‘Senior Year’ Actor Avantika Vandanapu On Co-Star Rebel Wilson, Asian Representation In Hollywood, And Her Role Model, Priyanka Chopra

‘Senior Year’ Actor Avantika Vandanapu On Co-Star Rebel Wilson, Asian Representation In Hollywood, And Her Role Model, Priyanka Chopra

You know, I really like watching old teen American movies, I mean, how can you not like movies such as Legally Blonde, Mean Girls, Never Been Kissed, and Clueless? However, I used to think that Hollywood can’t make more teen movies that are so wholesome but then I watched Netflix’s recent teen film Senior Year starring Rebel Wilson. Her character was so fun and quirky but to be very honest, Avantika Vandanapu aka Janet Singh stole our attention with her portrayal of a teen cheerleader with impeccable fashion sense and big dreams.

 

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Avantika has worked in the Indian entertainment industry and last year, she starred in Disney’s original movie SPIN and became Disney’s first Indian-American lead. As I said, I was really impressed with her character in the film and I was curious to know more about her. And for that, I sat down for a fun and insightful conversation with actress Avantika Vandanapu. So, let’s find out what she had to say.

 

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Q. What attracted You To Showbiz And How’s The Journey So Far Been Like?

Avantika Vandanapu: I think yes, I’ve always kind of been in the Performing Arts. I think it was just a natural course to expand from dancing to other creative parts of the industry and into acting. I entered showbiz when I competed in this dance competition, Dance India Dance. That was my first filmed project and it was obviously not acting, but I really just got a taste of being in front of the camera and seeing people behind the camera and spending time with those people. And it made me so happy and so fulfilled that I was like, “You know what? I want to do this for a very very long time.”

 

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Q. How did Senior Year Happen For You? How Was Your Experience Working With Rebel Wilson?

Avantika Vandanapu: Senior Year happened for me in a normal way, how it goes in the industry. You get an audition from your agent, you send a tape for it, or go in person for it and do a session with the director. And yeah, I was booked for it. I genuinely did not think I was going to book this part because they were originally auditioning for just a cheerleader and they had no particular ethnicity in mind and I never saw myself in a cheerleader part. This isn’t the stereotypical cheerleader and that’s kind of what makes this character very different. But at the same time, I just never really saw it.

But I’m glad the director could because it was my favourite set to work on ever and it was genuinely such a wonderful experience working with Rebel Wilson. I always say the best things they simply are just true. She’s such an incredible person, she makes it a priority to make everyone feel safe and comfortable around her and on the set. I think, especially when you’re like the youngest and you’re very intimidated by everyone, that’s very important to you. But in general, there were so many people there who were like, “Oh my god, Rebel Wilson!” and so for her to be like truly the nicest person ever was a dream.

 

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Q. My Favourite Part Of Senior Year Is The Dance Sequence On Britney Spears’ ‘You Drive Me Crazy’. How Did You And The Other Actors Prepare To Recreate The Iconic Song?

Avantika Vandanapu: We all read it in the script, but nobody thought that it was going to be such a big deal. The reality really set in once we came to Atlanta to shoot the movie and rehearsals started happening. It’s not that we didn’t understand the size and magnitude of doing that, but the reality didn’t set in until we came to Atlanta. So, it was super fun. We just did a ton of rehearsals, we rehearsed every single day for weeks upon weeks upon weeks and our director shot this song the last day on set for those in it. So, for me, for my co-star Josh [Joshua Colley], this was our last day and I think that was such a meaningful thing to do. Because it was really just the ending of the day, ending the whole experience on an incredible note. As I said, I love dancing, I started out as a dancer. So to be able to do some dancing in this film was like the cherry on the cake!

 

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Q. Your Character In The Film, Janet Singh, Is A Fun Person With An Impeccable Fashion Sense And She’s Also An Intelligent Girl With Big Dreams. How Do You Relate To The Character?

Avantika Vandanapu: I relate to the character in the sense that at least when I went to high school, I just kind of always looked, I didn’t feel. I think my elementary and middle school years were very traumatic for me and quite scarring to be very honest. But my high school was kind of very similar to Janet’s in the sense that I wasn’t like this hyper-popular kid and at the same time, I wasn’t at the bottom of the food chain or particularly disliked. I was kind of floating around somewhere in the middle with my own insecurities and with the occasional taunt, but that was about it. So just, I kind of feel her position in that school being surrounded by people that she loved.

But at the same time, I wish I was doing a little bit more. I just really relate to Janet’s essence and the way she felt at that school. Also, I relate to her in the sense that she gravitates toward good people and that’s what she’s always looking for at the end of the day.  That’s why she is so welcoming toward Stephanie and why she really makes an effort to get to know her and make her feel welcomed. and I really relate to that.

 

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Q. I Personally Think That Asian Characters Are Highly Stereotyped In Western Entertainment. Like, They Are Always Expected To Be Academically Perfect With Almost No Social Skills, Their Families Are So Chaotic, And The List Goes On. What Would Be The One Stereotype You Would Like To Eliminate?

Avantika Vandanapu: I don’t have like a huge, huge issue with South Asians portrayed as smart. But I do have a small bone to pick that that’s all there is to it. They’re just smart and because they are smart, they can’t be pretty, they can’t be good at athletics. That’s one stereotype I would like to remove. Let them be good at other things too. Limiting them just to the fact that they are academically intelligent, isn’t a good way to measure someone’s overall intelligence. It’s very popular to go, “Oh, they are good at memorizing the entirety of the periodic table from start to finish, but they can’t order food at a restaurant.” You know what I mean? So that’s one stereotype that they can’t be good at other things that I would like to eliminate.

