Pace yourself … When in an emotional scene for the first time on TV, there was no time for rehearsals so I tried to keep my emotion going all day, and I felt like someone had beat me up the following day because of all the extra muscles I was using in my body. After a week, the director kindly told me that I did a great job, and that if I ended up with anything bigger I would need to pace myself.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Parminder Nagra.
Parminder Nagra is an actor, and the star of the short film “Awaken,” directed by Leena Penharkar, which is now available to stream. It is the story of a woman dealing with her mother’s ongoing struggle with Alzheimer’s. Parminder also recently finished the BBC limited series “Intergalactic”. Prior she was seen in the Netflix Original movie “Bird Box” opposite Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson. She was also cast in the CBS Films feature “Five Feet Apart” with Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson. She also recurred on Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” and on the CBS comedy-drama “God Friended Me.”
She has starred in the sci-fi psychological thriller “Fortitude” opposite Dennis Quaid for Sky Atlantic as well as playing CIA agent “Meera Malik” on NBC’s high-action government crime thriller “The Blacklist.” Nagra is well known for her role as Neela Rasgotra, a British-Indian surgical intern on long-running American medical drama, “ER.” She also has recurred on “Marvel Agent’s of Shield” (ABC) and “Elementary” (CBS).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Leicester England which is known as the ‘midlands’. I grew up mostly in a neighborhood called the Belgrave area, where there was a heavy South Indian population with a very famous street in Leicester known as “The Golden Mile,” known for its gold jewelry stores, curry restaurants, and Indian clothing boutiques. We would speak predominantly Punjabi in the home and English with cousins and when at school. Being bi-lingual was just a very normal part of growing up. In my teen years I started to play the Viola, which gave me such a great opportunity for travel with our school orchestra and Leicestershire school orchestras. The acting bug is something that started to take root as I was about to leave high school, but I spent a lot of time hanging out in the drama room and music room. Luckily for me we had two great teachers in those departments that championed us and all I knew at that point was that I enjoyed these two things, never thinking that in later life it would become a career choice.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
It almost felt like a happy accident! Our drama teacher was doing a new British Asian musical in our hometown, and our youth theatre was given the opportunity to work in a professional space with professional actors. With a few weeks to go, our lead actress had to step away. They looked around our youth theatre company and thought I could take on the role. So I jumped right in and just loved it.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I think one of the weirdest things that I think happened to me was winning “football personality of the Year” by FIFA. I flew to Madrid to receive this award surrounded by many famous footballing faces such as Zidane, Figo, and Khan. I’m pretty sure they were looking at me and thinking, “Who the hell is that?!”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Deciding to eat in a scene … cause for quite a few takes after that, I had to keep eating. It happened to be a kebab which tasted good for the first few mouthfuls but as you can imagine, didn’t not feel so great after a while. The lesson I’ve learnt is to pick your moments!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My music teacher always believed in us and told us to think outside the box. I’ll never forget a situation where I was in the “training orchestra” in Leicester and we were supposed to play the Hindemith. It was very difficult and all over the place. Not my favorite. I decided that Saturday morning I wasn’t going to go in for my regular rehearsal because I hated it so much. Well when we got to the Thursday orchestra, my music teacher sat me down with the conductor and asked why I wasn’t in rehearsal. I grumpily answered, “Because I can’t play it.” They looked at me and said, “Of course you can … you may not like it, but you can absolutely play it.” Just that little moment gave me confidence and a little bit of patience so that I could do it.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
A really good friend said to me once, “Back yourself!!” I think if your gut feels like it’s right and you’re putting in the work, opportunities will open up. You have to recognize them and commit. My first agent, whom I adored, said, “If you’re going to learn something from it and it’s going to move you forward, do it.”
What drives you to get up every day and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
My son. My love for my profession, and the people I get to meet and learn from. The change I’d like to see is just for executives to consider people for jobs because they are good, not because they tick a box.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
Before the pandemic hit full force last March, I managed to do a job in the UK called “Intergalactic” for Sky 1. It was with a director I previously worked with called Kieron Hawkes whom I just adore and admire, so I was happy to jump aboard this ship for an epic adventure. I got to play an Arch Marshall, which was fun.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
I think it’s important for people to see themselves represented on screen. It allows people to think … yeah, I could do that! We have a diverse world, and we should see that. It allows people to have something to relate to. A story that is a good story can be relatable to all people, regardless of background.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Pace yourself … When in an emotional scene for the first time on TV, there was no time for rehearsals so I tried to keep my emotion going all day, and I felt like someone had beat me up the following day because of all the extra muscles I was using in my body. After a week, the director kindly told me that I did a great job, and that if I ended up with anything bigger I would need to pace myself.
2. Don’t take it personally … When coming out of an audition you may feel like, “I didn’t give them what they wanted.” What I wish someone had said to me is that you take control of YOUR audition and be happy with what YOU did and if you don’t get it … so be it. That’s not always easy.
3. Don’t take on other people’s energy … especially when it’s negative. It’s very difficult, but sometimes it’s got nothing to do with you.
4. It’s ok to say no … To be fair my first agent was very good at helping me with that. I was once offered a film and a theatre job at the same time. My agent said I would learn more from the theatre job, which was essentially part of my ‘on the job’ training, as I didn’t go the traditional route.I couldn’t understand at first because TV/film was what I wanted to do. She was 100% right. I ended up learning way more, and specifically, what I liked to do.
5. When you become a parent in this business you’ll be spinning ten thousand plates … it’ll be a shitshow, but you’ll get through it! You just do.
Can you share with our readers any selfcare routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
I like to spin, run, and do Yoga. The latter I picked up about two years ago. Yoga really helps get my head straight. And I love listening to an app called “insight timer” for meditation. I also love to go on long hikes, which has been really helpful during the pandemic.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It can always be worse” …. various things can happen in life that are challenging and you can feel like it’s THE worst thing. It keeps me very grateful for what is in my life.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Common sense and empathy!! No one knows what’s going on in other people’s lives … so be kind!!
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to have lunch with Wes Anderson. I love his movies!!
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Twitter and instagram @parmindernagra
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!