Akshay Oberoi: High is not a preachy series

Akshay Oberoi on playing a drug addict in his new web series High, timing of the show's release and more.

Actor Akshay Oberoi is eager to play darker characters. “Such roles stretch you as an actor. It’s a way to surprise yourself and the audience,” he says. Akshay is seen playing drug addict Shiv Mathur in MX Player’s latest series High.

In a candid chat with indianexpress.com, the actor talked about High, the difficulty in leaving his characters behind and the web medium.

Excerpts from the conversation:

You seem to be getting more and more into the dark space with shows like Flesh and now, High. Why?

I look a certain way, and that’s how heavens have made me. I didn’t want people to say that I could only play a certain type of role — like a good boy or a romantic hero. I wanted to break these stereotypes. At the end of the day, I only care about acting. It’s also a way to stand out. So in the last couple of years, I have been trying to prove that if you give me any role, I’ll do justice to it.

But when did you realise that this is the time to experiment?

I think after I worked in Gurgaon and the way the film and my work was received. I’ve spent half of my life in the US, and I now live in Mumbai. So for me to get a role of a heartland Jaat guy who murders his entire family was quite a stretch. Hats off to my director who saw me in that light. After doing that, I think people started trusting me with unique roles.

Coming to High, while playing a drug addict, you need to follow a certain mannerism and body language. What kind of preparation did you do?

You have to rely a lot on the director. But you also have to do your research because it’s not like I’ve used these substances. There’s a certain mind frame that you have to get into, a certain amount of knowledge about the drug, what it does to your brain, how it changes you. It should also look authentic like I’m on that drug. I spoke to a lot of rehab centre professionals. But the most challenging part was to effectively communicate to the audience the drug that Nikhil Rao created – Magic, because it does not actually exist. They see it through my eyes.

We’ve had shows and films around substance abuse. What makes High different?

There are a hundred romantic films about a boy meeting a girl but it’s the individual story that sets it apart. It’s the same thing here. There are many shows. There’s Narcos, Udta Punjab. Here, the unique part is that we’ve created a drug. That’s really different and I hope people get convinced.

Is the timing of High purely coincidental, given what is happening in real life?

The team had no idea that this is going to happen. We made the show a year ago. Nikhil wrote it two years ago. MX Originals had always said that it’s going to release somewhere around September-October 2020. That was our deadline. The things happening were coincidental. We are not taking advantage of that. But of course anything that is talked about, will help the show gain more curiosity. Whenever a topic is relevant, it always helps the film or series coming out at that time. I think the same will happen here. But if the show is no good, it won’t be able to do anything for it. So High needs to stand on its own feet.

When stories from real life inspire content onscreen, a section of the audience oppose it. For instance, High may receive a backlash for endorsing drugs. Are you ready for such negativity?

When you stand up for a project, you have to be aware of any kind of backlash. Now it just happens that there’s more attention on it. But when you watch the show, you’ll realise that through my character we are trying to say that drugs are not going to lead you anywhere in life. It’s not preachy at all. We are trying to entertain. Drug is just the backdrop of the story. I think quite the opposite will happen when people will watch it.

I’m really proud of this show. I don’t say that often about my work. I really enjoyed making it. There’s a lot of talent in the show, and that’s what is great about the OTT platform. It’s not like films, where stakes are high with distribution and marketing. Here you can authentically cast for the show, take the right people for the job. So I’m really excited to see how people are going to accept the show.

When you play characters which might not resonate with you personally, what is the process like?

My wife says you play all these dark characters and then you come home and I can’t tell who you are. That’s because I always keep my characters in my head while I’m shooting, to get into its skin. And as much work goes to get into it, the same amount of work it takes to get out of it. Shiv Mathur (High) or Taj (Flesh) don’t leave you that easily. So it does take a bit of a toll.

Has web been kinder to you?

I had to struggle to get work in films. When I started, it was a smaller industry. And I would get a film after multiple auditions and a thousand rejections. I would do two films and be at home for four months. I used to think these are the years I want to work and grow as an actor and it’s just not happening. I was getting interesting films like Laal Rang, Kaalakaandi, Pizza, Gurgaon, but it wasn’t non-stop. In acting, the only time you can practice and improve is when you are on a set. Thank God for OTT platforms. When I saw it coming, I jumped at it. I’m so glad that over the years, great writers and directors have come in, and such varied parts are being written, and people are giving me a chance to do it. I’m having a blast right now.

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