Actor Kiran Rai on Hollywood ambition, his TV chat show and spending time in Hampshire
PUBLISHED: 09:53 11 August 2014 | UPDATED: 12:46 03 November 2017
The hit film Slumdog Millionaire inspired a generation of aspiring young Asian actors. Among them is Kiran Rai who at just 22 has his own TV chat show and a burgeoning modelling career. But whilst Kiran may have his sights firmly set on Hollywood, his loves nothing more than spending down time in Hampshire, where Viv Micklefield met him
Staring out from the billboards advertising Birmingham Fashion Week, talking Sky TV executives into commissioning his own chat show, and appearing live on stage in The Big Apple; most of us would take our hat off to Kiran Rai. It sounds an impressive résumé, but this ambitious 22-year-old has already got one eye on the next big break.
Sitting down over a coffee, it quickly becomes evident - as he mutes his constantly bleeping mobile phone - that Kiran will never rest on his laurels. “Yes, I’m a workaholic,” he readily agrees.
Yet, apparently, on the rare occasions that he does switch off, he heads straight for Hampshire, to stay with friends who live near Romsey. And having shot several music videos and advertising campaigns in Sparsholt and Hampage Wood, more of which later, the county, it seems, has already made quite an impression on Kiran: “I love Hampshire every time I go there, which hopefully I shall do more often, once I find the time to get a driving licence.”
Although home is currently southwest London, as Kiran tells me, the seeds of his future direction were sown at the tender age of seven. Growing up near Nottingham he first caught the bug for performing after his mum encouraged him to attend a stage and screen school called The Television Workshop. His decision to up-sticks and move to the capital at 18 was, he admits, a risk although it was one he was prepared to take. “You can’t sit at home waiting for the phone to ring; you have to bang on doors,” says Kiran. “It’s not about just hoping for the best, you’ve got to make sure that people know that you’re hungry for work.”
This forthright attitude has seen him ready to grab any opportunities coming his way. And, today, he displays a relaxed confidence which, despite his relative youth, comes from having already spent many hours in front of a camera. But it’s been a somewhat roller-coaster journey.
Good Things Happen to Good People, Kiran’s one-man stage show, suggests a meteoric rise to fame as it came shortly after he arrived in London.
The script, he explains, was semi-autobiographical and was based on his early life in the Midlands and the nervous breakdown he suffered during his teens.
“I’m happy to talk about this because it made me who I am today,” he says.
Staged with the help of his mentor and manager, David Gore, at the Soho Theatre and, later, at the Richmond Shepard Theatre in New York City, it was a taste of the bright lights that he’s since sampled again, with supporting roles in small budget feature-length films.
But life, it seems, had other surprises in store. There’s no shortage of leading men who began their working life as models: Mark Wahlberg, and Ashton Kutcher, to name two - and Kiran has joined their ranks. Currently signed with ten agencies worldwide, Kiran says this other string to his bow makes big demands on his schedule.
“Modelling can be from ten in the morning until nine or ten at night. And then the next day, maybe, the same again.”
However, fronting up a campaign for a leading hotel chain in Europe or a fashion brand in Dubai, he considers an investment in his future because it helps keep his face in the mind of casting directors.
Never one shy away from self-promotion, Kiran continued to forge a name for himself by presenting his own radio show.
“When I was doing my radio show I cheekily asked the artist Tushar Sabale to paint my portrait for a poster. And, even though he works with some of the biggest Bollywood stars, I persuaded him to do it.”
Kiran’s radio programme, Secrets with Kiran Rai’, aired weekly on Betar Bangla 1503 AM, attracting nearly two million listeners but it’s perhaps his spin-off TV show that brought him some surprising new fans. Having first pitched the idea of it to Bravo TV whilst in Argentina, Kiran’s chat show is now on Sky TV’s Sikh channel.
The eclectic mix of guests reflects Kiran’s wide range of interests in the world of performance. “I’ve worked with some great people. I’m not Alan Carr, but there is a similarity,” he laughs.
When asked who he’s most proud to have interviewed, there’s no hesitation: Premi Johal, one of the so-called kings of the Punjabi music and dance phenomenon, Bhangra. Clearly star-struck, Kiran says: “He’s got 14 albums to his name - it was just amazing to meet him.”
While Kiran might be better known on the streets of Buenos Aires, online footage shows him being mobbed here by fans of his chat show so having friends to hang out with in Hampshire keeps him feeling grounded.
It’s something he appreciates, particularly after the frenetic, and occasionally surreal, jobs he’s done recently.
One such job came after a call from renowned fashion photographer Robert Lapworth and saw Kiran striking a pose alongside the supermodel Ruth Oti, and Black Reel Golden Globe nominee actor Oris Erhuero.
“It was crazy working with them both. I didn’t realise it was such a big project until I got there,” Kieran says.
A chance to appear with one of the UK’s most versatile actors, Kulvinder Ghir of Goodness Gracious Me fame was, for Kiran, another unforgettable experience. He’s the first to accept that other professionals can teach him a lot, and shows a dedication to learning his craft by continuing to attend vocal classes.
He observes: “It doesn’t matter how famous they are, every actor needs to polish his skills. You can’t go on to a film set and automatically think you’re Al Pacino.”
There’s little doubt that Kiran is pretty adept at talking the talk despite his fledgling acting experience, but you can forgive him for this.
He remains, it seems, endearingly humble about what he’s achieved so far, and expresses an obvious pleasure in being able to help others to get their own careers off the ground.
Whether it’s plugging a record on national radio, or setting-up open mic sessions, which, as he knows first-hand, can be a tough but ultimately character-building initiation.
As his mobile phone continues to buzz insistently, Kiran is at pains to stress that he’s no intention of becoming stereotyped.
With an obvious role model in Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel star Dev Patel, he’s determined to break through some of the barriers young Asian artists might once have faced, and to make a name for himself across the globe.
And listening to Kiran reel off some of the famous names in his burgeoning contacts book, you wouldn’t bet against his chances of one day living the Hollywood dream.