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If I can connect with the role, I'm open to Indian films

There were surprised voices asking 'Is he an Indian?' when the audience spotted Dileep Rao in the sci-fi biggies, 'Avatar' and 'Inception'. He has been dubbed the Indian Will Smith by the New York magazine for starring in two of the highest Hollywood grossers of recent times. The Los Angeles-born actor, who is now based in California, speaks to Leena Mudbidri in a telecon about his Hollywood experience, the possibility of acting in Indian films and his Karnataka connection

After Dr Max Patel in 'Avatar', Yusuf in 'Inception'. Was it a dream run?

It didn't just happen. The director did not 'approach' me with an offer. It doesn't work that way. I had to audition for the role like several others. I only hoped to get it and did not have any expectations. And when I got a call after a few weeks that I 'got the job', I first took it all in, and then freaked out! Avatar is a sci-fi film with special effects, the works. Inception for me is real because the dreams in it are so real. In fact, I am living my dream now!

Do you still do stage shows?

I am a postgraduate from the American Repertory Theatre. I started out as a medical student because my parents wanted me to be a doctor. But the stage was where I wanted to be. It was a big struggle and I had to work very hard. I am comfortable doing Shakespeare and Chekov. Avatar happened after a decade. I am currently in New York rehearsing for a play;my debut stage act in the city.

'Inception' has completed 50 days in Bangalore. It has been a huge hit in India, how does that feel?

I feel so good about it. It's wonderful that people in Bangalore, in India, recognise me as Indian. I am an American national but I am proud to be a 'Karnatakan'. My greatgrandfather was from Karnataka and so are my parents;we speak in Kannada all the time and so does my sister who teaches at the New York University. My dad has lived all over including Trichy and Maharashtra and knows Marathi too. I eat Indian food and am proud of my culture and roots. I have visited Bangalore many times before and find it vibrant and alive. I will be there next year.

Does the Indian film industry beckon you?

I have great respect for the Indian film industry. If somebody wants to do a film with me and I get lots of offers, I am open to it. I have to be able to connect with the role. For me it is important to respect the director. Of what little I know about Indian film actors, I respect Om Puri who is a wonderful actor. Shelly Desai too is a great actor of Indian origin in Hollywood.

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