Sandy Sidhu was in a panic. A hard-working student of cellular biology and genetics in her second year at the University of B.C., she was excelling in her studies and on-track to achieving her dream of becoming a doctor.
She woke in the night, heart pounding, with the realization that everything needed to change. Busy with school, she had been unable to return to Nanaimo to pursue musical theatre as she had done the previous summer. With a start she realized that something fundamental was missing.
She didn't want to be a doctor at all. She wanted - needed - to become an actor.
"It was an 'Oh my God' moment," said Sidhu. It had been the first time in six years that she didn't have acting in her life. In her years at Dover Bay Secondary she had studied hard, but also pursued the after-school musical theatre program for two hours a day, describing it as "my outlet and my sanity."
It was about to become more than just a hobby, however.
Sidhu hit the streets with cover letters and photos she had taken at a studio in Nanaimo, and by the next day, had landed an agent in Vancouver.
"My first agent gave me a call and said, 'I want you to do a read for me,'" said Sidhu. "At that point you just kind of go, 'What am I thinking, what am I doing?' It was such a spontaneous moment."
It was her start, though incredibly, Sidhu couldn't stand the thought of her degree remaining unfinished, so she carried on and completed it though she was certain acting was her calling.
Those first years were hard and lean, with many long stretches between jobs, but Sidhu was happy. After a particularly dry spell without work, however, she began to feel the first creeping doubt about whether acting was what she was meant to do, after all.
"I remember auditioning for a long, long time and nothing was happening, it felt like you were banging your head against a wall and no one was listening," she said. "At one point I remember thinking, 'Is this the world telling me I'm skewed in my perception of what I'm meant to do?'" It was on that day that Sidhu landed her first recurring role, on the TV series Stargate Universe.
"When I booked it, I actually looked up to the world and went, 'What are you doing to me?'" said Sidhu with a laugh.
Since then Sidhu hasn't looked back. Though she is still fascinated by human biology, she said her degree is not something she plans to fall back on.
She has, however, branched out into the world of producing, and just completed work on an upcoming Bravo!FACT short film called Fade Out, directed by Agam Darshi and co-produced with her actor friend Crystal Lowe.
The experience of overseeing everything from the budget, to gathering crew and finding locations, was "amazing," because there is always that hovering doubt when doing something for the first time about whether one can "really do it," she said.
"Filmmaking is not just acting, there is so much more to it," said Sidhu, who added that she and Lowe are busy with more production work, including a TV series for Canadian television.
Acting is still something Sidhu is also busy with, and she has just wrapped up filming a pilot for Intelligence, a potential television series for CBS.
Having multiple skills is an asset in an industry that can often be harsh.
As a South Asian actress, Sidhu said there is much less typecasting than there may have been 10 years ago, and cites her "non-clich?" role in Intelligence as an example.
"Before (the film) Slum Dog Millionaire I had noticed that in the actor breakdown, for me to go out for it, it would say specifically 'South Asian.' But now, there's just a lot more opportunities, I'm finding. It has transitioned," she said. "But it could always be more. I mean, will I see a brown Batman? A South Asian Batman? I don't know. I don't know if the audience would be ready for that yet. There's definitely still room to keep advancing people's perceptions of different skin tones having leading roles . . . There definitely are people of colour who have leading roles, but to keep pushing those - for that not to be a special thing, to not even be 'a thing,' that's the next step."
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