British actor Raza Jaffrey has spent much time on
the stage, mostly in Londonís West End, so it may be a certain
amount of synchronicity that his American breakthrough role is on a
TV series that revolves around the theater.
Jaffrey is well-known in his native UK due to his role
on the popular series Spooks (MI-5) and has been in such
films as Eastern Promises, Harry Brown and Sex & the City
2. Now based in the States, he has a big role in Smash Ė
one of the buzz series of the spring.
Jaffrey plays Dev Sundaram, the fast-track
politician boyfriend of Iowa ingťnue Karen Cartwright (Katharine
McPhee) Ė one of the finalists for the lead role of Marilyn Monroe
in a buzzed about new Broadway musical.
The series, which also stars Megan Hilty, Deborah
Messing, Jack Davenport, Christian Borle, Will Chase and Anjelica
Huston, was just renewed for a second season a matter of days before
we had this exclusive chat with Jaffrey about the show and his
You have worked extensively on
stage, particularly early on, in London. How accurate is
about the theatrical world?
I think Smash is a drama above all else, so
itís going to take characters and heighten them and take storylines
to places which you wouldnít necessarily see day to day. But the
essence of the show is rooted in the reality of theater Ė whether
itís a West End or a Broadway show. The pedigree of people like
Marc [Shaiman] and Scott [Wittman], our wonderful, wonderful
lyricist/composers, and Neil Meron, Craig Zadan, people like that
who are involved day to day in Broadway have made sure that it seems
is so smart and has lots of inside info about musicals and the
backstage dramas of Broadway. Were you at all worried about how it
would play in the heartland or other places where musical theater is not
quite so well known?
It was always going to be a great story first.
There was some trepidation early on, I think, how much wide appeal
would the show have? But what the show has been good at
doing is letting people know that these kind of stories are
universal. I know itís become a bit of a clichť now, but
people talk about whether you have to be interested in politics to
watch The West Wing, or doctors to watch ER. It was said before that, but itís kind of true. The show is an
excuse for great drama, really, above all else. Hopefully it stands
and falls on that and people watch it because of that.
Well, you just mentioned
politics, and Dev is in that world. Now obviously you know a lot
about theater, but how much did you know about politics before
taking on this role? Did you have to research?
Well, Iím learning. Iím learning. I just went to
Washington D.C. a few weeks ago for a bit of soaking up of the
culture down there. But, that is really down to the writers, to
make sure those stories work on the page. The amount of research
you have to do outside of it is less. Itís nice to be playing a
character who is outside of that Broadway world. I think Dev
becomes a bit more of an everyman in a way. Again, like we were
talking about before, making the story accessible, itís great
playing a character who doesnít understand the Broadway world. He
thinks that he really wants his girlfriend to be involved in this
world, but doesnít necessarily realize the implications of what that
will mean to have her as a performer.
As a person, in what ways do
you relate to Dev and in what ways is he different than you?
Dev seems to be ambitious, which is his most
attractive quality. Heís also a man of integrity, although thatís
one of those things to put to test next year if he stays on. Those
are Devís attributes. What makes him interesting as a character,
someone who stands up for what he believes in. And heís fiercely
protective of Karen. Whatís nice as well about that relationship is
that they are from different worlds Ė not only Broadway and the
world of politics, but also culturally. Dev is from England and
Karenís from the States. Itís fun to have that mix amongst things,
You really mostly work with
Katharine, who was known more as a singer than as an actress. What
is she like to work with?
Sheís wonderful, she really is. When I took the job
I was hoping that Iíd have a leading lady who was on my wavelength.
When you have most of your scenes with someone, you hope they are
going to be coming from the same place as you are.
She is a
wonderful performer and sheís rightfully surprised people
her talent in this show. The audience has fallen in love with her.
Obviously, your character is
not really so involved with the musical sections, but you definitely
have a musical background. Do you think youíll be able to get them
to let you sing sometime in the showís run?
(laughs) Well, I can tell
you, and Iím not sure itís announced yet, but there is a great big number coming up where Dev does sing
and dance. Everyone mentioned they wanted Dev singing in the show.
I wondered how theyíd get it in Ė whether there was going to be a
guitar and me hopelessly auditioning for Karen, as a politician, and
work on a number. But actually, itís episode twelve Ė Uma Thurman
is in it Ė and it turns out to be the biggest production number that
weíve done to date. Itís fantastic to be singing and dancing. Itís
an original number from Marc Shaiman and Scott
It's called ď1001 Nights.Ē It was
great to be involved with.
In the last weekís episode,
they were sort of hinting about possible problems between Karen and
Dev Ė between him pressuring her a bit to dress sexy for the big
banquet and her flirting a bit with the guy who may become Devís
competition. Do you see some bumps in the road for Karen and Dev?
Well, it wouldnít be a prime-time drama without some
bumps in the road. (laughs) Theyíve made sure that the road
is rather like some of the roads in New York, actually. Weíve got
some great stuff coming up. I wish I could fill you in a bit more,
but itís really not what youíd expect in the coming weeks. By
episode twelve and thirteen, things have really turned around for
Karen and Dev. Youíll have to see it. Itís not the obvious.
People who are thinking one thing is going to happen, maybe itís
not. I got a shock when I first read it. People are going to enjoy
watching it, I hope.
Your character is obviously
much more involved in the political side of New York. In recent
weeks, there seems to be some drama brewing on that side. Without
giving away any real big secrets, what kind of developments are
coming for your character and how that relates to your relationship?
Yeah. One of the cogent parts to the show is that
it really points to where life mirrors art. (laughs) In an
obvious way, I guess. In that Dev and Karen are together and adore
each other, but they do have pressures as young career people in New
York and both wanting certain things. Where one might think itís
only Karenís life that is pulling on the relationship, the writers
have been clever to make sure that it is pulled in both directions.
