Bernard White has had a long and fruitful career, with his most recognizable feature roles being Rama Kandra in The Matrix films and Agha Babur in American Dreamz. His work in the Television realm has also spanned decades, but many may recall his most recent roles in shows like “Kidding”, “Claws”, and “Silicon Valley.” Now he is stepping into the horror genre movie realm, playing Krishnan in EVIL EYE, one of four films being released this month as a part of the WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE series.
For the release of EVIL EYE, I got a chance to chat with Bernard White, where we discussed seeing the Indian and Indian American culture represented onscreen, how this film ended up being a profound healing experience for him, and the complexities of trauma and how his character represents a form of reassurance for trauma survivors.
To start things off, can you tell me about your character?
Bernard White: I play Krishnan, a father and a husband, and that’s really what I am. I am a father and a husband. Krishnan has been married to Usha, played by Sarita Choudhury, for – oh my gosh – thirty years. [We] knew each other when we were very very young and, you know, to me Krishnan represents the mature, archetypically good man. Someone who can hold a space for his wife and yet he’s also, he has his flaws. His flaw is he doesn’t fully trust his wife. This could have been a fatal flaw. He’s a beautiful beautiful beautiful character. I’m so grateful to play it. We live in Dehli. We have a beautiful daughter who the story is all about. But that’s a little bit about Krishnan. He’s a good man.
I really appreciated his presence in EVIL EYE because he was a grounding force, even though he had that flaw, you could tell he genuinely cared for her and wanted the best for her.
Bernard White: This is a brilliant film on that level. It’s a horror film, but it’s really brilliant on what it says about a man being able to step back and trust his wife.
Especially since, full disclosure, I struggle with PTSD on my own, so your character’s inclusion sort of reinforces that idea that you can find someone after a traumatic experience. So, I definitely felt that his presence was sort of reassuring.
Bernard White: Right? I’m so glad to hear you say that. People who have gone through trauma and the pain of whatever that is and the process of working that, it can mimic what society or culture deems as mental illness in the pain and the grief. And that’s what so beautiful about this movie is that if you look, like Krishnan’s point of view, this looks like, is my wife crazy? I mean, she’s talking about reincarnation. She’s talking about spirits, things coming back. She’s a very believable character, but then ultimately the bond of you need to trust this woman you’ve married. You need to trust her experience. You need to trust her trauma, what she went through, and you need to not be the typical macho male who rushes in to fix it or to control it or to make himself comfortable in it. It’s a beautiful script. Madhuri Shekar, she’s written a stunning screenplay. You know, this is a horror film, Blumhouse, in the tradition of Get Out. It’s a deeply moving, psychological, true mythic healing film.
And I think one of the greatest things is how many universal themes are in it. Because, even though it’s an Indian/Indian American film, there’s so much to relate to like, in terms of wanting the best for your child, healing from trauma, etc. From the script to the performances, your performances in this film help to create that universal quality that I think audiences can relate to.
Bernard White: Thank you. Yeah. I agree and it shows that we South Asians are actually human too. [laughs]
Going back to the Indian/Indian American element, I’ve watched a fair amount of horror films, but I think this is the first one I’ve seen that really touches upon the Indian/Indian American experience. What are your thoughts on that?
Bernard White: Yeah! My thoughts are filled with joy at the thought of that. It’s just so, because of the dominant culture, it’s always been, we’ve been relegated to these side characters. These side issues. To see a story, as you said so wisely, a universal story…you know, in a cynical way, I’ll say it’s about darn time but, in a grateful way, it’s like right on time, you know? When you think of the ancient spiritual traditions of India, the Sanskrit, the Mahābhārata, the Bhagavad Gita, and all the Hindu sacred texts…you know, it’s funny. It’s like, I did the Matrix films and they used a lot of, and I played an Indian character in that, and they used a lot of that mythology in the film without speaking of that mythology and I brought it out a little bit with my character and my daughter’s character.
But this, everybody knows it. Anybody who’s studied the Wisdom Traditions and any intellectual or artist knows that the debt we owe to India, it’s just about damn time that this knowledge and brilliance comes out. The team was largely from the directors to the executive producer to the cast to some of the crew to some of the advisors. It was looking at this culture that is often just made fun of or exoticized, you know, being holy people. But this is just a normal family struggling to make it in America, with the parents still rooted in India. It’s profound on many many levels.
Going back to the filming experience, what was your experience like working with the Dassani Brothers?
Bernard White: It’s amazing. They are these two brothers and I’ve had the coincidence or the good fortune to work with a lot of sibling teams or husband/wife teams. I’ve had a lot of experience with it. Whether it’s the Wachowski siblings or the Weitz brothers…[T]here’s been a lot of teams that I’ve worked with and it’s an incredible thing to see. Because immediately they are bringing family onto the set and this is a family story, so you get to see the family dynamic playing out. All the complicated dynamics. You know, it’s about intimacy. Family is about intimacy and we can push each other’s buttons and we can trigger each other. And so, it’s a great blessing that we had these two.
First off, they are so kind. They are so grateful. They are so hardworking. They show up. They’re so smart. They both have these specific gifts and they blend them together in a lovely way. There’s a sensitivity and a love. It was a great gift to work with these guys. I could go on and on.
There’s so much love there. So, I wanted to ask you what was it like working with Sarita because you had to establish that longstanding relationship between Usha and Krishnan. What was that like working with her?
Bernard White: It was an absolute healing, profound gift. Sarita is, first off, we’re old friends and we did a play together in 2004. A play in which I had to kill her in that play and we ran this play and nightly I would have to kill her. So, this was a healing, sort of artistic venture where I didn’t have to do that. In fact, I played a positive role in her life. It was great. Sarita has had a long profound career from Mississippi Masala and, even before that, in England. She’s hardworking. She’s really smart. I could go really deep on this one and say what a profound healing gift it was to work with her again because I hadn’t seen her in ten years or something. I can just say in a general way that it was a great, healing gift and I felt privileged and honored to work with this actress. She’s a real artist. She’s done theatre. She’s been around forever. She’s a presence to be reckoned with. [laughs]
It definitely sounds like a full-circle moment, especially given the events in EVIL EYE and, oddly enough, karma, you know?
Bernard White: Oh, you nailed it. That scene on the bridge…on so many levels, this movie was so deep and personal. I have a lot of mental illness in my family. I have sisters and a mother and it’s profound. I mean, if we could do a therapy session around this, I could really get into it. [laughs]
To wrap things up, what do you hope the audience will take away from EVIL EYE? Because there’s just so much in the film.
Bernard White: Mm-hmm. What I hope they take away from, you know, we’re in this very specific moment in our world, in our country the United States, in all of the world. And to me, the essence of this moment is male power gone awry and the violence of the toxic male and the violence of the patriarchy and I hope people take away from this film the healing nature of a mother and daughter story. A story of a woman coming to terms with her own past abuse and the violence, which is the history of the world. The history of the world is a history of violence against women. And I hope, and without beating people over the head, a really well-told story. Madhuri and the Dassani brothers and our cast and our crew and the whole production have captured an opportunity, a gateway into healing, which is men getting humble. Men stepping aside. Men trusting women. Men listening to women. Men believing in women, so the ship, the balance, this horrible patriarchy, dominated world can shift and let in the feminine. I think that is what the film’s greatest success is.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.