Pinto Rises From 'Slumdog' To Glam Queen At Fest

Freida Pinto attends the Extreme Beauty In Vogue party at the Palazzina della Ragione during Milan Fashion Week 2009 Freida Pinto attends the Extreme Beauty In Vogue party at the Palazzina della Ragione during Milan Fashion Week 2009

Freida Pinto thought dealing with reporters and photographers at big movie premieres would be a breeze after her experience on her first red carpet two years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“I’m gonna tell you, there was not a single soul on the red carpet for ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ Not a single soul. Just a photographer and one person doing the interview,” said Pinto, who came to the festival an unknown and left a rising star after the movie shot from obscurity to win the festival’s audience award for favorite film on its way to Academy Awards triumph and box-office success.

“I was extremely nervous here about facing a million people for the first time, so I was like, oh, red carpets are easy. But things have changed dramatically since that time,” Pinto said in an interview during her first return to the festival, where she has two movies playing, Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” and Julian Schnabel’s “Miral.”

This time, photographers were awaiting her arrival at the Toronto airport, and she has been one of the festival’s main glamor girls alongside boyfriend Dev Patel, her “Slumdog” co-star.

Pinto, 25, was raised in Mumbai and worked as a model and a TV travel show host before making her screen debut in “Slumdog.”

She has been working almost nonstop since, co-starring in the upcoming Greek mythology action tale “Immortals” and a “Planet of the Apes” prequel, “Rise of the Apes.” In December, she begins filming the Middle East oil drama “Black Thirst.”

Pinto has the title role in “Miral,” due in theaters this December, playing a Palestinian teen coming of age in war-torn East Jerusalem.

In “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” which opens next Wednesday, Allen cast Pinto as a new neighbor to a conflicted writer (Josh Brolin) in a stale marriage with an art gallery assistant (Naomi Watts).

“We wanted somebody that he looked out the window at who was an obscure object of desire. We figured, who could it be? He’s married to Naomi Watts, who is so beautiful and such a wonderful actress. What could lure a guy from Naomi Watts? Nothing really,” Allen said.

Then someone suggested Pinto, whom he had seen in “Slumdog.” Allen said he snapped his fingers, set up a meeting and quickly hired her. He kept her in wide shots through her early scenes so the audience only saw her from a distance until she sits down in a restaurant opposite Brolin.

“You see that face close up over the table, and that face is pulverizing. She’s so beautiful,” Allen said.

Pinto, whose father is a retired bank officer and mother is a school principal, said she decided at a young age that she wanted to act.

“My mom and my sister would sometimes catch me red-handed standing in front of the mirror, just being dramatic, imitating characters I had seen in a film or on television. Doing funny voices,” Pinto said. “They’d laugh at me, but they’d always say, ‘You know what? You’re going to do exactly this when you grow up. You’re going to be in show business.’”

While Mumbai’s Bollywood film industry is the busiest on the planet, Pinto aims to work in English-language productions around the world, wherever she finds the right roles.

“I am the minority, as one might call it, in the film industry out here, so I have to be very careful as to what films I take up,” Pinto said. “Coming from India, we don’t have too many Indian stars here. … Some really talented people have tried who’ve never really made it, and I feel this is a brilliant opportunity for me to open doors even to them, not just for myself.

“So I’m really excited that it’s happening at a time when I like to use this word ‘colorblind.’ I think everybody, bit by bit, is becoming colorblind, and I think that’s really nice, because none of the films that I’ve done so far have focused on ethnicity as far as I’m concerned. And that makes me really happy.”

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