|Indian actor, Sanjay Madhav, is a very sought after man these days. He has appeared on General Hospital, and now he has film and TV offers rolling in. He has successfully made the transition as a Canadian minority actor where so many before him have struggled.
Madhav was born in London, but grew up in Vancouver, Canada, which is where his acting career began. He lived in the same city where Michael J. Fox grew up. He later moved to LA when Hollywood came knocking on his door. "I resisted the move for some time," recalled Madhav, "I wasn't sure the crossover would be that smooth, and that made me nervous. I've seen others before me go that route and fail." He added, "But it has all worked out so well that I keep wishing I had made the move sooner, when Hollywood types first started calling me."
Sanjay Madhav was kind enough to give us few moments from his busy schedule.
What was it like to grow up in Surrey (B.C, Canada)?
It was a great place to grow up, but very different from LA. The city where I grew up was somewhat rural and unassuming, but close to Vancouver which is a large, cosmopolitan, cultured city with much to offer.
In Vancouver, I had the opportunity to see great theatre, operas, and live music. There was a very diverse mix of people and it was great being exposed to that. It was also a good place to start out as an actor, being surrounded by so many talented people and a burgeoning film industry. When I started acting in Vancouver, Hollywood was just starting to take note.
The name Hollywood North was starting to be used, and so it was good timing for me. I was able to get my feet wet there even before the film boom throughout the 90's.
Were there a lot of South Asians or other foreigners there?
Not when I was a youngster. In fact, though to college, I was usually the only Asian student in all my classes. Today, it's a very different demographic though. There is a large South Asian community that is very much a fabric of the society and is highly visible.
I've been able to witness firsthand the differences between generations and how that affects the perceptions of others. In many ways it's been an interesting case study.
How did that affect the person that you have become?
I've become such a multi-faceted person from the influences in my life and the varied places that I lived. There's so much that I appreciate today that I got from my upbringing, and from being Canadian. Growing up amongst Canadians has definitely shaped who I am, and most people that meet me can see that influence. It was a very interesting mix though to grow up there and be raised by parents that were both born and raised in India.
How did you get into acting?
I was bitten by the proverbial 'acting bug' in a Grade 8 drama class. I only took the class as an elective because my two best friends were taking it. At that time, I didn't even know what drama was. I really didn't know what the heck I was doing at first, but I received so many compliments on my performances from students and teachers alike. Plus I really enjoyed acting and being theatrical, so I kept with it and soon it become abundantly clear that that was the career path for me.
When you went to college, did you go into the acting classes or something else?
I started college as a Theater Major, but later changed my major to Business Administration, which I would go on to get a Masters Degree in. I have also studied acting formally at a number of academies in both Vancouver and Los
Angeles. Incidentally, there's a great deal from my business experience
and education that benefits my acting career as well.
Current Environment of the Media.
What are some of the inroads being made by minorities in Hollywood?
The last 2 years have been particularly exciting. I've seen so many changes in Hollywood and new opportunities for Asian actors that simply didn't exist when I started acting 15 years ago. I'm seeing more and more Indians in entertainment every day, not just as actors, but also Directors, Producers, and Writers. It's very encouraging. At this time, I'd even go so far as to say that Indian culture is making its way into the mainstream.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced?
Initially being a minority and trying to get opportunities to do main stream work was really frustrating. However, in the last few years it's been very much to my benefit to be 'ethnic'. Quite simply, it's a differentiator that
I've been able to use to my advantage. I've finally crossed that hurdle of having such great credits under my belt and people recognizing my work that most people don't focus on ethnicity at all these days. This opens up a whole host of opportunities that before would be reserved for Caucasian actors.
Have you ever turned down a role because you felt it was not appropriate?
A few times. I made a decision several years ago that I was not going to accept any role that would be to the detriment of our community, meaning a negative portrayal of Indians, Middle-Easterners, Latinos, or any other group that I would be asked to portray. I will gladly give up that work to another actor who does not have the same qualms as I.
Did you ever consider returning to India to go into Bollywood movies?
I never lived in India, only visited many times, so there was no way to 'return' to live there. However, in recent years it has gotten easier for someone like me to get work in India even though I live in the US. Partly, this is due to the increasing closeness between the Hollywood and Bollywood communities. I've worked in Bangalore, which was really exciting because I also have family there. I expect to get more opportunities to work in India in the years ahead, despite that fact that I really haven't promoted myself there. Occasionally I get calls from Producers in India, and I find it very appealing that they are contacting me and that they are interested.
What is your experience with South Asians that are making movies in America?
I have mixed feelings. I'm very happy to see things going in that direction, but I would also like to see more positive portrayals of Indians in Indian-made films that do not fuel the stereotypes. I see more and more Indian names in this industry as directors, writers, producers, etc, and I'm very proud of all of them for taking those steps and making such great progress. I've had the pleasure of working with a number of them and they have all been very positive experiences.
What are the roles that are still very difficult to get?
Certainly there is more open-mindedness in casting these days, but still leading man roles in mainstream American film is a challenge. It has mostly to do with the producers concerns over whether an Indian actor will appeal
to the intended audience. There's some debate about that though.
The Future of the Media
What do you see in the future for Indians in the Media?
More of the same - a slow progression. Progress is being made and the visibility of Indian culture has grown tremendously, but it's a slow progression and in the next few decades I think we'll all see great improvements.
Where do you see the progress moving the fastest?
Producers willingness to look outside of the box, and look for more diversity. The performers unions are making great strides in assisting the casting and producing communities with improving diversity as well. Also, films made by Indians with Indian content are booming right now.
What do you think needs to happen to make things better for South
I think we need to be more vocal as a community, we need to leverage the success and visibility of our fellow Indians, and we each need to do our part to improve awareness. I have certainly contributed to fostering an
improved environment for opportunities, including working closely, not only with the casting community, but also the unions and other key organizations, and I will continue these efforts as we are all the beneficiaries of the
progress being made.
Your Future Plans
What are you working on right now?
I'm still appearing regularly on General Hospital. I've been going more in the TV direction lately vs. film, and I'm enjoying it a lot. I've also just shot several TV Pilots for next season and hopefully that'll materialize
into a regular primetime opportunity as well. I'm also writing a book on marketing for actors. I continue to see so many actors make mistakes in their self-promotion - mistakes that hamper their progress and make the successes more difficult to achieve and slower to occur. There's a lot of solid, practical advice that I have to share in my book, particularly with minority actors. I will also be starting work on 'Transit' next month, a MTV feature film.
There are a lot of actors recently that are becoming Directors or Producers, do you plan on doing something like this?
Yes, since I come from a business background producing is a natural progression for me and most likely I will produce my first film later this year. I've already been heading down that path for while now. Directing is something that I feel I am really good at knowing my strengths, and I'm sure in the near future I'll take advantage of opportunities to do more of that as well. I've already produced and directed a few commercials and music videos, so I just need to take on larger projects.
Madhav has his sites set on furthering his presence in Hollywood, and expects 2005 to become a big break-out year for him. He still maintains his Canadian roots and feels that he's poised for success in both Hollywood and Hollywood North.
We wish him continued success, and his fans can find more personal information on his website - www.SanjayMadhav.com.