The movie’s star and executive producer discusses not having to fight in the creative process thanks to a female-led team, the chance to weave her South Asian culture into her character and why cinematic romances starring two people of color are so rare.
When she was sent the script for Mr. Malcolm’s List, star Freida Pinto says it felt like it was written for her.Sharing a name with her character, and having studied English Literature in college, Pinto could already imagine herself as Jane Austen’s “complex” and “beautifully nuanced characters.” Yet despite feeling seen on the page, the actress and producer notes that “film and TV did not represent people who look like me in these period projects.”
That lack of representation is one of the driving forces behind the Regency rom-com and director Emma Holly Jones’ vision for her feature film debut. The film notably departs from Hollywood’s period piece conventions and offers a modern spin on the regency romance genre, showcasing not only a racially inclusive cast of characters but women who refuse to conform to the expectations and boundaries set by society.
“Look how many people love Downton Abbey,” Jones told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview ahead of the film’s release. “This genre has a cult following. Why have [we] not opened it up? To be awash with young available British talent and giving the world a genre that they didn’t know was for them — that to me says dollar signs, personally.”
Mr. Malcolm’s List marks the first time Pinto has worked with a female director, with the actress also noting the movie’s two leads of color are a “significant step” in storytelling — and something she has yet to commonly experience in her film career.
I’ve been in the industry for almost 14 years, and whenever a script would come my way where I played a romantic lead, the stipulation always was that the person opposite me had to be white.
~ Freida Pinto
The film made strides behind the scenes as well, with several women in key production roles such as casting director, editor, composer, hair designer, makeup designer, costume designer and more — in addition to its female-led team of producers. That includes executive producer Pinto, and producers Laura Lewis, Laura Rister and Katie Holly, all responsible alongside Jones for shepherding the screenplay for Suzanne Allain’s book of the same name to the screen.
Mr. Malcolm’s List tells the story of eligible bachelor Jeremy Malcolm (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù), whose attempts to find a partner that will meet his list of expectations results in him earning the ire of Zawe Ashton’s Julia Thistlewaite, the center of the season’s gossip following his rejection.
Hoping to turn the tables, she recruits longtime friend Selina Dalton (played by Pinto) to catch Jeremy’s eye and return the favor of embarrassment in a period rom-com that produces as many surprises as swoon-worthy moments.
Ahead of its release, Pinto spoke to THR about how she became involved with the project, the experience of working with so many women at the helm, her own approach to the film’s inclusive narrative and the film’s potential impact on Regency romance.
How did you get involved as both an actor and producer, and what attracted you to the story as both?
I was sent the script by Laura Lewis, who is one of the producers on the film. She used to be a sales agent at CAA and she and I had connected. We talked at length about the kind of projects that we wanted to make. Then she went on and started her own company and Mr. Malcolm’s List — which was on The Blacklist — was one of the projects that she was trying to get off the ground.
When the script came in, I was in New York and she told me about it. I think at that point in time, Emma was already in the works trying to figure out how to get the short made. In the interviews that we’ve done for Mr. Malcolm’s List, it was so interesting listening to Ṣọpẹ́’s experience when he was first sent the script and Zawe’s experience when she first read the script.
It was interesting because I think it is a product of me growing up in India where the only other race was Indian around me — and studying English literature, Jane Austen and all the poets. Whenever it came to talking about certain characters, I could totally see myself as these characters. Now that was a different story with film and TV. Film and TV did not represent people who look like me in these period projects.
So when the script was sent to me, it felt like it was almost a long time coming. I studied English literature in college. I imagined myself as all of these amazing, complex, beautifully nuanced Jane Austen characters — not just chasing the man or the marriage, but really, women who had agency in whatever small way they possibly could within the constructs of society at that time.
And when Laura sent me the script, I was like, “Yeah, this is basically written for me, so I am ready. Let’s go ahead and do it.” My middle name is also Selina — not that that played into the role. (Laughs) But it just felt right, if that makes sense. I did not have to, at that point in time, suspend imagination in order to think, “What would this feel like for an Indian woman to play this character traditionally written for white Caucasian European women.”