Those things youíll be seeing in the upcoming weeks. Thereís as
many machinations in the world of politics as there are in the world
of stage. [Weíll see] how that effects things.
There is a lot of
location filming in New York. How do you think being able to show
so much of the city adds to the feel of the show?
Itís fantastic. When we were first starting on the
show, we werenít sure where it was going to be filmed. A lot of
shows use other cities to double as New York. Also, most of us from
the cast were from Los Angeles, as well. There was talk about it
being in another city. Iím so glad it ended up in New York. Itís a
real love song to New York City, as well. The locations that we get
are just fantastic. What I love about filming in New York is how
everyday it is, actually. So many people of New York [are used to
it], the fact that we can film on Times Square or we can film down
in the West Village or anywhere else, people just wander by and
wander through the set Ė itís not a big deal that we are filming on
the street. Itís nice.
What would your fantasy
storyline be for Dev?
For one thing, the world of song, which Dev has kind
of entered into, I never thought that would happen when I started
the show. Iím glad that Dev has entered that world, particularly in
an intelligent way. There are other things, which have happened by
the end of the season. Again, I wish I could say more. They make
me glad because they certainly give me a lot to play. (laughs)
I can say that.
Why do you think musical TV
are suddenly so popular?
Itís hard to say, really. I think Glee was
certainly a major factor in making a show like Smash even get
to television, really. Itís really thanks to Glee that our
show has a voice, really, in many ways. But itís hard to know what
it is. Iím not sure what it is that has captured peopleís
imaginations in terms of song again. Maybe itís that thing, the
time is right again. Itís been a number of years since weíve had
shows with a strong musical influence. Itís another generation
coming through and finding ways to make it relevant, in a way that
things had fallen out of fashion a few years back. I think to
Smash and Gleeís credit, making the emotional heart of
the story the most important thing and it goes great in music being
so interwoven with those storylines and emotional journeys. It
makes good television. But, if I knew the real recipe, Iíd be on
many more shows.
Does being on Smash give
you the urge to get back to some stage work?
Being on television generally does. Or being an
actor generally does, I should say. I started out onstage and Iíve
done a number of musicals and straight plays through the years. I
adore working onstage. I sincerely hope Iíll be back there and
doing some of that, too.
You have moved to the States
just in the last couple of years for
The Cape and now
Smash after working mostly in England and Europe. When did you feel it was
time to make the big move and how is working different on this side
of the pond?
First, Iíve been thinking of this for a number of
years. When I was doing MI-5 in the UK, I was getting more
and more meetings over here. Iíve been coming to the States since I
was a kid and always loved the country. Then when a shooting arose
to come here and spend some proper time here, I grabbed it with both
hands, really. Iím glad I did. I feel an enormous privilege
to be living in Los Angeles and New York, two great cities like
that. Also, I just find the optimism and welcome here in the States
second to none. You only have to look around and see how many
British actors are working in the States at the moment to see how
well-embraced and well-loved English actors are. Itís nice to be a
part of that, be seen in those terms, really.
Well speaking of
last year that was a big buzz series like
is this year. Were you a little disappointed it didnít get more
of a chance than it did?
Yeah. Itís always so sad when a show doesnít get a
longer run, because of the number of people involved in it and the
years of heartache that have gone into making a production. The
audience at home see the actors on screen and maybe hear about the
writers, but thatís all they really know, really. There are a lot
of people that have gone into making that show come into fruition
and happen. Especially nowadays, one thing that pains me most
about the industry is how when shows so quickly disappear, rightly
or wrongly it leads the audience to believe that shows are
disposable in some way. Theyíre not,
because they are peopleís livelihoods. A lot of blood, sweat and
tears have gone into making them. So, itís always sad when a show
goes, but thatís life, I guess. It was ever thus. It was fantastic
fun to work on it. David Lyons was terrific and became a friend as
a result of it, so that made it worthwhile. Also, it was so great
to be playing a character so far from what Iíve been doing
recently. Iíd just done the Sex and the City movie, so to go
in and play a French poisoner, that was a long way off from the
character Iíd just played. So that was great. And do some action
stuff. I started my career on television doing quite big action
stuff. I hadnít done that in recent years. Iím still very active,
so to be doing that kind of thing again on The Cape was
Back in England,
MI-5) was a really respected series. What was that
like to be a part of?
Spooks was a fantastic
experience. We had the best writers on that show and some
incredible directors who came in and turned things on their heads
week in, week out. Also, there is something to be said for
getting to play an action hero who kind of saves the world week
after week in an intelligent political drama. Thatís a real
treat as an actor. It was a real
privilege to work on Spooks.
I was reading online that you
originally wanted to be a pilot. How did you get into acting? Do
you ever wonder what would have happened if you followed another
I still do look up at the sky occasionally, imagining Iím
out there piloting an aircraft. I was going to join the Air Force.
It was all I wanted to do as a kid and as a teenager. I went to
University thinking that was what I would do. While I was there I
started taking more and more drama. People started clapping a bit.
(laughs) Iíd always been quite musical, but I never thought
of it as a career, really. It wasnít until after I left. I went off
to drama school, after University. My parents were very
encouraging. ďLook, if you want to do it, go and do it, but go to a
proper drama school and get trained. Then give it a go and see what
happens.Ē I went off to the Old Vic and spent a couple of years
there and got lucky really. I came out and it was nice to work with
some really interesting directors early on which really kind of
shaped things for me. But I fly planes now and I still often wonder
what it would have been like to in front of an aircraft flying.
Thanks for talking with us Raza, I hope
Smash has a long run.
Well, you know they have announced weíve got the
second season now.
No I hadnít
More details will follow Tuesday, but weíre
definitely coming back for a second season, which is brilliant.
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