The Working APA Actor is a bi-monthly interview of Asian Pacific Islander American actors in the entertainment world, whether it be theater, film, television, the internet, or commercials. It is an inside look at these actors exploring their passion in their craft and how they balance their personal lives with their work. But more importantly, this column is dedicated to knowing these busy actors a little better as individuals.
I want to shake things up a bit here (if it wasn’t clear from the video you just witnessed at the top). The past The Working APA Actor interviews have featured actors who have made their presence known through film, television, or commercials. But in this day and age, the Internet is becoming a force to be reckoned with and actors are taking advantage of this new medium to make themselves known. Sabina England’s video, “Allah Save the Punk!” is a prime example of an individual who uses this medium to get herself seen and known.
Sabina England is a deaf, liberal secular punk Muslim playwright of East Indian origin who has grown up both in England and in the United States. Have you heard of anybody like that before? I haven’t and it’s freaking awesome. In the two years I have known her, Sabina has been a huge inspiration because she is passionate, fierce, driven, and most of all, she doesn’t apologize for ANYTHING. Learn more about her after the jump.
Tell us about yourself! What are you most passionate about in this world?
I know this sounds corny and cliched, but I’m very passionate about social justice. Racism, homophobia, misogyny, ableism, all sorts of bigotry and discrimination against anyone for their skin color, race, sexuality, disability, it just makes me angry. I hate racism and bigotry. I believe that we should all try to understand each other instead of being so close-minded. As a playwright, filmmaker, entertainer and actor, I want to bring something to the audience– bring issues about social justice but do it in a very subtle and entertaining way.
One of my videos, “Allah Save the Punk!” is a comedy video about a Pakistani punk and her father who is a strict religious Muslim man, but I tried to bridge understanding and I showed a very glaring generation gap and attitudes between the two characters. A lot of people, mainly South Asians and Muslims and children of immigrants from the developing world, have told me they loved the video and could relate to the Pakistani punk because they’ve all been there, struggling to remain true to their Western ideals while also trying to maintain cultural pride. I’ve received e-mails from Muslim strangers all around the world, thanking me for making them feel less alone. So I’m glad that I made them laugh and showed them that they’re not alone in feeling angry and alienated from their respective Muslim communities.
What is your favorite junk food of all time?
I have a major weakness for samosas, especially the fried beef ones. Once I eat one, I want to eat more! I also love fried spring rolls. But both of them are bad for you so I try to avoid it.
Besides being an actor, what else do you do that you like to share?
When I’m not writing creative pieces to publish on my blog or when I’m not making mime comedy videos, then I enjoy dabbling with photos and artworks on Photoshop and putting them together to make experiment videos. if I’m out of creative juice for one project, then I move onto something else and I try something new.
If I’m not writing, working or making art, I feel like a failure so I want to push myself even more. if I’m suffering from writers block and can’t write a scene, then I focus on making a video. If I can’t make a video because I’m creatively dried out, then I focus on writing an angry spoken word piece. I just keep going and going.
When did you know for sure you wanted to be an actor? What inspired you to become an actor?
It was 1996 and I was almost 14. I was cast as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, a Tony Award winning play about Helen Keller overcoming her deaf-blindness in the 19th century to become a successful spokesperson and advocate for disability rights. Playing the role of Helen helped me grow as a Deaf person and as an actor. That was when I got bitten by the acting bug and I knew this was something I wanted to do with the rest of my life– be an actor, director, writer, or filmmaker.
It can only be imagined that being deaf provided immense challenges & obstacles to you…how did you overcome it?
As an actor, I am still trying to overcome the obstacles of my deafness. Although I enjoy performing in front of audiences, I’m still shy when it comes to speaking verbally. I hate my voice, I can’t stand how my deaf accent sounds, and I feel self conscious about it. I was made fun of in high school for the way I talk. Some students would mock my speech and repeat after me and then laughed in my face. It was so hurtful and humiliating. It completely shattered my self esteem! There have been moments when I was offered speaking roles in plays and films, but I turned them down because I don’t feel confident enough to speak. When I was a young teenager, it was never a problem for me– I was given lines in a few plays and I spoke them with confidence, but as I got older, I became less confident with the way my voice sounds.
For now, I’m content with playing non-speaking acting roles. But I hope to become more confident and be able to take on a speaking role. So this is something I’m trying to work on- to push myself and do something above my comfort zone.
When you act, how do you get yourself into character? We want to know!
I have to be in a certain mood to get into character. When I was younger, I used to practice the Method. I’d ask people not to speak to me when I’m about to prepare for my role. I’d stay in character all day, do character research, and think like my character. For my comedy videos, I like to analyze my characters’ emotions and personalities in order to better understand them. Once, I even created a fake Myspace profile for one of my characters and I took a default photo of myself dressed as the character! I wrote a few Myspace blog posts as the character, and it helped me develop better as an actor.
What has been your most memorable experience as an actor?
Nothing else can really beat my fond childhood memories of playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. That will always be one of my best acting experiences.
Who would you love to work with, whether directors, writers, or other actors?
It would be a major wet dream come true if I ever get to work with Mark Rylance, who has often been called the finest thespian of our age, one of the greatest stage actors of our times. I’ve seen him in 3 plays in London and he still blows me away with his passion, his humor, his rage, his sincerity, and his pure love for the art and craft of theatre.
Where do you see yourself in the future in terms of what you would like to accomplish?
I hope to get started soon on my second film (which I will write, direct and produce) and hopefully produce one of my plays in New York City.
What advice would you like to give to aspiring actors?
Never give up. If you’re really passionate about acting and if you’re sure this is what you really want, then at all costs, you have to go after it, you can’t stop and you can’t give up. If you’re in it for fame and money, forget it. Not all of you will be the next Brad Pitt. But if you’re really passionate about acting, then by all means, go out there and take acting gigs wherever it’s available! Music videos, commercials, playhouse productions, acting workshops, college or community theatre, indie films, student films, all sorts of creative projects you can get involved with, acting-wise. Make some videos of yourself on youtube, meet some filmmakers and playwrights, and maybe they’ll like you so much and put you in their next film or play.
BONUS QUESTION #!: What was your most memorable experience while directing “Wedding Night”?
When a photojournalist from The New York Times showed up on the film set and began taking photos of us, that’s when it struck us that we were actually making a real film, that this was a huge deal and a big dream coming true for me. Also– early on in the day, there was a very intense scene where the whole room had to be really quiet, and the leading actress had to stay seated on the bed and keep her head bowed. It was very intense and nerve-wracking, an emotional moment. But suddenly everyone heard a faint meowing– my cat was hiding under the bed! I ordered my cat to leave and he immediately ran out of the room. It was funny and light-hearted, and then everyone relaxed after that.
BONUS QUESTION #2: If you could be born in any era in any place, what would it be? Where would it be? How does that era define you?
Would I get to be a hearing white male? Because if I went back in time as a Deaf woman of color, I’m not so sure that I would be received warmly by many people. Deaf people were treated horribly back then, and so were women and people of color! But regardless, I would have loved to be part of the early age of Hollywood– the silent era, the Roaring 20s, the era of filmmaking when women had so much power and equality with men. There were many successful female filmmakers, female directors and female screenwriters in the early days of Hollywood. Also, roaring 20s fashion is one of my favourites, and women were just letting go of society’s norms and having fun. It seemed like such a pleasant era, but I dont know if it was nice for women of color. I’d also have loved to witness the rise of the Mughal empire in India, my motherland.