Remembering 26/11

Friday, November 23, 2018

The man who planned the terror attacks in Mumbai comes to life in Jeff Goldberg’s new one-man show, says Verus Ferreira

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, a tragic event that no Mumbaikar can ever forget, Jeff Goldberg an American writer, director, actor, who runs an acting studio and who has made Mumbai his home, brings a stage production on David Coleman Headley, the man who planned the attacks. Goldberg, who plays the title role, speaks about the one-man show that brings to life the story of Headley.

What inspired you to work on a stage production of David Coleman Headley?

It came together over four years of research, but the initial impulse to begin this fascinating journey began with a documentary film I watched on an American PBS' programme Frontline about Headley. The documentary follows his life from the US all the way to Pakistan to India and back again. I was intrigued by this American/Pakistani man’s journey that in many ways resonated with my own, barring the evil details of being a terrorist. Once I began the research, this interesting project blossomed into an impossible spy story spanning the globe during the war on terror. What surprised me the most was that no one else had ever done anything on his life or this topic. Finally I instinctively felt that I can play this character.

How did you manage to get into the skin of the character of Headley?

As a Method actor it was very important for me to read, watch, listen and research everything about David Coleman Headley. I immersed myself in the character over the years. Apart from the research, I have explored the emotions and impulses that drove him to do what he did and become who he became. I wanted to understand the man and did my best to look at his life as empathetically as possible. 

What research did you do to get the correct story angle to play the character?

I watched many documentaries about him and 26/11. I read just about every book I could find and even went as far to as to speak with the authors of these books. I met David's real lawyer, Howard Leader in New York City in the summer of 2015. I then visited all of the sites that were attacked during 26/11. I walked around and observed each location through the eyes of a scout. 

Were there any obstacles you faced, like permissions, considering Headley is serving his sentence in a prison in the US?

Dealing with material that is as sensitive as this is always a challenge. It is a very delicate balancing act to ensure that I was true to the honesty of the story and the events themselves whilst remaining sensitive to the very real pain that 26/11 caused. As for permission to stage this play, I didn’t need any.

Did you have to change your look to fit into the character of Headley?

Yes, very much, physically Headley resembles a man a lot bigger than me. I lost a lot of weight to fit into the role to look as he does now.

Being an American in Mumbai and into theatre surely you might have been offered a role in Bollywood?

Of course. I have played small parts in Bollywood films like Hawaizaada, Angry Indian Goddesses and Red Fort Trials. But I really don’t want a role where I have to play a foreigner all the time and one who hates Indians. I cannot do that. At our studio we also do a lot of short films too.

So are you planning a film on Headley?

Yes... and if any producers are interested, I am ready.

You moved from New York to Mumbai a few years ago. What made you set up base here?

The answer to this question continues to evolve over the years, but the one thing that remains the same is the deep and vast ocean of talent here in the country. Having lived and worked in India before opening the studio, I sensed that there was a vast pool of talent here that yearned for the disciplined skill-set of Method Acting that we teach at the studio. We employ a wide swath of ideas and approaches to the craft at our studio. We are interested in what works for the exploration of craft and what is practically applicable for actors to achieve rich performances.

I love working with people here and growing as an artist within India.

Since how long have you been doing theatre?

From the time I was a kid I used to make up the biggest and most intricate stories. At first they were little white lies. Luckily the audience, my family, always tolerated my silliness; in fact they nurtured it with a steady diet of musicals, films, music and books. By the time I was in my teens I knew that I wanted to be a storyteller and if thsat meant as a writer or director. I didn't really discover my ambitions as an actor until I was in my mid-30's. It was at this time that I really started to gravitate to the stage and wanting to tell stories on stage or in front of the camera rather than behind it.

What are you future plans?

We plan to continue producing work for the stage and screen. We also want to grow our theatre in both size and scope of shows that we stage. As for the educational side of our work we aim to have many more talented actors come through our doors and realise their professional goals.

David Coleman Headley will be staged at the Royal Opera House on Saturday November 24 and Monday November 26 at 7 pm. Tickets available at the venue and BookMyShow.

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