ENTERTAINMENT: TV & FILM
Sonal Shah - Laughter Abound
Watching “Scrubs” actress, Sonal Shah, perform, there is no end to the laughter, smiles, and looks of amazement. Sonal may be petite, but she channels a huge, positive impact through her acting. Having been in the spotlight since she was five as a competitive improv dancer, singing in her high school show choir, and being in theater for most of her adult life, it’s not surprising that Sonal is a multifaceted performer. In addition to being talented in the arts, she is also beautiful and smart, graduating cum laude from Chicago’s Loyola University, majoring in theatre with minors in psychology, biology, chemistry, and a concentration in pre-medicine. After college, she performed with several theatre companies, including the Tony Award winning Goodman Theatre, Collaboraction, Running With Scissors, and Stir Friday Night. She also became one of the founding members of Rasaka Theatre Company. And, that was only when Sonal lived in Illinois.
When Sonal moved out to Los Angeles in 2006, she continued her passion for theatre and the arts. She tested for several television pilots, and landed a role in an ABC Family sitcom pilot. Continuing working in theatre, she performed with some theatrical companies in Los Angeles, including The Lonestar Ensemble, Artwallah, and CAPE, and was selected to participate in the NBC Diversity Showcase. And, she is well-known most for her recent performance on the hit television sitcom series, “Scrubs.” On the show, Sonal plays peppy, new intern, Dr. Sunny Dey. She also appears as Dr. Dey in the completed web series, “Interns.”
Asiance interviews Sonal Shah for an in-depth look of the funny actress who is upcoming and rising in Hollywood.
ASIANCE: What made you want to get into acting, particularly taking up comedic roles?Sonal: The fact that I’m crazy. Really. When I was young like a peanut, I thought saying that I wanted to be an actor was like saying I wanted to be a quarterback. If you saw how little I am, you would know I’d never make it as a quarterback. I’m very sarcastic. I should say that right now. I’m sarcastic. There. So, I decided to be a doctor (as if that was any easier) and then somewhere along the way, I was doomed. I was kidding myself, because the fact remains- I’m a huge goofball and I have always strived to make people laugh (hence the whole comedy thing). I think that making someone laugh or smile is a great gift I can give…and making someone laugh or smile is such a beautiful gift for me! To me, comedy is the truth (or an exaggeration of the truth). I believe laughing at the truth can be healing as well as fun…and why not have some fun?! I’ve always been a performer and growing up, I was always dancing, singing, or acting in a play, musical, show choir, competitions, blah, blah. I just love it. I don’t think it was any one thing that made me want to get into acting, but really just all of my random life experiences and discoveries made along the way pushed me in that direction. I will say though that my biggest support and inspiration was, and continues to be, from my amazing family and friends.
ASIANCE: Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts working on the set of "Scrubs"?Sonal: It was- hands down- the most amazing experience of my life. It was also very surreal. The cast and crew are absolutely amazing. And I’m not just saying that. I was very freaking nervous at the beginning, but everyone was so welcoming! They are a bunch of fun, down-to-earth, humble, talented, funny, hard-working, intelligent, and kind people! I learned so much being there. Bill Lawrence is so wonderful to work with. He is an utter genius and really an amazing person. He encouraged us to improvise and his fun-loving attitude made it easy to feel comfy on set. If you are able to count how many times I use the word “amazing,” you get a cookie. I’m definitely a stalker of “Scrubs” and have always been a hardcore fan (not be confused with another definition of hardcore). I think the show is full of so much heart. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have worked on it.
ASIANCE: Do you relate alot to your character, Dr. Sonja "Sunny" Dey?Sonal: Well..gee…we both look the same. I’m not actually a doctor (shocking, I know). Personality-wise, I’d say we are exactly the same and totally the opposite. Complex. I know. Yes, I am a pretty insanely positive person (in that annoying way) and I do aim to make people smile. I love people and I do try to help others in any way that I can. Like Sunny, I am, indeed, kind of a goody-goody, anxious, hardworking and I always try to do what I think is right. I’m slightly insane. Sunny is sort of like me times ten. My voice is not that high, I don’t think I’m as annoying, chipper, and naïve as her. Also, I’m (we are back to Sonal now…I know my thoughts are sort of everywhere) sarcastic, easy-going, chill, spontaneous, open, laid back, adventurous, rough and tough, easy-going (unless it comes to my career). I’m kind of a tomboy as well as a girly girl, I love to build things, ride my bike, and wander through mountains.
ASIANCE: Since moving out to California from Illinois in 2006, how has life here in Southern California been like for you? Do you miss Illinois?Sonal: Absolutely. All of the time. Okay…its about to get emotional in here. I am ridiculously close to my family. Ridiculously. The roller coaster journey of pursuing acting requires a lot of sacrifice, and for me, the absolute worst part is being away from my lovely family. My family is absolutely incredible, supportive, funny, loving, understanding, and I talk to them at least 5 times a day. I couldn’t do anything without them. I love them so much and I do wish Hollywood was in Chicago so that I could be near them! I hate being so far away and constantly feel like I am missing out on so many important moments in life so that I could be here to follow my dream. I must say that as much as I miss home, life here in Southern California has been challenging at times…but GREAT! I’ve learned so much being on my own and have made a lot of fantastic friends out here. I definitely take advantage of what the state has to offer in terms of the beautiful mountains, peaceful water, and fun places to hang!
