Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you first become interested in acting and filmmaking? Was it something that you had an eye on from a young age?
I think my entire life I’d known I wanted to be an actor, but it took me a long to time 1. Admit it to myself, 2. Admit it to my parents. I went to a very Math/Sciences focused High school, though even then, I would go on Craigslist and apply for acting gigs, music videos that sort of thing. But I never told my parents about it because I was afraid they’d make me stop. It wasn’t until I’d moved away for university, that I took an acting class as an optional course. The class itself honestly wasn’t great… but the essence of what was being taught, hooked me. From there I began studying privately and through an acting teacher found an agent in Toronto. I was living in Ottawa at the time and would drive 4/5 hours to attend auditions in Toronto and back. It was insanity, and all this time, no one in my family knew! When I finished university with a degree in Communications, I convinced my parents to help me go to Film School, which was still a few degrees away from being an actor, I figured Filmmaker sounded like a safer option than actor (now I know both are incredibly precarious occupations!) Out of film school, I signed with a different agent and booked a few commercials. It was only then when my parents saw me on TV, and had validation from a few other relatives that they began to encourage my decision. But in all honesty, we’ve never to this day had a proper sit-down conversation where I outlined that I wanted to do this as a career. I just kind of did it, and somehow along the way they’ve come to support my decision.
What was it about your time with the Sawitri Theatre Group that led to you pursuing acting as a profession?
Sawitri was a very special time because it was right before my awakening to the idea that acting could be a career choice. When I landed my first role in a Sawitri Theatre production, I had just finished film school and had grown so accustomed to being on the other side of the camera, that to be on stage as an actor felt like coming home in a way. It was in that community that I met Gabe Grey and other ethnic actors who while performing in this community theatre were also pursing careers in mainstream media. Most importantly, they were Indian and still actively pursuing the arts as a valid occupation, which up until that point seemed completely out of reach for me. Developing that initial connection to a community of South Asian artists was a significant stepping-stone in building my confidence to believe that this was an industry that had a place for me.
What did you learn from your time in the Canadian Film Centre’s (CFC) Acting Conservatory that has helped you in your career?
While I was at the CFC we had several teachers from various mediums/ specialties work with us: film/ theatre/ television/ comedy/ improv/ method work/meisner/ scene study, etc. When I left I felt a bit disoriented in terms of the wealth of knowledge I was provided in that short period. What I took away from that entire experience is that when it comes to the craft, there’s no one way into character or story. Depending on the project I often find myself leaning on different tools, and finding different ways in but the seeds of those skills were planted during my time at the CFC.
What was it like to win Best Performance in a Program or Series Produced for Digital Media at the 2015 Canadian Screen Awards for your role in the web-series “Guidestones”?
In Guidestones, I play a journalism student who finds herself entangled in a web of conspiracy surrounding the Georgia Guidestones. We traveled to India, UK, Greece, Ukraine, France, the US for the shoot. It was an incredible experience, and winning the CSA for that project was such a surprise bonus! It was the first time that I had been recognized for my ability as an actor and the sense of pride and accomplishment that came with it was really nice.
You’ve appeared in a lot of TV shows and created a lot of films. You’ve even created a music video. How do you approach all of these different mediums?
Each medium comes with its own distinct requirements and challenges. I am a fan of a lot of preparation prior to landing on set, that way when we’re in the thick of things, I can focus on my instincts, knowing that my preparation is there as something to fall back on. I think whatever I can do to calm my nerves before arriving on set, I’ll set aside the time to get that done. Often in my preparation, I’m visualizing that day/week/month. Depending on the length of the project, and filling in any areas that present a blank. Although the mediums may be different, this approach is usually the same. Whether I’m walking through a scene and not clear on why I say a certain line. Or I’m going through a shot list, and not clear on how a certain scene will be shot. I try to answer as many questions as I can for myself before I show up.
Tell us a little bit about your new series “The 410” which you wrote and star in and has recently premiered on CBC Gem
The 410 is currently streaming on CBC Gem for Canadian viewers to watch online for free, without a subscription. The story centers around Suri (Surpreet) Deol, an Indo-Canadian wannabe-Instagram-it-girl who’s forced to return home to the suburb of Brampton, ON after her truck driver father is arrested for smuggling narcotics across the border. The series is a fast-paced, family crime drama with a South Asian anti-hero female protagonist taking the leading role. A few years ago I began to notice a reoccurring narrative in the Indo-Canadian community where South Asian truck drivers were arrested at several borders for attempting to traffic narcotics. My dad used to be a truck driver, some of my uncles still drive a truck and I took inspiration from these stories because, in a way, I felt like I knew these men. I felt that their families couldn’t be that different from my own, and it was from that point of view that I proceeded to write the series.
What’s next for your career? Do you plan on continuing to dip your feet in different mediums?
I recently did motion capture for a video game that’ll be out in the near future! It was my first time within that medium and I had maybe the most fun I’ve ever had on set! I also recently shot a feature written and directed by my close friend Sam Coyle called ‘Hazy Little Thing’. Right now I’m staring down that blank canvass and working away at Season 2 of The 410, which is another brand new experience and presents a completely new set of challenges.
What advice would you have for aspiring actors and filmmakers?
To always be able to answer the question ‘why’, no matter what you’re confronted with. It took me a long to figure out ‘why’ I had gotten into this medium. But now that I know, it grounds me. When I’m working on a character I always focus on the ‘why’ to find a path for myself. ‘Why’ does this person say this? Act like this? When I’m writing, I need to know ‘why’ something in the story happens. Often this question is overlooked for the ‘how’ ‘what’ ‘when’. But I would encourage that the first and most important question to answer is always ‘why?’
What’s your life like off-set?
Really normal, but not as balanced as I would like. I recently moved to Los Angeles and am still working on finding a regular routine for myself in a new place. When I get busy, I tend to prioritize the job and am trying to learn how to balance my time with friends/ working out/ housework, etc so I don’t feel guilty leaving my work, which I often perceive to be the most important task at hand. I’m trying to change that perception to adopt a healthier sense of self-fulfillment.
You give back to Seva Kitchen, an organization that provides free food to the hungry while promoting the values of Sikhism. Talk to us about why this cause is so important to you and how others can get involved.
Seva Kitchen is a Sikh lead organization that operates on the values of providing langar (free meals) to those in need. In that spirit, the charity brings outdoor street Langar to Toronto’s downtown homeless during the fall, winter and spring months. Seva means ‘to be in service’ and this wonderful organization serves those in the core who need it the most.
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