July 30 2016
A lead role in a high profile ensemble West End production (with Hollywood talent helming), a recent part on a primetime TV show with two standout names and two films coming out, Annapurna Sriram talks to us about ‘The Spoils’, privilege, and her return to London…
IT’S NOT OFTEN we see a smart, pretty, Asian woman hold her on the West End stage and give as good as she gets with her equally combative white counterparts.
That ‘Reshma’, played by American Annapurna Sriram, in the Jesse Eisenberg West End hit, “The Spoils” does, is just one more good reason to see a play which has some interesting points to make about race, while not being central to it.
“In the US, she was a very polarising character, people either loved or hated her,” Sriram told www.asianculturevulture.com.
“I think that was the case with the whole play, people either loved it or felt very uncomfortable about it.”
“The Spoils” premiered in New York last year to much acclaim and transferred to the West End this summer and ends its popular run on August 13.
Two of the original cast did not make it over here – in the West End version – heartthrob Alfie Allen is the slightly gawky banker, ‘Ted’, while his stage fiancé and the crush of main character Ben (reprised by Hollywood star Jesse Eisenberg), ‘Sarah’ is played Katie Brayben. (See the review here for more).
Sriram, who auditioned for the original part, was keen to reprise her role.
“Reshma is something I am really proud of – that’s my role, my baby, I didn’t like the idea of someone else doing it,” Sriram confessed.
Raised in Nashville, Tennessee and based in New York, Sriram is on a rising trajectory – she recently appeared alongside stars Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis in the US Showtime hit TV series, “Billions” (which aired on Sky Atlantic in the UK) and will feature in two independent films, “Adrift” and “In Case of Emergency”, both of which are likely to hit the film festival circuit either late this year or early next.
She is mixed race, with an Indian Tamil doctor father and a white American mom.
In “The Spoils”, her character is Indian American (possibly mixed race) and a trainee doctor and just like the three other characters, has a complicated relationship with Ben.
Reshma falls into his circle by virtue of her Nepali boyfriend, Kalyan, played with suitable timidity by “The Big Bang Theory” star, Kunal Nayar.
She’s a strong, independent character and stands up to Ben and his arrogance – she tells him to his face, she doesn’t like him, but will tolerate him for the sake of her sweet, delicate, smart Kalyan – a business student with a published economics book about Nepal already to his name – and aspirations of becoming a Wall Street banker (a neat sub-plot in the play).
In some respects, Ben and Reshma are two sides of the same coin – privileged, smart and born with a sense of entitlement – for further complications and similarities, Ben is also part of a minority group – he is Jewish (at least culturally).
In Ben’s case, his sense of privilege is clear as water, in Reshma’s, especially to a UK audience, it’s slightly more complex, but Sriram explained it well.
“What the play so brilliantly does is illuminate white or American privilege – in contrast to Kalyan.
“In the US, I had a friend who brought her boyfriend, who is very similar to Ben, and he felt uncomfortable because there’s a sense of – ‘is this about me?’
“In America, perhaps, it’s all a little too close to home or is this about your family, your kids or even you…”
Eisenberg very skilfully dissects all this and hints that this sense of superiority could be even generational.
“Reshma could be Chinese American, Japanese American, Hispanic. I think what makes her is the privilege.
“Regardless of how her parents might have struggled, she has had a comfortable life.
“She has the ability to get to med school, she has ambition and likes luxury (and can afford it).
“She has a Louis Vuitton bag and wears designer clothes and there’s this obsession with achievement.
“There are a lot of women in their 20s and 30s in the America and maybe in Britain too, who have this vision of the dream life.
“She wants a big diamond ring and a huge house in Westchester and a husband who is going to be a big shot and she is going to be this great doctor. Beyond her smarts, there is this sense of ambition.”
Thrusting and arrogant to boot is what she should probably add.
Sriram’s performance is beautifully measured, (as is the whole cast), but it’s a rare thing to see an Asian woman character like hers in a mainstream play and she said the same issues that afflict ethnic actors here in the UK (as in a lack of decent roles) affect her career too back home.
“I think it’s mixed,” she said answering the question whether ethnic actors in the US had it any easier.
“I think in some cases there is a desire to fill a void with someone of any ethnicity – ‘like we have to get someone in there whether they are black, brown or whoever’.
“At the same time a lot of the characters that are desirable to play, they (the directors) can’t imagine anyone other than a white person playing them.”
She said her being mixed race is also a much under-represented world.
“There wasn’t anyone who looked like me anywhere and that people (like me) could relate to,” she said about growing up in the US.
She’s enjoyed London a second time around. She was first here as an actor studying and working on Shakespeare at The Globe, following her arts degree from Rutgers.
Surprisingly, she said she was not a good student and took up acting as a way initially of avoiding anything to do with books and that form of studying.
“I was a stubborn kid,” she giggled. “I insisted on going to acting school and didn’t want to do anything other than acting.”
She’s done a lot of regional Shakespeare theatre in the US and her talent – evident from performance in “The Spoils” should be a platform to even bigger and better. One thing is certain – she won’t forget her six months in London this time.
“I don’t remember much from when I was a student here. It’s been a special experience living and working and being submerged in the centre of London. A once in a lifetime.”
Pictures: Courtesy of the The Spoils and Annapurna Sriram
‘The Spoils‘ continues until Saturday, August 13, matinee 2.30pm (Thursday & Saturday in August) 7.30pm other days Monday-Saturday, Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY
See availability/tickets/more info http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-spoils/trafalgar-studios/#sort_availability
*Note Kunal Nayyar’s last performance is today, his role will be taken over by Sagar Radia