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If you are a young adult in Canada, you’ve probably seen or heard of How to Be Indie, a popular children’s show that spotlighted the trials and tribulations of an Indian-Canadian tween. Growing up, it was one of the first examples of television that spotlighted the first generation immigrant experience.
It was also the show where Tamil-Canadian Varun Saranga began his career as an actor. Following the ground-breaking success of How to Be Indie, Varun has gone on to act in other popular critically acclaimed shows like Orphan Black and Wynonna Earp.
Varun recently spoke with TC to discuss his career in the acting industry.
First of all, how did you get into acting?
I got into acting when I was 18 years old. My brother suggested I go for an open casting call for a show called How To Be Indie. They were seeking kids of South Asian descent around the age of 14 for one of the lead roles. Luckily, I was an 18 year old who looked 14, so I managed to just make the audition. At the time I thought I had done terribly. Much to my surprise, they called me back four months later. After a series of callbacks, I clinched a spot as a series regular.
Acting is not a career path that we often hear Tamil parents encourage for their children. How did your parents react to your decision to act?
My parents hail from Tamil Nadu – specifically Chennai. As with most South Asian parents, they emphasized the typical STEM route for potential career paths. It took a bit of convincing on my part, but after seeing the success I was beginning to achieve in acting, they were quick to support me.
I think immigrant parents want their kids to have a stable and successful career. If they have fear about the arts, it’s important to understand that it comes from the uncertainty of their child getting work in that field. After seeing the consistency of my work, my parents thankfully turned their opinion around.
Have you faced any struggles in the industry?
I think the typical struggle I face is the same one most actors face — lull periods where you aren’t working or auditioning. The film business can be very hot and cold, so dealing with that is always tough. You just have to persevere through those times and really believe in what you are doing.
You have been involved in some highly successful shows. How did you get involved with shows like Orphan Black and Wynonna Earp?
I believe every job you do teaches and prepares you for the next job. Through my steady work in the industry, I have been able to grow as an actor. Participating in the Canadian Film Centre (CFC) Acting Conservatory program also really helped strengthen my abilities. Ultimately, I believe that if you are meant to get the role, you will get the role. In those two cases, I think I just happened to be right for the part.
What are some other projects you’d like to work on in the future?
I definitely want to keep creating more of my own work and collaborate with talented filmmakers and actors in Toronto. The fun thing about creating your work is the fact that you aren’t sitting around hoping for someone to give you a job.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations?
I think my biggest inspirations so far are Aziz Ansari and Kumail Nanjiani. What they have managed to do with their careers has helped open so many doors for South Asian actors and comedians. Shows like Master of None and movies like The Big Sick are huge platforms that have spotlighted South Asian talent.
Advice to those in the Tamil community who aspire to careers in acting?
If you are interested in acting, I think you should just go out and live your life. A lot of what actors draw from is their own life experiences. If possible, I’d also suggest that interested actors attend acting classes regularly to dip their feet in a variety of roles.
However, you should also be prepared to deal with rejection after auditions. They can either destroy you or drive you. At the end of the day, it’s up to whether a person can handle that lifestyle.
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