Marigold Hotel's Tina Desai on transitioning from model to actress

Feb 14, 2015 at 9:29 p.m. ET

We loved the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and are just thrilled about the sequel. We were lucky enough to sit down with Indian actress Tina Desai and get the inside scoop on what it was really like teaching British actors to dance Bollywood-style.

Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Image: Fox Searchlight

Former model, Tina Desai, returns as Sunaina in The Second Best Marigold Hotel. In this second installment in the Marigold story, she's set to wed her beloved Sonny (Dev Patel), the proprietor of the retirement home that caters to a British clientele.

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In the film, Sunaina and Sonny have a gigantic and exotic wedding, full of color, music, food and traditional Indian rituals. We asked Desai if she could explain what a traditional Indian wedding is like, but she was a bit flummoxed by the question.

"There is no one traditional Indian wedding. Every community has their own way of conducting a wedding and that's the joke, actually. We were trying to decide what ceremony we wanted for Marigold Hotel. It was the casting director, the priest and myself all sitting together advising John (Madden, the director) which ceremony we should choose and which we shouldn't because there are so many!"

During part of the wedding ceremony, Desai's character wears a stunning gold nose ring that's attached to a chain that connects to her ear — something you don't normally see on American brides.

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"The nose ring is optional," she explained. "You don't have to do it, it's just something I love so they allowed me to wear one. The ring can be worn at different times, sometimes it's given as a Roka, which means when the boy's side decides to marry the girl, they put the ring on to say, 'now you're mine.' And sometimes it's a proper engagement ceremony, the way you have it in the west. You have [the Roka] and a year or so later, you get married. Sometimes the Roka happens just a few days before the wedding, so there’s no one way of doing it at all."

Though Desai has always wanted to be an actress, it was modeling that first brought her fame. She competed in the Indian version of America's Next Top Model and though she didn't win, her appearance on the show opened doors. As far as acting training, she said she created her own acting school by intensely studying her favorite actors in popular films, writing down the dialogue, imitating them, then coming up with her own take on characters.

"I trained for years in front of my mirror. My dad used to think I was very vain when I was in school. He was very worried for me and what I’d grow up to be. But I joined modeling so I could gain some experience acting in a smaller way, like 30 second or one-minute commercials and to learn about the camera. I sort of planned my route, luckily it’s all gone according to plan."

Desai's favorite memory from shooting the sequel was the big dance number at the end of the movie. "All the actors come on stage and start dancing. I never thought I’d see Judy Dench dance a Bollywood step. It’s just so bizarre and funny and supremely cute. She was naming the step, calling it 'shampooing the dog' and Richard Gere was strumming the guitar like a complete rock star, as was Bill Nighy. All of that was really memorable and special."

We asked Desai if she was able to give them any tips or pointers when it came to Bollywood dancing. "I didn't have to. They were killing it on their own! They had like three minutes of rehearsal and they were just doing it so well. We were laughing so much. It was really cold on set at night, but it didn't matter because we were all high on adrenalin."

In the film, there's some romantic tension between Sunaina and a new character, Krushel, played by the super sexy Shazad Latif. We asked her to tell us what he's like in real life.

Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Image: Lia Toby/

"He's quite a character. He would always sit in the greenroom with his fly open. He thought his trousers were too tight so he’d always open it up and didn't care who was in the room. We were like, 'Shazad, have some shame.'"

Desai also said she'd also spend a lot of her free time playing with his hair. "He has really long, floppy hair, I would put it in ponytails and braid it because he likes having someone mess with his hair. This was the nightshift where you don't want to hang out outside because it’s freezing so I'd sit in the greenroom and play with Shazad's hair."

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Given that her character in the movie was so successful finding a husband, we asked if she had any advice for those of us looking for love. "No! Because I'm pretty confused on it myself. If anyone has any advice, they should give it to me, I'm waiting!"

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opens on March 6.