The Actor: Nitya Vidyasagar

September 18, 2012

I love how we are all connected in one way or another. My boys and I have been watching Nitya (Leela) on Seasame Street for a couple of years now. My personal favorite performance is when Leela becomes annoyed with Wild Nature Survivor Guy (Jimmy Fallon) because he devoured her tomatoes without asking. Nitya has the best expressions with her big sparkly eyes (even when she’s annoyed she’s pretty).


Then, not too long ago, I was watching Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and there was Nitya! I was happily surprised to see her playing a different part I exclaimed out loud and alone, “OMG, there’s Leela!” …



The part that gives me goosebumps is when I asked my friend, Elena, to hook me up with some of her inspired talented lady friends who I could feature on GC. You’ll never guess who she hooked me up with… that’s right, Nitya! I didn’t recognize her name at first so naturally, I googled her, and again exclaimed out loud and alone, “OMG, it’s Leela!”

And so here we are. From a fan watching her on TV to a GC interview. Such a small wonderful world…

where are you from?
I never know how to answer that. My parents are from two different cities in South India.  I was born in Muscat, Oman and spent my childhood in Calcutta, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Bethesda, Maryland. But! New York City and myself are about to hit our ten year anniversary so maybe now… I’m a New Yorker?

what do you do?
Try to tell stories, through acting.

what do you love about acting?
Uh oh… this could take a while. I believe deeply in the transformative, binding, illuminating power of story. I feel that what I get from acting is not dissimilar to what I get from seeing plays or films – they introduce us to ourselves and to each other, fantasize on and explore who we can be, bend our minds to accommodate the staggering and diverse multitudes we contain, affirm our shared experiences, and bewilder us.  Like any art, it enables us to cope and grapple with our existence and nature.
I think empathy is of the utmost value in our world.  And most simply – by acting you get to walk a mile in someone’s shoes, which is a great gift.  By then telling their story to others, you’re kind of passing the shoes around and people can decide what they want to do or not do with them, but it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves about the dimensions of our humanity and the humanity of the almost 7 billion other folk we live with. Oh. Right. And it’s fun.

which of your roles make you proud?
I guess there’s a difference between proud and satisfied for me. I’m never satisfied. You can always go further. But I can say I’m proud whenever I feel that I’ve done my best – worked tirelessly, followed every question through to a choice I find truthful and inspiring, given generously of all that I know and am to the telling of someone’s story and walked away feeling that that someone will be a part of me forever. By name, I am proud of Marlene, Paulina, Electra, Armanda, Cecilia, and Emma. Also gotta give a little shout out to Leela. I am extremely proud to be a part of a show that makes a difference in the lives of kids, like Sesame Street does. It can at times be a rare feeling in this business to feel like your work is so tangible a force of good.

if you could play any part(s) what would they be?
I’m too young to play most of my dream roles but one I can’t wait to get a crack at is definitely Arkadina in The Seagull.

what does it feel like to be on stage performing in front of lots of people?
In the worst moments, I feel terrified, shaky and exposed. In the best, people are watching and I know that, but I don’t think about them beyond that acknowledgment, because something much more important is happening in the immediate vicinity. To serve them best you have to focus on what you’re doing, not on what they’re doing.

who inspires you?
The generous, the disciplined, the creatively gifted, the intellectually curious, the makers of tough choices.

what is your advice to aspiring actors?
Logistically? Make sure you have a life outside of the work that fulfills you. Surround yourself with things and people you love because your sanity and state of mind can never solely depend on this slippery, fickle and unpredictable business. Idealistically?  Make work you can respect. It’s easy to labour for the approval of casting directors and critics. But, as an actor and a friend put it, the only person in the arena is you. And if you can make art that lives up to your potential and commands your own respect, that’s saying a hell of a lot.

what was happening at the dinner table when you were a kid?
My mom was making culinary magic. My sister and I were mathematically tracking each other’s shrimp consumption. My dad was sighing 12 hr work day sighs. There were fervent discussions and lots of laughter, often music. And my lifetime commitment to simple homemade Indian food was cemented.

what is your most disgusting new york moment?
That’s not an easy one. I was on my way to a rehearsal one day and waiting to cross the street I smelled something pretty vile. I looked around… nothing.  Looked down… my pants and shoes were covered in poop all the way up to my knees. I have NO idea how I managed to wade through what can only have been a fecal deposit of historic proportions without even noticing. I beelined to the closest clothing store, which was fortuitously ten paces behind me, to buy pants and flip flops where, of course, the folks at lululemon made me wait outside the door for the remaining 6 minutes until they were officially open even though they could clearly see the situation I was in… or maybe because they could clearly see the situation I was in. I had no choice but to impulse-buy these fantastic but criminally overpriced yoga pants and sandals, and arrive late to rehearsal with probably a faint aura of poop still following me.

what will you do on your next break? the sky is the limit.
What will I do? Probably audition, play music, read and cook. What do I wish I was doing? Driving across the country.

what five things do you do really well?
I have excellent instincts. I can sing. I give pretty mean advice. I can over-analyze almost anything to death, and I think I’m a pretty good friend.

what do you collect?
I try not to. I’m a little terrified of my inner hoarder so I try to keep her in check. But things I have too many of? Sneakers. And old clothes. It’s almost impossible for me to get rid of clothes softened by decades.