IN TREATMENT: Irrfan Khan on Sunil, Working with Gabriel Byrne and What's Next - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

IN TREATMENT: Irrfan Khan on Sunil, Working with Gabriel Byrne and What’s Next

November 8, 2010 by  

Whether you’ve been watching this season of IN TREATMENT or not, Irrfan Khan is a face that you may already recognize from his work in films like SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and THE DARJEELING LIMITED.

Though the Indian actor has been in just a handful of American movies, he has an extensive body of Bollywood work and Hollywood is taking notice.

Currently appearing on HBO’s IN TREATMENT as Sunil — a recent widower whose son has moved him from Calcutta to Brooklyn, where he lives with his American wife and children — Khan has captured our attention as the secretive past of his character is slowly but surely revealed in the office of Dr. Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne).

Khan was not familiar with IN TREATMENT before executive producer Dan Futterman, a friend of his, asked if he’d be interested in playing a patient on the third season of the show. Just as his character explains in the first episode, Khan says therapy is a social taboo in India: “We don’t have therapists in our lives. You only go to therapy if a person is really out of control, mentally sick and he is unable to manage. We don’t go to solve our problems or [life] crises… That’s why [Sunil] is so offended in the first episode when he’s taken to a therapist. It’s like he’s being told that he is sick, that’s how he is taking it: ‘Am I a mad person?'”

Still, Khan thinks the Indian audience would enjoy the drama of IN TREATMENT. “It’s just a very special show. The way they shoot it, it’s so simple, they don’t take any liberties with time or space,” he explains.

Indeed, it’s essentially just a couple people in a room, talking to each other. And during Sunil’s second visit, he does begin to share with Dr. Paul Weston. Khan discusses…

Irrfan Khan: He starts opening up, because for him, he has found a friend. And that’s why, in the second episode, when Paul Weston tells him that their time is up because he has another patient waiting for him, he again suddenly gets a jolt. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s being asked to go. And he was taking [their time together] as if two friends are just sitting and talking. And that’s what keeps happening in the series. You know, Paul Weston very intelligently convinces him that they are friends and he opens up in front a friend and then suddenly he realizes, oh, he’s not my friend, he’s more of a doctor. He continues to fall in and out of this perception.

The executive producers of IN TREATMENT approached you with the idea of this character and began developing it after you accepted the role. Did you have any involvement in the writing process?
On the scripting level, no, not at all. I had no idea how the episode scripts [would go]. I didn’t know [writer] Adam Rapp — but I went to see his play, it was excellent — and I knew [consultant] Jhumpa Lahiri, we had done work together. And I loved the story, so I was pretty sure that it [would] be good. And I was shooting in Canada when I got my first script and the writing was so beautiful, it has some poetry to it. The way it ended, that first episode, so much of emotion. So my whole struggle was to at least live up to the script and to bring the elements which I find interesting. It was important to me to make it [layered]. It’s not to portray a person who’s in pain or suffered a trauma, but it’s a mental struggle he’s trying to come out of.

Were you surprised by the different things that were revealed about Sunil in each script or did you have a solid handle on who Sunil was from the very start?
No, I wanted to know what was going to happen in the next episode, but I had more of a very broad idea. I didn’t know exactly how it was going to turn out. I had thought I would get all the scripts in the beginning, but that doesn’t happen in television. I used to tell them again and again, I need to prepare my lines, so I need the episodes in advance. They were trying to do the best they could do, but that’s how the system works. Lots of the pressure was learning lines. It’s not like film shooting where you shoot a paragraph and then you cut and you can go and do reshoots. [With IN TREATMENT], it’s like shooting for 20 minutes in a stretch, 10 pages in a stretch. So you need to have command over the lines. The only thing to engage the audience is to talk, so you must know the script. That was strange for me. I stopped doing theater long back, and it was kind of like doing theater again.

Did you enjoy it?
I loved it. But it was a very, very difficult process for me, to be in that state for two, three months and to learn the lines and sustain that mental state, it was very tedious. It was like you were in a war zone. I used to sit in my room and I didn’t even have time for having my food. I used to feel like, even when I’m going into the bathroom, I should take the script with me. I was so desperate to know some technique where you could learn lines [more easily], but you know, learning lines is learning lines, there’s no technique.

And you not only had to learn lines in English, but in Bengali too, as Sunil is Bengali. Are you?
No, I’m not. I don’t know Bengali. I learned it. I kept doing goof ups. English is much easier for me than Bengali!

Did you enjoy working with Gabriel Byrne?
Oh, loved it. I loved it. I have never seen an actor who is so gracious, so instinctive, I was completely in awe. He’s excellent. And he’s so considerate. He made me so [at ease] with the whole process. You know, you can feel it that he’s liking your work. It was a memorable experience because of him.

You mentioned that, as the series goes on, Sunil continues to struggle with the fact that he’s not speaking to a friend, but more of a doctor. Is there anything else you can tell us about what’s coming up?
I think it will start becoming more of a thriller than an emotional drama. Emotional drama will definitely be there, but it starts unfolding in a very thrilling manner and that’s what I liked about it. The writing was special.

IN TREATMENT “Sunil -Week Three” airs tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO.

Will you watch?

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3 Responses to “IN TREATMENT: Irrfan Khan on Sunil, Working with Gabriel Byrne and What’s Next”

  1. Alan on November 9th, 2010 2:15 am

    What did Sunil say at the end of week three after he finished laughing? Rewould it multiple times and couldn’t figure it out? Help.

  2. Juliet on November 12th, 2010 10:26 pm

    He said “well this has been a very interesting tea.”

  3. Guillaume on November 25th, 2010 1:38 am

    Best character on that show since Blair Underwood ego maniacal suicidal pilot