U.S. Praveen: From Singapore to New York; Breaking Barriers in Acting

“Growing up in Singapore, we’ve been taught from a very young age that we are a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. Yet, the portrayal of this diversity in our media wasn’t reflecting well. It often fell short, reducing minority races to mere caricatures. 

Determined to change this narrative, I made it my mission as an actor to bring authentic representation to my work. And there are many ways to do that. For me, I chose to be mindful of the roles I play and portray.

I meticulously selected roles, even telling my agents to send me for castings which were not intended for my race. I strongly believe that race is a social construct that can be overridden by the actual acting work. True talent transcends racial boundaries. 

My persistence paid off when my agency rolled the dice on me, submitting my name for auditions beyond traditional ethnic roles. I knew I was making strides because I was getting callbacks to the later rounds.

Soon enough, the ‘gamble’ paid off. The breakthrough came when I was called in to audition for the St Patrick’s Day campaign by Guinness. I successfully booked it, and went on to be the only Indian in the regional commercial that aired across Southeast Asia.

That job gave me the confirmation that I should continue striving for equal representation. Shortly after, another opportunity came when Air New Zealand did a casting for a couple to star in their new commercial. It was to promote travel between Singapore and New Zealand. 

Getting that job was monumental for me, because not only did we get to portray an interracial Singaporean couple, we did it for an international audience. It was the first commercial between the two countries when borders reopened post-COVID.

Bringing the same energy when I moved to New York City (NYC), I kept auditioning for roles that weren’t specifically for people of my ethnicity. However, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t auditioning for roles that were for South Asians too. 

I remained committed to representing South Asians authentically when the occasion arose to audition for Rimli Roy’s Diwali production, Ramaavan. It became the vehicle for my Off-Broadway musical debut at the American Theater for Actors in New York.

It was wonderful working on that show because not only was it critically-acclaimed, it also allowed me to be proud of my heritage on a foreign stage, perform for a diverse crowd and share who we are as people.

My commitment to the cause also led me to accept Sonia Lim’s invitation to star in her short film Foreign Words. It’s about a foreign worker who is framed by his boss for a murder he did not commit, and how my character Jaiveer works with his buddy to clear his name.

I immediately said yes to her because the production – now making its rounds in the film festival circuit –  sheds light on the plight of foreign workers often overlooked in our society, and that was a story worth sharing.

Moving to New York to pursue my acting dreams is not without its struggles. Recently, a lot of self-doubt has started to creep in. Even after I’ve successfully booked a role, I can’t help but wonder if I’m talented or simply lucky.

If you think you’re one in a million, there’s eight of you in NYC. I remember applying for an audition, thinking I had a great shot. Suddenly, three guys with similar qualifications were there in front of me. That was a sobering moment for me, but they’re still not me.

What makes Viola Davis’ snotty breakdown in the film Fences unique is how it remains true to how she would behave in real life. Viola Davis wasn’t worried about looking pretty for the camera. All she was worried about was authentically portraying the reality of the situation.

That’s what I try to tap into when I’m working on a set or a production. How would Praveen behave if these were the circumstances? With that being said, there’s always that negative voice at the back of my head. I don’t think it’ll ever go away, but I can soften it.

I most recently had to confront this while working on I Wanna Slit My Wrists at the Producers Club in NYC. The self-doubt crept in big time. It was pretty bad this time, to the point where I didn’t even invite my friends to watch my performance. 

On my subway back, I was reflecting on what had just happened before, during and after the show. And it just dawned on me that I was cast for a reason. The director chose me and not someone else. I did something that they liked and hence why I got cast. 

That school of thought has been helpful because, looking back on all my previous projects, of all the options the casting directors had, they chose me. And I just reaffirm that each time the negative self-talk kicks in.

At the same time, I remember my mission of being a voice for the voiceless. If my work inspires just one person in this whole world, I consider it a victory – a step forward in fostering inclusivity and representation in the entertainment industry.” – U.S. Praveen

Catch U.S. Praveen as the lead in Ryan Repertory’s production of The Coast Starlight by Keith Bunin. He’ll be playing a sailor who is making a life or death decision, and is guided by the other passengers who come onboard. He is excited to play this role for many reasons, but chiefly, because he will be the lead who is Asian.

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1 Comment

  1. Oh yes, that feeling of imposter syndrome. Certainly a feeling to which I think every creative can relate on some level. And yet, I feel that the self doubt can be harnessed – if we learn to tap into that, using it to fuel our creativity instead of holding us back, we can reframe it into something useful and beneficial. It’s about recognising that we are all valuable and all have something to contribute, in a way that is uniquely our own. Thank you U.S. Praveen and Arman for sharing this powerful story with us all. Sending best wishes. Justine and Michael x

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