Heather Graham plays porn star, again
'The Guru' stars talk sex, culture, media
By Meriah Doty
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Heather Graham swears she didn't want to play an adult film actress again. The opportunity simply presented itself.
"I love the script but I can't be in it because I can't be a porn star again. Everyone will judge me," Graham, who turned 33 on Wednesday, said was her initial reaction to "The Guru," which opens in theaters on Friday.
Graham had already been a porn actress in a movie, of course -- Rollergirl in 1997's "Boogie Nights" -- but explained that her part in this comedy is nothing more than a homage to that role.
"That was a real and gritty movie. ['The Guru'] is fun. It uses the porn star aspect as a backdrop of my character," she said during an interview at Atlanta's CNN Center with co-star Jimi Mistry.
"The next time I'll be the porn star and you'll be the guru," Mistry joked to Graham.
The film, which also stars Marisa Tomei, is a genre-warping comedy, incorporating colorful Bollywood dance numbers as well as good-natured pokes at spirituality and media.
Mistry (best known for 1999's "East is East") plays Ramu, a dance instructor from India aspiring to be an American movie star. On what he thinks is a legitimate acting gig, he meets Sharonna, played by Graham, a popular adult film star.
He attempts to become a porn actor but fails miserably. Still, through lessons taught by Sharonna, he learns the secrets of sex. He imparts his sexual knowledge posing as a guru and soon becomes the Deepak Chopra of pseudo-sexual spiritual advice.
Mistry said "The Guru" showcases elements from several genres. "It's not your average romantic comedy, but it's a romantic comedy," he noted. "It's not your average fish-out-of-water but it's a fish-out-of-water."
The film also has fun with social and cultural issues, and the willingness of the media to reduce everything to simplest terms -- or to make things up.
In one scene, Tomei -- playing a wealthy spiritual seeker -- takes Ramu to meet the biggest agent in New York, played by Rob Morrow. The agent invents Ramu's public persona as the guru of sex from the thinnest of strands.
Graham said she knows first-hand how reality can be skewed through the media -- because she's part of it in real life. "It's funny being an actress and actually knowing some of these people. I realize it's a total sham," she said.
The American Dream is another issue the movie addresses. "The thing with Ramu, my character, is he wants to come to America to succeed," Mistry said. "He almost exploits a perception of society that they see, a perception of him and what he knows and what he can offer."
Sex, despite being a central theme in the movie, surprisingly is not necessarily exploitative or gratuitous. "What I think the film says about our culture is that we have some unhealthy attitudes about sex and that we need some sexual healing," Graham said.
"The best way to bring people together with about any subject they're uncomfortable with is through comedy," Mistry added.
In person, Graham did not offer a guide to sexual healing, but she did point out problems that women face. "People don't feel good in their sexuality because they're brought up with mixed messages," she said. "To be sexy as a woman -- I'm a woman so I see it from that perspective -- you feel like you have to be this woman in a magazine ... perfect model."
But, then, isn't Graham -- a frequent cover girl -- part of the problem?
"Maybe," she admitted. "The funny thing is, I look at these magazines that make me so insecure and neurotic, but I'm in them!"
Like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," the film gets lots of mileage from its ethnic clashes and misunderstandings. The stars are hoping some of that film's success rubs off.
"If we can be compared to a film like that then that's fantastic. If you can compare me to a male Nia Vardalos then that is even better because I think she's fantastic as well," Mistry said.
"Heather and I are going to be the new Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan," he joked. "We'll keep working together but doing different roles."
If "The Guru" takes off at the box office, he'll find his words are prophetic. And he may have to play a porn star after all.