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Taking Notes with Sunkrish Bala
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In a world of preconceived notions actor Sunkrish Bala is finding a way to rise above ethnic stereotypes by using his talents to tear them down. Born in Bombay, India, Bala has been working his way into the limelight through his full time gig on ABC’s hit comedy Notes from the Underbelly and starring roles in a number of films. I caught up with Bala this week and in addition to him dropping some Bollywood knowledge on me we discussed his work in Hollywood, including some notes on Notes as well as his upcoming film Albino Farm, which also stars WWE superstar Chris Jericho, his starting of a non-profit theater company back when he was in high school, and his plan to infiltrate America via the sitcom. There’s also that rumor about him and Minka Kelly, or at least there will be after this.

Adam Bernard: Talk to me about your character from Notes from the Underbelly. How are you similar to him and in what ways do you differ?
Sunkrish Bala: Eric is the obnoxious parent next door. He has a kid and his world becomes about having a kid and he thinks everyone’s excited about it as he is. He wants to talk all about it and share all about it and that could not be further from who I am. Dude, I’m 23, I’m fresh out of college, single and very much not a parent and not responsible, so I’m really nothing like my guy. What he’s about, his worldviews, are very different from mine.

Adam Bernard: Was this role originally written for a man of Indian descent?
Sunkrish Bala: No, it wasn’t. When I auditioned for it there were all kinds of people in the room. His name was Eric when I auditioned for it and they kept him Eric. Obviously I’m Indian and they don’t pretend that I’m just a really tan white guy, but it’s not very central to the character which is awesome for an actor of color.

Adam Bernard: So is this another case of a foreigner taking the job of an American?
Sunkrish Bala: Yeah man, you got outsourced.

Adam Bernard: Since you live in America isn’t it technically insourcing?
Sunkrish Bala: It’s a sly new way of outsourcing. I’m a spy. I’m a spy from India.

Adam Bernard: Well then you’ve completely blown your cover just now.
Sunkrish Bala: No, no, no. You see, I can say it like a facetious joke and people will just smile and laugh it off. That’s my cover.

Adam Bernard: And you’re infiltrating America via the sitcom?
Sunkrish Bala: Don’t discount it, bro. Cultural infiltration. Slowly I’m going to convert everyone to Hinduism one show at a time.

Adam Bernard: By the way, let me say you’re doing a great job with this interview considering you have no writers right now.
Sunkrish Bala: Thanks, man. Yeah.

Adam Bernard: How close an eye are you keeping on the strike?
Sunkrish Bala: I’m waiting for this thing to get done. I am no good with free time, I like to be working. This is a bit of a forced almost vacation for me in a lot of senses and I do not like vacations. I’ve been out there picketing with the writers and I’m on the Hollywood writer weblogs everyday looking to see what’s going on. I’ll tell you something, though, those picket lines are meat markets for writers. Writers go on so many dates because of those picket lines. You can see how if you’re standing out there all day you’re bound to catch someone’s eye.

Adam Bernard: In addition to watching your writers hook up you’ve also managed to wrap a film, Albino Farm. From the synopsis I read it sounds like a campy fun horror flick. Tell me all about it without ruining the ending.
Sunkrish Bala: It’s about four college kids on a road trip for a school project. We’re in the Ozark Mountains deep in the south and we take a wrong turn and end up in this town and terrible, horrible things happen to us. We’re attacked by redneck cavemen hillbillies. That sounds silly, but I can’t think of a better description than that. It’s scarier than it sounds my friend, redneck cavemen hillbillies.

Adam Bernard: You acted opposite a true legend in this film, Y2J himself, Chris Jericho. Will he now beat people up for you?
Sunkrish Bala: (laughs) Yeah man, Chris Jericho. I wasn’t a big wrestling fan, but all the PAs were. We were shooting in Missouri with a bunch of college kids and we had hot girls on the set, but they did not care, it was “Chris Jericho can I drive you around?” He’s the nicest guy in the world. I actually kept challenging him to wrestle me, but he wouldn’t take me up on that, he was a little scared.

Adam Bernard: Nice. We’ll have to get you a wrestling name now. On a slightly more serious note I read you co-created a non-profit theater company, A’Shore (“Noise” in Hindi), while still in high school. What was the idea behind that and is it still running?
Sunkrish Bala: The South Asian community is a pretty young demographic, we got to this country en masse in like the 80’s, especially in the Bay area, so it was a group of people that didn’t really have a voice and didn’t really have a way to express themselves. I was really into theater, but at a certain point I couldn’t get the parts I wanted to play because of the way I looked. A group of us got together and we said we have stories that need to be told, so we started producing our own plays. It started out as a simple little community effort, but the response was huge in the Bay, so we applied for non-profit status and began putting on shows. We adapted American works, brought plays in from India, had writers that created original work, had a sketch comedy show that we put on. It was getting bigger and bigger, but unfortunately I was sort of running the thing and I had to go off to college, so I left for Los Angeles. Since then they’ve put on a couple shows, but I think they’re slowing down a little bit now.

Adam Bernard: Do you think they’re slowing down because they don’t have the people there to run it, or because the roles Indian actors are getting are better and better?
Sunkrish Bala: I think probably a little bit of both. I think that definitely the town that I walked into three or four years ago to start becoming an actor here is very different from the town that exists today. All I would audition for was terrorist, cab driver, 7-11 owner. Sometimes terrorist cab driver, which is at least a little layered. Now the opportunities for us are getting a lot better.

Adam Bernard: You’ve done some Indian film work, too, notably a movie titled American Blend that is pretty deep and completely different from your current sitcom role.
Sunkrish Bala: That was actually shot here, but it was an Indian production crew and it starred a Bollywood star, Anupam Kher, who played my dad. He was also the dad from Bend It Like Beckham. It was about a mixed marriage American family. The guy was from India and he marries a nice white lady and there are identity issues. Without giving away too much there’s a case of some mixed races and mixed blood that comes out throughout the movie and how our family deals with that. I was a sophomore in college at the time and I think if I had been aware of what a privilege and what a big deal it was to get to do something like that I would have been scared shitless, but I didn’t so I just had fun throughout the movie and I think it turned out well.

Adam Bernard: You mentioned you worked with a Bollywood star. I know very little about Bollywood, so hit me with the films I need to see.
Sunkrish Bala: Watch a movie called Lagaan. I think it was 2001 that it was nominated for the best foreign language movie Oscar. It’s about villagers in the 19th century competing against the British in a cricket match. It’s a three hour epic cricket musical. That’s your best introduction to Bollywood and what they do.

Adam Bernard: Finally, since sometimes when something is said in the press it magically ends up happening, and I like to hook my people up, link yourself with the Hollywood hottie of your choice and let’s get a good rumor started.
Sunkrish Bala: Minka Kelly! She is gorgeous and I think that she’s a great actress, too.

For more on Sunkrish Bala check him out on imdb.com.

Past Celebrity Interviews

Constantine Maroulis – American Idol
Russell Simmons – Entrepreneur
Jenn - The Real World (Denver)
Maz Jobrani – Comedian


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:49 AM  
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