From Liverpool to Bollywood

Amy Jackson

Five years ago Amy Jackson was a British teenage model without acting experience or any knowledge of Hindi. Now she's a star of Indian cinema with two lives - one in the UK, where she's barely known, another in India where she's mobbed by fans wherever she goes.

"I remember waking up one morning, I got a phone call, my dad answered and he said 'Amy there's a call from your agency, a director has been in touch.'"

Jackson had been spotted in a beauty contest by film director A L Vijay. The call was the start of her acting career.

"You never know what to expect," recalls Jackson, "so I didn't get my hopes up. But after a few days the director flew from India to London to come and meet me."

Amy was still a teenager at the time and made the trip from Liverpool with her parents.

"I had actually only been to London twice before. We ran through a few scenes. He told me the script, he told me the character - I'd never been to a casting for a movie so this was all completely new.

"After a couple of hours of conversation he said he would like to take me on board for his movie. And within two weeks I was in Chennai."

It was a dramatic new departure for Jackson, though she is not the only fair-skinned outsider to have made a career in Indian cinema.

"Most Indians equate fair skin with beauty. It's all about the box-office - and the audience for some films remain predominately male," says Bollywood film critic Anil Sinanan.

"They equate these features - fair skin, brown hair, and ideally, green eyes - with beauty. A white woman remains the ultimate sexual fantasy for a lot of Indian men.

Composite picture of Amy Jackson and five other female Bollywood stars Spot the Liverpudlian: Jackson continues Bollywood's trend for light-skinned actresses. *Names at foot of page

"If you are pretty - meaning fair-skinned - you have half the battle won. Acting skills are learned on the job."

Jackson's first film, Madrasapattinam, was a love story set in 1940s India in which she played the daughter of a British governor.

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  • Amy Jackson spoke to the BBC World Service programme Outlook
  • Outlook airs Mon-Thurs
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She had "done drama before in school" but went into the movie after only a one-day acting workshop.

"The first day on set was a whirlwind, there were hundreds of people. To be thrown into the deep end was definitely an experience.

"It's something to show the grandkids I suppose - 'I was in a movie back when I was 16.'"

The film propelled her to instant fame in India. But in her home city of Liverpool she remains "just normal me".

"Over in India it's a whole different story. I've got my own hair and make-up team, I've got my assistant, and I also have two bodyguards - which is very strange.

"I think that's part and parcel of being an actress but I never thought it would happen to me. It's lovely coming home and seeing my family and friends and just being normal, but over there it's different. I like the contrast."

Amy Jackson
Amy Jackson

Conquering the industry made learning the language a priority, Jackson says. In fact, three languages - Hindi, which she now knows, and also Tamil and Telugu which are used in the south-east of the country. These she is still learning.

However, Anil Sinanan says language skills are not essential, as foreign actors are often dubbed.

He also says acting skills are "the least essential ingredient" for Bollywood success.

Jackson's latest movie, I, is the most expensive film ever made in India.

"The director, Shankar, does larger-than-life movies, and this one is no exception. I'm the lead female role in the film. The movie's about love, it's got a nice message to it. But it has everything entwined - romance, action, thriller - everything in one," she says.

To equip herself for the varied roles she has been offered, Jackson has added dance classes and kickboxing to her language lessons.

Amy Jackson

It's been a huge change in her life in just a few years.

"I never know what's happening from one day to the next - that's how the industry runs. This year I've got five films back to back. It's nice to know that the fans are accepting me and they like what I'm doing.

"I lie there at night and ask if this is happening, am I going to wake up soon? I do have to pinch myself, because it was completely unexpected."

* Actress portraits clockwise from top left: Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone, Amy Jackson, Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif and Kareena Kapoor.

Amy Jackson spoke to Outlook on the BBC World Service. Listen again on iPlayer or get the Outlook podcast.

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