Sarita Choudhury thinks she’s bad news. The actress lives in Williamsburg, which is now so wealthy the artistic types who made it a hot spot can no longer afford it.
“I feel like everywhere I’ve lived, all through my life, has become gentrified,” Choudhury tells us. “So I feel like I’m the cause. I’m like, ‘Here we go again!’ You always go where you think is artistic and cool. But that just means it was once a haven.”
As it happens, Choudhury is here to talk “A Hologram for the King,” which concerns a form of gentrification on the other side of the world. Based on Dave Eggers’ 2012 novel, it stars Tom Hanks as an American salesman who heads to Saudi Arabia to sell a new gizmo to the nation’s king, who is trying to turn a patch of desert into a thriving, modern, moneyed metropolis. Choudhury plays a doctor in the nearby city of Jeddah who first treats Hanks’ character and eventually begins a hesitant romance.
The production wasn’t allowed to shoot in Saudi Arabia; they wound up settling for Morocco. For Choudhury, it was a real eye-opener.
“I was shocked by the welcoming nature of people. Even the people who didn’t have much, it was like, ‘Come in, eat our food, drink.’ I thought, ‘What happened to that here, where we have more money, more access. That doesn’t happen,” Choudhury explains. “You don’t get invited into a random house just because you’re walking down the street and someone’s smiling. I miss that.”
She also found it was the first place where the people “looked like me,” she says. Choudhury is half-Indian, half-British, and she grew up in Italy. Even in a vast melting pot like New York, with its enclaves of specific cultures and ethnicities, she doesn’t always feel she fits in.
“Here you become a New Yorker, as opposed to where you’re from,” she says. “You’re not thinking about yourself as anything but a New Yorker.”
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“A Hologram for the King” may sound like a broad comedy about an American abroad, but it’s subtly — and not so subtly — progressive and more about him being consumed by another culture. Alone in America, he increasingly finds real connections in Saudi Arabia.
“America is where you go for your dreams. He’s leaving that and going to a country the world thinks has things like oppression and customs that are more severe,” she explains. “He goes there and finds freedom and love and himself. It inverts our perceptions. It’s more about finding where you’re happy regardless of where you think your ambitions and dreams should lie.”