British actor Michael Lieber. Image Credit: Courtesy Mythily Ramachandran

Two British actors will make their South Indian film debut with Ramanujan, the biopic of the Indian math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan. Kevin McGowan is a well-known stage and TV actor, who’s featured in prominent productions such as Death of a Salesman, The Seagull and Rainmen and on shows on the BBC and ITV. Michael Lieber, a product of the Oxford School of Drama, has performed in several stage plays, notable being his one-man play Before Nell.

The actors spoke with tabloid! about their upcoming film: 

Q: How did you prepare to play Prof. G.H. Hardy?

McGowan: I had a slight recollection of G.H. Hardy from my schooldays when I did pure maths but I didn’t know the story of Ramanujan. So, the first thing to do was learn Hardy’s history and that came from Hardy himself, through his book A Mathematician’s Apology. It is Hardy’s thoughts on how he sees the world as a mathematician — a fascinating, yet slightly sad book.

 

Q: How was it working in an Indian film?

McGowan: [Director] Gnana Rajasekaran makes films he is passionate about and he’s one of the great directors. It was a great honour to be invited to be a part of his telling of this story. The bond between Ramanujan and Hardy was a very important part in both their lives. So for me, the actor who played Ramanujan had to be somebody who I could work with, somebody I could feel a friendship for. Apart from being an excellent actor, Abhinay [Vaddi] was somebody I could consider a friend. From the first time I met him in Cambridge, I felt confident he was going to be the perfect Ramanujan. 

Q: Were there difficult scenes?

McGowan: A large part of what I enjoyed was doing the scenes in Tamil. Director Rajasekaran would say that we did more retakes when we did the English version than the Tamil one. I take that as a compliment on my Tamil. There is a scene late in the film when Ramanujan receives good news. There were many actors in the scene, so it was quite difficult getting them to do the right thing in the right place at the right time. In the midst of all this action — flowers, congratulations and hugs — I had a scene with Abhinay who had to be overwhelmed with tears of joy. Because of the choreography, we had to do the scene many times but Abhinay managed to cry every time and right on cue. Amazing. 

Q: What are you working on next?

McGowan: My next project is a stage play in England called The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. It is as far from Ramanujan and Cambridge University as possible. I play a rather seedy, suspicious character who takes advantage of everybody he can. It is set in a very poor, working class world in Manchester in northern England. It’s a drama but is also very funny. I’m looking forward to starting work on it. 

Q: How long have you been into theatre?

McGowan: I have been an actor for 31 years. I came from a working-class Manchester family and the theatre was a million miles away but somehow when I had to make a choice of what I wanted to do with my life, theatre was always in the background. After school, I decided to travel abroad for a year and when I came back to England, I decided to live in Cambridge [coincidentally] for three years where I started acting. Then, I decided to go to a drama school. 

Q: What do you love about your career?

McGowan: There is a great deal of uncertainty in the life of an actor, emotionally and financially, which can be difficult for some people to understand but that uncertainty is the very thing that makes it so exciting. You never know who you will be working with or where you will be working with them. Who would have thought a year ago that I would have been working with Rajasekaran and acting in Tamil, telling the story of one of the greatest Indians? 

Q: Among your roles, which character was most difficult to play and which one is close to your heart?

McGowan: This is the hardest question. Most of my work has been in theatre and that is where my greatest challenges have come from. I love American drama. I’ve done Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman four times. Last year, I did a new play that I believe will become another American classic, Good People by David Lindsay-Abbaire.

My favourite and toughest character, however, was Michael in Someone Who’ll Watch over Me by Irish playwright Frank McGuinness, which is about three hostages in Lebanon. It’s brilliant, hilarious and tragic, high literature, then slapstick comedy all while chained to the wall for two hours. Again, it’s those kind of experiences that I love about my career. 

Q: What drew you to the role of John E. Littlewood?

Lieber: Outside of his accomplishments as a mathematician, he was a truly remarkable man, intense, passionate, slightly eccentric and very powerful. It was a real joy and privilege as an actor to play somebody this complex. I’m very grateful to director Rajasekaran for giving me this opportunity. 

Q: How did you prepare for this role?

Lieber: I tracked down one of the only people still alive to have worked with Littlewood, the renowned Romanian mathematician Bela Bollobas. He was kind enough to meet me with his wife at the Athenaeum club in London. We discussed Ramanujan, Hardy and Littlewood’s qualities and their relationships with each other. 

Q: How was your experience of working in an Indian film?

Lieber: It was educating being a part of this project. I learnt so much about Indian cinema from the cast and crew. Gnana Rajasekaran was a joy to work with. He has a true vision for every story he tells and was very generous with his time on sets. Abhinay Vaddi and I got on very well. It takes a strong actor to play Ramanujan and Abhinay really bought something special to the character. 

Q: What is next?

Lieber: I have three feature films booked for this year but the one I’m most excited about is the chance to work with Tamil director Devanand Shanmugam in London for his next film RANCOUR [thriller/horror] and to play the lead role of Marcus. I am currently negotiating funding with the producers. 

Q: Have you started directing your film?

Lieber: We finished the short film The Wearing Of Wires this January. It will be subsequently sent to 25 international film festivals later this year. But I’m not too worried whether it is a success or not. The reason behind making it and getting involved with all the trials and tribulations that happens behind the camera is to get a better perspective as a performer. After making the film, I have deeper respect for the director and producer. 

Q: What do you love about acting?

Lieber: I started performing at the age of 11 as a street magician in Wales. It’s not a bad way to make your pocket money but my first stage performance was when I was 13, playing one of Fagin’s boys in the musical Oliver at the Garrick Theatre. Acting as a career and vocation has its ups and downs but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think it’s a very noble profession. I’m very grateful for all the luck I’ve had over the years and hope to continue working with good actors and thought-provoking projects.