OPEN CHEST Interview with Actress, Singer, Songwriter Karen David
Tags: actress, batman begins, couples retreat, ctv, global, harold and kumar, hugh hefner, jennifer aniston, jennifer lopez, jeremy irons, jim carrey, john favreau, kal penn, kristin davis, penelope cruz, pixelface, red lights, salma hayek, scorpion king, scorpion king 2: rise of a warrior, sharon stone, singer, songwriter, south asian, the color of magic, waterloo road
A No Holds Barred Interview
It’s fabulous that we’re finally sitting down here in London and doing an OPEN CHEST interview after all the years we’ve known each other, doll. We have had you on our cover before but never done an actual interview, so since you’ve got a lot going on right now, what a perfect time to chat with you. This is going to be fun. As I mentioned to you before we started, this particular issue of ANOKHI is themed as our passion issue, and I can’t think of a more perfect fit—considering everything you do is based on your passion for your art form. What was the first thing that came to mind when I told you that you were going to be the cover personality of our first-ever passion issue?
I want to kiss you all over and say thank you! (Laughs). And just say that you and ANOKHI have been just so supportive of everything I have done on this journey that I have been on, almost from the beginning, when you graciously gave me your 5th Anniversary cover, to this one, over three years later. I’m just so very honoured.
Awe, you’re welcome babe; well deserved. People define passion in many different ways as it’s a very subjective emotion, and as such, it can be considered a noun, verb or adjective. It kind of depends on your perspective on life. How do you define the word passion?
You know, passion is very close to my heart because I grew up with it from the day I was born, from my earliest memory. My parents, from the get go, have always been very passionate in their parenting, to the point that they gave and give beyond the call of duty, so, I’ve learned from them the importance of family and friendships. Yes my career is very important to me and I am very passionate about that, clearly, as I would never have gotten to this point without it, but at the end of the day, they define the person who I am, and that’s where it started for me, the meaning of passion. The love and support that I have from and for my family goes into the drive and passion I have for my work.
The Early Years…
So let’s talk about the passion that you have for your work. You are an actress and singer-songwriter. For those who don’t know you as well as I do, give me a quick synopsis of your journey from the moment you knew that the entertainment field was what you wanted to do professionally speaking, to the point where you actually got your first professional gig?
I was four years old when I watched Xanadu with my older sister. I saw Olivia Newton-John and fell in love with all things ONJ from that moment on. I had to sing like her, act like her. It was from that moment that I knew that like her, I wanted to do both things — sing and act. That was it, I was bitten; there was no looking back — that was what I was going to do. To this day, there are moments when I wake up thinking “What am I doing, who am I kidding, how long can I keep this up for?” People don’t hear that side of the story, but yes, you go through thousands of rejections; yes doors close on your face; yes there is so much corporate politics. But then I remember the four-year-old girl and remember that time when I knew that I had to do this. I remember the genuine passion and the genuine love which was euphoric, which filled my whole body, heart and soul, and that’s what keeps me going.
So where did you go from that point forward?
A couple of years later, I was looking through the comic section in the Toronto Star and noticed in the classifieds that there was an open casting call for cute kids for commercial work. I tore the sheet out and snuck into my parents’ bedroom where the phone was and rang the number listed in the ad. I happened to get the casting director on the phone and she was tickled that a six-year-old was calling to make her own appointment. I ended up getting a couple of commercials and that started my whole career very early on.
Wow, what a story! Pushy from the start; love it!!
(Laughs) Yes. I guess I had to show and prove to myself that I can make things happen for myself. (Pause) You know Raj, I get asked all the time “I want to be an actor, I want to be a singer-songwriter, how do you do it?” For me, I didn’t have anyone to ask how to do it — you just do it. You just get on with it. And I did loads of research; I was a homework girl. I’d research things, read biographies of people I looked up to, to find out where they studied, who their teachers were, who they looked up to and idolized. The geeky side of me did all this invaluable research to ensure that I knew what I was getting into, and that I was doing it all for the right reasons. Although I had the support of my parents, my dad and mom told me from the very beginning that “we are new immigrants to the country so we can’t afford to take time off work to take you to auditions so you are going to have to wait until you are old enough to do it on your own. However, if you get straight-A’s in school, we will pay for singing and acting lessons.” So that is what happened. In a way, I am really grateful that things started later for me because looking back, knowing what I know today, I don’t believe that working as a child actor would have been the way to go for me.
