Freida Pinto

Freida Pinto Says Regency Era Courtship Is a Lot Like Dating Apps

The star of Mr. Malcolm’s List talks dating requirements, the film’s diverse casting, and corsets, of course.

Corsets and carriages aren't what most viewers would associate with a Freida Pinto movie. But with a résumé as varied as hers — Slumdog Millionaire, of course; a take on Greek mythology with 2011's Immortals; some post-apocalyptic dystopia in Only; and science fiction (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) for good measure — it was only a matter of time before she stepped back to a time when social graces reigned supreme and romance was equal parts strategic and steamy. To be exact, Pinto is heading back to 1818, where Mr. Malcolm's List (in theaters July 1) sees her playing a Regency Era heroine alongside some old friends.

Pinto has always been a big fan of the costume drama. "I love everything with Keira Knightley in it, obviously, because she's the queen of period films," she says, citing beloved Jane Austen adaptations as inspiration. "Pride & Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility were two of my favorites." But, like many critics, she points to the need for more representation in the genre. Diverse casting in period pieces — like the approach to Mr. Malcolm's List — is a long-overdue change in the industry. According to Pinto, it's time for movies to reflect both the people of the time and the ones watching today.

"The way we are seeing Mr. Malcolm's List is something that we should have been seeing for a very, very long time," she says. "I don't know who wrote the rule book that it was only supposed to be white-skin people in those roles ... Why were there no people of color represented at all in any of these movies when the truth is that England did have its fair share of the population of people of color?" It's a much-needed transformation that seems to finally be gaining traction in Hollywood (think: the Bridgerton universe and the fan-favorite Miss Lambe storyline in Sanditon).

This year's Mr. Malcolm's List is a feature-length version of a 2019 short film of the same name. And though there are a few cast changes (Emily in Paris's Ashley Park replaces Gemma Chan, and The Time Traveler's Wife's Theo James joins the cast), Pinto reprises her role as Selina Dalton alongside Zawe Ashton, who plays Julia Thistlewaite. "That, for me, was the piece of the puzzle," Pinto says. "Once we found our perfect Julia, the film really came together and came alive." The Haunting of Bly Manor's Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Gangs of London's Sope Dirisu as the titular Mr. Malcolm round out the group.

"I feel very heartened by it," Pinto says of the diverse cast. "I'm also really wary that we don't call this a trend, because this is not really a trend. This is normal," Pinto explains. "To see people of color fall in love with each other, and have schemes and have a sense of humor, and have riches and not have riches, I feel like all of that just seems to be something that, for me, feels like it should be normalized in film and television, as opposed to being jarred by it or call it a trend."

Freida Pinto

Though comparisons to Bridgerton are sure to make the rounds (Pinto is quick to point out that Mr. Malcolm came out first, saying, "Bridgerton came after we did the short film, so nothing like that existed"), the film doesn't have the froth, gloss, or string-quartet pop songs of Netflix's runaway hit. Instead, it's a more grounded take on the 1800s that gives Pinto and her co-stars a chance to offer a more subtle and nuanced look at the comedy of manners conceit.

But, that's not to say that there isn't a love story (or two). Mr. Malcolm's List may appear to be a traditional take on Regency mores and mannerisms, but Pinto maintains that there's something refreshingly modern about the film's portrayal of courtship and romance. While Mr. Malcolm's list of demands and requirements may seem chauvinistic and unreasonable, Pinto points out that the matchmaking world back then isn't all that different from what goes on in the dating apps of today.

"You swipe left, swipe right, whatever today," Pinto says. "Back then, you'd basically be courting someone with a chaperone, and it may sometimes work out — and it sometimes doesn't. The only thing back then was you couldn't be compromised. You couldn't hold hands, and you couldn't do all the kinds of things you do on your first date in the modern world. With the exception of that, dating today and courting back then have a lot in common."

Pinto also approached the film as a rite of passage. Like her royal highness Keira Knightley, queen of the period drama, Pinto laced up in a traditional corset as part of her role — while she was pregnant, at that — and says that it helped her get into character. The thrill and novelty were short-lived, however. Breathing and eating, it turns out, just don't work the same way after getting into costume.

"This was my first time doing a period film, and the only thing I'd ever heard about other people doing period films is everyone talks about a corset," Pinto says. "There's a transformative quality to costumes from that time period. As soon as you're in that corset, as soon as your hair is done, and as soon as you have your final outfit and your bonnet on, you are no longer in 2022."

Away from her acting and philanthropy (she's been outspoken about the importance of education for young women and the state of the environment), Pinto welcomed a son in 2021, Rumi-Ray, with her husband, photographer and adventurer Cory Tran. Pinto and Tran eloped in 2020, tying the knot in Anaheim, California. Of course, much like her fictional love interest, she had a list all her own while looking for a partner. After all, it's only natural to have some requirements when playing the game.

"I had a list and I don't think it was silly at all. Mr. Malcolm's list can be seen as a little bit offensive because he's judging people based on that list. My list was my kind of reference point for what I wanted in a partner, and there were some non-negotiables in that list, but I wasn't judging anybody by it," Pinto says. "If someone didn't fit into my box of requirements, then I just moved on and I let them move on, too. Two of the things that I can think of that mattered to me was I really wanted someone who was able to accept and embrace and be curious about my culture and want, if we ever had kids, to be comfortable raising [them] in the cultures that we bring into the little family."

Fortunately for Pinto, her husband managed to check every box — something fans of movie-ready happy endings are sure to love. "My husband is American Vietnamese, and his culture is just as exciting to me as my culture is to him. And so, our son is being raised in both our cultures, and that makes me feel very excited. So, I'm glad I put that on the list because that was a definite non-negotiable for me," she says.

"On the shallow side of things (if you may want to call it that), I wanted my partner to be someone who literally makes my heart skip a beat for years to come, even when he's all messy and he's just fixed the garden or got his hands dirty and sweating, he's still handsome. That's exactly how I feel about Cory," she continues.

Post-baby, her projects include My Mother's Wedding, with Scarlett Johansson and Sienna Miller. When asked if she's making an effort to create the kind of movies she'd want Rumi-Ray to watch someday, she explains that it's more important to her to create things that bring people joy, especially now.

"I am finding myself wanting to tell stories that have hopeful endings, stories of hope, and stories that make you feel uplifted. This is not just because I have a little child in my life — definitely, that plays a part — but just because the world just feels very heavy right now. And it just feels like we are just bogged down with so much fighting to do as a woman for just fricking basic rights," she says. "I feel like the entertainment that I put out there, I want [it] to be uplifting, because if someone's going to invest two hours of their time and money to go watch this film in theaters, then I want it to be worth [it]."

And while she'd never pressure anyone to watch her work, one film does stand out as something she wants Rumi-Ray to see. "Mr. Malcolm's List is definitely one of those that I'm very proud of. I think a rite of passage would be he has to watch Slumdog Millionaire. You can't be my son if you're not watching Slumdog Millionaire, just because that film kind of gave me my career," she says. "It gave me such a brilliant opportunity to go out there and to be able to make a film like Mr. Malcolm's List one day."

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