I recently got the chance to talk to Ali Hassan about his role in Canadian sports comedy ‘Breakaway’. Here, Ali talks about how he got involved in the project in the first place and which three people he would invite to dinner…
Hey Ali. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film ‘Breakaway‘, being released in the UK under the name ‘Speedy Singhs‘.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
The movie focuses on a Sikh kid named Rajveer (played by Vinay Virmani) who is obsessed with playing hockey, but his parents want him to run their family trucking business. It’s not so much a “hockey movie” as it is a film where hockey serves as a backdrop for a story about family, community and relationships.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
My character’s name is Nikku. I’m the enforcer on the team who protects Rajveer. Which is immediately silly since Nikku in Punjabi actually means “tiny”. I guess I’m like Little John in ‘Robin Hood’. I come in midway through the movie when Rajveer and our coach (played by Rob Lowe) realize that they need some muscle on the team. Rajveer remembers me from his youth and they come and find me on the kabbaddi (Punjabi wrestling) pitch. That’s when viewers have the wonderful-slash-terrifying experience of seeing me shirtless on-screen.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I had just finished shooting a Canadian comedy called ‘French Immersion’, in which I play an Indian restaurant owner who moves to a small Quebec town to run a restaurant – only to find that the Indians in that town were not the same Indians he was looking for. My arranged bride arrives with a group of French Immersion students and she is even less happy than I am to find out that there are no Indians in the town. Not to ruin the movie in case you get a chance to see it, but there’s a very special Bollywood component to it. Perhaps that experience, and working with director Kevin Tierney, helped me get into ‘Breakaway’. Also, it really helped that I was a brown boy who knew how to ice skate!
How would you say this film is different and unique to other sport comedies?
It’s brown people on ice, for one. I can’t say I’ve seen that in a movie before. South Asians are Canada’s largest visible minority and this film gives some insight into South Asian family life, community and social pressure. Furthermore, I really feel like this movie casts a positive light on the Sikh community in Canada (and at large). Typically in film, Sikhs are portrayed as a joke, or even as terrorists – despite the fact that the community has made so many positive contributions to our country in government, in business, in arts and culture, just to name a few fields.
The film stars Vinay Virmani, Russell Peters, Anupam Kher, Gurpreet Guggi and Sakina Jaffrey – with Robert Lieberman onboard as director. What was it like working with the cast on-set?
Each one of them brings something unique and positive to the set. Vinay became a good friend throughout the filming, and I’m sure we’ll see much more of this guy on Canadian and Indian big screens. When Russell was on set, he raised everyone’s game – because he is always entertaining and that requires everyone else on set to be “on” too, unless you want your balls busted. Anupam Kher and Sakina Jaffrey are both incredible actors who can do so much on-screen with the smallest smile or movement. I’ve never seen anything like it. And it was great to see Gurpreet Ghuggi in a more serious role – God knows how much self-discipline that took on his part! And Robert Lieberman was our fearless leader, motivating us to keep going, even if we’d been in itchy hockey equipment for 8 hours!
Let’s talk a bit about you Ali. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
I always loved to entertain and I love to challenge myself. Those are the motivating factors that got me into stand-up comedy 5 years ago. I starting taking acting class, like the Meisner technique – which I recommend to anyone wanted to really look deep inside themselves! In the end, I was lucky enough in 2010 to have Kevin Tierney see me on stage and look at me for a role for his directorial debut. I was taking classes, auditioning and so on – but everyone needs a break!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
I’m not even sure if I’m in a position to give that advice, given how much I have yet to learn myself…but hell, I’ll do it anyway. Don’t get into acting if you don’t believe in yourself 100%. There will inevitably be dark times, and the only thing that you will have to get you through those times is your faith in yourself. Even when you start getting work, acting can still very much be about feast or famine. And finally – don’t be an asshole. Seriously.
What is currently on your I-Pod right now?
My pride of Montreal – Arcade Fire; Chromeo; Metric; Wolf Mother; old school hip hop (Tribe Called Quest, EPMD, KRS-ONE, Gangstarr), some old school bhangra and some wicked trance. I’m all over the place.
If you could have dinner with three guests (living or dead) who would they be and why?
I like to have enjoyable dinners where the conversation and laughs just flow. For that to happen, you need guests who are fun-loving, well-travelled and ideally well-read. That’s the basic framework. So let’s insert into that framework the dream team of…Eddie Izzard, Billy Connolly and Larry David. Holy shit – I wouldn’t get a word in! Let’s try again: Anthony Bourdain, Gary Oldman and Ricky Gervais. Nah, forget it – Gervais’ laugh would drive me mental. Screw, it – my wife and two daughters! The girls aren’t well-read or well-travelled yet…but they are a lot of fun!
What is your favourite holiday destination and why?
Spain – the language gives me an erection. And Jordan – the people are wonderful and warm. And England – for the food and weather. Kidding.
What’s coming up for you in 2011/12?
On film – I’ll be in a great movie called ‘Goon’. That comes out in early 2012. I’m also auditioning like an animal and hoping to capitalize on the fact that I was in three films in a month’s time – two of which were in TIFF! On stage – besides a number of Canadian dates, I’m planning a trip to the UK next year, and I would love to get back to the Middle East again. My two trips to Jordan for the Amman Stand-Up Comedy Festival were incredible! I’ve also got a project called – www.BlandIsBoring.com, which we are hoping will help my foray into television food hosting. Did I mention that I was a chef/caterer for the last 10 years? So little time to cover everything. Oh well, thanks for the interview Matt!
Thank you for the interview!