Sarita Choudhury and Denzel Washington in 'Mississippi Masala'
Samuel Goldwyn Sarita Choudhury and Denzel Washington in 'Mississippi Masala'

"Mississippi Masala" was such a great debut -- and alongside Denzel Washington, no less. It must have opened some doors for you -- how would you describe the choices you've made and the paths you've taken in terms of roles since?

It's interesting. because "Mississippi Masala" was so warmly received, but it was also at a time where I don't think they knew what to do with me. It opened doors, but not much happened.

As in you got attention but not offers?

Kind of -- the movie came out and because of Denzel it was widely received, but I remember going to L.A. and I would have these meetings. I would come in and people would talk about the movie and then I could see they didn't know where I was from -- could I play Mexican?

It wasn't an easy time for me. I was so excited, then I realized -- no one knows what to do with me, and so actually it was then that I went back to England and I joined the Shakespeare Company. I didn't know what to do -- I was getting all this attention but... nothing. And I remember thinking, oh my God, I'm going to have to become a waitress. I did for a while, because I had run out of money. It was a very awkward time.

"I didn't know what to do -- I was getting all this attention but... nothing."

Oh, and you must have been recognized for the film?

Now enough time has passed that, you know how you look back on things fondly because they made you stronger? But it was so tough. I remember waitressing and the film was playing at Angelika, and I didn't have another job. I remember I actually had to give up the job because it was too much.

Throughout your career, you've also worked in television and theater in addition to film -- have you always wanted to move between those worlds?

I wanted to move between film and theater -- I never felt like I fit into TV. And I very anti-TV, like "I'm never going to do TV" but also TV didn't want me either, so it was kind of perfect. And then of course cable happened and suddenly it was like, "Oh, I could do that kind of stuff." It made sense, and TV became almost more similar to theater because the writing was so good. Now i'm really enjoying it.

Is there something enjoyable to that aspect of TV of being able to stay with a character for a longer period of time?

I really like it -- the only thing is I can feel a little vulnerable, because the more people get attached to the show the more they feel like they know you and are invested in your character and become almost more critical of you. You have to try and forget the audience and go back to what you were doing when you first started the show. When you do TV, people will say to you right on the street how they're feeling, with no reservations.

You're been shooting "Learning to Drive" with Ben Kingsley. Can you tell me anything about the role?

I love her so much, Isabel Coixet. I had seen "Elegy" and loved it, so when I had the meeting with her I was so excited. When she asked me to do the movie, I was like, "Yes." I didn't even care what the role was. But it was a beautifully written piece -- Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, and then I come in for the third act as Ben Kingsley's arranged marriage wife. When you have a good director, it's just wonderful.