Movies & TV / Columns

411 Interview: Miss India America Star Tiya Sircar

April 5, 2016 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris

Recently, got the chance to speak with the very talented actor Tiya Sircar, star of the new film Miss India America, which arrives on Digital HD after a recent theatrical run. Tiya Sircar has appeared in such films as Hotel for Dogs and Friends With Benefits. Her TV credits include recurring appearances on The Crazy Ones, The Vampire Diaries, and Witches of East End. In addition, she plays one of the lead characters in the hit animated series Star Wars Rebels. Based on the epic Star Wars franchise, Tiya voices the formidable resistance fighter Sabine Wren, who is also a Mandalorian warrior and an artist. Here is what Tiya Sircar had to say about her work on Rebels and Miss India America.

Jeffrey Harris: When did you find out about Miss India America, and what made you want to work on it?

Tiya Sircar: I found out about this film actually through the early stages when Meera [Simhan] and Ravi [Kapoor], the writer and director, were sort of writing the script together and were recording a table read. And while all that was happening, we were all on an episode of a show together, and they played my parents, which is kind of how we met. They asked me to come to the table read and read the part of Lily, and I read the script and immediately and just knew that if this movie ever got made, I had to fight tooth and nail to play the part of Lily. Something about Lily I just connected with immediately, and I knew that I had to play her. And I was going to do whatever it took to get the part.

Jeffrey Harris: Did you even know that there was a Miss India America pageant before this film?

Tiya Sircar: To be perfectly, I didn’t know that there was a pageant. I didn’t even know that this existed, a Miss India America pageant. If I did, it was not on my radar. The pageant world, it was new to me. I don’t think I had interest in pageants when I was young, but I don’t think my mother would not have allowed that if I did. The thing about the film is that it’s set within that world, but the story itself has much more to it than just the fact that she’s participating in the pageant. Luckily for me, Lily really didn’t need to know too much about the pageant world. It was completely foreign to her. So it was good that I didn’t really have too much experience with it in the past.

Jeffrey Harris: I would say Indian Americans are fairly under-represented on film and TV, so I would say this film is pretty good in that it has you leading it and offers something different in terms of movies.

Tiya Sircar: I appreciate you saying so. I 100 percent agree. That’s one of the things I think is that’s special about this movie. When I was a kid, I never saw a movie about anyone like me…in that capacity. Even up until very recently, and still now, but growing up if I saw an Indian American in a movie, even as a newscaster, or anything on television, it was a novelty. Something to to be commented about. “Oh, that person is like me.” So I definitely would’ve loved to see a movie like this when I was young and to see a girl, or in this case many girls, in the film that I could recognize and get familiar with. I love that this film is not only filled with female comedic actors, but also South-Asian comedic actors, which is even more of a rarity but so wonderful to get to work with him. I wish there were more movies out there like that. … The other thing I really about this movie is that it is a bunch of South-Asian American actors, which sort of makes it special. But the movie is not just about Indian Americans. It’s about American kids, and the trials and tribulations of being a senior in high school and the pressures. I think people from all walks of life can come to this film and say like, “Oh. I know that kid,” or, “I was that kid.” I think it has universal themes as far as familial dynamics and the expectations of trying to succeed and being young and thinking you have it all figured out. So many things that are not specific to the Indian American community, which I know is a pretty niche community. Anyway, I like the fact that we are this under-represented demographic, and we’re kind of addressing that. But you don’t have to be an Indian person to watch this movie and enjoy it.

Jeffrey Harris: How did you like getting to work with your supporting cast?

