Sameeksha talks about being a filmmaker & actor, and her latest film ‘The Interview from Hell
SNT Mag : Please introduce yourself to our audience?
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.
SNT Mag : Do you have any family background in entertainment? Or you are the first one? How did you get into Acting & filmmaking?
Sameeksha Katyal : Not at all. 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.
SNT Mag : 10 Awards and 40+ nominations, could you ask for much better?
Sameeksha Katyal : 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.
SNT Mag : What is the most difficult problem in your career you had to solve?
Sameeksha Katyal : I believe making people believe my vision and bringing them on board for this short film was really hard. I like to use inspiration in the world around me to write and create films that my audience would find relevant to their life and captivating.
As a female, person of color, I have had to work multifolds harder to get recognition for the work than my peers in the industry. I believe it to be my mission to give a platform and take those challenging roles in the entertainment industry, and break the stereotypical type casting.
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.
SNT Mag : Pandemic proved to be a big hindrance for many projects, but it doesn’t seem to affect your short movie?
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’.
SNT Mag : Aside from acting and filmmaking, what Is an interesting fact we don’t yet know about you?
Sameeksha Katyal : I am a former Asian level tennis player. I started playing the sport as a kid while growing up. It was during the trials for Asian Games that I twisted an ankle and broke a bone. Due to the misdiagnosis and a surgery my sports career ended. I experienced the loss of purpose and felt no direction to channel my energies. I started volunteering for causes in my local community and in 2014 was awarded the Pramerica Spirit of Community Award recognizing my volunteering of over 300 hours of work for my community.
SNT Mag : What things in your life would you give up in an instant if it got you to an even better place than you are now?
Sameeksha Katyal : I don’t think I’d like to give anything up. I have lived a wonderful life and I am proud to say that I am a product of my experiences in life.
Being bullied, body shamed as a young girl, experiencing loss, failure, eating disorders and low self esteem made me learn to fight those negativities in my environment. It has made me more compassionate and a person of character who stands up for what is right. This I believe has made me into a strong person, and helped me discover my voice and mission in life.
SNT Mag : What do you like doing in your spare time?
Sameeksha Katyal : Acting & Filmmaking is a 24/7 job, inspiration is everywhere and I like to keep my receptors on. With my experiences, other than acting & filmmaking, I judge talent hunts, write for magazines or online newspapers, and use my social media and website to Sameeksha Katyal SNT Mags and guide young women who want to pursue a career in modeling, acting and filmmaking. I am an invited member on the Board of the Phoenix Productions and Z’De Films Co. I am also a ‘Women in Business’ at Drexel University where I help my mentees with networking and entrepreneurship. I have volunteered with UN and contributed to the #HeforShe campaign. As a former international tennis player, I run a free Tennis Boot Camp in Summers in NY to teach tennis to girls of all ages.
SNT Mag : What is the best acting experience you have had so far 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 a 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.
SNT Mag : How do you interact with your fans?
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