At 24, Indian actress Freida Pinto had no idea that her debut in Slumdog Millionaire (2008) would catapult her into Hollywood’s glaring spotlight, earning her the Breakthrough Performance Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, as well as other nominations at the British Academy Film Awards, the MTV Movie Awards and the Teen Choice Awards. Some eight years after her breakout role, she has gone on to carve a successful career in tinsel town, starring in acclaimed movies such as Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) and Caroline Aranha’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).
Known for taking on roles that break away from the stereotypical mould of an Indian woman in foreign films, she has a predilection for international art house productions like Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna (2011), Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Day of the Falcon (2011) and Richard Raymond’s Desert Dancer (2014), which received critical praise. She also recently starred alongside Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett in Knight of Cups (2015), an experimental drama written and directed by Terrence Malick that explores the convoluted entertainment industry.
Not merely a figure onscreen, in the last few years, the actress has used her star power to champion for gender inequality, particularly in the area of education for children. With actress Priyanka Chopra, who stars in Quantico, the pair launched Girl Rising, a global campaign aimed at raising the awareness of girls’ education.
It is this combination of beauty, glamour, smarts and heart that brought her to the attention of the team at Audemars Piguet. In 2014, the watchmaker signed Pinto on as a global brand ambassador, joining the ranks of other international names such as Serena Williams and Stanislas Wawrinka. She has appeared in some of the brand’s ladies watch campaigns and is a regular at its international events, such as Art Basel, where it is an associate partner. She was also recently in Florence, where the brand launched its new Royal Oak Frosted Gold.
It’s been two years since you started as a brand ambassador for Audemars Piguet. How has the journey been so far?
It always has been a very let’s-make-each-other-comfortable, informal kind of partnership. It’s a combination of the serious stuff, the beautiful stuff and fun. So the relationship has been very effortless, to be honest, which is rare.
There’s a much deeper meaning to my brand association with Audemars Piguet. Besides wearing awesome, stunning, beautiful watches and proudly talking about their craftsmanship and the elegance that goes behind it, a partnership with Audemars Piguet can provide the right kind of platform for my philanthropic initiatives; in this specific case, Girl Rising. This is not a collaboration where they just write you a cheque and then they forget about it. The brand is genuinely interested in making a difference. Its commitment to helping me with my cause and its own foundation, which is very concerned with worldwide forest preservation, is so amazing because it shows how much the brand goes beyond just the act of making money.
What was your first impression of the brand?
I’ve always considered it as a very exclusive brand. However, it’s not exclusive and snobbish, if that makes any sense. I love the Royal Oak because of its slightly masculine design. The 37mm is one of my favourites. Over time, I’ve discovered some of its vintage watches and am now on the hunt now to find the perfect Audemars Piguet vintage watch.
Have you always loved watches?
My dad has always loved watches. He’s not a watch collector, but he always loved the concept of a watch on the wrist. Whether it is because he’s Indian or was a banker before, he is someone who just feels that there has to be a watch on his wrist all the time. He owned a day watch, one he would wear for evenings out and he also had a special occasion watch, which will only come out on Christmas, Easter or birthdays. That mentality rubbed off on his daughters…a good watch is one piece of luxury I will spend on.
How are you with time management?
I’m probably okay with time management, but I’m not punctual and even my AP can’t fix that. But that’s OK, because it’s part of my personality that I take with me wherever I go. There are many other things I want to fix but punctuality is not one of them!
But the concept of time is very important to me. It’s not just about the exact moment when things happen, but more about being in the moment when things are happening that I associate directly with time. When Slumdog Millionaire happened and there was all this attention and talk about awards and where we would be promoting the film, someone gave me this really valuable piece of advice: Live in the moment because this moment will go by and then you’d wish you had it. I think that’s the best advice I’ve received. Sometimes we get so caught up in the past, or in the future, especially when we go through something overwhelmingly good or bad.
Describe your personal style.
It needs to be an effortless style because I travel excessively. I really wouldn’t wear these high-heeled boots for the whole day even though they are beautiful! I gravitate towards colours and I think my everyday style has to be something that I can feel comfortable in. Of course, I wouldn’t wear a pair of jeans and go the Oscar’s, although who knows? If they were fully encrusted in Swarovski jewels, maybe!
Who are your favourite brands?
I love Ferragamo, Tod’s and Burberry. It helps that I know the designers. I have been wearing a lot of Ralph & Russo and it’s been a lot of fun getting to know Michael and the brand, Brands are not just places I reach out to for clothes when I need them, they feel more like family because I feel connected to them. Connection is everything to me. I find this world to be very small right now and very lonely if you can’t have a connection with someone. With everything that is happening in the world right now, how can you not want to feel connected?
You appear to have an affinity for more indie flicks. How do you choose your scripts and must they fall within a certain criteria?
They have to. I have done maybe three films where I played the cardboard cut-out, not intentionally wanting to but in the hopes that there would eventually be more for my character to do. Eventually, when the film goes to the editing table, especially in the case of big budget films, my character disappears. It took me 8.5 years of doing this to realise I don’t need to do it anymore. I’m not trying to please anybody, I’m not trying to muscle my way into the door. I want to still continue showing my worth, but I need to show it in a way that has meaning. Even if I do it for the money, I want to make sure I do it because I want to do it, not because I’m forced to do anything. When I choose my characters, I make sure, however big or small the role is, that she is very integral to the central plot line of the story. And that if you took her out of the script, the script should fall apart.
Among all the roles you’ve played, which would you consider to be the most demanding and trying as an actress?
It would be Guerrilla, a six-episode mini-series that I just finished filming and is due in April. It was emotionally draining to play my character because there was a constant need to remember how much she has been through for the 10 to 12 hours that I was filming. Although I was extremely tired by the end of it, I felt very satisfied to be that tired because it meant I was giving it everything I could on an emotional and physical level.
You’re very vocal about gender inequality and education for children. Could you elaborate on this subject?
If you look around you and ask yourself: What is the one gross injustice that’s happening in the world right now, whether it is in a developing world, refugee camps, or in certain poor areas in very rich countries? It will be children being denied education. It’s the one area for them to grow and to choose what they want to be and do in life. We might have taken education for granted but none of us will be sitting over here if we did not have basic primary education. I think it became very apparent to me from the very beginning that if I had to work towards something, it would be to make sure that every boy and girl — especially girls because they’re marginalised in most parts of the world — is in school getting a good education and being allowed to explore their full potential.
When was the exact moment that you decided that this would be how you could contribute back to society?
It was in India and I was probably around 10 or 12. I saw this little girl about two or three years younger than me begging for money and I asked my mother why was she begging instead of being at school. My mum was a little stumped and could not answer me, so I pressed on. I said to her: “You told me and my teacher also taught us in civics class that education is every child’s fundamental right, so why is this girl not in school?” My mother was dumbfounded at that point of time and she told me to continue with my education, get whatever I need and do something about kids like that. It’s pretty early on in life that I knew that this was what I wanted to do, even though I did not know how I was going to do it.
What is your goal in life?
It sounds very clichéd but I think happiness is the goal in life. In whatever you do, big-scale or small, you just have to arrive at happiness. And the only way to arrive at happiness is, as Pico Iyer (Indian-born novelist) said, to be able to go outside to absorb and take whatever you have to take, make mistakes, stumble and learn from your experiences.