Our friend Danny Pudi (COMMUNITY, POWERLESS) is the star of the upcoming indie release THE TIGER HUNTER (which had its premiere at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Fest). The film tells the story of a young Indian man who comes to America in the 1970s to make a life for himself and live up to his father’s reputation as a fearless tiger hunter.
Danny recently spoke to TIME OUT CHICAGO about the film, diversity, and growing up in Chicago. Here are some excerpts:
As someone who grew up in Chicago as the son of two immigrants, you must have such a personal connection with your character, Sami.
When I first read the script, I was surprised—there were so many elements to the script that were personal to me. I thought someone had just been kind of following my life, I thought it was a prank from some college buddies! When I met with Lena [Khan], I told her I really connected to the story, because my dad immigrated from India to Chicago in the ’70s, just like the main character, Sami. I also told her I related to it because I ride a Vespa—in the opening scene, Sami’s riding a scooter through his village. So, as an immigrant story about Chicago, it was very personal to me. It was a chance for me to tell the story of my parents, in some ways.
At the same time, the other exciting thing was the opportunity for me to play a lead character in an indie film for the first time. From an acting point of view, as an artist, I was very excited.
Was this the first project you’ve been on with a cast that’s majority people of color?
Yes. It was incredible. That was one of the things I was immediately drawn to—I’d never read a script with a leading guy and girl who were both people of color, and was also written by an Indian-American, produced by an Indian-American. There was diversity behind the camera and in front of it, which was tremendously exciting.
On set, it was really cool. Because we were telling a story that a lot of us connected to, it became this fun environment where each of us were telling stories about our families, and elements that our parents connected to or didn’t. I’d never had that experience. There were people from everywhere [in the cast], which felt really special.
The Tiger Hunter’s a very personal, family-based story, but immigration is a highly-debated political topic today. What do you think is the significance of telling stories like The Tiger Hunter in 2017?
I think representation matters. This is a movie with diversity in front of the camera and behind it—that, to me, is huge. Growing up, I always felt there was a lack of people I could connect to on screen, or even just going to the theater. I never saw people who looked like me doing something I wanted to do. I hope this inspires other diverse storytellers—whether they’re actors, directors, writers. It’s an exciting time. There’s an openness to hear some of these alternative stories that many of us grew up with and took for granted.
When we’re faced with so much divisiveness, it helps to see a story that gives you a look at the people we’ve welcomed to this country, who exist in this country, and who have contributed to this country. It’s a small story, but I think it’s a chance to paint more clear of a picture of the people who are here. For me, it’s a universal story. At the root of it, it’s a story about the crazy things people do for love, and what to do when your father’s a legend.
I’m hopeful people can really look at the humanity of the people around us now. The Tiger Hunter is a story about the people who are here and the journeys they’ve taken and how they’ve contributed to our society.
To read the full interview, go to TIME OUT CHICAGO: Danny Pudi talks growing up in Chicago, diversity on screen and his new film, ‘The Tiger Hunter’
THE TIGER HUNTER premieres Sept. 22. For more info, click here.