Tiya Sircar: It was wonderful. It was like a small, little independent movie on not a huge budget, and yet we got this tremendous cast. So funny, so talented. Hannah [Simone], who executive produces and stars in the movie. Kosha Patel who plays my best friend Seema in the movie is just wildly funny and so incredible. And also Meera, who co-wrote the movie and plays my mom, and Ravi, who co-wrote the movie and is the director, they’re both actors. The script I thought was just really smart, really sharp, really well-written. It’s such a luxury to have a director who is also director and also knows the vocabulary. I don’t know. I’m not saying that every director has to be an actor, but it’s kind of special to get that. It’s just a whole different dynamic getting direction from someone who’s been on the receiving end of that. It was just a wonderful experience. It was definitely a labor of love. We all sort of rolled our sleeves up and made this movie on not a huge budget. But it was so rewarding, and I cannot imagine not getting to play this role. The moment I read this script, I know it had to be me. I know some people having now seen the film are like, “Man. I was really worried I was going to hate you. Why would you want to play this?” Because she’s kind of despicable character some people have said. I never really thought of it that way. It never really crossed my mind that she was despicable. She’s just really driven. She really knows what she wants, and she’s not malicious. She’s just a little rough around the edges.

Jeffrey Harris: In the film, Lily is a character who has her whole life planned out and then something goes horribly wrong. Were you ever like Lily in that way?

Tiya Sircar: Yeah, well I have to admit I am little like Lily in that I am sort of this type-A personality. I do have that drive to succeed, and I like to be good at things that I try my hand at. I do have that desire to excel at things. That I can definitely relate to. I definitely was not Lily in school. I’m sure my parents would’ve loved for me to be a little like Lily there. I like to think I’m a little more well-rounded and a little more personable than Lily is. But I definitely have some similarities in that my need to succeed at things I try. Even if I wasn’t Lily, I definitely felt like I knew Lily. I felt familiar with her. I saw parts of myself in Lily. I saw parts of my sister [in her], who is like model child and model student. So that’s why I felt so drawn to her and wanted to portray her.

Jeffrey Harris: I love Star Wars Rebels, and how crazy is this ride you are on right now?

Tiya Sircar: It’s amazing. We’ve been doing it a while, and it’s still nuts that I get to do this as a job. It doesn’t even feel like work. It’s so much fun. It was new to me in that I had seen the original trilogy when I was a young kid, and I think at the time, I didn’t fully appreciate it for what it was. Once I got this job, I knew I wanted to familiarize myself with all things Star Wars, and there’s a lot that that entails. I re-watched original trilogy. I started watching The Clone Wars. As luck would have it, The Clone Wars became available on Netflix as I got this job. … So I quickly realized what all the fuss was about. And now I can definitely say that I’m a huge Star Wars fan. Even my mom, she was around in the late 70s and early 80s, and she was not a Star Wars person. And now, she’s like obsessed with Star Wars. She calls me on Thursday mornings to recap and discuss. I love that because it just sort of affirms that you can come to Star Wars at any point in your life, from any walk of life. Star Wars is universal.

Jeffrey Harris: What is it you like the most about Sabine? Is it that she’s a formidable warrior, or that she has an artistic side?

Tiya Sircar: That I love. I love that she’s this warrior, trained in the art of war, but she’s also this artist. And she’s got two totally different sides to her. But what I really appreciate about Sabine is that she’s a teenager, and yet she’s totally and wholly disinterested in anything is that is superficial and silly. She’s not a girly girl that relies on her charm to get her by. She’s this strong-willed, super-sharp, gutsy young lady. I love that I get to portray this girl that’s interested in the right things instead of superficiality.

Jeffrey Harris: And how about how this season has started the peel back the layers of Sabine a bit?

Tiya Sircar: Yeah, I love it. We’ve gotten a little bit of that in season two, which I really love. But this season has been a whole other level for all of the characters, but specifically for Sabine, I get to explore some really interesting parts of my past and interaction with people from my past. It’s going to be really interesting to watch. It’s been really great to record so far.

Jeffrey Harris: Thank you so much for your time. It’s been great speaking to you. Hook ’em horns.

Tiya Sircar: Thank you. Hook ’em!

Thank you to Tiya Sircar for taking the time to speak with us. Miss India America arrives on Digital HD on April 5. Star Wars Rebels, starring Tiya Sircar as Sabine Wren, airs on Disney XD and recently wrapped its second season with a third season on the way.