Sugith Varughese is an award-winning screenwriter, short film director and actor with over 80 credits in TV, film, radio and stage. His award-winning short films have screened at numerous festivals worldwide. Sugith is the first minority to attend the prestigious Canadian Film Centre as a writer-director, where he was trained by renowned directors Norman Jewison and Daniel Petrie, Sr. as well as famed editor Lou Lombardo and Oscar-winning composer James Horner among many others.
1. WHAT WAS YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING AN ACTOR? WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
Probably the Saturday morning creative drama class my folks enrolled me in when I was ten. I grew up in Saskatoon but we also lived in Montreal and Ottawa until we resettled in Saskatoon and I think my dad, who was a surgeon, had a colleague whose wife taught this class. Somehow my folks enrolled me in it, and it must have started from then. I remember I was writing little plays by grade 8 that got performed for the school. I eventually decided to study drama in university but also took pre-med since I wasn’t expecting to be in the arts professionally. Except I never got around to applying to medical school, (though I think I have played 32 doctors on screen!)
2. WHAT PROJECT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF AND WHY?
That is like asking which of your children you’re most proud of! If you aren’t proud of all of them in some way, why do them? That said, I’m really proud to be a part of the Kim’s Convenience TV show. I came in to do a single episode and after a one rehearsal with Paul, they made me a recurring character. And I’m proud to have been in season one of The Girlfriend Experience because I came in to read a 3 line part with an Indian accent and they cast me as a recurring role originally written as white. They even changed his name to suit my ethnicity. That never happens.
3. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING ACTORS?
Don’t try and be an actor. Be a person. That means, get an education that expands who you are. It doesn’t mean acting classes. It means Shakespeare, particle physics, history, anything and everything you can possibly learn to maximize who you are as a person. Learn physical things. Be good at sports or cooking. Travel. Read. Go to the opera. Live a full, rich life! All of that makes you… you and the more of you in you there is, the more you have to offer acting. You never know what will become used in acting, but I promise you, all of that will be far more useful than anything learned in an acting class. Except vocal training. Take voice, as diction is not optional despite what new actors believe. (I was once in a TV series with a lot of young actors and the sound mixer took his headphones off as he was removing my mic and muttered to me, “At least I can hear you!”)
4. WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE ASPIRING ACTORS FOR PREPARING FOR AN AUDITION? (E.G. DO YOU STUDY WITH A PRIVATE COACH?)
I like to know the lines cold. I don’t want to worry about remembering them. I just want to be authentic and present in the audition. I don’t use a coach, but I used to use a little tape recorder to run lines with myself. Now I use an app. If it’s a major role that really demands something and there’s time, I might work with someone, but in my experience, there’s never enough time to do that anyway. Next day or two days max for film and TV. Regardless, I think the job is to show who you are as that part and then let them decide if that’s what they want. They usually have no idea until you show them. See my answer to question 2!
5. WHICH ACTING TEACHER/COACH/SCHOOL PLAYED THE BIGGEST ROLE IN YOUR CAREER?)
My career path to becoming an actor wasn’t via acting school. I studied theatre in university but focused on directing and dramaturgy. Then got an MFA in film. I really started working as a tv screenwriter but early on in my career, I wrote a TV movie I ended up starring in which is how I became an actor. Since then I have worked both as a writer and an actor and occasionally as a director both on screen and on stage. The reality is for me, stage, film, acting, writing, they are all the same job: storytelling. You just use different tools depending on the situation but the job is the same.
6. DO YOU FEEL IT IS NECESSARY FOR PERFORMERS TO PROMOTE THEMSELVES IN ORDER TO ADVANCE THEIR CAREERS? (E.G. USING SOCIAL MEDIA)
Not on stage, but sadly it appears necessary for film and TV now. It’s nonsense in terms of the job. But casting is as much about public profile as it is about talent now. And there are plenty of youtubers getting parts over trained actors now. I don’t think it should matter and I don’t know how much it matters in Canada but definitely in LA.
7. WHAT IS THE HARDEST ROLE/CHARACTER YOU’VE EVER PLAYED?
I don’t think acting is “hard.” Getting the job is hard, but never doing the job. That said, the most challenging and consequently fulfilling role I played recently was on stage in Anusree Roy’s play “Little Pretty and the Exceptional” for which I got a Dora nomination. In fact, the hardest part of the job, especially in film and TV is the waiting around. That’s what they pay me for. I throw in the acting for free.
8. IF YOU COULD TURN BACK TIME AND APPEAR IN ANY FILM MADE IN THE PAST 20 YEARS, WHICH FILM AND CHARACTER WOULD YOU CHOOSE … AND WHY?
Well that fantasy would require color blind casting then and we still don’t have that. It’s hard to answer that question as it means rewriting my brain for opportunities that I never had. But I’d kill to be in any movie directed by Scorsese, Kurosawa, Satiyajit Ray or David Lean. Only one is still alive. So there’s still a chance, right?
9. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE CANADIAN FILM/TV INDUSTRY CAN DO DIFFERENTLY IN ORDER TO GROW?
First, there is no English Canadian film industry. There’s a Canadian TV industry. Movies are a hobby here. No one makes a living working in a Canadian films. And I think changing that means not more micro budget movies that only play at film festivals. But that seems to be the direction the government is taking. Overall, I’d like to see changes with the banks and the tax laws to allow easy private as well as public investment in film and TV, and in studios. But governments like Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia took that away so I suspect the workers in Ontario are going to have to be careful. A certain kind of political party doesn’t want to “subsidize” film and TV despite all the economic spinoffs that investment generates. They just want us all to move to LA. Which a lot of my younger colleagues are doing and it’s hard to blame them. Beyond the political battle coming, we need to promote our stars and we don’t very much. It’s sad because the quality in the writing and the acting and technically is there.
10. WE ALL HAVE MENTORS. THE PEOPLE WHO GIVE US THE HOPE, INSPIRATION, AND THE DRIVE TO KEEP GOING … IN THE INDUSTRY, WHO ARE THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN YOUR MENTORS AND WHY?
I try not to say this egotistically but I’m a pioneer and I didn’t really have role models for myself, at least who worked in Canada or the US. The Brits, like Saeed Jaffrey and Art Malik were there but in the early 80’s you couldn’t see any of the shows they were on. No Netflix. Remember that CBC movie I wrote and ended up starring in? That came out in 1983, before the movie Gandhi or the TV series Jewel In The Crown. So I didn’t know any brown actors to inspire me, except in Bollywood. But obviously I was eventually inspired by what brown actors were doing in the UK and dreamt of the same opportunities happening here. Still dreaming.
That said, I am grateful to my seventh grade English teacher, Mr. Frank for generating my love for the arts, and to my profs at the University of Minnesota, Elizabeth Nash for impeccable voice training, Charles Nolte my playwriting prof who suggested I try screenwriting instead (LOL) and H. Wesley Balk who ran the Minnesota Opera and taught the most incredible course to train what he called actor-singers. I actually donated seats in one of the school’s theatres in their names. But there are many others who gave me writing and directing breaks. We all stand on others’ shoulders.
ACTING: Alicia Jeffery – The Characters
COMMERCIAL: Adriana Roccasalva – The Characters
LITERARY: Charles Northcote – Core Literary Inc.
VOICE: Jude Foster – Foster Talent
FACEBOOK FAN PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/SugithVarughese/