A native of New Jersey, Ali Larter began her professional career aged 13 as a model. After travelling the world she moved to LA in 1997 to pursue acting and landed her first role in the TV series Chicago Hope. In 1999 she starred in her first feature film, Varsity Blues, followed by several others aimed at the teen market, such as Final Destination, Legally Blonde and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. This year she was thrust into the limelight when cast as a superhero single mother in the worldwide TV sensation, Heroes. Larter's latest movie sees her paired opposite Bollywood star, Salman Khan, in Marigold, a musical romantic comedy by writer/director Willard Carroll.
Q. How would you describe Marigold?
A. On the surface it's about an American actress who is stranded in India after financing for her low-budget movie, Karma Sutra 3, falls apart, and how she meets this Indian guy. But really it's a coming of age story in the vein of The Princess Diaries. It's about when you meet the right person and someone loves you for who you truly are, and how you can blossom under their gaze.
Why did you want to be part of an Indo-American rom-com like Marigold?
I was living in (director) Willard Carroll's guesthouse when he gave me the script. He had written this really strong female character and for me, it was an opportunity to overcome my fear of singing and dancing because I have no professional training. Also, I would get to live in another country for couple of months. With Heroes I didn't think of it as that huge sci-fi series and it was the same for Marigold. I really focused on the character and loved this journey she went on and the experiences she had.
Tell us about your character, Marigold Lexton.
I feel like she's someone who's gotten a little hardened by the life she lives. When she goes to India the clash of cultures and being out of her natural environment really helps her to soften and grow. She learns to overcome her fears and allow love to lead the way.
Marigold is a stark contrast to the dark superhuman characters of Niki Sanders and her mirror image Jessica who you play in Heroes, isn't she?
I don't really compare. Each character I play I approach differently and separately. I think Marigold is a simpler character for a sweet little movie, and I'm excited to be part of it. In terms of Heroes it's been such an amazing journey on that show. I love working on it and at this point I know I'm coming to Asia and some of the other cast are going to Europe for the world tour to release the DVD. I'm excited to get out of the country and see the way people feel about the show. We started working on the second series six weeks ago, so we are in!
Had you seen any Bollywood films before making Marigold?
I hadn't, no. But Willard showed me some after he offered me the role. I think Bollywood films are perfectly emotionally indulgent and give their audience exactly want they want. Americans are becoming more and more aware of the genre.
The majority of Bollywood films are musicals. How did you cope with the songs and dance numbers?
I just went for it. I wouldn't say it's like the traditional American musical in that we didn't have months of dance training. I had about three days! They teach you a couple of steps and then shoot it, so you work your way through the dance numbers like that. For someone who doesn't have that natural training that was my biggest challenge on this movie. I did my best and hopefully people won't laugh at me.
Did your friends and family think you were crazy to go to India to work on a Bollywood style movie?
You know its part of the course with me (laughs). I took off for Japan when I was 17, moved to LA and ran off to Europe. I'm definitely someone who likes to fly by the seat of her pants. My mum always prays for the best and hopes that I come home safely. It was just an unforgettable time of my life and I feel so lucky I got the opportunity.
The Bollywood film industry is quite different from Hollywood. How did you find the film making experience in India?
I was totally blown away by the huge amount of people on set, plus the extraordinary heat. We shot the wedding sequence first and I remember the amount of makeup and jewellery I had to wear, and how heavy the traditional garb weighed. You are made up like an ornament!
Were you surprised at how Indian actors are revered?
Yes, it was fascinating. I remember one day I came down to set and saw Salman (Khan) sitting there with a long line of people waiting to meet him, and I asked what was going on. People were expressing how they had illnesses in the family and how their children needed surgery, and he was handing out money like a modern day Robin Hood. Watching these people was like watching some kind of religious experience. They were sometimes thrown into a kind of mania. It was crazy to see and experience, but Salman is loved like nothing I've ever seen.
Salman is known to be a prankster on set. Did he play any tricks on you?
He definitely played a prank, but luckily he told me about it beforehand, otherwise I would have had a heart attack. He got a group of stuntmen and actors to pretend to be mafia and burst on set looking to shoot someone. It was amazingly real to the point they had squibs on the people coming in so it looked like they were bleeding.
That's quite daring of Salman considering his alleged brushes with the law and Indian mafia. Were you aware of his controversial reputation?
Yes, but how brave of him to live the life he wants to live without conforming to how the press like to follow and depict him. He's still true to himself. They call him Bollwood's bad boy but in truth he's one of the sweetest men I've ever met. He was so kind to me and my family when we were over in India.
What's next on the movie horizon?
I have Resident Evil: Extinction coming on November 21st, which I'm so excited about. I play this video game character called Claire Redfield. It's a big, action-packed, shoot 'em up movie where you get your big bucket of popcorn and sit down to watch.
Marigold opens in UK cinemas on Friday 17th August 2007.