I recently got the chance to talk to Rao Rampilla about his role in Adam Sandler’s new movie, ‘That’s My Boy’. Here, Rao talks about what it was like working with Adam on-set and how he got into acting in the first place…
Hey Rao. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘That’s My Boy’.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
It’s the story of a teenaged father (Donny) that has a son with his adult teacher (Eva Amurri Martino, daughter of Susan Sarandon – Susan Sarandon played the older version of the same teacher now incarcerated in jail). His, (Adam Sandler, now grown up) efforts to bond with his son (Andy Samberg) faces obstacles, such as bad parenting combined with his unpaid tax problem. How he overcomes or fails is the story.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I played the character of a convenience store owner. I became buddies with Adam Sandler and Vanilla Ice and Andy Samberg in the movie. When they came in to my store for the first time, I was angry for not paying for the beer that they drank. After chasing them out, I changed my mind as I realized that they’re fun guys. So I buddied with them – (Adam Sandler, Vanilla Ice along with Andy Samberg). Don’t you ever have such friends in your real life? We all do. I’ve a supporting role. If you remember Shakespeare plays, he sends in the comedian to break up the tension of the story. It’s a comic relief. I enter and exit. Of course, I’ve a purpose to support my friend Adam Sandler trying to nurture the relationship with his son.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
Well, I auditioned for the part. It was an improvisation. When they gave me the script to improvise, I saw all the dramatic elements in it and I relied on my instincts. That got me the job. As originally cast, I’ve got only a scene or two, but once I was on the set they liked what I did when they didn’t pay for the beer I sold them and enlarged my part into several scenes throughout the movie and Adam Sandler gave me all the lines.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
Though the movie is ‘R’ rated the theme seems to me that love overcomes all the hurdles whether you’re rich or poor or even ready to go to jail. That’s the universal message. I hear some bloggers contending that this may become a classic cult movie. As for me I felt it as unique when Adam Sandler and Vanilla Ice embraced me as a friend even though I was foreign and born from a different culture. This movie is all about love and friendship.
The film stars Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Vanilla Ice, James Caan, Milo Ventimiglia and Blake Clark – with Sean Anders onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
As to working with Adam Sandler, to begin with I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t think too much about it. As I started working with him, I realized that how talented he is. Sometimes, he comes and whispers something to me and then the scene works like magic. Adam introduced me to his family and adored me and I adored him. He said ‘Rao’, you’re a guest here’. So I was. When I told him that I left an International Legal career having worked with the United Nations Legal Office, he said to me, “Did you give up all that for this?” Then I told him that life is like a piano. Most of the people spend their lives playing only one key, such as a 9 to 5 job. But there’s 88 keys on the piano. It’ll make life interesting to play all those other keys that we do not touch. ‘Who said that?’ was his question. The fact that I was on a hunger strike for untouchables (Dalits) in India for 10 days earned some respect from him. I really enjoyed working with him. I think he is an actors actor.
I spent a lot of time together with Vanilla Ice. He became one of my best buddies. He would show me some of his rap moves and teach me his song: “To the extreme I rock Mike like a Vandel; Light up the stage I whack champ like candle”. Then asks me show it to Adam. It was a blast with him. I kind of miss him.
Tony Orlando is one of my best admirers and a very good friend. He always calls me as ‘my lawyer friend’, a reminder of my legal acumen, I guess. I really love him. He called us despite his show in Atlantic City to show support to my private premiere in Chattanooga, Tennessee by my Law School classmate Mr. McCracken Poston. I always love to dance to Tony’s songs. It’s very funny when he says: “Whaat’s uppp…”.
One time, while dancing I bumped into Andy Samberg and he laughed. He has such a giggly laugh. He is funny. He and Leighton Meester are a wonderful match.
With James Caan, it’s always the movie magic. He was very nice to me. Any time I made a suggestion, he would say it’s a very good suggestion.
When I come to know that Blake Clark is from Georgia, I told him about the store that’s sells Pecan Pies next to our trailer. He cracked up at that and instantaneously acknowledged that I’m from Georgia. Of course I went to Law School there.
Peter Dante is another friendly fellow and he is a caring person. He would introduce me to everyone and made sure I was comfortable.
There’s many more fond memories with other cast members like Rachel Dratch, Todd Bridges, Rex Ryan, Luenell Abdoulaye, Koji and so on. Space does not permit me to dwell into the details. I wish I had got the chance to work with Susan Sarandon and her daughter Eva Amurri Martino. But I’m not in those scenes, so I missed my chance. Given the huge cast and the limitations of space I may have missed mentioning some other names as well. I want to tell you that I love you all including all the crew that helped to do what I did.
Director Sean Anders has a special place in all of this. Well, he was very patient with me. He tells me the ways that he wants my scene to go. Of course, I executed them the way he wanted. I owe him a lot of gratitude for that. Very good director to work with.
Let’s talk a bit about you Rao. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
All my life I was fighting to be an International Lawyer and earned four law degrees from three different continents having studied with the late Dean Rusk – (a former Secretary of State with JFK). Besides working with the UN, I was a Special Counsel to the Government of Indonesia. My proud accomplishment was representing Native Americans (Seneca Nation of Indians) in a Casino Gambling case in Upstate New York. One day I’ll write a script about it. However, I was jobless and penniless after the events of 9/11/2001. Accidentally or through natural talent, I booked a Super Bowl VISA commercial working with Kevin Bacon and suddenly it opened the flood gates. When the Super Bowl ball fell into my lap, I realized that instead of fighting to be an International Lawyer, I should run with it. Ever since I’ve acted in at least 20 National Commercials and several roles in TV shows. I produce a biweekly show in New York City on the cable called ‘Bollywood To Hollywood With Rao Rampilla’. On that show, I give voice to those voiceless. I studied with Alan Arkin, upon his suggestion with Austin Pendleton. Everything I studied at Lee Strasberg and Meisner methods unfolded itself eventually. I even spent 3 years at the Juilliard School in their evening program. Lately, I was inspired by Stella Adler after I read her book ‘Ibson, Strindberg And Chekov’. Ever since I feel like I’m an artist not just another technique actor.
I’ve written a one man play called ‘Gandhi, Dalits And Me’ and I’ve performed it. You’ll find a synopsis of the play on my website (www.raorampilla.com). It may also be helpful to look into the article my fellow hunger striker, now a Dalit journalist wrote about me from New Delhi in the Sunday Column. Here is the link: dailypioneer.com.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Only thing I can say to other actors is take a chance. You won’t regret it. And I go back to my piano keys example to illustrate. Play them all.
You’re stuck on a desert island, you’re only allowed three personal things with you – what would you choose and why?
Three things if I’m stuck in a desert. I say water, water, water.
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
I’ve some irons in the fire and I’m looking forward to producing my play ‘Gandhi, Dalits And Me’ in the UK and elsewhere. Besides my ‘Bollywood To Hollywood Show’, which I produce biweekly, I’m also working on an independent screen play which I shot half way through. Hopefully, I’ll finish it by the end of 2012.
Thanks for the interview!