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A Trifecta of Talent

Aug/27/2023 / by Melanie Fourie

Multi-faceted Kiran Deol seeks to be an honest storyteller

Close-up of South Asian woman in a white top looking into the camera
Kiran Deol. Photo credit: F. Scott Schafer

British-American Kiran Deol has a triad of talents. The actor, comedian, and filmmaker gained renown for her role as Mallory in the NBC/Hulu comedy “Sunnyside” and has appeared in shows like “Modern Family” and “Grey’s Anatomy”, among others. As a stand-up comedian, this Harvard alumnus has performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the New York Comedy Festival and is currently touring.

Deol’s 2010 documentary, Woman Rebel, was nominated for an Emmy Award and shortlisted for an Academy Award. Forty percent of the guerrilla force fighting against the authorities in Nepal’s contentious 10-year revolution were women. The film “Woman Rebel” chronicles the life of one such lady. The film’s powerful, unorthodox theme portrays women as changemakers rather than passive bystanders.

In an interview with SEEMA, Deol speaks about her life and creative career path.

You moved from England to the U.S. with your family when you were just five. Being that young, did you experience culture shock, and how did you adapt to a new culture?

Initially, moving from England to Florida felt like a holiday. The sun was shining, we were at the beach, and the pool—bathing suits galore! Over time, I really missed my grandparents, though, whom we used to live with. And I missed my cousins and other family back in England, too. Starting over, no matter what your age or culture, has tough parts.

What was it like growing up in the U.S. as a South Asian girl? What were some of the societal barriers you faced, and how did you cope?

Americans just weren’t used to us. It’s amazing now to see how far we’ve come. I remember when my friend looked in the closet and saw all the Indian clothes, and she was like, “So gorgeous! Just like Madonna!” It’s wild how, after experiencing a lack of acceptance of your culture (I talk about this in my standup hour), appreciation from a friend can help you see it with fresh eyes too.

Do you consider yourself a natural actor, and if not, how have you grown into the role or developed your skill?

Oh gosh, I think that’s for other folks to decide! I love it [being an actor], though.

What do you love most about being an actor?

It’s the human connection. When you can achieve honest storytelling, it’s the best. It’s something I try to do even in my standup comedy.

Who are your role models in film?

I’m a huge fan of Meera Syal, Phoebe Waller Bridge, Michaela Coel, Ali Wong, Cate Blanchett, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Mike Nichols, and so many more.

How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically to take on a role?

I do whatever backstory work is necessary to create an authentic connection with a scene, partner, or audience on the day and in the research process. It ranges wildly. Telling you more would be telling you all my secrets! 😀

What has been the most crazed or exhilarating incident that has ever happened to you on set or at an audition?

One time, I was working with a terrific director, Meera Menon, on her first independent feature film. We were filming without a permit at night outside a police station, and we had to run away when we heard sirens. Lol.

Do you have any hilarious anecdotes you’d like to share with us from when you were on the set of “Modern Family”?

Eric Stonestreet had just won an Emmy and was lovely. He said, “You don’t go out expecting that your next audition is going to win you an Emmy.” I was trying to be funny, and I said, “I do!” He just stared blankly. It was pretty awesome.

Your documentary “Woman Rebel” received widespread acclaim, including an Emmy nomination. What was the inspiration behind the film, and what underlying message did it convey?

I thought it was incredible that 40% of the rebel army in Nepal were women over the course of a ten-year revolution. The image of women fighting for their rights with guns was so arresting that I was drawn to the story. The underlying message even fits into the standup hour I’m doing currently in Edinburgh—women as agents of change, not victims of circumstance.

What traits were you looking for in your lead in “Woman Rebel”?

Because “Woman Rebel” was a documentary, I was looking for a subject with an interesting story who was open to being filmed. I needed someone willing to let us follow not only her but also her family. We ended up with a soldier whose codename was Silu. She ended up going from the jungles to Parliament at the time we were filming, which is absolutely incredible.

What were some of the most rewarding scenes in the documentary?

The most rewarding scenes were the ones where something truly spontaneous happened. It’s the stuff you don’t plan that is often the most beautiful!

How long have you been performing stand-up comedy, and why comedy?

I’ve been performing for years now. I love comedy. There’s a lot of satisfaction in the immediate feedback and connection with the crowd. You can come up with a joke that afternoon and be on stage with that same joke that evening, which is really special. Film and TV can take a very long time to develop and get distributed.

Have you ever had the misfortune of a stage fright episode, and if so, how did you bounce back in the session? 

Stage fright! Me!? No, never! (wink, wink)

What inspires you when developing new comedic material?

Inspiration can come from anywhere! A lot of times, it is experiences that make me angry, sad, annoyed, or disbelieving that end up being transformed into something funny.

In a nutshell, what’s the secret to a rib-tickling standup joke? 

You need to find it funny and be excited about telling it! It can be the difference between a joke doing great or not.

You’re currently on a comedy tour at the Gilded Balloon in Scotland. What does your standup tour lineup look like for the rest of the year, and what can audiences expect?

I’m in the Edinburgh Fringe until August 28 every night at 9:40 p.m. at the Gilded Balloon. I’m in London at 21Soho on September 2 and Comedy Haus Zürich on September 9. I’m building out more American tour dates as we speak, so keep an eye out for your city in the fall. Las Vegas, Seattle, Los Angeles, Toronto, and more are currently on the docket!

Unwinding is important, especially with a full work schedule. What do you do for R&R? 

I love anything on the water (boats, kayaks, swimming), traveling, and naps. Naps while traveling on a boat are ideal.

Seema

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