Because I grew up really quickly anyway, without being exposed to this very adult-dominated and controlled world of show business. My mom always said that I was always a bit of an old soul even as a very young child, which had me gravitating to chatting with older people because I loved hearing their life stories.
Did you experience any holdbacks from your parents for wanting to go into a field that is considered so fluid because a lot of careers, if you put a lot of effort into them, learn the skills so to speak, you pretty much can make it happen. This is one of those few careers that no matter how much time, effort and skill you put into it, doesn’t equate to getting the pot of gold.
That’s a really good question. My answer? No. I think I’m very lucky that my parents have always been so open-minded, especially for South Asian parents where they want most of their kids to be something far more sensible and attainable. I totally get this thought process, especially in this day and age where there’s still such a huge recession going on all over the world. It just makes more sense to go into something more concrete in terms of actualization, but for me, I go with what’s in my heart. I live with passion and intend to die with it, come what may. People need to be inspired in order to be able to see and believe that anything is possible if you want it and work at it hard enough, and don’t give up when the light seems to be so far away. I’m no fool. I understand that this business can be a fickle one but I don’t want to be too negative because that’s just one side of it. The other side is quite miraculous and aspiring.
Is that what keeps you from becoming jaded?
Yes. Through my experiences in the industry, I’ve met amazing people and fortunately, I’ve been surrounded with positive and encouraging people. (Pause) You know, I want to share something with you Raj. Something not many people know.
I was bullied at school because I was ethnic-looking with a very Anglo-Saxon, Jewish name. I was different. I had a horrible acne problem between the ages of 11 to 16 and kids can be really mean at that age. I used to hide behind my hair and behind these ridiculous pink-speckled rimmed glasses, but even then, I was quietly ambitious because my parents always told me to just get on with the work as this stage of life would not last long. When I was in art school, there was a lot of competition where kids think they are better than you. I distinctly remember my vocal teacher asked each of us one day, “What do you want to do with your life?” I remember being really scared to speak up, but I said what I felt in my heart. I said that I’m going to be a recording artist one day and I am going to act in movies. This annoyed all the students in my class. They looked at me thinking “Are you crazy, looking like THAT?” They couldn’t believe I had the guts to say that I wanted to go into an industry that depended so much on the visual. I know its cliché, but I look back at it now and I think that all those chapters in my life have made me stronger, and really, I am so grateful for them because they taught me to have thick skin, something you need to survive in this industry. I really believe in karma and treating people the way you want to be treated and I know having an attitude like that has definitely gotten me to where I am today.
Agreed. Everything we experience has a purpose, a preparatory purpose, for what has yet to materialize in our futures.
Absolutely! So I don’t take shortcuts for the long-term goals that I want. I remember once you told me Raj, “It’s about your milestones!”
Yes dear, I remember, and it is!
You know, it was really tough being a teenager. I think all that bullying in some ways kind of made me more obsessed with wanting to make something of myself. To prove to myself I am more than these kids are saying I am, that I can be something that I can be proud of. So every time I get these long emails from people saying, “I really want to be an actor. I really want to be a singer. I really try but I don’t know,” I think to myself that you’re not trying hard enough because it’s really simple. I don’t know why we do this to ourselves where we often try and make things so much harder then it actually is.
So what would be your one statement of truth to these people?
If you want something, you have to work hard and pay your dues, you have to have a good attitude, learn from your mistakes, pick yourself up after you have fallen. It cannot NOT happen, and that is a fact! You don’t know how long it’s going to take, granted, but any place worthwhile going to, or any dream worthwhile making come true, you got to work at it and work hard at it. Don’t put your blood, sweat and tears into it and be afraid. There are millions of talented people in the world who don’t get a look in because of fear. Yes, luck has a bit to do with it, as it does with anything in life, but my thing is, it’s all about preparation meeting opportunity.