Watch Sonal in action
ASIANCE: In addition to "Scrubs," you have a role in the June release of "Ratko: The Dictator's Son." Can you talk a little bit about what the movie is about and about your character in the movie?Sonal: “Ratko: The Dictator’s Son” is about the son of a dictator (played by Efren Ramirez) who travels to the U.S. to attend college. It was directed by acclaimed comedy director Savage Steve Holland. In a total nutshell, Ratko basically takes advantage of his situation and pays for college students to live in 5 star hotels as opposed to the dorms. I play Layla, a nerdy college student. I would like for you to remember that it is a National Lampoon movie, therefore the comedy can get dirty and stretch limits. Um…so….well…um, not to worry, I don’t participate in nudity or anything like that, but the language in the scenes that I’m in can get kind of naughty. Ok, I should stop talking.
ASIANCE: I know you've been in alot of commercials and sketch comedy, do you do alot of stand up comedy in between all the other work you're doing?Sonal: Nope. Not at all. I think stand up is awesome and I admire those that do it. Yes, I’ve thought about doing it...but its just not something I have really explored. In terms of acting- I am always doing something. Its my job and (whether I’m getting paid for it or not)…it is a full-time job. I’m very neurotic about it. I spend every day working at it…whether it be a staged reading, auditioning, creating sketches, writing/rehearsing with my sketch teams, attending a class, going to a workshop, putting together mailings, marketing, writing, going to a movie, observing people on the street, going to a play, etc…I am constantly working.
ASIANCE: I know you mostly play comedic roles, but do you think you would ever like to take on more serious roles in the future?Sonal: Absolutely. Ironically, most of my training at Loyola University and The Moscow Art Theatre School at Harvard University was in drama. I love drama and in my years of doing Chicago Theatre, I definitely focused on creating vivid, soulful characters in various productions with companies including, The Goodman and Collaboraction. Wow…I am so awkwardly reciting my resume to you. So weird because I never really do things like that. I hate talking about myself! Seriously. Okay, back to me. I did do a one-person show in LA called “To The Death Of My Own Family” for The Lonestar Ensemble. It was a very intense experience…to go inside the true story of the soul of this woman who basically recounts the death of all of her family members in an effort to get out of a holding room by the U.S. Government (who suspects her to be a terrorist). It was brutal and exhilarating to go that “place” emotionally every Friday and Saturday night for weeks. It was an honor to be true to the playwright in portraying this strong woman’s story and it was a powerful piece that I hoped touched the lives of those who saw it.
ASIANCE: What are your thoughts about Asians and Asian Americans being recognized more in mainstream U.S. entertainment?Sonal: I think that it is wonderful and I do believe that Asians and Asian Americans are being recognized more! Many of these talented artists are making waves and creating paths for others to follow. I feel the entertainment industry can be a very useful vehicle in spreading diversity awareness as well as abolishing ignorance. I do believe that art is one of the many ways to spread knowledge in hopes that the knowledge will slowly kill hatred and inspire peace in the world. I hope I am not sounding like a pageant contestant right now. Not that there is anything wrong with pageant contestants…
ASIANCE: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?Sonal: Um…well…um…I honestly have no idea where I see myself in five years. Does that count for an answer? I just think that so much can happen in five years. If there is one thing I’ve learned in this business (and in life itself)…it’s that I really can’t plan anything. I’ve learned to embrace living in the moment and living life as it comes. So many variables (luck, choice, the universe, faith) come into play within every moment that happens in any given day…and one circumstance can change everything or do nothing at all. Dreams are a bit different. I do have a dream. I dream to always be able to share the love, peace, happiness and laughter with everyone I can. I dream to always be a student of the world and never lose the desire to learn and grow. I dream to teach and give back in any way I can. I believe that art (and in my case the art genre encompassing theatre, film, and television) is a beautiful gift to spread love. I dream to act and be able to continue to act, connect, create, work hard, and discover. I am an actor for life and I hope to always be acting. I dream that my family and friends will always know how much I love them. I am totally aware of the fact that I’m a big cheeseball Ooh, a cheeseball sounds yummy.
ASIANCE: Besides "Scrubs" and "Ratko: The Dictator's Son," what other projects will you be involved in?Sonal: Hmmm…As far as performing, I am performing with my sketch groups at various theatres throughout L.A. We just finished shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade and Improv Olympic West. This summer, I will be co-hosting Bollywood Nights at Cinespace in Hollywood. I’m also working on some staged readings, short films, and writing. I’m excited to be getting involved with various not-for-profit artistic organizations (especially those that are dedicated to the movement of South Asian artists). Most recently, I was invited to host an event for the Chicago Foundation for Women Asian American Leadership Council, give a lecture to SASA at Harvard University, and serve as a panelist for the Desilit Kriti Festival. I am learning how to play the guitar and on a major health kick. Maybe I’ll start doing stand up.
For more information about Sonal Shah, please visit www.sonalshah.net .