In ‘Run,’ Archie Panjabi Sees Shades of Her Most Famous Role
In ‘Run,’ Archie Panjabi Sees Shades of Her Most Famous Role
In the final seconds of HBO’s romantic thriller “Run” on Sunday night, Archie Panjabi’s heat-seeking-missile Fiona steadily lowers to her knees and ever-so-gently slides her phone underneath a hotel door to record her targets, Domhnall Gleeson and Merritt Wever’s irresponsibly-reunited former lovers Billy and Ruby, (loudly) going at it. If that move reminded you of a certain leather-jacketed, high-booted, and brilliantly sly investigator from “The Good Wife,” you’re not the only one.
“My first thought when I read that scene in the script was, that’s such a Kalinda moment,” Panjabi said in a Zoom call from Los Angeles one evening last week.
No surprise it took just a few minutes for Kalinda to come up in our conversation, considering the character won Panjabi an Emmy and put her on the map, both as an actress and as tabloid fodder. But — wipe your drool — the 47-year-old British actress was quick to shut down questions about that scene with a smile.
She is, however, game to talk about 18-page auditions, childhood trophies and how in May, HBO viewers will get a double dose of the actress when she appears both on “Run” and “I Know This Much is True,” a six-part drama based on Wally Lamb’s best seller, where she plays a wise psychiatrist to twins Dominick (Mark Ruffalo) and Thomas (yup, Ruffalo again) Birdsey. Quite a month for someone who was once told that Indian women can’t make it in Hollywood. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.
Fiona is a manipulative, shoplifting, calculated semi-stalker. So I’m guessing she was a dream role?
It happened very quickly. I got sent the script and I had the weekend to decide whether to do it. I love [the series creator Vicky Jones and the executive producer Phoebe Waller-Bridge] and I love Merritt and Domhnall, and the chemistry between these two characters is so engaging. I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to play a character that is thrown in with the motive of tearing them apart? It’s delicious.
You have such strong chemistry with both Merritt and Domnhall; I didn’t know if you wanted to seduce them or skewer them.
That’s what Vicky is good at doing. To be honest, there were times when I didn’t understand the bond between Fiona and Ruby, and I would call Vicky over and she would say, “Sometimes you’re not supposed to like someone, but you just have this chemistry.” I’d never done anything like that.
Fiona may be the antagonist, she’s not a stereotypical villain because at times she’s the most sympathetic character.
One could read the script as it was written that Fiona was a complete [expletive] and she’s really nasty. But it was important to Vicky and [the director Kate Dennis] that it wasn’t that. The tone of the show is unique to the point that even as actors, all of us didn’t quite know what it was. Which made everything about this project out of my comfort zone.
How so? Fiona feels like such an Archie Panjabi character.
Maybe after playing a character for six years you lose a bit of confidence in your comfort zone. They obviously cast me so they thought it was in my range. I don’t mind being a little bit insecure. Sometimes I think it helps on set because you’re more open and wanting to trust your director and the other actors.
Let’s talk about “I Know This Much is True.” You play a therapist named Dr. Patel, which reminds me that I owe an email to my therapist Dr. Patel.
Your therapist and hundreds of thousands of other doctors in the world. That was the first thing I thought of with her name. It’s a big joke in London that every other doctor is called Dr. Patel. It was a huge responsibility how I was going to convey this one.
Did you seek out this role or did the creator Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”) come to you?
Derek likes to meet everyone, get to know their personalities. I had Skype sessions and lots of chats and I even flew out to see him. And I did an 18-page scene.
An 18-page audition?
They asked me to put myself on tape, which really doesn’t come up that much because I get offered a lot of stuff. But I had to come off my ego and I thought, I don’t mind because I want to work with these people. I had to put 18 pages on an iPhone. Afterward, I thought I really had the voice of this character. The similarity between her and other roles I’ve played is a calmness on the outside but you know every single wheel is turning on the inside.
You’ve done a few episodes of American comedies, from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” to “BoJack Horseman.” Did you want to change the image of you only playing that type of calm-on-the-outside character?
When I was 15 or 16 I entered a drama competition in London and I came in first and I got a cup called the “Versatility Cup.” And that always stuck with me that I wanted to be able to play anything, even roles I felt I couldn’t play. I would never have thought I could have played Kalinda. I remember reading the character description and it was “stunningly beautiful Erin Brockovich.” I said, that’s not me.
But you still went for it.
At the time I was putting myself out for pilots and I wasn’t getting anything. And then I got an email from my agent who said, “I think you should possibly have a look at this.” I spent hours with my other half recording at home. From what I understand, I was the last on the list after they’d seen everybody.
Do you remember what scene you read for your audition?
It was when she opened her buttons and said, “These are better than subpoenas.” I thought, Oh God, my mum will be horrified.
No, she was amused.
You won an Emmy for playing Kalinda in 2010 and a decade later, there are still questions about tension on the set between you and Juliana Margulies that was rumored to be so bad that you couldn’t even film your final scene together. Will you ever tell your side of the story?
You’re very naughty, Jessica.
Are you surprised people want to hear your perspective?
Let’s put it this way. We are living in a world where everybody wants to know everything. I completely understand why everyone asks about it. Everybody I meet asks me about it, in some roundabout way. I just feel like, I’m doing work because of that character. Before Kalinda, I was always coming in for a few lines and it was hard to get roles. If people always want to know what happened, OK, it’s a small price to pay for all the wonderful things that show has given me. It sounds diplomatic, but it’s how I feel.
Did it tarnish your memories of the series?
I’m not very complimentary of things. I’m very British and I like to self-deprecate, but I do feel the Alicia and Kalinda scenes were one of the highlights of the show. I’m very proud of them.
But you’re taking everything else to the grave?
Yeah. I’ve said what I’m going to say.
Any chance Kalinda will pop up on “The Good Fight”?
I don’t know. I still get a lot of love for her, but she came in as a mystery and she left as a mystery. I don’t know if bringing back a character like that feels right. It took me time to get out of that character and for people to see me in a different light.
Last year you helped develop “Adversaries,” a show about a L.A. lawyer who moves to the heartland and confronts prejudices, which was supposed to be on NBC this season. What interested you about that premise?
I was keen to tell a story about diversity. My character was brought up by strict parents and Asian and she works with someone who’s American, and through them we get insight into their different backgrounds. We still don’t understand why [NBC] put that aside.
You once had an agent who told you that you’d never work as an Indian woman. Is there anything you’d want to say to her now?
I was in my 20s then and I do feel, with respect to her, that she was justified in saying that to some degree. When I was growing up, my family used to say, “How many women of your background are onscreen? Virtually none.” I don’t hold it against her for saying it at the time.
You really don’t hold onto rage, do you?
I’m British and I’m Indian. So that combination is: Keep the peace!