His name might be the first one on the marquee over the title Before the Rains, but Linus Roache readily admits that he isn’t actually the steamy period flick’s main mover. That honour belongs to Rahul Bose, the Indian-born actor who plays T. K. Neelan, an educated villager caught between two worlds in the waning days of the British Empire in India.
“Oh, it’s Rahul’s movie, all the way,” Roache declares in a call from New York City, where the British actor has lived for most of this decade. “Thank God his character is in the movie,” he says with a laugh, adding: “Otherwise, there would be no hope left.
“Rahul is a very international guy, and a bit of a hero for me because he plays rugby for India. It’s huge over there—if not quite as big as cricket—and he’s the best player on his team, as well as the oldest by about eight years. He should have retired ages ago, but he’s just too good.”
Roache’s deference fits with the structure of the movie, which starts by focusing on his character, a married young planter, Henry Moores, trying to expand the tea trade in late-1930s Kerala state before being caught in an illicit affair with a lovely married housekeeper played by Nandita Das. As the tale progresses, you gradually realize that this isn’t all that nice a guy, and that the movie is more about T. K.’s increasingly precarious situation.
“My character becomes less likable as the story progresses, but, I think, he remains very understandable. I very consciously avoided bringing too much of a modern-day perspective to the part. I just wanted, as much as I could, to play straight that kind of British Raj arrogance: it was inbuilt and inbred. At the same time, he was kind of progressive, and definitely an ambitious guy, trying to make something big happen. In that sense, it does serve as a kind of metaphor for the British Empire, both in its energy and drive and in its ultimate demise and downfall.”
Before the Rains (which opens Friday [July 11]) was made by South Indian director Santosh Sivan, who examined a very modern yet primitive dilemma in 1999’s Theeviravaathi: The Terrorist, which delved into the mind of a Tamil suicide bomber. The new film, also lensed by Sivan, was adapted by Cathy Rabin, not from a novel but from one part of a recent Israeli movie called Yellow Asphalt. The principal thrust of the tale is that in any colonial context, every generous gesture is accompanied by a hidden curse.
“The story is very well done when you look at it closely,” Roache avers. “Yes, you can pass judgment on what Henry does, but within that structure, what choices does he actually have? He’s a guy who has everything and thinks he’s entitled to more. Of course, once he has this affair, he’s in a situation where the two cultures collide. Events conspire, in the end, to force him to do nothing, and this is the case when nothing is a very strong action indeed.”
The actor says he has travelled to the subcontinent many times (even retreating there for a meditative 18 months in the mid-1990s). But the Kerala region, where this was shot with an almost entirely Indian crew, remains his favourite.
“It’s very lush and majestic and also one of the most stable parts of the country, very different from the north. You feel that in the healthy environment, and it was just a joy to work there every day with a crew that had, shall we say, its own special balance of chaos and order. It helped that Santosh is such a great leader as well as a visionary director. In the end, it was painful to leave a place with that kind of beauty and spirit.”
The handsome 44-year-old Mancunian has been known to art-house moviegoers since his international breakthrough as Priest’s deeply conflicted clergyman, in 1994. After that, he had the male lead in The Wings of the Dove and smaller parts in The Chronicles of Riddick and Batman Begins (as Bruce Wayne’s late father, no less).
Canadian TV watchers go back further, as they may have spotted him on Coronation Street as young Peter Barlow, the son of Ken, played by his father, William Roache—the soap actor with the longest-running gig in human history.
More recently, the younger Roache has been inhabiting TV land again, now as a Yank, playing Bobby Kennedy in the TV movie RFK and an FBI agent in the Kidnapped series. This year, he was hired to play executive assistant D.A. Michael Cutter, Jack McCoy’s replacement on Law & Order—an ensemble situation that likewise allows him to shine while supporting other actors.
“I love doing the show. I’m not anywhere near tired of doing it yet; I still feel really challenged by the work and developing the character over a long period. Plus, my family and friends are here in New York, and I love that, too. I’ve always felt strangely more at home here, and I don’t really understand why, but that’s just the way it is.”
Read our review of Before the Rains, too.