Sharon Muthu. Actor. Voiceover Artist. Singer.
We love her for her brains, beauty, and the fact that she is the ‘Ambassador to Hollywood’ for the “Dark is Beautiful” Campaign. We recently met up with Sharon at a Meet and Greet event organized by Mandraa TV. She is so down-to-earth and has a passion that transcends beyond acting – to make a difference in the community and spread the message that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colours.
Mommy Culture: What led you to a career in the Entertainment industry and did you face any obstacles, being a woman of South Asian descent?
Sharon Muthu: My choosing a career in the Entertainment Industry came as no surprise to anyone who knows me! The arts have been a lifelong journey for me. Throughout my childhood, I was one of those kids who was always singing, acting, dancing, and playing musical instruments as far back as I can remember! When it came time to choose a career, there was no doubt that the Performing Arts was where I belonged.
Developing a career in the Entertainment Industry is no easy task for anyone, regardless of ethnicity. Being a South Asian woman is no exception. You learn over time that much of your success is a marriage of talent, luck, and timing. In my opinion, the biggest challenge for me has been that Hollywood is still learning to fully embrace South Asian characters into it’s mainstream storylines, and feature us in a more prominent way. However, times are changing for the better in Hollywood, and that’s true for all ethnicities! I’m excited to be in Hollywood at a time that this important transition is taking place, and I want to do my part to ensure that South Asians are properly represented.
MC: Do you feel that in order to be successful in this industry one needs to start preparing for it from a younger age? What extra steps, if any, did you take?
SM: Answering this question is a bit tricky because building a life in the Arts is not a black-and-white process! Every artist’s journey is so beautifully different and personal to him or her. Some artists are like me: They discover their passion in their early years and follow it into adulthood. For others, they might go through decades in another career field, and then suddenly find the Arts calling to them in their adult years. Still others, begin their professional performing-arts careers during their childhood… And every scenario in-between!! None of these paths are better or worse than the others; It’s truly an individual journey for each artist.
I do believe, however, that if a child (or adult) is showing interest & passion for the performing arts it should be encouraged by his or her loved ones. This was the “extra-step” my parents took on my behalf when I was a child, and it has paid off!! A life in the performing arts requires an artist to be vulnerable to many different types of challenges. In addition, we artists are often most critical of ourselves. So, having a wonderful support-system can be an important anchor for our drive & self-confidence. I am certain my family and loved ones have played an irreplaceable role in my success so far.
MC: Do you feel limited or constrained in any sensual scenes because of your Tamil culture upbringing?
SM: What a thought-provoking question! It is true that Tamil culture (and South Asian culture in general) is very particular about honoring certain visual boundaries in TV & Film, and growing up in our culture we learn that nudity and/or love-scenes are taboo. I have two separate thoughts on this matter. My first thought is that I have nothing but the utmost respect for my body. And, I don’t ever plan show it carelessly or gratuitously for the sake of on-camera shock value. I do sometimes feel that sex and violence are portrayed too casually in an effort to entice audiences… However, my second thought is that I am a professional story-teller, and as a result my job will always involve striving to do whatever is necessary to ensure the story is being told in the most authentic and genuine way.
So, for example, if there was ever a role offered to me where showing skin or engaging in a love-scene was truly necessary to serve the story and message of the film, then I would carefully consider it. It would absolutely depend on the project, the necessity, and also my trust in the production team. For me, there is a a drastic distinction between showing skin gratuitously & shamelessly, and needing to show skin as a vital part of a beautiful or poignant story.
MC: How much pressure does body image bring on with your day-to-day work?
SM: There is an incredible amount of pressure in my business to look a certain way. And, for years I battled how I felt about this issue. It’s difficult to feel as though you won’t have success if you don’t fit into a certain mold; The “perfect actress” with the “perfect body.” As a woman, I found myself rebelling against this expectation. And yet, as an artist, I wanted to rise to the challenge and do whatever was necessary to further my career. I finally found a better balance on this issue during this past year of my career. I realized that I needed to embrace who I am exactly as I am, and be proud of the things that make me uniquely “me.” I will always be a curvy woman. I will always have dark skin. I will always have a deep sultry voice… These things are assets if I choose to view them that way! I made a drastic lifestyle change. Instead of to trying to fit into Hollywood’s expectation, I decided to make my wellness a top priority.
No longer do I strive to be “skinny,” but instead I try to be the healthiest version of myself that I can be. This perspective-switch is still a work-in-progress for me, but lately I’ve been much better at remembering that the only person I’m competing against is myself! And, I want to live a long life and have the energy to do this career for decades to come. If I am happier or more slim as a result, then that is an added bonus. It is not always easy, but I currently workout and try to eat clean six days a week. (But, do not fear: Once a week I let loose, rest my body, relax, and eat whatever I want… After all, you have to take time to enjoy life too!)
MC: What are your thoughts on the portrayal of South Asians in the Entertainment industry?
