"Puja Mohindra of 'Miami Medical' didn't think she would act professionally."

Those of you who are tired of seeing the same actors and actresses on TV are in for a treat. Puja Mohindra, one of the stars of the upcoming CBS drama “Miami Medical,” which premieres in early 2010, is an up-and-comer who is sure to hit the screen with a bang. She recently visited Zoiks! Online to talk about her life in the “business.”

Q – How and why did you get into acting?

A - I’ve always been a creative person. As a child, I was always interested in the arts, whether it was writing or dance or acting. All through my childhood and high school, I performed with the Natya Dance Theater in Chicago, touring across the U.S. and throughout India. I also acted throughout high school doing comedy.

Luckily, my parents always encouraged my creativity. I think when you have the support of your family behind you at a young age, you feel confident in making choices that are true to your dreams and your authentic self. I feel blessed I that I've always had my family's support and encouragement.

Why I stay in acting is that I feel great stories and the best acting reveal what it means to be human. A spectacular performance that is truthful, honest, vulnerable, and strong makes me feel alive. They can inspire, uplift, enlighten, move you, and provoke change in an audience and in the world. This is the gift I hope to give to others in my own work as an actor.

Q – Do you have relatives in the business?

A - Not a single one! I was raised in the suburbs of Chicago by immigrant parents. We didn’t know anyone in the business, and even when I was acting in high school, I didn’t ever think I would do it professionally. The possibility didn’t even exist in my mind.

Q – What difficulties have you come across thus far as an actress?

A - At this point in my career, I feel the greatest difficulty is that timing and getting the right role at the right time has a lot to do with the shape and trajectory of every actor’s career - and ultimately, that is out of your control. As an artist and professional, you simply have to learn to accept and trust that your timing is exactly right for you on the journey you’re on. A dream role may come along that’s absolutely perfect for you, but you may be a few years too old or too young for the role, or you’re not a name yet, and they need name actors. Or something as simple as, they’re shooting the project in Vancouver, and they’re only hiring Canadian actors. Well, I may be perfect and they love me, but I’m American and not eligible for the job. There are so many factors that are out of your control that make this profession challenging. But, you learn to let go and accept those things you can’t control and move on to the next project that’s right for you.

Q – What’s the auditioning process like as a young, unknown actress?

A - Well, often a young, unknown actress is simply just unknown in the sense that they’re not a household name. But, the industry knows them and is familiar with their work, so, in that sense, they’re not really unknown. They’re working actors or even name actors who are just not famous or infamous. Or they’re name actors who are well-established and well-respected in the industry, but Main Street America wouldn’t necessarily recognize their name or face.

Right now, I’d consider myself a working actor, and for someone like me the audition process is pretty straightforward. I have an agent and a manager, and they handle getting me opportunities to audition. I generally read for a casting director and if the read is good and I’m right for the role, then, I’m brought back to read for producers or the director. If it’s for TV, generally, the network has to approve you, and then after that happens, you get a call from your agent or manager that says, “You’re hired!” Those are the best phone calls to get!

Q – You’ve done some bit parts in hit shows. How does being in a hit show affect your career even though the part you’re cast in is a minor one?

A - Well, even the smallest roles on network television go through many levels of approvals, as I mentioned. So, doing even a bit part in a hit show is kind of a stamp of approval for the next show or project you work on. It implies that the network and its producers trust this actor and his or her work.

I would say that in addition to that, the most influential way any job on a hit show affects your career is in exposure. Part of the job of a casting director is to find and track up-and-coming actors. I’ve often heard casting directors say when they watch a show, they’re not watching for the lead actors. They already are familiar with those actors. Rather, they’re watching and taking note of the actor in the scene with the lead actor who says, “May I take your order, sir?”

If you watch older seasons of TV, you’ll find actors who are Series Regulars now on hit shows who have done bit parts on older shows or past seasons of current shows. I always get a kick out of seeing that. It’s exciting because it’s part of the beginning for many actors’ careers.

Q – You have experience in TV, film and theater. What’s the difference in terms of working in each medium and which one do you like the most and why?

A - Without a doubt, I like theater the best. There are few things that make me feel more alive than being in a theater and being an observer of humanity, truth, and another person’s emotional journey. If you watch someone laugh or cry on stage, for instance, as an audience member you’re watching someone living, breathing, and going through an emotional journey right there in front of you. It’s undeniable, and you live their experience for a moment. You can’t turn it off, change the channel, or wash the dishes while it’s on. It’s palpable and visceral, and every night’s different. You can see the same show on two different nights and what happens on stage moment-to-moment will always be a unique and singular experience.

But, I moved to LA to focus on TV and film, and I enjoy it a lot. The biggest difference in TV and film is that you can always do another take. For someone coming from a theater background, that was new for me when I moved to LA. I always felt I had to get it right the first time. It’s great if you do, but if you don’t, you always can do it again.

Also, in TV and film, an editor has the most control over your performance. The way a scene is cut can change the interpretation and portrayal of a scene. An actor can make certain choices while shooting, but since you’re not in the editing room, you’ll never really know how the editor and director shaped your performance until you see the final cut.

Q – What did you learn from veteran actors working on the series’ “Ghost Whisperer” and “CSI: Miami?”

A - I learned that there’s a great deal of leadership that is a part of being the star of the show. It’s up to you to set the tone and professional environment for the cast and crew. Are you going to set a positive, creative, and productive work environment? Or will you create a one filled with pressure, fear, and tension? Are you going to do your best work with the material you have?

When a star or Series Regular isn’t happy to be there or doesn’t want to do their best work, it trickles down to the rest of the cast and crew.

Small gestures make a world of a difference. Are you going to introduce yourself in the make up trailer or on set to your day-player or Guest Stars? Those kinds of things take leadership and care. You’ll see great veteran actors taking leadership for their show and setting a standard of excellence for the whole team.

Q – Your new project, “Miami Trauma,” produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, recently was picked up by CBS. Tell me a little bit about this show and how you got involved with it.

A - Yes, I shot this project last spring, and the title of the show has actually changed since then. It’s now called, “Miami Medical.” The show is a medical drama that centers on a team of surgeons in Miami who work on critically ill patients in one of the country’s largest trauma centers.

I play Nishta, the fiancé of Mukesh, one of the patient's in the pilot episode. I got involved in the standard way of auditioning for the casting director and producers.

Q – What’s the biggest misconception of show business that you’d like to clear up?

A - That’s a tough question. It’s hard to answer, as I’m in the business, and I’m aware of the realities of the business. I guess the biggest misconceptions I hear are more from people who aren’t in the business. One thing I hear is that people have the idea that if you’re famous, you’re successful. But there a lot of famous people who are broke and not working. Meanwhile, there are also a lot of people who are working and doing well professionally that aren’t famous. To me, working is the achievement and the success, not fame. As we all see in the news today, you don’t really need to “achieve” or “do” anything to be famous. You get can a fantastic publicist, get on a reality show, get your picture taken with other famous people, or date someone famous or well-known. But working is something else. If you turn on your TV, watch a commercial, or go to the movie theater, you’ll see countless actors who have names you may not know or you don’t read about them but they’re working. To me, those are the successful ones.

To learn more about Puja, visit her website at: http://www.pujamohindra.com.


Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous." Email Jason at jason@zoiksonline.com.

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