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2011 November 29

Moonlighting, Vol. 3: Waris Ahluwalia

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Waris Ahluwalia Waris Ahluwalia
Norman Jean Roy
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(NEW YORK) Which laidback designer honed his acting chops on a Wes Anderson flick, oversees his own high-end accessories brand, and manages to keep a bevy of celeb besties in tow at all times? If you guessed Waris Ahluwalia, our Moonlighting pick of the week, you get a gold star! (Granted, his acting chops are legit, but who's keeping tabs?) Your Daily caught the downtown craftsman deep in thought. BY MARIA DENARDO 

Have you always had the acting bug?
I’ve always been interested in film and loved telling stories. You know, I’m just a humble story teller from the foothills of the Himalayas. That’s all it is. No biggie. Actually, jewelry was less on the radar than acting.

What about music? You used to edit a music mag called Oscillate.
Music was how I got into the arts in the first place. It was a path I entered, but it wasn’t laid out for me. I come from a world of very accomplished academics with a family of doctors, engineers and financers. I never knew what I wanted to do. I just knew what felt right and what didn’t. Everything has been on instinct. At one point, I had a whole team working for the magazine, but I didn’t like chasing people down for ad dollars every month. I only knew that after I tried it though. I don’t advise that route for everyone, but that’s how I typically work.

How are your storytelling roles different in film versus fashion?
At House of Waris, I design and oversee production, marketing, PR, and events. There is enough jewelry out there in the world. There are enough scarves and enough movies. It’s about bringing something else to the table. We bring a sense of mystery, romance, and magic. In film, I’m also telling stories, but it’s someone else’s story so I get to be told where to go and what time to show up. I’m picked up, dropped off, and cradled. I enjoy not having to make every single decision. It’s a nice holiday from House of Waris.

How did you meet Wes Anderson?
We met at a peace rally at the UN. It was a cold, brutal night in winter, but we came out and showed up for peace. Mutual friends introduced us.

He once said your smile caught him off guard.
[Laughs] Oh, what a sweetheart! 

Why haven't you taken any acting classes?
When I signed on for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes never asked me if I could act. He asked me if I would come to Italy and be in his movie. The universe speaks to you, and you have to be able to really listen. If he had faith in me, then I have no place doubting his abilities. Fear has no place in what I do from day to day. He asked, ‘Will you?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I will.’ On the first day, w
e were doing the screen test and Bob Yeoman came up to me and told me I looked like a Caravaggio painting. I didn’t want to change anything.

What’s one of your favorite Life Aquatic memories?
I remember arriving in Italy. The first day there was a message waiting for me at my hotel from Wes, asking me to come to dinner. Wes and Bill Murray are sitting at the table. That was the first time I met Bill. This was not just a movie star. I didn’t care about that. This was a craftsman who has crafted stories that hold the test of time. That was a big moment. Cut to the next weekend, and we’re dancing under the Roman stars with Anjelica [Huston] in between ancient ruins. I just laughed and thought, ‘How did this even happen?’ I take the work very seriously, but I don’t necessarily take myself seriously. I’m just so giddy that I’m getting away with it all.

Do you trick out your trailer during shoots?
No, I just need speakers and a comfortable pillow. No weird scented candles, sparkling water, or green M&Ms. I’m simple. I like still water anyways.

What’s the best movie you’ve seen lately?
I’ve been on a thirties and forties kick watching original romantic comedies from Frank Capra and Howard Hawks like It Happened One Night and My Man Godfrey or the whole The Thin Man series.

What do you like to eat when you're at the theater?
Popcorn with butter, unfortunately. I like chocolate, but I like to bring in my own dark organic chocolate. Once you’ve had that, it’s hard to go back to a Snickers. And I drink lots of water. I don’t drink anything with sugar.

What are your favorite film spots in the city?
The Ziegfeld is beautiful and so is the East 13th Street theater [Quad Cinema]. Battery Park is great because it’s always empty. There’s obviously downtown in me, but there’s a little uptown too.

What row do you like to sit in?
I don’t like anyone to sit in front of me or next to me, so I try not to go see a movie in the first week. I'm a people person, but when I’m watching a movie, I don’t want to know that those people are watching it with me.

Who’s your ideal movie date?
I’m single right now, so we can put that out there….that I’m looking for my ideal movie date.

What would the qualifications be?
Oh, I’m not that demanding. She just needs to be smart, beautiful, witty, charming, mannered, crazy, adventurous, and not able to be pinned down. A wild character as fearful of commitment as I am.

Who would you like to play you in your onscreen biopic?
Either Tilda Swinton or Cate Blanchett. They’re both fantastic and have played men in various roles. Tilda is one of my dear friends. It would have to be someone who knows me to play me.

What’s your dream role?
I’d love to be a zombie in a Rob Zombie film. Maybe the next version of The Devil's Rejects or House of 1000 Corpses.

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you on set?
During I Am Love, we filmed a table scene. It was 100 degrees outside during the summer in Milan, and we were all in black tie. [The director] Luca Guadagnino said 'Action,' and I turned around. Tilda was sitting next to me. She put a gold coin in her mouth, so she was smiling with this huge gold thing in her mouth. We couldn’t stop laughing for the next 15 minutes, but no one else seemed to think it was funny. We were hoping Luca would laugh with us, and thereby make everyone else laugh with us, but he wasn’t laughing.

What’s next on the film docket?
I just wrote and produced my first short film highlighting three iconic properties from Starwoods' Luxury Collection; I'm their newest Global Explorer. I asked Luca if he would direct it so he flew in from Italy, and we wrapped about a month ago. We cast Agyness Deyn as the lead. I’ve known her for years, but we’ve never worked together. Our inspiration was Hitchcock. We started at The Royal Hawaiian and ended in The Equinox Resort in Vermont. It debuts this January.

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