SM: As I said earlier, I’m of the opinion that Hollywood is still learning to fully embrace South Asians into its mainstream storylines. I feel that it gets better every year, but we still have a ways to go before there are more prominent roles available to us regularly. Content-creators — such as writers, producers, and studio executives — must first conceptualize characters for South Asian types within the stories they create; Only then do the auditions and roles become available to us actors. As you can see, it all begins long before the actor even enters the process… However, I will not discount the many talented Indian actors and actresses who have already begun to pave the way for others like me: Kunal Nayyar, Mindy Kaling, Archie Panjabi, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Aziz Ansari, Manish Dayal, Sakina Jaffrey, Parvesh Cheena, Parminder Nagra, and countless others who are helping to transform Hollywood’s collective understanding of the talent and capability South Asians bring to the table. Their roles have sometimes been culturally specific, but oftentimes not. And, regardless, they validate and strengthen the South Asian presence with every line they speak on-camera. Through their hard work, Hollywood is changing for the better, and I want to be part of the next chapter of that movement.
MC: What does your day off look like? What do you do to unwind and relax?
SM: I think work-life balance is so important, especially for those in my business! While, I’m not always the best at achieving this, I do try to take time off and unwind. On a typical day off, I catch up on my sleep and do not set my alarm clock! I also love to enjoy a nice meal or two out. I try to make time for visiting with friends, make phone calls to my family and long-distance loved ones, and catch up on my favorite TV shows and films. In addition, sunny Los Angeles is full of lovely outdoor cafes and quaint coffee shops. On my days-off, you can often find me at one of those establishments, reading a book or surfing the web, over a latte and a sweet treat! (PS – My dog also gets extra-long walks on my days-off, so everybody’s happy!)
MC: Can you talk about some of the projects you are currently working on?
SM: Pilot season in currently under way in Los Angeles — one of our busiest times of year — so right now my on-camera life is dedicated to auditions, workshops, and lots of networking! I do a lot of Television in my acting career, and most recently had a guest appearance on ABC’s hit show, “Black-ish,” which aired late in the Fall of 2014. I also have a few potential independent-film projects on the horizon, and if everything pans out I will definitely make sure to share the news on my social media, so please stay tuned! On the Voiceover side, I am currently working on two ongoing projects. One is a series of characters that I voice for the incredible video-game universe, “Elder Scrolls Online.” And, the other is an amazing project that I’ve been recording at “Warner Brothers Studios” this month, but I unfortunately am not allowed to speak about it at this time! However, both projects have been a sheer joy, and I’m so honored to be a part of them.
MC: Do you have any idols in the industry? Do you have any inspirations from South Indian cinema? Any interest to do crossover projects?
SM: Oh, where to begin? I’m inspired by so many great actors & actresses! As far as my Indian-actress idols are concerned, I am an enormous fan of Nandita Das, Archie Panjabi, and Mindy Kaling. These incredible women have played groundbreaking roles in their respective careers, and have paved the way for South Asians in mainstream entertainment. I’m constantly inspired by their bold character choices & the risks they fearlessly take on in their acting work! As far as South Indian cinema actresses, forgive me but I am an old-school Tamil cinema fan — My all-time favorite movies date back to the 70s & 80s! I love both of Radha’s dramatic performances in P. Bharathiraja’s films, “Kadal Oviyam,” & “Muuthal Mariyathai.” I also loved Revathi’s performance in the comedy, “Marumagal.” These stories have so much heart and depth, and this is so important to me as an audience member and an artist. I am very content being in the Hollywood industry, but I think it would be an honor to do crossover projects, and I’d be overjoyed to bridge between the Western and Eastern cinematic worlds! We shall see what the future has in store for me.
MC: Do you have any long-term goals you’re working towards? Where would you like to be in 5-10 years?
SM: I have so many dreams and goals for myself, and every day I get close to achieving them! In 5-10 years (and, hopefully sooner!) I hope to be a “household name.” It’s a dream of mine to become a Series Regular on a TV show, and possibly do some incredible film work. I want to continue to represent our culture as best I can in my work. I want to continue to spread awareness about the toxicity of skin-color bias as the official “Ambassador to Hollywood” for the “Dark is Beautiful” campaign — a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. I want to take care of my family, as they’ve sacrificed so much for me to help me get this far in my career. I would love to lend my money and voice to charities that I support. And, I want to challenge myself to take on bigger and better roles as my career continues. Above all else though, I want to be a happy and grounded person, the sort of person that others are drawn to be around. For me, kindness, generosity, and love matter above any fame, money, or status that might come my way — I will always strive to ensure my life and career are built around these important values.
MC: What is one key message you would like to convey to those who wish to pursue your career path?
SM: Those that know me well know that I have a favorite saying: “Leap and the net will appear.” This mantra has served me well in my career, and this is my personal message to anyone who wishes pursue a career in the arts. It takes dedication, courage, and a certain amount of risk to be a professional artist. But, if you just leap, you will inevitably discover the most beautiful rewards. So, to those budding artists out there, remember: It’s never too early or too late to start pursuing your passion — Just dream big, fight hard, and be fearless! In my life, every time I have “leapt” boldly, the universe has always followed closely behind, often surprising me with unexpected “nets” of safety to catch me. I believe the same will be true for anyone who believes in the power & beauty of their dreams.