What was your preparation?
The first thing was to say to myself, “Alright, I’ve got an acne problem, I’m an ugly duckling right now but it wont be forever, so for now, I’m just going to get on with it. I’m not going to listen to what these kids are saying, I’m only going to listen to what I value.” I think half the battle is to be aware of what to listen to and what to filter out. I’ve worked long and hard and it’s been a long journey. It hasn’t happened overnight for me but I’m glad it hasn’t because if you want longevity in anything, you got to lay a solid foundation and that takes time. I laugh when I hear people say, “Oh it just happened for her overnight.” I’m like, “You kidding me? If that’s the case, it’s been one hell of a bloody long night!” I’ve had success a bit older now that I’m in my early thirties, but I’m glad because I’m comfortable in my own skin. I think in your twenties it’s all about figuring out who you are, what you want to be, trying to be comfortable in your own skin, getting over your insecurities, or whatever it is, and I think this is what becomes really sexy in a woman — when she comes into her own, and I think that tends to start when you hit 30. You start to accept and love yourself for who you are. You laugh at yourself and don’t take stuff seriously and really start to enjoy life. (Pause) And that is so empowering in itself so I am really glad that I took the advice and listened to those who really knew what was best for me because it’s too easy not to listen to the right stuff, and to listen to the wrong stuff instead.
Do you feel that this coming into your own as a woman is in part the reason why things started to fall into place for you, professionally speaking?
I think that is part of it and life experiences is the other part. I think that the best actors are the ones who have life experience to back them up, and I don’t just mean living year in, year out, but actively participating in your journey rather then accepting what you perceive as your lot. And yes, it’s totally about being more comfortable about who you are. We all have a personal manual or textbook, which constantly evolves as we get older until finally one day, it all just gets written in stone — the day or phase of your life when you figure out all the important things. It’s amazing when you finally figure that out. If I have a moment of vulnerability, all I have to do is think back to that moment when I was that four-year-old girl sitting in front of the TV and being really excited—that first moment of having that feeling in my gut and when my heart was racing. I just go back to that moment. That’s what keeps me going, that stubbornness. My mom and dad have always told me to enjoy every minute of this journey, whether it’s good or bad. The minute that you start to get on with things is when things start to happen.
And you think that’s what happened to you over the course of the last six years where everything has just started to happen for you? You’ve racked up quite the portfolio. Lead & supporting roles in big studio features like: Batman Begins (2005, Warner Bros.), Flight of Fury (2007, Sony Pictures), Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008, NBC Universal), Couples Retreat (2009, Universal), and your most recent venture, Red Lights, scheduled for release in 2012.
I lost a deal with BMG Music back in 2003 when they merged with Sony Music, so I spent 2004 just nurturing me. The minute that I did that was when all my major acting started. I got the principal role in Scorpion King and I strongly believe that this happened because I was getting on with life. This is my calling. (Pause) And you have to want to do it because you absolutely love it, not because of fame or money because it’s not worth it. It took me so long to get my break in Scorpion King but I did; it happens. Things do happen out of the blue but they happen when they are supposed to. I went in for casting here in London. They were looking for girls everywhere – in LA, New York, Toronto but I got the part of Leila, the female lead. I got it whilst I was filming The Color Of Magic with Jeremy Irons, which is a film based on a Terry Pratchet novel. And whilst I was doing that, the people at Scorpion King noticed me. So as soon as I finished that, next thing I knew, I’m in South Africa filming for three months.
That was your first principal acting role wasn’t it?
Yeah! It was after Scorpion King that the doors in Hollywood started to open. I know a lot of people think, “Ooh, Hollywood, that’s easy.” No! It’s funny when you start moving up the ladder; THAT’s when it gets even harder.
