Alexx O'Nell
Alexx O'Nellinstagram

After impressing the audience with his roles in Roohi, Aarya, Cheeni Kum, Bhoot Police, Chittagong and more, Alexx O'Nell is all set to star in Amazon Prime's Ae Watan Mere Watan. He will be seen sharing the screen space with Sara Ali Khan in Kannan Iyer directed series. In an interview with International Business Times, Alexx spoke about preparing for the show, working with Sara Ali Khan, his journey in the industry and more.

Tell us a bit about your role in Ae Watan Mere Watan.

To begin, John Lyre isn't a typical villain; he embodies a menacing blend of intelligence, resourcefulness, and ruthlessness. And by the way that he is described by the other characters, you can tell he is clearly known for his effectiveness. As such, he represents the full force of the British empire, posing a significant challenge to the underdog, Usha Metha. What drew me to the role was Lyre's dark otherworldly persona - this tall, mysterious figure with pale skin and dressed entirely in black, has a frightening appearance and icy demeanour that immediately creates a sense of unease.

My character symbolizes the fiction of British superiority which was believed not only by the colonisers, but also many Indians as well. Among other things, Lyre utilizes his mastery of Hindi, the most advanced technology of time, and the British Indian special police force at his disposal to systematically eliminate each rebellious threat until only Usha remains. To me, this makes him both fascinating and terrifying.

Alexx O'Nell
Alexx O'NellInstagram

How did you come onboard?

Ae Watan Mere Watan is the second project on which casting Director Gautam Kishanchandani and I have collaborated, the first being Vishal Bhardwaj's 'Khufiya'. I'm incredibly thankful to Gautam for believing that I was the right actor for this role and for bearing with the fact that I was overseas working on music in Amsterdam and Cape Town while much of AWMW's casting took place. In fact, I believe the rest of the cast had already been finalised by the time I finally met up with the director Kannan Iyer in Mumbai. We discussed the character in depth, and it was only then that I really understood Lyre, and the passion with which he and all the characters had been written by Kannan and Darab Farooqui. I was instantly convinced that I wanted this role - I performed a couple of the scenes and I was onboard from the next day!

How did you prep for the role?

I've had the privilege of working on a number of films and series set in the period from 1900 up through independence in 1947, including 'Golondaaj', 'Chittagong', 'Bose Dead Or Alive', 'Madrasapattinam' and so on. Through each of these, I've become quite familiar with the era depicted in 'AWMW'. However, to prepare for this role in particular, I researched the British presence in India during 1942, specifically in Bombay, and also focussed my attention on the technology and tactics that the Allies were developing as World War II raged in Europe. This was important since John Lyre employs similar methods in his pursuit of Congress Radio.

Alexx O'Nell
Alexx O'NellInstagram

But to be honest, that was the easy part... the real challenge for me was language. John Lyre's Hindi is impeccable, and his ease with the language is an important part of what makes him so formidable. So, as soon as I had the final script in hand, I began working with my dialogue coach, dissecting the vocabulary with which I wasn't familiar, and getting the pronunciations as close to perfect as possible. Thereafter, I spent countless hours practising until my delivery was effortless, using a system I've relied on for years that combines physical exercise like lifting and running with my dialogue practice. Unfortunately, two of Lyre's longer monologues didn't make the final edit which, I have to say, was heartbreaking. But that's just the way it goes - I'm grateful for the performances that remain.

How was it working with Sara Ali Khan?

Collaborating with Sara, director Kannan Iyer, the writer Darab Farooqui, and indeed the rest of this phenomenal cast and crew, was a truly enriching experience. Absolutely everyone worked extremely hard to do justice to this incredibly important story, and as such, there was seriousness on set that helped set the tone. I believe, despite playing adversaries on screen, off-screen, Sara and I shared a great rapport and collaborated well to bring depth to our characters' interactions. But, while working with Sara on AWMW was truly fulfilling, I do hope someday to shoot with her again, perhaps something light-hearted so we can have a few laughs along the way.

Tell us something about the vibe on the sets.

The vibe, at least from my perspective, was quite subdued and serious from the weight of the task at hand. Under the cover of darkness, Lyre and his accomplices are literally hunting and killing in a ruthless pursuit of Congress Radio - so, it was quite heavy.

Any incident you remember?

One especially memorable moment was when we were shooting the confrontation between Usha and Lyre - the climax of the nail-biting chase that culminates in them meeting for the first time. I don't want to reveal too much, but in that particular scene, in order to deliver her best performance, Sara insisted, careful that the director shouldn't hear, that I actually slap her across the face... long story short, after refusing a number of times, I grudgingly and very very carefully obliged, barely making contact in the take. I appreciate that kind of dedication, but honestly, I would rather be the one getting slapped and doing the slapping!

Sara Ali Khan
Sara Ali KhanInstagram

How did you join Bollywood? Tell us a bit about that journey.

I spent about 10 years doing theater in the US before I even saw a film camera, and while I was traveling through Europe and India modelling and acting in television commercials, I was cast in my first Bollywood movie 'Cheeni Kum'. It was an incredibly valuable learning experience, and it gave me the opportunity to work with some of the best talent in the industry from the get-go. Over the next few years, I featured in films in Hindi, English, and South Indian languages, worked in television series, and even participated in Nach Baliye.

How was it working with Divya Dutta? How was your equation with her?

It's a bit too early to reveal anything about 'Bak Bak' quite yet, but what I will say is that Divya is fabulous! She and I have been acquaintances for many years, and I've been a fan of her performances ever since seeing her in Veer-Zaara, so naturally I jumped at the opportunity to work with her. 'Bak Bak' will showcase both Divya and I in roles so completely different from anything you have ever seen us do, and I eagerly look forward to talking more about it as soon as we have a release date for the series!