Madonna Sebastian opens up about her movies, music and what keeps her ticking
She is beautiful, graceful and clearly unruffled by the all the glitz and glam surrounding her! Premam, her very first tryst with Malayalam cinema shot her to fame and then, her journey with Tamil, Telugu and Kannada began. Her passion does not stop with just movies, she is a celebrated singer too and has her own band, titled ‘Everafter’! RITZ is in conversation with the sizzling star, Madonna Sebastian, who has carved a special niche for herself in South Indian Cinema!
Interview: Riya Sonny Datson
Photography: Shafi Shakkeer
Photography Team: Hadil, Anoop
Makeup: Samson Lei
Styling: Sapna Fathima Kajha
Costumes: Jaz’aash designs, Lulu fashion store at Lulu Mall
Accessories & Footwear: Lulu fashion store at Lulu Mall
Venue: Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty
You have kept Mollywood waiting for quite a while after ‘King Liar’…
Right after Premam, my Tamil adventure began and then there was Telugu, Kannada and an English project. These kept me busy. Though I was listening to stories in Malayalam, I felt there were not many projects that excited me, ones that I felt I should be a part of. Since I was busy, I felt I did rather wait for something interesting to come by.
How do you select your projects?
The Director is very important, the actors are important and how the director narrates the story is very important to me. But it’s not always the storyline that I go by because sometimes the director can be very sensible and can have a great sense of humour but when he puts it together, it can turn out differently. So at the end of the day, I follow my gut and of course, pray about.
So how comfortable are you with other languages?
Apart from Malayalam and a bit of Tamil, I don’t know any other South Indian language! I just understand the scene, the meaning of my lines and then, I just learn the lines by heart. If I can’t read the lines, then I get a voice note done and keep listening to it until I get it right. I can connect with people easily both onscreen and off screen, so that makes it easy for me to emote. Yes, it takes a lot of work when you don’t know the language but that is probably the only stress point. I enjoy working in other languages.
What is the one thing you like about Tamil industry?
The directors I have worked with in the Tamil industry have always had a lot of faith me. They have given me a lot of liberty and they believe in my skills – that plays a huge part in my performance. Three of my Tamil movies were with Vijay Sethupathi and he is a brilliant actor, so it was very easy to work with him and I learnt a lot during the shoot.
It was after rejecting 10 offers that you finally agreed to do Premam, what drew you to movies?
I never thought I would act in movies and have never acted before either. When I was younger, my father was very particular that I watch only English movies and that was the only connection I had with movies. But being passionate about music, I used to sing and was active on TV shows, so I guess that’s how the offers came my way.
Has Hollywood had an influence on your acting skills?
While growing up, I have watched the best Hollywood actors and I am fan of their acting. So I think that would have helped somewhere in my acting skills; especially in Mollywood, as it has a lot of realistic and subtle acting when compared to the other industries down south that require a little more drama and exaggerated emotions.
How was the experience while doing the English movie, “Humans of Someone”?
That was quite a while ago, right after Premam. I remember it was very hectic as we had to shoot in sync sound and we used to shoot from morning to evening. But I used to find the discussions very interesting. It was inspiring to watch Nithin, (the script writer) and the lead actor explore the depth of the character. Sumesh Lal was a very good director as he gave us the liberty to explore the character with ease. It is not every day that you find people venturing into such subjects confidently without really worrying about it being commercial.
You are a very private person, so how do you tackle the fan following?
I wish I handled it better but actually I prefer to stay indoors. I crave taking those long walks, which I used to enjoy as a child. But I think I should learn how to deal with it.
Are you very beauty and health conscious?
I don’t enjoy salon time too much but I do take time out once in a while to do beauty treatments at home. What I have noticed is that if I am unhappy, it reflects on my face. When I am happy, it reflects too, I am more vibrant. I really like working out but of late, I have become very lazy. I think it’s a phase.
What part of acting is a challenge for you?