Because I had to invest about a year in LA, starting from scratch. During that time, I told myself, “Be prepared to not be at work for one year, to not be earning for a year.” It was scary, but I had to do this because I had to put my face out there in LA after getting this starring role in Scorpion King. I didn’t know anyone in LA, which was really scary, but I was really lucky because my dad, who was retired at that time, came with me. (Pause) I saw an interview with Jim Carrey at the actor’s studio where he was sharing how for five years he went from Canada to LA on auditions and his dad went to every single audition with him. It made me smile because my dad has done the same for me.
And now you’re here!
Yes. (Pause) And you know you’ve arrived when you get an invite to the Playboy Mansion. (Laughs)
Really? How did that come about?
When I did Couples Retreat Hugh Hefner sent me an invitation.
Yes, I walked out of spending the day with Hugh and the bunnies and felt so liberated.
In what way?
It’s such a crazy industry and there are a lot of lonely people, so there’s that element where you can lose yourself if you let yourself. But for me it was a great experience.
Did you get to wear one of the bunny outfits?
Well, Hugh spoke to me and said I’ve never met anyone quite like you. (Laughs) And he said I think you should be my new exotic bunny and I started laughing. And these girls who wanted to be a bunny so badly looked at me not too impressed. I told him I was flattered, but I think I should stick to my day job. (Laughs) And he started to laugh also. I remember, when I said bye to him, these girls came up to me as I was leaving the Mansion and said, “Are you crazy? Like he would totally give you breast enhancement for free!” I just said, “You know what, I may only have humble 32B cups, but I am really proud of them. And they’re real! And they don’t sag.” (Laughs) It’s these experiences you go through in life that I’m so grateful for because I can laugh about it. I want to be in my rocking chair years from now and look back and have no regrets. Following your heart is usually the harder path, but it’s the path that ensures you have no regrets and that’s what I want to be able to say when I’m 90.
I can completely understand where you’re coming from because I can see myself, also years from now, telling your story and that of many like you. My calling is telling aspiring stories to help people in life feel that whatever their calling is, whether it’s to be a school teacher, a painter or an engineer, find your calling and answer it!
Absolutely! You know I’ve seen so many people who are a lot older than me who still don’t know what they want in life, and that ’s got to be tough. I really feel that we are the lucky ones for knowing exactly what we want to do so we don’t waste a second of our lives and just get on with it.
You know, it’s interesting that you say this because over the years I’ve interviewed so many actors, some just starting out and some at the peek of their career, and for those who emerge from the South Asian community, I’ve noticed one common denominator: the struggle associated with being pigeon-holed into a certain genre of characters, thus being subjected to narrow casting. This has not been the case with you. Why do you think this is?
When I was a kid, it was the worst thing ever being of mixed heritage. I just wanted to fit in, but now that I am older, I celebrate those differences. Looking back, I wish I could’ve told six-year-old me that it’s OK to be partial Chinese from the matriarchal Khasi tribe in the Himalayas, and Canadian-British-Indian and having a sliver of Jewish in my background; things about me that I proudly celebrate today. Also, I think I have been very lucky to have agents that have submitted me for work without thinking of my heritage, but thinking of my acting prowess only.
When I interviewed Kal Penn for the second time a few years back when he was still in acting, he told me when I asked a similar question to him, why he felt he had not been subject to type casting, the Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle movies being an example of that; his character could have been any guy from any culture. He said something very poignant to me. He said that he believed that this was due to three fundamentals that many a South Asian actor doesn’t get. One, few actors from the community get training to hone their skills; two, they don’t dedicate their life to it, rather, they do it around their day jobs; three, they predispose themselves to a mindset of walking into an audition as a South Asian as opposed to as an actor. Based on your experience and somewhat parallel story, what are your thought’s?
