I studied at Madhu Film Institute and got my first break with Kauravudu. It was a small role where I play a goon. I went to the auditions for Khushi, and Pavan Kalyan noticed me there and I got the role in Khushi.
After Khushi, did you get offers immediately?
It's a misconception that everyone in the industry had, including me. One role where you get noticed doesn't mean that many more will follow. After Khushi I didn't get any offers for about an year. After that movies like Okkadu and others came by.
Did you always want to be in movies?
Not as a kid, because that level of maturity will not be there. But say, from my intermediate, I wanted to be an actor.
Your association with Rajamouli-how come you star in most of his movies?
You'll have to ask him that. But he has really given me good roles, both positive and negative. He even gave me my major break with Vikramarkudu. He encouraged me from the beginning of our working relationship, and I feel it's my good fortune.
You've done positive roles in movies like Chatrapati and Pokiri. Do you enjoy playing positive or negative characters more?
You need to be versatile to last in the industry, and to have a long run as an actor. I want to stay here for a long time, so I'm really to do anything.
Would you count Vikramarkudu as your first major role?
Absolutely. It's a great feeling to have an author-backed role like that. It's a fabulous role on paper, but the director makes a difference and its powerful on screen too.
Why did someone dub for you in Vikramarkudu?
I'm in my late 20s, and my voice is also such. For that role, Rajamouli required a raspy and harsh, much older voice. So it had to be dubbed.
What sort of preparation do you do for roles?
I depend on the director and do whatever he tells me to do. I make sure I understand his vision and do what he requires of me. Preparation is needed for roles where there should be special training-like playing a deaf/mute character or other such roles. I just bank on my director.
For Lakshmi Kalyanam, you got a lot of praise and even the dialogues became famous. How does that feel?
It feels really good, also because in Vikramarkudu, I was a larger-than-life character. In Lakshmi Kalyanam, it was a negative role, but one that was just ruthless but believable. Vikramarkudu was a platform for me, whereas Lakshmi Kalyanam gave me a lot of scope to perform.
How was it working with Teja?
Very comfortable and cool. (Laughs). I know what you expect to hear. But from day one, we were in tune with each other. He doesn't lose his temper or anything, like you hear. In fact, he is extremely patient and explains things several times. But if he tells you something 10 times and 11th time you do the same mistake, than anyone is bound to lose patience. I never needed to be told 10 times, so I never got shouted at either (laughs again).
When you play negative characters, does it ever embarrass you in some instances during the shoot?
It's my job, and there is always a professional atmosphere.
You went into Tamil with Bhayya. How did you manage the language, and how different is the Tamil industry from Telugu?
I strongly believe that all South Indian languages and people have an affinity and similarity to one another. Also, if Katrina Kaif can manage Telugu, I can manage Tamil.
From small roles to major ones that make a difference to the movie, how has the journey been till now?
When I was playing small roles, there was no responsibility resting on my shoulders. A major role making a difference to the movie requires immense concentration. There is some nervousness, that I shouldn't spoil it-because not only the movie gets affected, but the actor's career is also over the next day.
Who would you credit for where you are today, that too without a film background?
Rajamouli. I owe everything to him and the confidence he placed in me by giving me such significant characters to play.
Who are your friends in the industry?
I really don't have any friends in the industry, they are all more like my colleagues. It's a purely professional relationship I share with all of them. I have a lot of friends outside, and I like to hang out with my childhood friends.
My favorite actor is Dr. Mohan Babu. Favorite actress is Rani Mukherjee. None in Telugu, because there is no long-standing performer amongst the Telugu actresses. Commercially, my favorite director is Rajamouli; I also like Mani Ratnam. I love Loin King (the animated Disney feature) and my favorite villain is also Rajamouli.
Do you aim to be a lead hero one day? People have done it before, from your fave Dr. Mohan Babu to Chiranjeevi and SRK.
Who doesn't want to be a lead? I won't deny it. Everyone wants to get there, it will be there somewhere on their scheme of things. But at the end of the day, you cannot plan. Lots of things have to be in your favor, it's not easy. It's all about right place, right time.
On a lighter note, is it true you were the leader of your college gang? And that you once bashed up someone when they bullied your friend? (I refuse to quote the source).
Who told you that?? (Laughs). Okay, so you can't name them. But yes, I was like that. I've become soft now though. I think everyone goes through phases like that, especially in their teens and now that phase is over and I've moved on. I've realized there's no point in fighting.
How does your family/friends react to your on-screen persona?
My wife thinks I've acted badly in some movies. Parents are parents, and they like me regardless. I have very good critics around me, who let me know how I've done something, where I'm going and keep me grounded. My parents were reluctant in the beginning, because the industry is such that people without any background or contacts do not willingly let their children in. But gradually, once I started working, they have started to encourage me.
Your future projects.
Right now I'm shooting for Ninna Nedu Repu. I'm doing a positive character in Nagaram starring Srikanth. I'm also in Gopichand's Ontari. Another movie I'm doing is Vaana and also the Kannada remake of Pandem Kodi where I play the main villain.