Ali Fazal thought he had missed his chance. When the Mumbai-based actor heard that director Stephen Frears was casting his film Victoria & Abdul in India, auditions had ended. Lucky for Fazal—whose only previous U.S. role had been a small part in Furious 7—Frears hadn’t found a leading man, so the 30-year-old Bollywood star sent a tape to the director, which got him a meeting and, eventually, the part.
Victoria & Abdul follows an elderly Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, an Indian servant who becomes her spiritual guide. “It’s about love and friendship,” Fazal says. “But I took the part because it was hard to play.” The role is tough indeed. Abdul is subjected to prejudice and mistreatment, but a charming Fazal shines opposite Judi Dench’s formidable queen.
Ali Fazal stars as Abdul Karim in Stephen Frears' Victoria and Abdul.
“He has an innocence,” Frears says of his star. “You really believe in him. He was also very good looking and appealing and attractive, and seemed to me to be a very good actor.”
That believability can be traced, in part, to similarities with his character. “For this movie, I came to London for the first time, just like Abdul,” he says, “and built a friendship with Judi, who’s very close to a queen in England.”
Judi Dench as Queen Victoria and Ali Fazal as Abdul Karim in Victoria and Abdul
And while the story takes place long before Dench’s reign began, Fazal thinks the timing is just right for it to strike a chord with today’s audiences.
When you think about it, not much has changed in all these years.
“Of course, the story is about love and friendship but you have this premise also of the era’s racism, and when you think about it, not much has changed in all these years,” he says. “It’s amazing that it’s coming out at this time—but those weren’t the reasons I took the part.”
He goes on, “I took the part because it was true, it was a hard part to play, and it was a beautiful story. And of course because of the team that was making it. I thought it would be a beautiful process to be a part of.”
Ali Fazal in Victoria and Abdul
He wasn’t wrong. The film is beautiful to watch, with brilliant colors and the sorts of sets and costumes that make Frears’ films must-see events. The fact that Fazal gives a brilliant performance opposite an equally strong Dench doesn’t hurt matters either. But to hear the actor who played Abdul tell it, he’s hoping that audience members who appreciate the eye candy will walk away with a little bit of a lesson as well.
“As long as they walk out at the end credits—and not before that—and have a conversation about the film, I think our job is done,” he says. “Something might strike a nerve in this movie about friendship and love in a world where there isn’t always love around you. That resonates even today; it’s got a nice ring to it.”
Watch the trailer below:
This story appears in the October 2017 issue of Town & Country.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.