By Jason Tanamor
Season 9 of the hit show “Scrubs” recently began and although it still focuses on the Sacred Heart veterans that made the show popular, the series moved locations from the hospital to a medical school. One of the standout interns from Season 8, Sonal Shah, who plays Dr. Sunny Dey, returns to the series as a recurring character. The actress recently stopped by to chat with Zoiks! Online.
Q – I read that you’re from Wheaton, IL. I’m actually based nearby in Moline, IL. Not in the neighborhood but around the block, a bit, and a few miles out of the way.
A - Yay! That is awesome! I love Wheaton, I love Chicago, I love Illinois. It is home sweet home and always will be.
Q – You have a very educational background including a major in Theatre with minors in Psychology, Biology, Chemistry and Pre-Med. Although you went into the acting business, were the other three concentrations back-up plans?
A - I just really enjoy spending 10 hours a day studying in the library. HA HA. Well, it’s not that they were back-up plans; they were actually the first plan. As much of an actor as I was my whole life, I was scared to pursue it as a profession. I thought saying, “I want to be an actor” was like saying, “I want to be a quarterback.” If you see how tiny I am, you would see that I would never make it as a quarterback. So, I decided I wanted 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 is I am an actor. I just am. Up until I had this epiphany, I really did want to be a doctor though. I love people and I wanted to dedicate my life to healing them. Alas, I love acting more than people. Wait! That didn’t come out right. Look, I’ve always been a performer and growing up I was always dancing, telling jokes, doing plays, musicals, show choir, talent competitions, blah, blah, blah. I just love it. The journey of being an actor is difficult and is definitely a roller coaster, but no matter how hard it gets, the fire within me to continue the ride never ceases. I want to inspire people to laugh, cry, and/or feel something. Acting is the vehicle (for me) to achieving that. So, ahem, no, the other three concentrations were not back-up plans. I know I talk a lot. I’m also single.
Q – Primarily your background is in comedy improv, including stints with The Groundlings and The Second City Conservatory. If you majored in Theatre, why did you decide to go into improv versus dramatic acting?
A - Actually, I’m very dramatic. I mean, um, are we still talking about acting? What I mean to say is that most of my training is in drama. I majored in Theatre where we focused mostly on the works of Brecht, Chekhov, Shakespeare, Miller, Shepherd, etc. Then I studied at The Moscow Art Theatre School at Harvard University (which was amazing as it was a program entirely taught in Russian, with translators of course). I also worked in every theatre I could in Chicago from black boxes to The Goodman and for me that experience was equally as valuable as classes. 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. Ok, back to me, I really didn’t know I was funny until people started laughing at (or with?) me. Or maybe they just thought I was weird. Since I’m sort of a workaholic and feel that it’s important to always be learning, I decided to do the whole sketch/improv class thing. As an actor, I’m open to anything and everything that comes my way. Except nudity. Nobody wants to see me naked. Trust me.
Q – Your first major role was Dr. Sunny Dey on the hit series, “Scrubs.” How did you go about getting this role?
A - I had to do 100 push-ups and run around the hospital 10 times. Yes, I’m sarcastic. I hope you are not annoyed by my sarcasm. I hope you are not annoyed by me in general. That would suck. Long story short, I auditioned. My agent got me the audition. My first audition was for the casting directors, my second audition was for Bill Lawrence (creator), and my third audition was for Bill Lawrence plus the rest of the producers. Short story long, I believe the process of "getting this role" started many years ago. I've worked really hard and have done anything and everything I could to make things happen. I also have kind of an addictive personality. If I see something and really want it, I will do everything that is humanly possible to get it. Also, my family is awesome in every way possible and they have always supported/guided me. We have a beautiful relationship and it is difficult and sad to be so far away from them. I know that really has nothing to do with how I got this role but it kind of does in the sense that I couldn't do anything without them.
Q – Were you a fan of the show?
A - I’m more of a stalker of the show and, yes, I have always been a hardcore fan, not to be confused with another definition of hardcore. I think the show is so smart, funny, sad, entertaining, and full of so much heart! I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have worked on it. I’ve seen every episode like 5000 times (yeah, I don’t have much of a life outside of my obsession with the industry) and I just love it. I love it so much. I love this coffee. I love this table. I love you. Wait, what?
Q – My favorite episode was the musical episode. I even have “Guy Love” as one of my ring tones. What was your favorite episode?
