Parveen Kaur on ‘Manifest,’ Diversity in Film & Her Advice to Young Women (Exclusive Q&A)

Parveen Kaur, best known for her roles in Saving Hope and American Gods, is continuing the science fiction angle with her new NBC show, Manifest. A mix of drama, horror and crime, Manifest follows a plane full of passengers that appear, with no time lost to the passengers, five-and-a-half years after their flight took off. Kaur plays Saanvi Bahl, a medical researcher who has helped develop a new treatment for leukemia, a disease one of the other passengers is suffering from, and is helping everyone on the plane figure out what exactly happened to them.

Passionate and sincere, Kaur spoke with Her Campus about Manifest, making us so ready for next week's episode. We discussed what we can expect in future episodes, how she got into acting, how diversity should be tackled in the entertainment industry and more.

Her Campus: What made you interested in the role of Saanvi in Manifest?

Parveen Kaur: It’s so funny; we as actors, and as unknown actors, it’s not like I had a plethora of choices. Josh Dallas or Melissa Roxburgh had options coming off of bigger shows. I was auditioning a lot during pilot season and you have a hard time saying no when you’re just starting out. You’re really just auditioning back to back and a lot comes your way. Manifest had the best script I read in all of pilot season so that, mixed with the fact that I was in a place in my career looking for the experience of being on set as working actor, a series actor. I don’t know I would say I had all these offers and this was the best, it was more a combination of well, I need to work and don’t want to be a starving actor.

HC: How would you describe your character?

PK: I’ve been saying from day one when I first auditioned that she is such a badass in the sense that she is very ferocious, fierce, dedicated and passionate. She is one of the main characters who is really handling this unfathomable, awful situation with a lot of strength—and she is really grounded in that as well. All the different characters are handling it in a different way, but Saanvi is really focusing on the work and figuring out what happened. She has a lot of attitude and you can see that throughout the season. She is just tough as nails. Like, when I try to put myself in that situation where you have to rebuild your life, I can’t imagine I would be as put together as Saanvi has been in the journey for her.

HC: The last episode ended with the revelation that the passengers had an obvious genetic marker that pointed to them having almost died. Can you give us any insight into how your character is dealing with this revelation and her role in exposing it?

PK: We’re going to see a lot of that in episode four, where she’ll be basically confirming what it is that she found. You’ll see her dealing with what that would be like, and without giving too much away, the marker that she does find is a very big find. It’s the first time we see Saanvi crack, maybe close to breaking down—but she pulls through, which I love that she does. You’ll also see how she breaks the news to her fellow plane-mates.

HC: Is there anything you're really excited for in upcoming episodes?

PK: Yes! We finally get to see Saanvi outside to the lab and hospital. I’m excited to see her in the outside world where she comes together with another passenger and they have a journey together. She also builds up her relationship with Michaela. They are two young women in a complicated, dramatic situation and both are really trying to figure it out in the best way they know how. I know Ben and Saanvi have been working so well together, and I’m excited to have the world see Michaela and Saanvi together.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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HC: How does it feel to play a role in the medical field again after Saving Hope?

PK: I have mixed feelings. I would hope that after doing a show like Manifest, as a South Asian, future roles would break out of that stereotype. At the beginning of your career, you have to take a lot of these parts. You have to work and it’s all a learning experience, and best you can do is to try and bring as much humanity and conviction to the role and enjoy the character. I’m hoping these roles are only going to be a stepping stone that sees South Asian women and men play outside of the doctor, scientist and nerdy character. I’m going to push for that going forward. After Saving Hope, I said I would never play a doctor again, but then Manifest came along and the way [Saanvi] was presented to me... she was ferocious and had a nice layer to her. So my feeling is mostly a positive one, but personally I would be ready to move on from that after we finish the show.

HC: Do you have a favorite role?

PK: All my roles that I’ve played! All the roles you take end up being personal to you one way or another. I did one short film, called The Worst Part, where I had pink, rainbow colored hair and was a graphic designer. That was really cool to me to play something completely different. I did White Night where I played an artist struggling to share her art during Nuit Blanche, an art festival in Toronto. That was a cool experience as well. All roles leave a mark in some way. It’s hard to choose one that’s been a favorite or better than others. I’m looking forward to seeing what will come in the future.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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HC: You were recently awarded the 2017 MISAFF Star for your work towards creating space for positive representations of diverse women in film and television. How do you try and build this diversity, and what led you to become passionate about this work?

PK: I have a really interesting perspective on that question being asked. Every time you want to talk about diversity, and this was referenced on Trevor Noah, it’s a question asked only towards people of color. I don’t think it needs to be asked towards people of color, it needs to be asked towards the people making decisions, the heads of studios. These questions need to be catered to them as they are the ones who need an answer and need to know what true diversity is. All I can really do is try to play these characters I am offered, which is very limited. Being a South Asian woman, it’s not like I have a plethora of characters. I can take this experience of working on Manifest and make my own projects that are personal to me and show my upbringing that might be different from the writers’ room that may not always be accurate. I don’t know how much that question needs to be asked of people of color—it needs to be asked to a different community of people, who have power to change it.

HC: What made you interested in acting?

PK: I think it was just always an outlet for me in a way. I was not the easiest child growing up, as my parents would say. I didn’t really start acting until I was in my 20s, so I definitely was a late bloomer. I definitely wasn’t someone doing school theatre or plays, I didn’t get those opportunities. I didn’t think it was an option until I was older. I was living in Toronto, [and] I had a friend who just said "take an acting class, you have great energy," so I did. It came naturally so I just stuck with it, worked towards it and got an agent. It was just something that happened in a very organic way. For a long time, I was resentful, ‘What if I had started sooner,’ or ‘What if my parents had been more supportive towards work in the arts as compared to something else.’ But it happened at the time it was supposed to happen. It was a mixture of needing to be expressive and needing to survive. I moved to Toronto on my own and needed to pay rent, put food on my table, etc. I certainly didn’t have this budding support system people are lucky to have. I was on my own and needed to pay the bills.

HC: What advice would you give young women today?

PK: A really good work ethic is really, really important, and the core of everything that you do in life. Have some goals you need to work towards. I always say you need to put on your horse blinders and keep your eyes on the prize and not get distracted. I know for a couple of years I had to give up on a flourishing social life because I needed to be auditioning, and it paid off. If you have goals and you set them and you work hard to achieve them, you’ll succeed. You can have a ton of talent, and most people are talented in some way, but if you don’t have the drive, it won’t matter. Someone can have only a little talent, but a huge work ethic can get far. We see this a lot.

Secondly, ask for what you want. I know that this is a really complicated thing to navigate through. The sooner we can learn to ask for things we want, the more fulfilling career and social life we will have. I’m just starting to learn that and I’m turning 30 this year. It feels really good. It’s always terrifying, but I’ve yet to have an experience where I asked and failed to feel good afterwards. I wish I had had that advice and people around me encouraging me to do that when I was younger, even when I was a teenager I wish I had had more encouragement. It’s not as easy as I know some people would like to think. Every time I’ve done it and gotten past the awkwardness, I’m always happy I’ve asked.