I was excited to talk with Sinha about his role on Chasing Life, his life before acting and how he feels about representation in Hollywood. Chasing Life airs Mondays at 9/8c on ABC Family.
COLOR: How did you get started in acting?
Abhi Sinha: I actually went to USC for college and I was actually studying sports journalism there. While I was there in my freshman year, I got bit by the acting bug and got an agent and started taking classes. Halfway through my freshman year, I booked a five-day guest-starring [role] on this show called The Cleaner starring Benjamin Bratt. And I remember after the first day of being on set and acting for real, I made the decision that this is what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life…It all just kind of clicked in that moment. I remember going to my parents and being like, “You know, I’ve got a few more midterms and stuff like that, but I just don’t think I’m going to go back to college.” [laughs]
That reminds me-I did read an interview you did with EW Contributor Katerina Torres–
Oh yeah, I love Katerina!
In the interview, you did mention that you came from a journalism background, so is it interesting to have come full circle, in a way, since you’re now playing a journalist on TV?
It’s totally is and it’s really funny. It’s actually when people ask “Is it hard to play a journalist or a reporter on TV?” I go, “Not really, because I was going to be one for the longest time.”
What attracted you to journalism?
Specifically, it was sports. I grew up in Pittsburgh, which is a huge sports town. I’m a big Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Penguins guy, and I always loved getting up early in the morning and watching sports talk radio shows. As a kid, I wanted to have a show of my own where I could talk about sports. I remember my dad told me as a young age, “These guys don’t just talk about sports. You have to be a good writer too, and cover it and be a journalist.” I think that’s where the interest was cultivated.
When you play Danny on Chasing Life, do you imbue some of that love of journalism into the character? Does it influence your take on the character at all?
[laughs] So, so little of what I’ve learned in journalism school goes into how I pretend to be a journalist when I act…In terms of what I’ve learned about being an actual reporter, I’d say very little [goes into acting].
What do you love about playing Danny? I’ve heard that he’s comedic relief but he’s also a kind-of foil to the main character since they’re both always trying to get the scoop.
Well, I love the things that are different and the same. The things that are different about Danny is that he’s very rash. He’s kind of a jerk. I can take little qualities of mine and blow them up and exaggerate those character traits. That’s really fun for me, because I get to be arrogant and have this air of confidence that goes back in forth between confidence and arrogance. I don’t think I’m like that in real life, I think I’m pretty easy-going.
The similarities that are also very fun is that Danny is very non-stereotypical in terms of being an Indian character. What I mean by that is that most of the Indian characters do fit a stereotype. They either have an accent or they’re fresh off the boat, or they’re a doctor or a taxi cab driver. Something that would stereotypically coincide with an Indian person. What I like about Danny is that he’s not like that at all. He doesn’t fit that description whatsoever and that’s how I feel in my personal life, which is really cool.
When I was reading interviews with you and the interview you did with Katerina, the first thing I thought of when you mentioned stereotypical roles was when I’d interviewed Michael Benyaer, who was the voice actor for Hadji on The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. He was telling me about the behind-the-scenes work of this show and how they were taking the ’60s version of Hadji, which was kind of stereotypical, and making him more modern. He said he was glad to be able to play a character that wasn’t stereotypical because he had experiences with being offered stereotypical roles. With that said, have you had that kind of experience where a role turned out to be a stereotype?
You know, at this point as an actor, I’ll literally take what I can get, whatever I can sink my teeth into. I just feel that I’m lucky that this role [as Danny] isn’t stereotypical. I do feel like 80 to 90 percent of them are. I take the responsibility on myself as an actor to show Hollywood, if you will, that not every Indians are as as stereotypically-cut as you may see them.
How important is it to you that America sees more than just one type of character or just a stereotype of a character? Since I follow TV and movies, I know there’s not a lot of -I don’t want to say variety-but there’s not a lot of exposure for Indian actors and Indian characters in general, and for other minorities as well.
I think it’s so crucial, and I’ll piggy back on what you were saying. I’ll say myself that you’re right, there really isn’t a whole lot of variety, and I want to take some responsibility to be a contributing reason as to why there is [diversity in Hollywood] in the future. It’s one thing to sit here and complain, “All the characters are the same, it’s the same thing over and over again.” I’m not like that. That’s not kind of my style. I’d rather be a part of the solution instead of complaining about the problem over and over again.
I want to take some of the responsibility and open the door for people who haven’t seen those characters or for people who don’t know that those characters even exist, because they do. They’re out there a-plenty in the world today. So I think it’s really important we shed a light on that because most of the Indian characters we see are, I think, a representation that were maybe around in the ’70s or earlier because a lot of the time, these characters that I audition for are not even someone that my parents or grandparents would associate with or like.
I hope that, soon, Hollywood will changes how it does things. I could be cynical and say, “Well, it keeps me in business because I’ll always have something to write about,” but I’d rather not have to write about the failings of Hollywood. I would just like for everyone be represented.
Totally! I think it would be a win-win for both of us because then you’ll have more to talk about and write about and I’ll have more diverse characters to play and more jobs would open up. I’m all on board for that [laughs].
To get back to Chasing Life, it’s ultimately a show about living life to the fullest despite its challenges. How exciting is it to have a show like this not only to be successful, but get asked back for a second season?
I just feel really lucky to be a part of it, and I feel so fortunate that the writers and the showrunner gave me the opportunity to be a part of it. The show is essentially about cancer and dealing with cancer, and that’s a really heavy theme. But I feel like the writers did such a good job of making it light and incorporating a lot of comedy. I give them all the credit in the world for doing that because it reaches a lot of people in a serious way. It also reaches a lot of people in the sense that it’s a fun, good show for them to watch. I think for the writers to have that dichotomy is awesome and important.
What can fans expect from Chasing Life as it goes forward?
You know [laughs], you can expect for April to keep one-upping herself and keep on fighting and hopefully for Danny to have a softer side to him and stop being such a jerk.
Do you have something you’d like to say to fans of the show and your personal fans?
I just want to say thank you. I don’t think enough time is taken out to show time and appreciation, but none of this even happens without the fans who come back every Monday and don’t do it because they have to, but do it because the story is compelling and they can’t wait to see what happens next. So I’m really thankful for those people and I’d just like to share my gratitude with them.
Top photo credit: Lesley Bryce (photographer). Sinha as Danny in Chasing Life. Photo credit: Claire Folger/ABC Family