Q+A: Vik Sahay of NBC's Chuck
Canadian actor Vik Sahay’s TV character, Lester Patel, was once confused for a lesbian. Making his move to notable film roles, his most recent being the victim of Steve Stifler’s jokes in American Reunion, he stars in the Toronto Film Festival selection, An Awkward Sexual Adventure, which will premiere at the Santa Barbara Film Festival this Friday.
You went from being part of the so-called “Nerd Herd” on NBC’s “Chuck” to actually being a sought after man in “My Awkward Sexual Adventure.” Clearly, you aren’t being typecast as anything but a great comedy actor. What about you brings about versatility to a role?
First of all, thank you. And that’s a good question. I think, as an actor you have to be willing to reveal your shadow. For every quality we have as humans, we have its opposite. Charming, vicious. loving, destructive, brave, cowardly. And I think that when you are really willing to be seen, from all sides, it allows you to portray a wide range of characters. I’ve also been very lucky in that producers and casting directors have been willing to see me in different archetypes, serving story in different ways.
The film title includes the word “awkward,” but as someone with enough comedy roles in his resume, you seem like you would be anything BUT awkward when filming. How did you evolve to this point where you can escape into a role? And I have no problem with saying something like that, because comedy is as demanding, if not more, than dramatic work. What do you do so you might feel like dark humor, slapstick, utter silliness and other parts of your work day are normal?
Well, I do try to stay as silly as humanly possible. I keep that spirit alive in my life. And I study it. Constantly watch the comedy masters when I’m not working. And then, I am happy, actually, to still feel awkward when I come to work. I may have experience with the technical aspects of being on a set, understanding the camera and how the team works, but I stay as innocent as possible. Try to begin again. Comedy needs that innocence and it’s not hard for me to bring it because I do still find it to be a mystery I love.
What about this film is not only hysterically funny to watch but new for comedy? What do you think it says about our always evolving comedy in our times? Because comedy really can change within a five year span.
Well, I think we’re doing something that other countries have done before us. Finding the funny in sex. North America can be kind of adolescent in its humor, where Europe and Latin America have been finding sex funny for a long time. We’ve been a little stuck on toilet humor, to be honest. So I think what we’ve done is new for North America only. Where we’re usually very serious, earnest, or uptight about sex, I feel this film opened it up enough to say what everyone knows: no one is born a great lover. You get to be one through experience, and ultimately communicating about it.
Back when you studied theater, what did you learn in class that you still use to this day?
Start every character with the statement I WANT TO LIVE. And work back from there to find out why they feel like they’ll die if they don’t get what they want.
Comedy plays out differently when you see it versus reading it. When you try out for roles, what do you look for?
The “music.” One of the biggest things that distinguish comedy from drama is that, especially with good material, it wants to be played with a certain tempo, or touch. I listen with my whole self for what that might be and try to let my body and voice lead me there.
A year ago, you were in American Reunion, which as much as it gets panned by a few critics, is an incredible comedy franchise with longevity. However, at this moment in Hollywood, there isn’t a particular actor of Indian descent – a strong, powerful with the studio executives, creative but funny actor like an Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell – who also demonstrates he can sell at the box office with regular moviegoers. You can be the first if you continue landing great comedic roles. What do you see yourself doing to head down that path?
Wow, that is a huge compliment. I do think Kal Penn has taken awesome strides in that direction. For myself, I feel like I need to dip into drama frequently to keep it real. I love moving back and forth, and pray that I get to keep doing that. And aligning with new rising directing and writing talent is important as well.