At a time when every other artiste in town speaks highly of his/her performance in a movie, director-actor S J Suryah is a class apart. In a spate of interviews before the release of AR Murugadoss’ bilingual Spyder, he spoke of his aspirations and hope for the film, but never went overboard.

…Which is why, most were taken aback by the level of maniacal meanness he showcased on screen. Considering Suryah is normally soft-spoken, many were left wondering where he found that vile streak. Speaking to Silverscreen the day after the film’s release, Suryah elaborates upon his craft, the joy of acceptance, and what he’s in quest of.

You are a classic case of a sculptor who allowed another to turn you into a sculpture. You’ve seen success in both, but you prefer be known as an actor…

True. I’ve always wanted to be a player, not coach. The mindsets to be a coach and player are a little different. It’s possible to play both roles; I’ve done that myself in some films. But, it’s tough. My passion, however, has been acting, like I’ve always maintained.

Be it Isai, Iraivi, Spyder and the forthcoming Mersal, you’re being seen in roles with heft, and are able to essay them with a gravitas usually not associated with you.

With age and maturity, there are new dimensions to one’s ability to perform. When we direct and act, a certain monotony sets in. But, with age, we turn seasoned actors. Like a tree that sees many weather conditions before it is seasoned, an actor is tempered by the experiences he goes through. And, when actors work with directors who know their craft, it polishes them too. Let me explain. There’s a lot of give and take on every set, an unseen osmosis. For instance, Murugadoss has given Aamir a Ghajini; he would have also absorbed something from the star. When I work with Murugadoss, I get to dip into that energy.

Which film, in your opinion, set you on the path of good acting?

Mine is a classic case where I created the director S J Suryah so that I could attempt to create Suryah the actor. But, when a co-director extracts good work from you, you’re almost grateful. You get recognition as an actor. And, I have to thank Karthik Subbaraj Sir for Iraivi. What an amazing character Arul is!

How would you rate yourself as an actor now, from what you once were?

Let’s say my target is 100. I’ve reached 15. You can imagine where I want to go.

You say you always like to go with the director’s vision. Did you have to delve deep to get into the mindspace of Spyder’s Sudalai character?

As actors, we get to do a lot of such characters. I was a wild person once; I think I’m tame now. But, in this journey of life, a decade later, I might think the Suryah of 2017 was wild! That said, there’s anger inside all of us; it’s a matter of channelising our emotions. The sea might appear calm, but it’s constantly in motion. We have so many bottled-up feelings. Ultimately, the truth is that the universe is filled with many emotions; as a particle of that universe, we will bear those feelings in us too.

Agreed, you prefer being an actor. But, don’t you miss Suryah the director who brought alive relationships on screen?

No. I don’t. He was vital to making me an actor. I don’t miss calling out ‘action’ and ‘cut’; my ultimate aim was something else. But, being a director still helps. I don’t need to see a monitor; I understand camera angles.

Considering you were known for your near-perfect casting, what kind of role are you waiting to do?

Right now, I won’t walk down that path, because great roles are coming my way. It’s almost magical, and all I want to do is quietly follow that trail. Yes, there was a time when I watched The Joker, and wondered if I would ever get to explore something on that scale. I decided that if I did a negative role, it had to be on that scale of villainy. With Mersal, I work in the negative space again, but this is a more stylish take on it. I’m very excited about Nenjam Marappadhillai and Iravaakaalam too. All I see now is a good challenging role.

And, people have responded well. They never stopped with telling me I was good; they explained why I was good. Every feedback is precious.

Does all this expectation make you anxious about your performance?

No. If you’re afraid when making a choice, it won’t work. One must fix a target without fear, but work with bayabakthi (a mix of fear and devotion).

If Suryah were to direct again, what kind of film would he cast actor Suryah Version 2 in?

I have two scripts ready. But, these other projects kept me busy. I have a breezy love story ready; it’s called Ezhumalai Chitra. I like the script a lot. When I decide to make it, I’ll wear my director’s hat again, and don the greasepaint too (laughs).

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The SJ Suryah interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.