The Infidel, a culture clash comedy about a Muslim who discovers he’s a Jew, is the fifth feature that Singaporean Arvind Ethan David has produced under his Slingshot Studios banner.
Arvind wasn’t always a man who liked telling stories though – he initially studied law in Oxford before qualifying as a certified solicitor in London.
A man of many hats, this UK-based but Singaporean-bred auteur tells inSing.com about his passion for production, why The Infidel’s content is ripe for reflective humour and how he found inspiration in theatre during his time at Raffles Intuition.
What does an Oxford-trained lawyer tell his parents when he suddenly wants to pursue a career in the film industry?
I think I’m very lucky with my parents. They have never been anything other than supportive. I had done a lot of theatre in university but on some level and maybe it’s the Asian parents, I felt I couldn’t go straight into entertainment. I felt I needed to equip myself with skills first. So I learnt about the city and about how money works and how to negotiate.
Producer is such a vague and all-encompassing term. What exactly does a movie producer do?
Well I think a producer is the Chief Executive of the film. What did I do? Two years ago I had breakfast with writer David Baddiel. He said to me, “Lets a make a movie about a Muslim who discovers he’s a Jew.” And I said yes. That followed with a year and a half of working with David on the script, helping shape the story... casting it, crewing it, hiring a director and doing deals.
Going back to the pitch, you said yes straight away? Weren’t you nervous about potential backlash or controversy that such subject matter might evoke?
The short answer is no. Not because I’m terminally stupid, or just like giving offence, but because what I thought first, “How has nobody ever made a comedy about this before?” It seems such an obvious area to make comedy about. The timing was just right too, by now we have the combination of awareness and perspective after 9/11, and I think that makes it ready for comedy.
I noticed you listed The West Wing as one of your favourite TV shows on Facebook. Did that influence your casting of an American actor, Richard Schiff, as Lenny?
It did! And it influenced the movie as well. Somebody had this idea of a big climatic debate near the end and David asked, “What do think, can a text-based debate be pulled off?” So I showed him the scene in the pilot, where Richard’s character has a debate with a fundamentalist Christian. I also think Richard Schiff is just one of the best deadpan, dramatic, comedic actors of his generation. He and Omid Djalili are a fantastic comic double act, which we’re looking to extend actually. We’re looking to do a TV spinoff, The Infidel, which would be about the two of them solving religious problems.
Many people may not know that you grew up here. Any memories of RI or the theatre work there?
My first conscious theatre memory was of a production of The Importance of Being Earnest there. We got to go see in my first year in RI and I remember that and going, really? Language can be this good? Language can be this funny? That was a pretty seminal moment. I can’t remember but whoever you are, who put on a production of The Importance of Being Earnest in 1989 I think, I thank you...and come see the movie!