Romancing, I should say. It is a very personal thing for me and I find it very difficult to romance in front of the camera but with more movies, I am beginning to get over it.
What is the inspiration that keeps you going?
I am very growth oriented, my whole purpose in life would be to be balanced and wise. My ultimate goal would be to have a positive aura that inspires everyone around me to take it from me…finding joy in the little things. I want to be at peace with myself and not worry about anything.
Any dream roles?
I would like to play the character that I want to be eventually – someone who is very sorted, who has the power to love people unconditionally but at the same time, who would also have the courage to put her foot down and say ‘No’ when people cross boundaries. I feel if I play such a character, it would help me to push myself forward in life.
What are your learnings from working with seasoned actors?
Usually when I am at work, I don’t talk too much to people, that is a hiccup. Though Premam was my first movie, workwise, it has been the easiest movie I have done so far. But I hardly interacted with Nivin during the shoot. With Dileep(ettan), maybe because of his experience and ease with his physical self while acting, I find his energy very inspiring. I would say that we have to keep our eyes open while working with such seasoned actors because we never know when we are learning something new. Just by observing, we might pick up something that would come to us naturally at some other point of time. I think I spent most time with Vijay Sethupathi and so I have learnt most from him. He has a particular kind of body language but he moulds every character into something he is comfortable doing. That is something I learnt from him.
What about your music band, ‘Everafter’?
We are making new songs. We wanted to take time and get back on track in an organised way. When we travel it gets difficult so we are all working on songs in our own work spaces. But we are getting ready to go live.
Of late, there has been a lot of unfortunate events happening in Mollywood, what’s your take on the Women’s Collective in Cinema?
I feel that the women in WCC are putting in a lot of effort and that does bring out results as well. I don’t think I can comment beyond that as I don’t have more information about the situation.
Your take on the #Metoo movement that is happening around the world.
Somehow people feel that I am not approachable in a particular way. I have a strong vibe that says ‘I know where I am’. But actually I am very affectionate with people. I also have an aura that says ‘no’ beyond a point. I have learnt to balance it effectively and I think I learnt that from my mum. I have not had any difficulty as such in the industry but like every girl, I have had thousands of experiences because of which I would tag myself too in the movement. But now, it doesn’t happen anymore! Like I said, my confidence spreads to every part of my life and I have my family and my route. Nobody can approach it.
What is your biggest learning from Cinema?
Like every child, I grew up listening to the world around me telling me that ‘I was not capable of doing certain things’ or that ‘I wasn’t good at something’ or judging me. People said, ‘No, you can’t do it!’ and so I found that I couldn’t do certain things or rather l wouldn’t let myself do it. But while acting, I am doing it with ease. How? Because no one told me that I couldn’t act because that was never in my book! I was doing it right because I was doing it without any fear. So now, I am trying to eliminate every negative idea that was put into my head. I am listening to myself more and moving forward. While growing up, I was a very naïve kid and anyone could manipulate me but somewhere down the line, I realised that I had to change a little and that I needed to have more self -respect and put my foot down. I now spend a lot of time reading self-help books which I never used to do earlier and I feel more positive and affirmative about myself.
What’s In the Pipeline?
I am starting a Tamil movie with Shashikumar Sir that is directed by S B Prabhakar. Kannada movie Kotigobba 3 is also happening and is taking time as it involves a lot of traveling.
- People don’t know that: I sing and laugh out loud when I am driving by myself; say stuff out really loud like how I wouldn’t do otherwise
- I can’t do without: My life partner
- I admire: Nature
- I Detest: Fake
- In my bag: Hand sanitiser
- I Desire: Capability to experience everything with love and peace
- My favourite Dish: Rice, Chicken fry, Moru curry
- My favourite Holiday: Norway
- Interests outside of movies: Reading, Food &Travel
- I love: Cooking!
- Am a fan of: Harry Porter, F.R.I.E.N.D.S!