FYIG Chats With Actor Praneet Akilla

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Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
 
I’m an actor, singer, and filmmaker based in Vancouver/Toronto. I fell in love with storytelling and acting at an early age- watching movies, plays, and musicals. I would then re-enact them in my bedroom, in front of the bathroom mirror, pretending I was the action hero of my own movie. While others spent their free time playing outside or playing video games, I would study behind the scenes videos of how movies and tv shows were made. Growing up, I would act in many school musicals/plays – but in a south Asian household there is a stigma against the arts being a viable career option. I was good at math and science so I went and studied Chemical Engineering at McGill University in Montreal. When I graduated, I took the leap of faith. I quit my engineering job, went straight into auditioning for acting jobs for film/tv/stage and haven’t looked back. 
 
How did you first become interested in acting? 
 
As a young kid, my parents would take me to the movie theatre, whether it was Titanic or giant Bollywood Movies, I was always in awe of the epic nature of storytelling. The things the actors would do on screen would leave the audience breathless with joy or in tears with sadness. For whatever reason, their reaction gave me some sort of happiness. I wanted to perform to impact people in some way and make the world around us feel/empathize. After these experiences, while other kids played outside, I would be watching behind the scenes videos of how movies were made, re-watching movies to study actors’ performances. Then I put that love for storytelling into practice and started doing short films with my friends, acting in my school musicals all throughout middle school and into university. 
 
You received a chemical engineering degree at McGill University, but still managed to find time to take roles in community theatre. Did you ever expect it to blossom into a career? 
 
Growing up I was good at math and science with good grades all throughout high school. Though my true passion was acting, I think the combination of growing up in a South Asian household and not really seeing South Asian representation in Hollywood, made me rethink what I wanted to study in university. I decided to get a degree in Chemical Engineering and was on auto-pilot to go work in the oil and gas industry. It wasn’t until I was interning at a company that an old friend from high school reached out and asked what I was doing with my life. Some asked me to act in their shorts/features. They were shocked to find out I was not studying in drama school because I was always known as the musical theatre kid. I think those instances woke something up in me. I realized I needed to be pursuing what I was actually passionate about while I’m young and hungry. I decided to work as a chemical engineer and on my days off or after work, perform in theatre and independent films. The balance of that got unhealthy very quickly and I decided to quit my job and steer in one direction. By this point, I had collected enough data to know that I was good at performing and that if I kept at it I could be a full time working actor. I always had the quiet confidence that it would blossom into a career. 
 
What can you tell us about your role as Phillip Mishra in the Netflix series “October Faction”? 
 
Playing Phillip Mishra is my first big break – playing a major recurring role on a Netflix Original Series. From being a  chemical engineer to this feels surreal and hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this show. Phillip Mishra is the alpha and star athlete in the high school that the Allen Family kids attend. He’s also the son of a prominent townsperson. He carries a heavy burden of high expectations from both his family and the society around him. On the surface, he very much tries to hide this stress and compensates by pushing his male bravado out to assert his dominance. Through the series, however, after meeting Geoff Allen, tensions arise and the rest I can’t give away because (SPOILERS!!) 
 
What can audiences expect from “October Faction”? 
 
October Faction is a fantasy/horror Netflix Original series based on the graphic novels by Steve Niles & Damien Worm. It follows the adventures of a retired monster-hunter and his family moving back to their patriarch’s town to find out their idyllic surroundings aren’t quite what they seem. Pretty soon they have to deal with werewolves, warlocks, vampires and all kinds of other monsters that are hidden in plain sight. I describe it as a Men in Black meets Supernatural. On the outside, it’s incredibly fun, got lots of action and creepy horror elements. However, the writers of the show have created incredibly well-developed characters and a storyline with poignant social commentary on many of the issues we deal with in the world today – sexual assault, LGBTQ relationships, racial bias/profiling, power dynamics, human rights and on and on. I think people will love it. 
 
You have a couple of theatre productions coming up with “Cipher” and “Mahabharata”. What can audiences expect from these shows and when/where can they see them? 
 
Cipher is a play that is being performed at a major theatre company in Vancouver, Canada called The Arts Club. I very much describe it as “hipster noir meets conspiracy thriller”. It’s a cold case murder mystery and I play a student who teams up with a toxicology professor to solve the case. The creative team is one of the best in Canadian theatre and it’s going to be innovative and exhilarating. If people want to check it out, here is a link for tickets https://artsclub.com/shows/2019-2020/cipher. We open on Feb.12th, 2020 in Vancouver. 
 
 
Mahabharata is the longest story ever written or told in the world. It’s a Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy epic from Indian, Hindu mythology BUT on stage! This project is a huge milestone because it’s the first time in North America that this story is being told on stage with an international-all south Asian cast.  It is being performed at Niagara-on-the- Lake’s Shaw Theatre Festival from August 15th to September 19th. Here is a link to tickets for those interested: https://www.shawfest.com/playbill/mahabharata/. I will be performing multiple characters in it and the cast & crew are absolutely spectacular. 
 
You’re also a producer for Rendering Glint Films and Kalpana Films. Can you tell us about any of your upcoming projects? 
 
I love project management and producing my own content. Luckily, I have many friends who are writers and filmmakers so it was a natural course of events to team up and create short films, digital web series, and now features with them. A lot of my work is dealing with acquiring financing for our independent projects, writing grants, bringing together the right creative crew to serve the story. I also deal with location logistics, budgeting, and provide big picture input of the stories we are trying to tell. In 2020 we are working on a web-series and a feature film, to be produced in 2021. One of our projects is called Lux-Me which is a sci-fi web series based on a social dating app set in the future. It’s got an incredible south Asian cast and you can watch it on YouTube: 
 
 
What advice would you have for aspiring actors/actresses? 
 
Have faith in yourself. It’s a tough business filled with rejection, so treat booking the role like a bonus. Your job is to audition well, build solid relationships with casting directors, train and get better at acting. Also, create your own content or team up with other filmmakers to do so. Control the controllable and leave the rest to the universe. 
 
What’s your life like off-set? 
 
Studying acting, I’m always in class or training. Rehearsing for theater projects. I also love producing content with my fellow filmmakers. Outside of that, I love playing and watching sports like ice hockey and basketball. I read a lot and I also love going to the gym. It gets me out of my head and is very meditative. 
 
Let the readers know where to find you online. 
 
Follow me on Instagram & Twitter: @p_akilla