Interviews with Joe and Raj on WILDsound radio
on Monday Sept. 1st 2008
FAMOUS UNKNOWN ACTORS
Raj Ballav Koirala is barely out of the first quarter century of his life, but he's on top of the world in the country that is literally the gateway to the world's highest point. Living in Kathmandu, Nepal, he has seen his country depicted in such American films as “Everest,” and has already starred in three features himself.
Joe Dinicol lives in Toronto, Canada, a town which has long billed itself as “Hollywood North.” He started his career on stage as a child actor at the world famous Stratford Festival, and has already starred as a series regular on a popular television show, and several features as well.
But more than ten times zones separate them. The film industries of Canada and Nepal have little in common, making carving a career in one or the other a unique challenge.
Joe is about as close as you can get to Canadian acting royalty. His grandfather is John Neville, probably known best to audiences as the X-Files's Well-Manicured Man, if they aren't aware he was also the artistic director of the Stratford Festival between 1984 and 1989. Father Keith Dinicol and sister Sophie are also professional actors.
Raj's first two names literally mean “beloved King” – as an actor, how could you possibly ask for a more auspicious naming? And in a very brief time, he has made a very big splash in Nepali cinema, as the romantic lead in “Parkhi Basen,” officially Nepal's longest running film as well as in music videos, shorts, and two more upcoming features.
When asked about how actors get ahead in the business in his country, Raj contrasts his own experience, as a theatre school graduate courted by a major director, with that of others who have literally bought their way onto screen.
In Nepal, everyone is expected to pitch in to the making of a film. Sometimes, the actors are also investors. It leads to a certain amount of corruption, or at least a different sort of free market model that we might be used to in North America.
Joe, on the other hand, stars in “Paschendaele,” the film that opens the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival alongside the film's writer/director, Paul Gross. It has the potential to completely transform both the Canadian film industry if it fires the imaginations of audiences and critics in its country of origin.
Although Joe's family connections are excellent, you could never believe for a moment that there was anything but hard work behind his success so far. He's utterly straightforward and modest to a fault. When asked if he hasn't already achieved a great amount of success for such a young man, he says that he “knows I'm nobody, even if someone thinks I'm somebody.”
That's the crux of the Canadian dilemma right there. The star system is non-existent, at least in the English-speaking part of the country. Homegrown films don't do well here, and seldom travel outside the border except when significant co-production money is involved.
Joe looks at “Passchendaele” much as Gross must. If it succeeds and finds an audience in Canada, it may just mean an unprecedented potential for a much needed influx of cash into the industry there. Realistically, one of the reasons it's hard to make a great film in Canada is that no one is willing or able to put up the kind of budgets Hollywood can, essentially because the expected return won't justify it.
That's why Canada has in the past been known as a fantastic place to shoot American films – great crews, great facilities, excellent supporting casts – but has not been able to develop or hold onto the above-the-line folk that naturally migrate south for bigger paycheques and more capital investment to play with.
What Canada has ended up with is a native industry that tends to produce smaller art films on what Hollywood considers barely enough to publicize a major release. Some films have found modest acclaim, like Sarah Polley's “Away From Her,” but even so, they tend to be art films, not potential blockbusters.
And Canada, perversely, is quick to disown anyone who becomes too successful here. Cronenberg – is he still a Canadian director if his film financing comes from the States, and if he's making films that bring in money and not just the occasional Oscar nod? At heart, Canada is still a country of deliberate underdogs, celebrating its differences from its massive neighbour to the south.
In Nepal, the industry is strong, at least in terms of sheer number of productions. The industry there is populated by several hundred production companies and, compared to Canada, a well-developed star system. That's one of the things that makes the success of “Parkhi Basen” so remarkable. For a film to stay in Nepali cinemas for well over a hundred days requires it to really stand out from the crowd.
But while Canada is obsessed with its art market, Nepal is pure singing and dancing Kollywood. For an actor like Raj whose role models include Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hanks, it makes him long for the serious challenges he can only find in Hollywood.
Films in Nepal don't travel outside the country's borders either. Like Canada, it has very little prominence on the world's cinematic stage. The problems with breaking out of the country are different though. While Joe already has a manager in the States as well as his Canadian agent and has no trouble submitting for roles in L.A. (he has already starred in George A. Romero's “Diary of the Dead” and played a role in “The Virgin Suicides”), Raj has few connections in North America and is toying with the idea of attending acting school in New York, if for no other reason than building up a profile in the U.S. And all this while he walks the red carpet in Kathmandu, and is featured in Nepali magazines as a top bachelor and Nepal's “Next Big Thing.”
Their outlooks are different too in terms of how they approach their careers. Joe's aspiration is to make his living as an actor, and to someday have the power and stability to at least pick and choose his role and which directors he works with. When asked if he would want to be in greater control, like the Hollywood actors who run their own production companies and drive the creation of passion projects, he's not that interested.
He wants to act, and he'll see what comes; he admits that in his 15 years in the business, it's never really been his first instinct to figure out how his career should evolve, since it's been a pretty great and interesting ride without that added element of manipulation.
Raj, on the other hand, has no choice if he's to make it out of Nepal but to form relationships with those in the position to help him in his career. Part of that is definitely to get to North America where, as he says, the best actors and directors are. When challenged as to whether he means that Hollywood is where the money is, he reminds listeners that most actors would not pass up a chance to work with, say, Stephen Spielberg or star opposite Charlize Theron.
Say what you want about the commercialism of American film, the fact is that there is a lot of amazing work being done there.So he is almost forced to do what Canadians have always done – instead of waiting for the industry to come to him, he is actively looking to develop his own projects. To work in the States requires you to to be respected in your own country, and to become known in the States. He's managed the first, and now he's working on the second.
Time will tell if Passchendaele manages to inject some passion and money into the Canadian film industry, and to give someone like Joe projects in his own country that might eventually garner him the same kind of rewards that working in the States would.
And time will also tell if Raj can crack the code to find the fame in North America that he's already achieved at home.
One thing's for certain – both Joe Dinicol and Raj Ballav Koirala are well worth watching.
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