Published: 28th May 2019
With his book 'God Is Dead', this talented actor has also proven his mettle as an author!
Naren Weiss has been regarded by critics as, 'The greatest actor you've never heard of'. Read on to find out more
From an external point of view, the common man usually associates words with writing and expressions with acting. The former to entertain readers; the latter, the audience. But what if you could seamlessly integrate alphabets and notes, to create fluidic plays and scripts that are on par with those of leading playwrights? Twenty-eight-year-old Naren Weiss, a Brooklyn College (NY) alumni and former model, has already made significant inroads in the field of films, having appeared in movies such as Vishwaroopam. He seeks to elevate his writing and drama skills to the next level and has recently published his latest book, God Is Dead. We catch up with the 6’3” former athlete, who was born in the US and raised in Chennai, on his current passion. Excerpts:
You are an actor, playwright and author - all moulded into one. How did it all begin and how do you find the time to juggle between all three?
My journey actually started with sports. I was a fairly decent athlete as a teenager and was set to embark on a career in that realm. However, when the time came to decide, I was told I wouldn’t be allowed to do both. The way I saw it, I’d already done pretty well as an athlete and it was time to take on the next challenge. I subsequently jumped into the performing arts. Whatever field you select, it takes discipline to perform well at the higher levels and I guess that’s where the athletic training comes into play. Most importantly, that discipline must come from within.
You recently wrote the book, God Is Dead. What is the central theme for the book (apart from it being a collection of short stories and short plays) and what prompted you to write it in the first place?
I’d say that all the pieces are pretty dark, honestly. The other commonality is that every piece has a strong female character at its core. Even in the pieces where there appears to be none, she is very much there. That is probably what ties them all together. I’ve been writing and publishing pieces over the years until finally, I decided it was time to compile some of the better ones into this book. I think writers often want their work to be perfect and hold onto their ideas for far too long. I wanted to approach this like a musician. This was important to me. Put in the work, but then put it out there.
Publications (books) pertaining to plays are rather rare and not particularly in great demand. What are your views regarding the viability and scope of such books?
You’re exactly right about that. Nobody seems to want to publish plays or talk about theatre and I think that’s because there’s a perceived lack of talent or interest in these fields. However, some of the greatest actors and playwrights in the country come from theatre. Today’s youngsters have recognised that this is a career that they can not only pursue, but also be very good at. We have to set the tone and tempo for those who might seek a career in plays and dramas in the future.
What is the reasoning behind the title of the book? Do you seek to convey a certain message through your writing?
I approached the writing of my book with a musician’s mentality and so, I took one of the titles of the short stories in it and used it for the overall title. I’ve met several people who’ve read the book and who’ve debated whether the title indicates my own personal views on spirituality and I won’t say if it does or doesn’t. But I think there’s a level of darkness to every piece and in that sense, the title fits aptly!
You spend most of your free time teaching drama to youngsters. What is the experience like and how do you identify those with good potential?
I love teaching drama for youngsters! When I gave copies of the book to some of my students, they were all floored. I think having a teacher who does the things they can’t quite imagine (appearing on TV, writing books and modelling for big brands), opens their eyes to what they can do with their own lives. A number of them have referred to me as a role model and that is one of the greatest compliments I have ever received. I’m pretty good at recognising talent and potential in youngsters. There are three ways I do this. The first is just sheer talent. You can tell by the way they perform or write. The second is more intangible, so I’ll just call it a ‘spark.’ Sometimes, a youngster has something in them that attracts people to them. Finally, persistence. I’ve had kids chase me down demanding to be in my classes or groups.
Your book was positively received by commentators and critics. How has this changed your career and what are your immediate plans, especially for this year?
I was fairly surprised that the book was well received by so many people, commentators and critics alike. I knew it was good, but I guess I figured it would be good only for a niche crowd. The biggest benefit is that it has set me apart a little. There are plenty of actors who write, but very few who publish. While this is a good feeling, it has now forced me to sit down and begin to reinvent where I need to go next to continue challenging myself. My immediate plans are to write and produce a short film.
Lastly, what were the initial obstacles or struggles that you faced before earning recognition? What advice do you have for other young actors and playwrights?
I guess the biggest struggle was making ends meet as an artist and trusting it would eventually lead somewhere. It’s such a subjective discipline. A person can like or dislike an actor or writer but there’s no rhyme or reason as to why they do or don’t. Acting and writing are not so straightforward. These are two of the only careers where you can put in 20 years of hard work and still have nothing to show for it, particularly if you are not professional. That said, one of the strongest pieces of advice I can offer to young actors and playwrights is to work hard and always be professional. All of the industry professionals I’ve worked with have said that they would always hire an artist who is professional and works very hard over one who is perhaps the most talented they have ever met.