A - Oh. My. Gosh. My favorite episode was the musical episode as well!!! And I’m not just saying that because I just declared my love for you. But, I also loved “My Finale.” I for one hate to say goodbye and I definitely have self-diagnosed separation anxiety, and ADD but that’s a whole other interview. I must say that the ending of “Scrubs at Sacred Heart” was so well executed, touching, funny, and flawless. There I said it. Flawless.
(Courtesy of ABC)
Q – How was it like working with Turk and J.D. and the rest of the cast?
A - It was, hands down, the most amazing experience of my life (aside from my days gallivanting around Europe). It was also very surreal because this is a show I’ve watched for years and acting is something I’ve worked at for years. It just felt weird when it was all actually happening. 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! Can you tell I like to use commas? Doesn’t everyone? Commas are a great way to express your thoughts when you have a lot of them. Ok, so back to talking about the cast. I learned so much being there. Bill Lawrence is so wonderful to work with. He is an utter genius and really an amazing person. 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.
Q – “Scrubs: Interns” is a web series that focuses on the interns at Sacred Heart and ties into Season 8 and 9. Is this the exit strategy for “Scrubs” with “Scrubs: Interns” taking its place as a spin-off?
A - This is not the exit strategy for “Scrubs” with “Scrubs: Interns” taking its place as a spin-off. The web series was filmed solely to be a supplement to Season 8 and it was intended for ABC.com and the Season 8 DVD. “Scrubs” is continuing for a 9th season, but it will take place in a medical school. They have cast three new series regulars to play first year medical students. Of the new interns that are in the web series, Eliza Coupe will be in Season 9 as a regular and I will be in it as a recurring character.
Q – It seems that when shows introduce other characters, they implant them with “replacements” that have the same traits. How do you go about making your character as Dr. Sunny Dey unlike those of Dr. Elliot Reid and Nurse Carla Espinosa when fans are used to a certain type of character on a show and will compare you to your counterparts?
A – Hmm, that is a toughy mcquestion! Is it bad that I don’t really compare myself to others? Ha ha, I wish that were true. Ok, brace yourself. Here is what I think: every individual on this planet is unique, has gifts to offer, and has an “essence.” Real people have layers and layers of qualities (good and bad) and react differently to moments. As an actor, it is our job to create these real life humans whilst being true to the script. I swear I’ve never used the word “whilst” in a sentence. For creating Sunny, I just kind of did it. I didn’t really think about how she would be the same or different, but at the very least, I’m a completely different person and engage a completely different essence. After all, they call me “the little brown girl that could.” Who calls me that? I don’t know. Sigh.
Q – So then, what real life traits do Sonal Shah share with Dr. Sunny Dey?
A - Well gee, we both look the same! I’d say we are exactly the same and totally different all at once. Complex, I know. Sunny is like me times 10. At the end of the day, Sunny is just trying to fit in and be cool like everyone else. In fact, she is so desperate to be “cool,” she will do whatever it takes, but it’s all out of love. Sunny loves. She wants to be loved and she wants a lot of friends and loves it all. So does Sonal (for all of the above). Yes, I’m very positive (in that annoying way) and I do aim to brighten days and make people smile. I love people and I try to always make new friends and strengthen my relationships with old ones (wow - it just got serious in here). I try to help others in any way that I can and make people feel at ease. Like Sunny, I am kind of a goody-goody. I’m anxious, and I do what I think is right. I’m also slightly insane. Like for example, I don’t speed because it is illegal (nerd!). And I don’t do drugs because they are bad. My voice is not that high (I swear, and I don’t usually swear because it is bad to) and I don’t think I’m as annoying, chipper, and naïve as her. As (I hope) you can gather, I am very sarcastic, rough and tough, open, spontaneous, easy-going (unless it comes to my career - then I’ll break your nose if you get in my way). Of course, for both Sunny and Sonal, everything is not all positive all of the time. Usually when people are that positive, they are holding some secrets. Maybe they are masking something underneath. Perhaps, they are not positive at all behind closed doors. Think about that my friend. Think about that.
Q – Thanks for doing this. I love your character on the show. “Scrubs” is my wife’s favorite show. Anything you wanted to throw in before I let you go?
A - Oh stop. You are making me blush. (Long pause) Ok. Keep going. J, thank you so much for taking an interest in lil’ ole’ me. I’ll give you the 20 bucks later. For reals dude, I truly appreciate it. Thank you! Feel free to hang out with me on my website (yes, I’m pretentious enough to have a website): www.sonalshah.net.
Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous." Email Jason at email@example.com.
By Jason Tanamor