THERE is a lot more to Sunny Leone than being a pin-up girl and former adult film star.
Apart from being a devoted mother, the Canadian has carved out a career in India as an actress, TV personality and successful business entrepreneur, with thriving beauty and fashion brands.
Those who meet her will also point out that she is an extremely friendly person, who can light up a room with her warm personality. This remarkable journey she has been on recently carried her to the Cannes Film Festival.
Unlike most Indian actresses, who attended to show off sparkly outfits on the red carpet, Leone was there for the premiere of her new film Kennedy, a psychological thriller directed by Anurag Kashyap.
Eastern Eye caught up with one of the most searched celebrities online globally to discuss her journey, inspirations, dealing with negativity, future hopes and huge fan base that includes over 55 million followers on Instagram.
You have always been so down to earth, despite all the attention. What keeps you so grounded?
Thank you Asjad. I don’t know, I feel like I have a different outlook on how life is. I’m really grateful for where I am and the things that have happened. Only my husband Daniel and I know what we’ve gone through to be here. We started with negative money in our accounts, to being here at the Cannes Film Festival, which is the craziest feeling. So that gratitude has always been there and some – thing I will always feel.
That explains why you always have this happy demeanour…
I feel we should be happy about all the amazing things that happen and for what we have, even through the crazy articles, people and groups that have lots of negative things to say. I al – ways believe there are more positives than negatives.
You are a devoted mother, wife, TV host, actress and a business entrepreneur. How do you prioritise?
I take it one day at a time. Today’s priority is being in Cannes with my film Kennedy. But family and taking care of them will always be first and foremost. Before I came here to Cannes, I had to explain to my kids why we’re going to be gone, because it’s the first time we’re leaving them for so long.
How did you do that?
I said to them, you know how you work really hard in school and get a beautiful certificate or reward. I said, this is my reward for all my hard work over the last 10 years. That I am not going on vacation, but to be a part of something amazing. I think about how hard I have worked all these years, then look at my kids and think God is so great. I have a beautiful family, a great career, and all these amazing things. My kids understand in their own capacity, what this trip means.
When you started this Indian film journey with Jism 2 in 2012, did you imagine ending up at the Cannes Film Festival, in the company of world cinema giants?
Absolutely not. This is where I start crying because it is the most amazing experience. Those who have followed my career would also believe this is insane. Me Sunny Leone, the girl from Canada who worked in adult films, and then went into Bollywood to make films, videos, and adverts. Then suddenly, I’m going to walk the red carpet to represent a film I’m a part of. That is the most surreal and overwhelming feeling I could ever have. I’m so grateful and thankful. My fans carried me through all the crazy stuff to be here. Without the fans, I don’t think I would be here.
Does having so many fans, including over 55 million followers on Instagram, put pressure on you?
I don’t think it puts pressure on me. I don’t think that people’s expectations are as high as maybe, some people might think. I enjoy looking at someone’s social media page and think wow, they’re so beautiful or their work and talent is amazing. Whether their work is good or not, you still appreciate who they are. I’m not going to stop being somebody’s fan because a movie doesn’t work. (Laughs) Many films of mine have not worked, but my fans have been so supportive through the entire process. So, I love them. I think I love them, more than they love me.
What’s the plan going forward. Are you going to be looking for performance driven roles?
I have a couple of films that I shot. One is a psychological thriller that has been getting a great response through distributors. There is another I’m not allowed to talk about yet. But yeah, they are very different type of roles than what people have seen me in. I am trying to pick films or work that is fulfilling in a different way, than some of the other choices I’ve made. It is going to be really interesting to see. Right now, the feedback on my forthcoming films has been pretty positive. I’m hoping that with Kennedy, and those two films, some nice things will happen.
You grew up in the west. Is Hollywood part of the plan?
If something interesting comes my way I definitely want to explore it, whether it’s small or big. I think it’s more about trying to figure out and navigate through the fluff. You can get so many different offers, and must see what’s real, and what’s not. I have no expectations of what the future holds. I hope when people see Kennedy, they’ll see a different side of me. Maybe somebody will see it and say, I want you to be a part of my film – whatever that language is, I’ll be happy to speak it.
But do you have a dream role?
I love the genre I was just shooting in for Kennedy. I like psychological thrillers. I like things that are more on the serious tone, and in that area. So those are ones I enjoy today.
What inspires you?
This is a really interesting question. I think it’s more about watching different people. And I don’t mean people within the entertainment industry. I’m talking about successful business people and different women out there who are helping others. Those things inspire me the most.
Is there a particular person that inspired you…
I remember as a teenager, one of the first women I looked up to was someone I worked for. I remember sitting at the receptionist desk answering phones and her walking into the office, like in those films you see. This woman walked in, and everyone was scared of her – she had so much power within her entire being. I really looked up to her as a woman, thinking I want to be somebody who is successful in business or whatever I choose to do. Those were the people that inspired me growing up.
What kind of films do you like to watch?
I like watching the exact same things I like being a part of, like thrillers. I really like dramas and suspense thrillers. These types of films where it is not something that would happen in our regular day today life.
You deal with negativity like a boss and with a smile, which is inspiring…
You know, it’s so funny, and maybe that’s what Anurag (Kashyap) sir saw because (my character) Charlie does this in Kennedy. She hides behind her laugh. I think psychologically, you build barriers around you. I have a perception of what trolls are like. I keep telling myself, great, thank you trolls, because you are on my social media pages, and writing things, it means my pictures and videos get more views. You know, unless it’s like something incredibly personally hateful, I don’t really react. I think that’s the biggest thing.
Tell us more…
These people have no idea who you are, they’ve not walked in your shoes at all. They don’t know what you do in your day. They don’t know if you’re having a good or bad day. All they care about is just making a comment. I also know that they’re not just making a comment about me, but about so many people. Because that’s what they do all day on their phone or computer – just talking sh*t all day. I think we have to take it for what it is and walk away from it.
Can you give a message for your fans?
To my fans out there please go check out Kennedy when it comes out. I love you guys so much for supporting me for so long.
Why do you love cinema?
I love cinema because I love the idea of making cinema. I love the idea of being something that is outside of my normal life. I love the idea of being somebody totally different and researching about them and being a part of it. Cinema can make you feel good or help you understand life in a different way, by watching great stories and really understanding these characters and how they function. I just love it all.