A few weeks ago, I saw a flyer at my yoga studio that called for extras for a Bollywood film , “For Here or To Go?” I love yoga so I thought it would be a fun but the main reason I wanted to participate was because the lead actress, Melanie Kannokada, would be there!
I’ve been secretly obsessed with Melanie since I saw her in the Bare Escentuals “Force of Beauty” campaign. Not only is Melanie a talented actress, she also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford, is a 2nd degree black belt holder, and is a co-founder of a non-profit. Even with all of her accomplishments, Melanie is extremely genuine and down-to-earth.
I had the opportunity to ask Melanie a few questions and I am beyond excited to share this interview with you all.
+ Introduce yourself!
Hi! I’m Melanie. Born and raised in the Midwest, I currently split time between New York and Los Angeles. I’m a full time actress and I also help run a non-profit called Hospital for Hope.
+ What motivated you to leave your corporate job and pursue acting? Did you find support from your family & friends?
I always had a creative bug in me that I pushed to the wayside in order to pursue the ‘right’ path. The ‘right’ path being an engineering degree and a high powered corporate job. While very thankful and humbled by these opportunities, I wasn’t fulfilled personally. I knew there was more for me out there, and more I could give to the world in ways that I hadn’t fully explored.
Surprisingly, I had a lot of encouragement from friends, family, and even people within the entertainment industry – people that had witnessed me act or perform in informal capacities. Of course, my parents were concerned about my financial stability, health and healthcare but I assured them I’d make it work. And I have to say, now that they have been able to see my work on TV or film or magazines, they are very proud. It’s cute.
+ What are some challenges you’ve faced entering the entertainment industry. Have you found it to be more difficult being Indian-American? Has it ever served as an advantage?
Right now I think it is a great advantage to be a ‘diverse’ actor and specifically of East Indian decent. We are very much a part of mainstream American culture, and people are now understanding that needs to be reflected in media.
At the same time, while we may have more mainstream roles available for us in mainstream shows or film, there is still a lack of characters being written that do a thorough and accurate job of depicting our unique stories; it’s all still very surface. I think we need to encourage more writers and directors of Indian decent to drive those stories onto screen. It’s a work in progress!
Of course, I have faced obstacles with regards to my race, age, gender – the usual suspects. But there are also the internal challenges. The hardest and yet most liberating part about this industry is not having answers. And for a “former” analytical control freak like me, it was really hard to make that adjustment. A lot of things fall through, for reasons beyond your control. And for an optimistic girl from the Midwest – it was a challenge to stomach it at first. But you grow stronger, smarter, and resilient. And you learn to love the journey. And I do.
+ Tell me a little a bit about the film you are working on “For Here or to Go.”
It’s a light comedy with a lot of heart. It focuses on the issue of immigration reform through the lens of the protagonist (played by Ali Fazal) – who comes from India to work and prosper in Silicon Valley.
We all know the immigrant story and struggles of our parents generation, but there isn’t a film out there that tells that story for our generation – people in their 20’s who live here in ambiguity – not knowing if they can settle, or if they’ll have to go back home abroad, and start over, again.
The movie explores many universal themes that immigrants can relate to, and also the other perspective, how non-immigrants perceive the situation. That’s where my character comes in. I offer the American-born perspective and how that evolves as I start dating someone born and raised in India (Ali’s character).
+ Weekly workout routine?
I do yoga once a week, and will do cardio two times a week – whether it’s an outdoor run, hike, or worst case – treadmill at the gym. I also like to take a dance class whenever I can fit it into the calendar!
+ Any health tips?
I try to put foods in my system that are as natural and fresh as possible – meaning nothing overly processed, artificially flavored, overcooked, etc. It’s hard to do that when you’re on the run and traveling, but I try to make the best out of every situation. I also stay away from soda and coffee – I stick to herbal teas as my beverage of choice.
(Disclaimer – chocolate is the exception. I will have that anytime, any place).
+ Do you have any words you live by?
Surround yourself with people who lift you higher.
+ What’s your favorite way to relax!
Put on my sweats, prepare some hot tea, and catch up on my favorite TV shows or movies. I also love jamming out on my keyboard.