Poorna Jagannathan fever has taken over all our news feeds. The celebrated actor has recently been making waves across the world for her portrayal of an Indian mother in Netflix’s Never Have I Ever Season 2. But this is not her first iconic role, a plethora of brilliant performances precede this—think marquee projects such as Big Little Lies, The Night Of and Delhi Belly. A two-decade long career spanning across movie industries, varied filmography and now, global recognition—one thing that remains unchanged is her authenticity.
We, at NDC, journeyed across oceans, all the way to downtown LA, to celebrate this trailblazer; a champion of South Asian representation and a formidable talent herself. On an intimate summer afternoon, the prolific actor let us in on her deep connection with India, current life in LA and her symbolic natural diamond pieces, each which represent a special time in her life.
What do you love most about what you do? It is the closest expression of who I am. Ever since I was 8, I wanted to be an actor. It was only at 30 that I thought to myself, it is now or never. So I quit my job, started learning and training.
How do you think you have evolved as an actor and as a woman over the years? In my mind, the concept of acting was that you were trying to be somebody else. Over the years, I have been trying to be closer to who I am. It is therefore hard to be a continuous self from who you are and present that authentically on screen. As a woman my challenge remains: how do you continue to show up, not just one part of you but all the facets of you, all day everyday?
Why LA? I have lived in many parts of the world, including New York, and I shrivel up when it’s cold. I don’t generate body heat at all! LA is perfect [in that regard] and I now live by the water—it really is the biggest lesson in humility, being next to the ocean. I have also lived in India off and on throughout my life. There’s a huge connection since I spent time there as an adult, in Mumbai, as a part of Bollywood. That led to several intense friendships—it is completely my second home. My husband’s parents live there, I have family in Chennai, we certainly visit India once or twice a year.
What is one Indian trait you have always held on to? Hospitality! The gifting, the feeding and treating the guest as god—I picked it all up from my mom. I cannot remember a day in my childhood when we didn’t have visitors at home. She [my mom] still lives by way of giving, whether it is things or even her time. I may be stereotyping here, but I do feel that to be so intensely hospitable is an Indian thing.
What is your fondest memory of India? There’s a very evocative visceral memory that is created every single day I spend in India. My fondest, cheesy as it sounds, was a desert safari in Rajasthan back in 2000. I remember thinking wow, this blue city, this pink city is stunning and it is ours! It is probably the most touristy thing to say or do but it is a beautiful place. That year, my girlfriend and I travelled to different parts of India that I had never been to.
Tell us about your relationship with diamonds. I admire and love diamonds, we have always had statement pieces in the family. Diamonds are in fact very big in South India be it in earrings or nose rings—they’re so traditionally feminine, I have seen women in my family wear them all day, everyday. However, I am very particular about how they are sourced, that is fundamental. I don’t want to wear something with any connotation of cruelty. Every single diamond I now own as an adult is natural, real and ethically sourced. Each piece symbolises a different time in my life or even an occasion. My husband and I, we’re very humble—he’s in education, I was a starving actor. We were too poor to even afford a wedding ring, I still wear my mom’s! It’s been a slow but steady collection of gorgeous diamond pieces that represent milestones for us be it the 5 year, 10 year and now the 20th anniversary coming up. For red carpet events I get to wear incredible diamond pieces that make me feel special. Of course the next day I have to give them back [and it’s such a bummer]!
You have always been someone that puts South Asian representation on the forefront. Tell us more. I notice this across all South Asian women that no matter what business they’re in, they are invested in helping and hearing from others in the community. Even in the acting space, I see Mindy Kaling do this all the time. She will never miss an opportunity to give great advice to someone she just met who is looking to her on how to navigate a career in entertainment. I truly believe we [South Asian women] are going to be an unbelievable force very soon. You are going to see us in places you never saw us before, be it politics or otherwise. And, we’re going to be dominating!
Photographer: Mili Ghosh | Cinematographer: Charles Guinto | Make-up: Barbara Yniguez | Hair: Bong Buan | Production: By The Gram