On Aug. 17, 2015, atombash.com was on the scene for the New York premiere of “Learning To Drive” at the elegant Paris Theater. From the film: Patricia Clarkson, Sir Ben Kingsley, Jake Weber, Sarita Choudhury, Samantha Bee, Avi Nash and Sean Cole were joined by filmmakers Isabel Coixet, Thelma Schoonmaker, Dana Friedman, Katha Pollitt, Sarah Kernochan, Vicki Farrell, Gabriel Hammond and Daniel Hammond. This is the first film that the Hammonds produced and their studio Broad Green is making major waves in Hollywood. Additional guests included Meetu Chilana, Montego Glover, Sakina Jaffrey, Nanette Lepore, and Matthew Morrison, to name a few. A very fun party followed at Southgate. In the film, Patricia Clarkson plays a writer and book reviewer named Wendy whose husband decides to leave her for another woman. Darwan (Ben Kingsley) is a soft-spoken taxi driver from India on the verge of an arranged marriage. As Wendy sets out to reclaim her independence, she runs into a barrier common to many lifelong New Yorkers: she’s never learned to drive. When Wendy hires Darwan to teach her, her unraveling life and his calm restraint seem like an awkward fit. But as he shows her how to take control of the wheel, and she coaches him on how to impress a woman, their unlikely friendship awakens them to the joy, humor, and love in starting life anew. The film is absolutely charming and smart. Clarkson and Kingsley have great chemistry and it also highlights Sikh culture. Kingsley said the character was inspired by his bodyguard during the filming of “Gandhi.” The cast raved about working with the legendary actor. Read our exclusive red carpet interviews below:
SM: Speak about collaborating with Isabel.
Jake Weber: Isabel sets a really nice environment for the actors, she’s very relaxed, never raises her voice, never yells, unlike some of the dudes I’ve worked with and operates the camera. You never really know where the camera is because it’s moving all the time, so it’s almost like voyeuristic, which is very, very, easy to shoot with her because you just keep moving and you never know where the camera is and it’s all very relaxed and professional and she is very calm, the actors are calm, the crew is calm. It’s a good experience.
SM: Speak about working with Patricia.
JW: I love working with Patricia. I worked with her 10, 11 years ago. We played husband and wife on a movie called “Wendigo,” directed by Larry Fessenden, another fine director, and we have a really nice, easy rapport on and off camera. She’s relaxed, she’s fun to be around, and I love her.
SM: What resonated with you about this story?
JW: I did the movie because Patricia asked me to do it, and I’d do anything she wants. I think what resonated with me for the story was the incongruity of this relationship with this middle aged Manhattanite and a Sikh driving instructor who are at a crossroads in their lives and are about to take the next step in their lives and how this strange odd couple finds a way to help each other into that part of their journey.
SM: What else is coming up for you?
JW: I’m going back to a Western called “Hell on Wheels” for AMC which I did all last year and that’s next on the docket for me.
SM: Speak about filming in New York and what that experience was like.
Isabel Coixet: I shoot in lots of countries in the world, so New York is, you know, not as difficult as everyone says it is. It’s easy. People never pay attention. They see a camera and they just cross, they don’t care. It’s a good thing.
What do you love about Sir Ben?
IC: He’s an actor, he can play a chair you know. You can ask him to play a chair and he can do it. You can ask him everything and he’s a very down to earth person and I know sometimes people can say he’s a little this … but he’s fun, he knows what he wants, he respects the crew and he’s wonderful.
Why did you connect to the story?
IC: You know I was in the same situation, I’d just had a breakup with the father of my kids and I didn’t know how to drive, you know, reading the story really helped me because this is not the end of the world, but I think Patricia learns also in the movie that this is not the end of the world even though you think the world you have lived, your house, your kids, everything is collapsing, it’s not.
SM: Tell us about your character.
Avi Nash: I play Sir Ben Kingsley’s nephew, so one of many of the emotional connections he has throughout the story. Actually all of my scenes are with Sir Ben.
SM: What was it like working with him?
AN: It’s incredible. I think you can always learn something from somebody and for a young actor like myself there’s an immense amount of things to learn from him. It was very rewarding and I think the fact that it tells a very unique story without trying to have any pretentions about itself. We sort of live in an age of sequels and trilogies, and big budgets, and this is just a sweet film about a sweet story and two people.
SM: What was it like filming in New York?
AN: It was great, I got to sleep on my aunt’s floor and go to set in the morning and have a great time.
SM: Speak about working with Isabel and your start in acting.
AN: Isabel is amazing. She’s a very talented director. She has an eye that catches things nobody else would see. It was great. I grew up speaking Spanish, my dad’s from South America. For me it was very funny because she would direct me in Spanish and I would put on an Indian accent and speak in English. My mom is Indian. I first acted in a play my senior year of high school, then went to drama school while I was going to college, and I just sort of have been doing it, not on and off I’ve always been doing it for the past seven years. I live in Los Angeles but I’m gonna be moving to London in September.
SM: Speak about working with Sir Ben.
Sarita Choudhury: So he’s funny, he’s very approachable; he’s not what you expect. He jokes around. I love it, it’s just easy.
SM: What did you love about the project?
SC: So the reason I wanted to do this film was because of her. If you talk to Isabel you’ll see she’s very direct, very intellectual, and has a very ironic sense of humor. I think that’s what you’ll see in the film. It’s like this sort of unforgiving drive that she has.
SM: What inspired this character?
Ben Kingsley: I have an amazing memory. My memory is like a bank of people that I’ve met, and many many years ago I was doing a film in India called “Gandhi,” and I had to my great joy and benefit a Sikh bodyguard driver who was with me for all the five months of filming … When I learned that I was to play this role he came right out of the shadows of my memory into sharp focus. Spending time with him in India was of course extraordinary for me.