. It is going to be quite something. The trailer launch was insane for me. It is going to be interesting. I love how they are completely different films. I love them both for different reasons. I am super excited about Mubarakan, I am playing a Punjabi girl, I hope the part is convincing.

You never repeat your co-stars.
I know! (Laughs) They don’t like me enough, I guess.

Do you ask your directors who your co-star is when you sign the film? Does that affect your choices?
To be very honest, yes. It matters who the director is and it matters who the actor is. The production aspect I honestly don’t understand so much, I have Reshma (manager) for that, and honestly, they have saved me from a lot of problems in the past. So yes, who my actor is, definitely matters to me. There are some actors that I know I won’t do a film with no matter how good the film is.

Who are they?
I won’t ever say. I cannot give you a blatant answer because I will get into trouble. Off the record I could tell you. I know I have been told not to believe stories, but I hear and have seen a lot of people get ahead if they do some things. And I am not going to give in irrespective of who you are. I am not judging anyone.... Which is also one of the reasons of my breakdown in London... I cried so much.

While most of the actresses don’t talk about their boyfriends, you refuse to hide Andrew Kneebone. Weren’t you told it will damage your career?
I was told it could damage my career. I was told not to talk about it. I remember the first awards show we went to together. I’ve never talked about this. I was very nervous. Barfi was nominated for so many categories and I had to go. I was lucky to have Andrew with me at that time. We were discussing going for it, and I for a second, thought about whether we should have separate entries. Then I felt like that was so unfair. Look, when Shahid Kapoor got married, everyone was celebrating and then he had a kid, that was celebrated even more. Why is it such a big deal when it is a woman dating? I was just like I don’t need to tell them a story of how I met this person. All I need to do is tell him that he is my strength and I want him to be there and I want to be holding his hand. I did, and it felt awesome.

Andrew is a professional photographer, it must have been odd for him being on the red carpet and being clicked by everyone?
It was. He is a very normal person and has a very normal sort of background and not at all associated with this. More than anything, he is a great person. He is someone very special to me. And I don’t want to hide someone like that. I wouldn’t hide my family. So why hide him? I have been around for so long. I have dated actors in the past. Six years in the south, when I was young, raging hormones call it what you will, we have all been there.

How was it dating an actor?
For me, it was like a relationship, you know, and I had great moments and bad moments, but I couldn’t deal with the constant association with films. I want to talk about something else. I do not want to bring my work home with me. I want to talk about stuff and life and I want to talk about a garden, I mean, Andrew has a garden back home. He is like, ‘Do you want to grow some basil?’ I say, yes. We talk about stuff and we have a life apart from films. It is a job for me. But everyone makes it out to be like this thing is your entire life. For me, it is just a job. I am going to lose films because of this. (Smiles)

Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I have no idea. I will be 31 in November. Last year was my 30th birthday and I was so happy. I went to Bali and I decided I was going to get drunk. I spent the evening in my room, ordering room service, eating pizza, in a unicorn onesie with wine and I passed out on the bed and I loved it. It was the best birthday ever.

Do you see yourself acting forever?
No. I do not see myself acting forever. I just see myself having a great career for a while. I am loving the work I am getting. I am enjoying it. I do not want to think about the future because it worries me when I think about it. Anxiety comes in. I do not want to think about money. I want to sit in a little bubble where I am like, I will do as much work as I can, do the best possible I can as far as the role is given to me. But I want to have a life. I do not want to be constantly this person, who is obsessed with work, you got to understand it is a circle of life. You are not going to be 23 forever. At some point, there will be someone else, who will replace me and fit the space of the kind of acting that I do. That is fine. You have to make way for someone, who is younger and just retire gracefully or walk away gracefully. I do not know if I will come back and do a mommy role, I do see myself working for a while and then moving away when the time feels right.