In a word, “Yes!” He has taken the words out of my mouth; damn you Kal! (Laughs) This is the thing, when I had the dream as a child, it was a child having a childhood dream. That was it. I didn’t see myself as this brown girl, not once to this day do I think that way. I am proud of who I am, but why should I make that an issue when it has no relevancy? It’s not supposed to be a crutch, but rather, something you celebrate. There are so many advantages to not being blonde or blue-eyed, although there are definite advantages to being the American pie blonde. When I go into auditions, I don’t look like that; but it’s OK, because neither does more than half of the world. So long, as Kal rightfully said, you train and do it full-time, and may I add, don’t give up, something is gonna happen for you.
Where did you train?
I went to arts school, followed by the Berkeley College Of Music on a scholarship for a year. Then I came over to London on a scholarship to the Guildford School Of Acting. I took risks. A little known fact: I was originally studying journalism in university. When I was in my first year, I was being offered opening reporter positions for CTV and Global. Not a lot of people know this. During that time, I met a man named Lyman MacInnis who was the manager for people like Anne Murray and some of Canada’s greatest artists. I met him when he came to my school to give a talk. I went up to him and I was telling him about my dreams about being a singer-songwriter and an actor, and he said, “What are you doing? If this is what you want to do, why are you here?” I was like, “Because, er, er…” to which he said, “Because you are scared to take a chance, to do this full-time and commit to it and be out of work and struggle. You are afraid.” I said, “I’ve got all these job offers,” to which he said, “This is what you are going to do, you’ll turn them all down and take the scholarship to Guildford and move to London to pursue your acting and music there.” I said, “You make it sound so easy,” to which he said, “It is easy. You are the only one stopping yourself. It’s your fear. Fear is an illusion which can stop and hinder you from what you’re really destined to do.” When you have someone like that just spell it out for you, it all makes sense. So I became a university dropout! I went to Guildford, did my acting and I’ve worked ever since. So yes, what Kal said to you about where you have to be — completely focused, is absolutely right. Anything that you really want from your life, you have got to make sacrifices for and you can’t be afraid to struggle.
No one fails other than the person who gives up
It’s true! It’s really easy to give up. It’s too easy to pack it in and, believe me, I’ve had very vulnerable moments, but you’ve only got one life to live so what are you gonna do with it? It’s your choice, right? You’ve got no one to answer to but yourself!
You’ve experienced numerous rejections over the years.
I had my first major rejection when I was eight and I locked myself in my room for three days. After that, when you don’t get the job, you get over it. After that first major rejection, everything is easy. I don’t let it deter me. For me, it’s important that I give it 110% because I don’t want to live with knowing I didn’t give it my best shot. That’s the worse feeling ever. In LA and in Hollywood, you can’t get emotionally attached to things. That goes for anything, for that matter, that is career-related.
There is a relationship that exists between an actor’s natural skills, their learned skills and their understanding of how the movie business operates. You take a passion, go to school to learn about it then enter this big wide world of the business of the whole thing where you have to find a place where people all mesh and you stand out among the masses. How have you made that happen for yourself?
My inner spirit. Sometimes you can really be your own worst enemy and actually take work away from yourself by having the wrong attitude. You’ve got to have the attitude and frame of mind that makes you stand out among the masses.
And what is that attitude for you?
Let’s give it 110% and leave jaws hanging on the floor. Yes, I don’t need to prove to anyone that I am passionate about acting or singing because I know I have that, so my job is to ensure that my audience, be directors or the public, KNOW this.
When will Red Lights be on the theatre circuit?
Sometime next year.
OK, so let’s talk about some current work that’s airing on BBC TV in the UK right now: Pixelface and Waterloo Road.
It’s funny because a lot of my fans say that Wednesday night is Karen David night because Waterloo Road comes on right after Pixelface. The characters are so far removed from each other. Alexia is this video game character who is very stuck up, very posh in Pixelface. And she is an archaeologist mummy slayer who wears this Lara-Croft-like, Kill Bill kind of costume. The show is targeted to a younger crowd. In Waterloo Road I play a young Spanish teacher, Francesca, who gets involved with a student and they have a big relationship and she gets pregnant by him. Clearly for a more adult audience.
You just finished shooting something fabulous for HBO. Tell me about this?
