August Spotlight: Exclusive Interview with Vinny Chhibber
Sometimes you meet individuals in life that you know are going to change the world. Vinny Chhibber is one of them.
It was a bright and sunny weekday in Silverlake, CA where we met up with the talented Mr. Chhibber. We grabbed coffee at one of his favorite local spots, Lamill Coffee. He recommended we order the warm donut holes and it was right then and there we knew we'd get along. Chhibber had just come from a meeting with the writers on his new show, The Red Line and was excited to share how pumped he was to be working with such a talented team. From Executive Producer Ava DuVernay, "a heart-in-your-throat drama, The Red Line begins with the mistaken shooting of a black doctor at the hands of a white cop and unfolds from the perspective of each of the families connected to the tragedy. It's a then-and-now meets us-and-them tale about the often-personal politics of crime." (CBS). Sounds amazing right? We jumped right into getting to know Vinny and learned about his upbringing, passion for art, the current state of industry politics, and advice he has for aspiring Hollywood hopefuls.
Tell us about your journey into acting?
I grew up in a small town of five thousand people in West Virginia and we didn't have a real theater program. When I was 15 I did Romeo & Juliet and later did Grease on a tiny little 5x10 stage. When I was 17 I moved to Tampa, Florida and I got into a private school that had a very rigorous theater program. I went from that 5x10 stage doing Grease to full productions with an orchestra pit. It was definitely very different. While I was there I succumbed to the pressure from my parents to take a more traditional career path; so I took a break from theater for a couple of years and became a political science major, then a business major. When you're an artist at your core and you've been raised to live and speak your truth, not following your inclination is painful. I ended up taking a semester off and ironed out for myself what I really wanted to do. It's a cultural thing of wanting to please. If you're a creative and all you're doing is trying to please someone you're dead in the water. I had to come to grips with the fact that being an artist was going to displease a number of people including my parents at the time, but I knew I had to do it. During the year before I graduated I read everything on acting techniques — Stanislavski, Chekhov, Ibsen, Uta Hagenn, Strasberg, and Meisner. I auditioned for the Stella Adler Studio conservatory in New York and I got in. The conservatory was really intense and I was in class from 9am to 6pm, Monday through Thursday. I had already taken out a loan for college so I couldn't get another loan for the conservatory. I didn't take any financial assistance from my parents and worked three jobs to survive. It was tough, but it was worth it. All my mom wanted was a doctor, a lawyer, and an engineer, but she ended up with 3 artists activists instead.
Diversity and Inclusion in the entertainment industry
We are slowly getting there. I thought this year in particular was great and a lot of people I know that have been grinding for a long time have gotten opportunities. I think people are open to having the conversation about diversity and inclusion, but just having a brown person on screen is not enough. There are still frustrations with South Asians being viewed like we can't carry a film or we can't be the romantic lead. The reality is we are just people like everybody else and people want to see themselves. Growing up all we really had was Apu. It affects your sense of self. The media portrays what is "normal" and it forces us to wonder why we can't just be "normal" like everybody else. To create change our community needs to take action. We have the education, wealth, creativity, and resources to do more.
When you are in a position where you can Affect change
it is absolutely your responsibility to do so.
When you don't you are not only failing yourself, but the community that you are a part of.
What was the process like booking The Red Line?
Casting, producers, studios, networks — there are people in those positions that made a commitment to be diverse and inclusive not only in casting, but with the writers and the show runners as well. As a result of that I had the opportunity to audition. The story and the character can only benefit from this diversity. I'm thrilled that I'll be playing a character that is informed by, but not defined by their ethnicity; that's what is changing. I'm not playing some cardboard cut out of a stereotypical South Asian character. I'm really excited to see where the character and story goes.
Are you writing or producing your own content?
Four years ago we started a production company (Chhibber Mann Productions) and a theater company (Ammunition Theatre Company) within 12 months of each other. Both companies are predicated on the idea of creative activism — using our art to facilitate change in the communities around us. What we've tried to do is give a voice to the voiceless. We produce work that addresses social issues and we try to empower people through storytelling.
We've produced 3 features. The first film (Folk Hero & Funny Guy) opened at Tribeca Film Festival, the next one (M.F.A.) opened at SXSW and the third film (Lost in America) is a documentary about homeless youth in the United States.
Storytelling is a super power. Art can either show the world what it is or art can show the world what it could be. That is the responsibility of an artist.
What advice would you give to the next generation of Desi youth who want to pursue acting?
Whether you are on set with Martin Scorsese or you are in a black box theater with 5 people in it or you are making a sketch with your friends — it's all the same. The work doesn't actually change. What makes your heart beat? Don't allow someone else's optics or society's optics control what you should be or what story you should tell. As an artist it is your responsibility to be dedicated to your craft. The dedication and self love require you to speak your truth — to live in it.
We had the amazing pleasure of getting to know Vinny and we're truly inspired by his story. We can't wait to see how our brother's story plays out; all we know is that it's going to be a good one! The Red Line was ordered to series on May 11, 2018 on CBS and we're currently waiting on the official premiere date! So stay tuned!