Indian thesp had chilling role in HBO drama
It was a “mutual trust” between Irrfan Khan and “In Treatment” director Paris Barclay that enabled the Indian-born actor to portray character Sunil with cynicism, dark humor and nary a drop of pity.
“I wanted to get into the mental state of a lonely man in an alien community,” says Khan of Sunil, a grieving widower from Calcutta who’s brought to the States against his wishes by his son and daughter-in-law. “I saw his sorrow in his situation, but I did not want to get into a very grim execution of his story. So I latched onto the parts in the script where he could show his sorrow by being angry and with a sense of black humor. I tried to make him an interesting sad man, not just a sad man.”
Sunil’s plotline is teeming with slow-building tension that heightens gradually through each session with therapist Dr. Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne), who increasingly suspects Sunil poses a violent threat to his Americanized family.
“As an actor, I identified with that feeling of displacement, the acute loss of a partner, the jealousy of a father trying to adjust to the idea that his son now belongs to his wife,” says Khan, who gained international acclaim for roles in such films as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Namesake.” “This could happen to anyone from any cultural background. These are universal emotions.”
What intrigued Khan most about Sunil was that he was nuanced, multilayered and maintained an edge of mystery throughout the season’s run.
“His denial about things in his life keeps it interesting,” notes Khan. “There are many inherent contradictions to his character that made him difficult to play, but that is what I enjoyed. It wasn’t just flat information we were learning about him. He was a complex character.”
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