Twist Online : Please introduce yourself to our wonderful readers?
Sameeksha Katyal : Hi, I am Sameeksha Katyal, I am a 24 year old Indian actor, writer & filmmaker. I have been involved as a writer, theatre director and actor in India and moved to the US in 2016 on a scholarship to study at Drexel University. I have been actively involved with the Chelsea Repertory Lab at the Acting Studio where I trained in Meisner Technique of Acting and have been a part of numerous off Broadway theatre festivals. In 2019, I wrote my first short film “U& Me” which I co-produced as the lead actor and also opened opportunities for fellow artists. The film was well received in film festivals, with 7 nominations, finalist award at the First Time Filmmaker Festival and the Best Film in Drama category at the BeBop Channel Content Festival. I am also a published model who has walked for numerous upcoming designers and has done a couple of NYFW campaigns. I am currently working on my first feature film under the guidance of the Director of the Playwriting Program at the Chelsea Rep Lab, and I am training in Voice, Speech and Accents under the Director of the Voice Program at the Acting Studio.
Twist Online : Was your family supportive when you got into acting & filmmaking?
Sameeksha Katyal: Being born into a conservative family in India where the only ‘real’ careers were becoming a doctor, engineer, or a chartered accountant, I always found myself as that girl with a voice, a story to tell. I struggled to earn my place in whatever I did. Early in my growing years, I was a well-ranked Tennis champion, I practiced 5-8 hours every day to gain sponsorships and maintain rankings while working through the entire academic load. It gave my parents the assurance that I can achieve anything I work towards. Then during the Asian Games trials, I got hurt. My injury was misdiagnosed which led to a gap between the bones. Two surgeries fixed the ankle but I lost my professional sports career. My interests and talents as a storyteller came to light after I went through a journey of body image issues, self-esteem, and self-worth. I wanted to experience myself as a person and found myself at a theatre camp, I expressed there through a piece they gave me to perform and got picked by a National School of Drama director. I worked with him on multiple theatre projects as an actor and a director. Filmmaking was always a dream but became a reality once I had moved to the US and saw people realizing my talent and showing interest in working with me. My family was not sure of this as a career choice for me but they are seeing the wonderful response my projects are getting and are confident and supportive of my endeavors.
Twist Online : Do you have any criteria of selecting projects?
Sameeksha Katyal : As a female & person of color, I believe it to be my mission to give a platform and to encourage more girls and people of color to take on those challenging roles in the entertainment industry, get those important roles and break the stereotypical type casting. I had to work multifolds harder to get recognition for the work than my peers in the industry.
My brand is all about strong, independent women and their empowerment, and I have carried the same message throughout my acting roles and filmmaking endeavors.
I believe in leading by example and use my social media and other platforms as a guide to empower girls and young women who want to pursue a career in acting & filmmaking in Hollywood.
Twist Online : Tell us about your recent short movie ‘The Interview from Hell’.
Sameeksha Katyal : Due to COVID everything was shut down, when I proposed the completion of this project everyone thought I had gone crazy. While my friends laughed it off, I was glad to have at least my team’s faith in me.
“The Interview from Hell” is my first project as the sole Producer and Lead Actor, and since our script was well received I had a lot of pressure in bringing on board a director who could best present our story in a short film. Frank DeChirico is a mentor I made during my first NYFW and I sent the script to him. He has experience directing and loved this script so much that he decided to make it his directorial debut with me. He assisted me in auditioning for the interviewee Tom. We had a number of actors audition via zoom and skype but we did not find our Tom until we saw Michael explain the script to one of the actors. The look in his eyes as the character was so profound that we felt the script come alive. We shot the script during COVID on a Saturday in a private office space owned by my family friends in New Jersey with 4 people in total as cast and crew. The editing and other processing of the film became impossible. We had to connect to our network of friends in editing, adding background music and spent dozens of hours finessing it to submit to film festivals. It took us 2.5 months from March to May to complete post production and the first week of June we started submitting it to the film festivals. The film title was workshopped tirelessly until I realized that a dialogue from Eve in the story best describes the film. The pandemic which then followed gave the title that interesting edge of how people are going through their own version of hell during these hard times, hence, ‘The Interview from Hell’.
Twist Online : So many awards and nominations. You were expecting that kind of response?
Sameeksha Katyal : Indeed we were! We love the responses we are receiving. We experienced a great response when we read the script at different playwriting events. It seems people are feeling the fun-weirdness of our story. What amazed us was that “The Interview from Hell” was the most-watched film for 3 straight weeks at Direct Monthly Online Film Festival and was voted the winner of the Best Audience Choice Award, Public Choice award & Best Short Film at different festivals. We are still nominated for awards at a dozen international film festivals. This is unexpected and exciting and I personally have so much gratitude for everyone who is taking the time out to watch and vote for our short film.
Twist Online : Most people think Filmmakers only need to spend money and nothing else. Can you please explain the role of a filmmaker to our readers?
Sameeksha Katyal : Filmmaking is not at all about money, yes in my experience i had to mobilize my resources for getting the most optimal storytelling results but I would say I cannot be a good actor without being a good filmmaker. As a filmmaker, I understood that storytelling is incomplete without each person in front or behind the camera, also understanding the emotional life, and the best way to portray it under the given circumstance. Acting in TV& Film, Theatre is the most elaborate form of storytelling, each camera angle, look, emotion, prop, piece of clothing, language, the accent comes together simultaneously to tell the story. So, being an actor and a filmmaker together helps me approach acting roles better and be a more understanding and connected filmmaker.
Twist Online : What is one character you have played that you would like to relive as an actor?
Sameeksha Katyal : All my acting experiences have been unique and memorable but one that I will remember forever wasan off Broadway Festival. I performed as the lead Dorie in the play “Tell Dorie not to cry”, and on stage, I could feel the power of the performance with a change in energy of my audience, I could feel the complete silence and hear the sniffles of my audience. After the performance I had a number of people walk up to me to hug me and tell me they felt some memories re-lived during the performance. It warmed my heart to just think I connected with these people through my performance. It is my biggest pride as an actor. My acting teacher saw the play and he said, he had never seen me live as alive as he saw in the performance.
Twist Online : You’ve been interviewed so many times-What’s the one question you wished someone would have asked you, but never did?
Sameeksha Katyal : I can say this question! No but on a serious note, I wish to be asked more about my vision and mission as an actor. I try to take opportunities to sneak those into conversations though whatever I am talking about. As a young woman, I went through a journey of bullying, body shaming, eating disorders, and self-esteem. I want my films to deliver messages that can help change the lives of girls and women. I want to make films to empower women and girls.
Twist Online : What is the worst role you have ever played in a movie?
Sameeksha Katyal : I don’t think there are any worst roles because as an actor, even to play a negative- villain character, I have to connect to the character’s life state, not judge them for their bad actions but justify those actions as if I performed them myself.
Hence, I would say the only time anyone can have a bad performance is when they are not doing justice to their character by connecting and coming alive in the performance.
Twist Online : If anyone wants to stay in touch with you, what’s the best way?
Sameeksha Katyal : The best way is to write to me through my website visit www.sameekshalav.com or and for details follow my Facebook page & Instagram at @sameeksha.lav