Strike Back is an HBO/Sky Atlantic 10-episode series based on a Chris Ryan novel. It humanizes the life of soldiers and what they go through. This isn’t just about machine guns and bomb explosions. I’ve got a guest appearance in one and a half episodes and I was really nervous about it.
Why? Are you taking your clothes off or something? (Laughs)
As a matter of fact, yes I am.
Really? OMG! Spill!
(Laughs) I think as an actor, you reach a point where you’re grateful for the roles you’ve been fortunate for coming your way, and have been within a comfort zone that works for you. Then a role comes your way that is completely outside of your comfort zone but you know you have to do it. That is where you have to test yourself and be stretched as an actor. This role was THAT role for me. The episode I’m in is based on the terrorist attacks that happened at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. In the episode, I have a love scene, my very first love scene where I’m completely nude, bar a little cover in front between my legs. (Laughs). Although I’m outgoing as a person, I’m very shy and conscious about my body. I think, “Oh God! I’m going to strip off and be nude for a little bit in front of a camera crew.” It was nerve-wracking. I said I better say yes before I say no.
Why did you say yes before you said no?
I knew if I thought too long about it, I might lose my nerve, chicken out and say I can’t do this. So I said yes right away. You know my agents and I, we all had a chat and said this would be a good role because it would show me in a different light than I have ever been shown in before. I knew this role would help me in the bigger picture, so I said yes. My co-star Sullivan Stapleton is an amazing Australian actor. Did I mention he is very good-looking too? (Laughs) He was just so great to work with because he used humour to deflate the tension, as he was just as nervous as I was. In the scene, we’re making love when the bombs go off, he gets out of bed, stark-naked, then has a huge fight with some of the terrorists that come in. He has to do this all butt-naked so he was very nervous; he’s never done anything quite so in-your-face before, no pun intended. (Laughs) The view was quite nice though! (Laughs) I’m no Playboy Mansion kind of triple-D busted girl, but you know, whatever, I’m OK with it. I look at actresses like Kate Winslet and Ann Hathaway who have done it if its creatively justified, and this was creatively justified.
So what was it like popping off that bra, with headlights glaring, in front of a room full of crew members?
I haven’t got big knockers anyways so who cares, but it was during the lunch break when I had too much time to think that I lost my nerve. And when we came back and they told me “Karen, two to three minutes till you’re on,” I began to hyperventilate.
Oh no! What was going through your mind? You’d already gotten through the first part, how was this going to be any different?
I know! In the break, I was getting so mad at myself. I think if anyone was looking, they would totally think that I was schizo because I was talking to myself like I had two voices in my head: “Oh you stupid girl, why can’t you do this, why did I take this job?” and I was getting so frustrated, looking in the mirror trying to muster up the nerve to go back out there. And you know what did it?
I thought of Angelina Jolie and my inner vixen came out. It was great! At one point, I remember, due to the excessive heat where we were shooting, I was starting to sweat a little, so Sullivan tried to be the gentleman and blew on my breasts. I looked at him, laughing, and he said, “I was just trying to keep things cool.” (Laughs)
Ahh, the ice-breaker! (laughs)
(Laughs) You know what the funny thing is, some of my actor friends who have done tons of love scenes tell me that once you do it, you feel liberated. I didn’t feel liberated at all.
Is that perhaps the South Asian in you?
I don’t know! I guess it could have been. My mom and my dad knew about this and they were totally cool with it. My mom was like, “What are you worried about? What’s the big deal? Just do it”. Like the Nike commercial.
And your dad?
My dad was always the kind of dad who wanted to watch everything together. We only had one TV when I was younger so we all watched it together. Sometimes we would be watching a movie and all of a sudden this love scene would come on out of nowhere. To this day, when a scene like this comes on, my dad still says, “Karen, can you go get me a cup of tea?” I would be like, “Dad, how old am I now?”
Any awkwardness regarding your family watching your naked love scenes?
