For those of us who are not actors, it’s difficult to imagine getting up in front of an audience or a film crew with people watching us cycle through the emotions and the situations that many of us would rather not exhibit in public. It’ counterintuitive. It’s also ironic that the things we want to watch others do in a public viewing (film, plays, TV) are the types of things that we’d never want to have others watch us do. To ask Rahul Naulakha, actors are simply those of us who have learned how to better control and display their emotions than the typical individual. According to him, we all do some acting in our lives but actors have simply learned when to “turn it on” in a way that other’s appreciate and are entertained by. There’s a ring of truth in what Rahul says if we admit it to ourselves. Rahul’s work in the film “Place Your Bet” is an ideal example of this. Costarring with Saturday Night Live’s Steve Holland, Naulakha plays a menacing individual who is the muscle for a loan shark. As Dhruv, Rahul transitions from affable to frightening on a dime. Loaded with twists, this tale of a gambling deal gone bad displays Rahul at his best as the duplicitous Dhruv. He’s a frightening man, the type which Naulakha revels in portraying on screen.
When Allen (played by Steve Holland of Feud and Saturday Night Live) finds a nearby restaurant to watch a basketball game and escape the troubles in his life, he encounters Dhruv (played by Rahul Naulakha); a charismatic and friendly guy just hanging out, or is he? As Dhruv eases Allen into conversation, we soon learn that Dhruv has a hidden motive for chatting with him. Allen owes money to a mob boss, having lost a bet on a horserace. Trying to procrastinate in paying his debt, he hides and makes up excuses not to pay the $185,000 dollars back. When these two men meet by happenstance, they begin to discover through the conversation that they are connected through this professional relationship and things escalate.
Naulakha had worked with director Zachary Fineman before “Place You Bet” but it was his first time with his costar (and SNL cast member) Steve Holland. The experience of filming on location in North Hollywood involved more comedy than the audience can see in the film. Rahul recalls, “I had a great time working with Steve Holland both on and off screen. On screen I was doing my best to scare him out of his mind. We were both doing our very best to get into our characters. I’ve done comedic roles in films as well so I appreciated Steve’s ability to show this dramatic side of himself in the film. Off screen we joked a lot with each other, saying our lines in weird cartoon character like voices, which was hilarious.”
The mask type approach that the actors used in the film was something which Rahul applied directly to the deceptive nature of his character. While Dhruv appears to be amiable and charming, just an ordinary guy, early on, his lack of humanity appears as the story develops. Naulakha portrays him as an individual who is able to turn off his emotions and sympathy for his fellow man when the job requires him to perform his less benevolent vocational requirements. Rather than a means of living with the actions as self-preservation, we get the feeling that this man enjoys his job and throws himself into the work. Rahul concedes that he revels in playing characters of this ilk, stating, “I love playing a bad guy. This is one of my most sought out roles, mainly because you get to go out of the norms completely…you don’t have to hold anything back. When you’re the heavy in a film, you can go back to being a kid with all of its rebelliousness and fun time all at once. Most of the time when you play a good guy you are playing a version of you. There may be a slight difference of personality between your character and you (maybe he is shy, and in real life you are the most outgoing person there is) but other than that, most of the time when performing as the good guy, the main thought/emotional process is the same as in your real life. Being the antagonist often means there are less restrictions. The character doesn’t subscribe to the rules that society has agreed upon so you can literally do whatever you want. This presents a much more personally entertaining and enjoyable challenge for me as an actor. It brings out all your acting abilities such as your facial expressions, emotions, movements, and in general makes you feel more alive.”
Naulakha’s subtle percolation of Dhruv’s demeanor and intentions is strikingly convincing. All deference to Pete Townshend (composer of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes”) but Rahul feels it’s fairly easy to access the center of a “villain” and it doesn’t require a profound tragedy or searing hatred. Most of what is witnessed by the viewer as frightening is not found in the actions of the character but rather the character’s propensity to do harm; a trait which is often unspoken and lacks exhibition. He relates, “I use a lot of projection/visualization when I act. Even if I am not menacing, there is no denying the fact that we´ve all been through the same type of emotions that Dhruv has. The frustration and anger of a job interview that we didn´t get, a lost relationship, or just stepping on a rock outside your doorstep, all of these elicit something in your core. From this point it’s just a matter of how little or how much we control it. I projected moments like these that I have been through and then take it up a notch. It’s like stoking a fire from a small spark. In reality a lot of us walk around suppressing these emotions with a smile, saying we are fine but for a character like Dhruv, you can let loose and be as crazy as you want…and that’s just fun.”