Becoming an actor is not easy, especially when you are coming from a traditional South Indian family. But when your dreams are bigger than your fears, you develop the courage to pursue them anyway.
We got to speak with the super-talented, pretty, and charming actor Samyuktha Viswanathan and learn what pushed her to move to a city like New York to pursue art. Besides acting and modeling, Samyuktha enjoys dancing, writing, and poetry. We hope her story will inspire you to dream big too!
IAD: Can you please give us a little background about yourself?
Samyuktha: I was born and raised in Chennai. I studied at Good Shepherd MHSS and was quite studious. I also started training in ballet in the fourth grade. I was initially planning to study Engineering because that was what was expected of me. Yet, I was already pretty involved in my dancing at that point, so when it was time to make a decision, I did a 180-degree flip and studied Visual Communication at M.O.P Vaishnav College while I pursued my passion. It was one that I had repressed for a while: acting.
‘The Stage’ was a place for me to let go and be myself uninhibited. Once I realized how strong acting made me feel, there was no going back.
IAD: Why acting and not any other profession?
Samyuktha: As ironic as it sounds, I feel most myself when I’m playing a role. At this point, I’ve put in so much analysis and work on my character that it should feel natural. I’ve always been a movie buff, even as a kid, and I’ve watched some fantastic movies with such strong messages.
Nothing else hits me as hard as a well-executed movie or show. I’ve worked on some plays that have focused on various issues like mental health, drug addiction, human trafficking, and cyberbullying. The potential that this industry has is enormous, whether recreational or informative, or as a means of social messaging, and I want to be a part of that movement.
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This is one of my favorite shots of me performing. It is also some of the most fun I’ve had on stage. It’s been almost three years since this but I’ll never forget the feeling I had every time I stepped on stage, as the music blasted and the lights came on. I remember thinking that I had never felt that much adrenaline before. Nothing compares to the feeling of taking on a role and being on stage in front of hundreds of people. This has been my favorite role till date, Harley Quinn (albeit, from a parallel universe) but the freedom I had to explore and find my liberation in it is yet unmatched. If I wasn’t an actor, I don’t think I’d have half the purpose I have right now. It’s hard; there are days when the hustle gets overwhelming. (This might or might not end up in me passing out and my body shutting down for a bit.) But it is worth it; and I wouldn’t give it up. Not now, not ever. PS. It’s almost panto time again at @thelittletheatrechennai and it’s the 25th year 📷: @abhijith__ajay • • • • • • • • • • • • • #thelittletheatre #liberation #acting #indianactor #actress #nycactor #southasian #southasianactress #southasianactor #harleyquinn #starwarz #pantomime #freedom #purpose #ambition #hope #hustle #hustling #nyc #chennai #passion #throwback
IAD: Why did you decide to go to the US and, more specifically, pursue Master of Arts in Performance Studies at NYU?
Samyuktha: New York City has always been a dream for me. For years, I thought of it as a pipe dream. I started researching universities abroad when I was in 9th grade; even my mom didn’t know at that point. I was honestly doing it only for fun, but the more I read, the more movies and shows I watched, I began to want to experience and learn more. But I was nowhere close to ready.
By the time I had finished my undergraduate, I had been in multiple plays, short films, and T.V. commercials. I wanted to train and get better at my craft while learning to support myself and experience diversity.
N.Y.U. Tisch School of the Arts is ranked as one of the top universities globally, so I applied there but didn’t expect to get in. And so, when I got accepted, I took it as a sign from above. It was terrifying, though, the decision to move away from my family halfway across the world. I’m so thankful that I have a great support system. Their encouragement and support were invaluable.
IAD: How has your experience been in New York so far?
Samyuktha: It’s been almost three years since I’ve been living in New York. Initially, I felt like a fish out of water.
Coming from a fast-paced city, I didn’t think it would be too much of a shock for me, but I realized that no city is like New York City. It truly is a world of its own. I was learning something new every day. I’ve been waiting thirstily for an experience like this, so even the bad days had a silver lining, especially in retrospect.
It did not take too long for New York to also feel like home. There was so much personal growth, emotionally, professionally, and mentally.
Some days were hard, of course, but I would just have to look out at the lights and remind myself that I was living in my dream city, and I had to keep pushing. I’ve written multiple poems about this city, and I have fallen in love with it, mainly because of how much it taught me.
Let me put it this way; my dad used to be very apprehensive about me being in the entertainment industry. But over the years, he has seen my growth and is fully supportive now.
Living in New York saw me maturing into someone that, not just me, but my family is proud of.
I have worked in plays focused on issues like mental health, drug addiction, human trafficking, and cyberbullying – Samyuktha Viswanathan
IAD: How did your course at NYU and experiences help you – say, in understanding the art and improving your craft?
Samyuktha: With my course at NYU, I was definitely a little intimidated in the beginning. I was the youngest in my program, at 20 years old, and I was surrounded by many beautifully artistic and creative people and some great professors. The opportunity to open myself up to challenges and discover hidden strengths in a culturally diverse background was enlightening.
All of this helped me want to achieve more and push me to get there.
I’ve worked in multiple plays in New York and have worked as a Teaching Artist for a few projects, mostly for kids aged between 7 to 17. Through these workshops and projects, I got opportunities to interact with talented, influential artists and learn from their experiences, as well. I continued to study an intensive course on acting techniques to hone my craft.
What was most helpful for me, personally, was that I saw the passion in people’s eyes, their dedication and strength, and just how beautifully these performers came together while exploring artistic expression.
IAD: What do you think makes New York City special? Describe your perspectives and experiences?
Samyuktha: This is a tough question because it is really hard to describe New York. It can also be such a personal thing. For me, New York reminds me of strength, of authenticity, of resilience. Like I said before, my experiences here helped me realize the power we, as an individual, possess but is hidden. I realized that we have to keep fighting for our dreams, and that the best way to accomplish anything is to embrace ourselves, our flaws, our imperfections, and work from a place of sensitivity and kindness.
They say it is so hard to survive in New York City if you are not authentic and genuine; people see through that. It is the city that never sleeps, so you have to keep going. It is a hustle, and there are dark days, but I have to believe that it will be worth it.
IAD: What are your near-future plans?
Samyuktha: I am currently in Chennai, and I am using this time to spend time with the family I’ve been so far away from, work on myself, practice on my craft, and spend some time on another love of my life: poetry.
I am looking forward to doing some significant work in New York; I am very proud of my Indian heritage and training, and I want to represent this.
Back in India, I played a small yet significant role in a Tamil film recently. I am looking forward to the movie’s release. In addition, I am working on some personal projects and writing messages on social issues that should be communicated through visual media: short films, videos, and scripts.
I would also love to work in cinemas here, in a more significant way than I have in the past. (Signs off)