Life is about to get very interesting for writer, director, actor Sugith Varughese as he takes on Steven Soderbergh new show The Girlfriend Experience. The seasoned Renaissance man plays a partner in the law firm of the main character and will be a driving force throughout the show. With over 80 credits to his name in films, TV programs, radio drama and theater, Varughese has been nominated for several prestigious Canadian film and television awards. Selling his first script at the age of 21, he has screenwriting credits for multiple episodes of the Muppet series “Fraggle Rock” among many others. He is best known for his role as ‘Faisal’ in the successful Canadian TV series “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” a sitcom now seen in over 85 countries and currently available on Hulu (as “Little Mosque”), “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” and films including Best of Both Worlds, Orphan and Mission to Mars.
Q:Were you a fan of Soderbergh’s film before you took the role?
I was and am a HUGE fan of Soderbergh’s work before I ever learned about this series. I have the original published version of his screenplay for Sex, Lies and Videotape and it kills me that I didn’t cross paths with him on the right day to try and get him to sign it! What I love about his films—beyond the tremendous range in style of story—are the performances. He understands how to work with actors and he’s able to cast them perfectly then let them do work they have never done. I’m thinking of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Behind the Candelabra and Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, for example. Award-winning performances aren’t an accident in his movies.
Q:What sort of research did you do to prepare for the series?
I had very little time to prepare as I was cast in the part just a few days before we started filming. So I didn’t worry about the legal aspect of the character at all. I let the writing worry about that. I focused on what I could bring to the character that was uniquely me. Being the son of immigrants myself, I felt Tariq Barr would have a similar background and as such would not be in that job because of any old boys club. He’d have had to be twice as good as anyone else to get that position. That isn’t in the script per se, but it’s something I felt strongly about and so that coloured my approach. He is a touch arrogant because he knows that he is the smartest in the room. And he doesn’t even dress quite like the other lawyers. I spent a lot of time with our amazing costumer talking about him and she came up with little touches in my wardrobe to set him off in that light. For example, you might notice that I always wear a pocket square unlike the other lawyers. It’s the little things like that which enhance the storytelling, I think.
Q:As both an actor and a writer how do you approach a role like this?
I’m a journeyman actor and a journeyman scriptwriter and I’ve also directed short films. I’ve come to realize that they are all the same job: storytelling. But they use different tools. Acting requires a sense of self—what is the aspect of me that is the character? Because I’m a writer, I rely on the script to do the heavy lifting, so for the acting, I try and do the things that the script can’t do. For example, when I act, I find it really important to figure out how a character walks. The physical stuff, the wardrobe, the way you speak, if you can understand what makes sense in terms of the story, then distill them so that when you are acting, it all happens subconsciously, then I think you’re doing your job as an actor.
Q:What is your dream role?
I would kill to be in the new Star Trek series! Science Officer? Or even Captain? Time for a desi Captain of the Enterprise!
Q:Since you are an actor, writer, and director, do you have any interest in writing/directing an episode of the series?
Of course, I’d love to write and/or direct for the show. Mostly because of the chance to work with the incredible cast and crew again. You hear that a lot at awards where the cast and crew get thanked but believe me, this one was one of the best I’ve ever been a part of. I saw Paul Sparks at the premiere of the series in New York City and we both agreed that we missed the show. It was fun!