 

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Q. Representation And Inclusivity  Are The Buzz Words Right Now In Hollywood And Often There’s A Lot Of Tokenism Because Of It Than Actual Real Representation. Have You Experienced Any Difference In The Way Asian Artists Are Now Getting Work?

Avantika Vandanapu: Yeah, I for sure have. You are right, there’s a very big thing of tokenism versus just genuinely being open-mindedly considered for a part. I think this is true in a sense, but a lot of opportunities have increased for South Asians in the industry because of this almost tokenism. People are like, “Oh, we should really start casting more South Asian characters in our shows because it’s such a big industry and like more representation, so just give them a token part.” So, in a way, it’s almost led to more opportunities but at the same time, it’s those token parts that are kind of helping us step the ladder.

I have also seen so many more lead parts being offered that I haven’t booked but I’ve gotten really, really close to. And that makes me super, super happy to think, “Okay, you were open-minded enough to consider sending me this far for this,” and to me, that’s enough. So yeah, genuinely in terms of token parts and lead parts, and just pure good, solid representation parts, I’ve seen an overall growth. I think it’s all just kind of evolving to a point where we can hopefully be on the same level as everybody else.

Q. You Have Worked With Prominent Indian Actors Like Abhay Deol, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Kajal Aggarwal, Mahesh Babu, Aishwarya Rajesh, And Others. Is There Anything You Have Learnt From Them In Terms Of Acting Or The Business Of Entertainment?

Avantika Vandanapu: Yes, I’ve learned a lot from each of them and I think each varies. Abhay Deol, because I worked with him most recently in SPIN, he’s just incredible. On sets, he was very spontaneous with everything and his whole thing was if you get so into the character when you come on set and you feel like something is right or it’s the right move to make, and you feel like this is what you should be doing, it is. So, he was never afraid to make bold choices and never afraid to just take a leap. He trusted himself and the people around him and I think that was very impeccable.

My memories of working with Kajal Aggarwal, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, and Mahesh Babu are from when I was pretty young. But I do remember about Samantha that she’s like Rebel [Wilson]. She always made an effort to welcome people and make them feel super safe and comfortable. And even though I was only 10 or 11 at the time, and I don’t even know if she remembers, it meant a lot to me as a 10-year old that she invited me into her little room and just had me sit there while she was talking to her friends about her wedding. It was just, I think it was so important for me as a kid to see that they are not gods and at the end of the day, if they wanted to welcome you, they would and they are human. Samantha is just one of the most humble and talented actresses in India and her character and her attitude on set really does reflect that.

 

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Q. You Have Mentioned That Priyanka Chopra Is Your Role Model. What Do You Like Most About Her?

Avantika Vandanapu: I like her ambition and I like her fearlessness. Every step she’s taken has been kind of incredible and she’s never been afraid to move from India to America and just kind of make that shift. That was pretty revolutionary for a woman who was working in Bollywood, let me put it that way, because I don’t think women are offered the same level of flexibility that men are, unfortunately. But Priyanka really did take that step and I think it has obviously worked out incredibly for her. She’s done so many amazing parts but taking that step is a very fearless move, and since then she has done so much more. I think everything she does is very strategic and very bold and very fearless, and I think that’s inspiring.

 

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Q. Are You Planning On Working In Indian Movies Any Time Soon? What’s Your All-Time Favourite Indian Movie?

Avantika Vandanapu: Yes, of course! I would love to work in India. When I first worked there, it was obviously my first time working there and I didn’t know how to navigate it properly. India is a very different environment to work in and I, by no means, believe that a kid should know how to navigate the whole film industry. But the style there is very different from America and I think that I’ve grown a bit and I know now how best to work there and when to stand up for myself and when to speak up. So, I would love to go work there again with a renewed attitude toward the Indian industry.

My favourite Indian movie of all time… I truly could not say what it is! But I can tell you some of my favourites. I love Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, I love Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and I love Raazi. I always say I love Raazi because I genuinely think it’s such as masterpiece. I love Gangubai [Kathiawadi], I thought it was so good. Oh my gosh, there’s a lot, there’s so many, I’m telling you! In Telugu, I love Kshanam, 24 in Tamil and Telugu. I literally could go on and on and on, but I think those are my favourites. I don’t know, I haven’t said that before but 24 is one of my favourite films of all time, period.

 

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Q. What’s Lined Up For You In Terms Of Upcoming Projects?

Avantika Vandanapu: I do have a movie that I will be filming in August and it has not been announced yet. So, unfortunately, I cannot talk about it. But I hope that the announcement is coming soon. I have no clue but I’m very excited about that. I’ve worked in this genre a lot in India. But I have never worked in it in America and I think it’s going to be interesting to do it in the American language because both industries have very different styles for this genre. So I’m very excited about that!

I also recently signed onto a project with a very big studio that I had pitched to them and they have decided to buy, so I’m now currently developing this TV show with the studio as a producer and as an actor. I think it’s going to be an interesting thing for me because it has been a long time in the making, I’ve been working on this project for like three years maybe. So for it to finally start to bubble up and for everything to finally start happening is very exciting to me. So that announcement for sure will be happening in the near future. I’m very excited about that as well!

It sure looks like Avantika is all set for great things, and we wish her well!

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