Absolutely not! Those things don’t even come into play because at the end of the day, this is what I do for a living. Its one thing for an actor to watch themselves on screen, but it’s another to watch yourself on-screen stark-naked! So when I saw these shots at the end, I just said, “Wow! They lit me up so well.” (Laughs) I think I was more afraid of being in the room with 15 men, starkers, than the world seeing me on-screen that way.
What I’m curious about is how you actually came on set. Were you starkers as you entered the room, or did you come in wearing a robe?
I had a standby wardrobe assistant, so the minute they said, “Cut,” boom the robe went on. But after you do 10 takes, its like, “What’s the point of covering up anymore?”
You truly got to OPEN CHEST darling! (Laughs)
When will the series be on-air?
At the end of the year.
You have worked with some really big names over the past six years. People like Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Vince Vaughn, Jeremy Irons, Kirstin Davis, just to name a few. Tell me something about one of them, from your experience behind-the-scenes, that people wouldn’t know about.
When I was doing Couples Retreat I was really excited because on my first day my scenes were with Kristin Davis. I’m a huge fan of Sex And The City. HUGE fan. Let me tell you, Kirstin is not like her character in SATC. She’s nothing like Charlotte. In some ways, as a fan, I wanted her to be, but in actuality, she’s completely the opposite to Charlotte. She is what you’d call an alpha-female, completely day and night from Charlotte, and that really threw me off because the romantic side of me wanted her to be exactly like Charlotte. I was like, “No, no, no! Be Charlotte, say something that Charlotte would say,” but Kristin is very different in real life. She’s a tough cookie. I remember in our rehearsals, Kristin and John Favreau were having a disagreement over some of the lines in the script. It was a very awkward and funny moment because here I am, in the middle of them both while they were in a heated disagreement. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept trying to cut in between them. Finally I just left. It just didn’t feel comfortable to be there in between them having this disagreement. It was a really bizarre moment because all I could think about was, “OMG! Charlotte, no!” (Laughs)
It’s interesting how we relate actors so closely to their characters. I still call Jennifer Aniston “Rachel”.
There’s a shift emerging in Hollywood right now regarding the lifespan of female actors, which hasn’t been the case ever in the past, barring a very select few like Betty Davis. There is an ever-growing list of A-listers over 40 like Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Aniston and Salma Hayek, whose careers are thriving, perhaps more now than ever before. In the past, actresses would take five years off their age so as to increase their on-screen lifespan but today, they don’t seem to have age-related issues anymore. It’s a good thing, but why do you think this is happening now?
I think a lot of the people want reality nowadays. They don’t want fakeness. I mean, there is almost a backlash about female actors getting Botox because you can’t see any facial expressions, which is so necessary for the job. People want to see real women. In my experience, I’m finding that there are not enough roles for the 20-to 30-year-olds because most of the roles are much older.
Why do you think that is?
Society has changed now where women are getting married older and having children later. They are getting on with their career. It’s so nice to see older women stories because you need to live enough life in order to have a story to tell, and we live in a world today where people are looking to connect. To connect, you need a relatable story.
Yes, and if you look at the whole reality TV explosion all over the planet, people feel like they are getting to watch people’s real life, even though [most] shows are all scripted. Nevertheless, people want to see what they perceive is reality.
And people live longer nowadays. Women are far more attractive in their forties and fifties than they ever were because they are accepting their age and taking care of themselves. Look at Sharon Stone, Penelope Cruz and Jennifer Lopez, all with booming careers and mothers as well.
And it’s also that confidence of coming into your own which is alluring and provocative.
The whole package!
Let’s talk about your music career now. It’s really difficult for people to make even one career materialize, let alone two. You’ve had quite the ramp in this regard. Musically speaking, you’ve collaborated with the maestro himself, A.R Rahman, and had some notably successful airplay. We’ve learned about Karen David the actor; who is Karen David the singer-songwriter?
I’ve been able to do both, but it’s been one hell of a juggle. I wanted to train and pay my dues equally in my music as I have in my acting, so I studied classical music since I was a kid and also attended the conservatory.
The conservatory in Toronto?
And then, as mentioned earlier, I went to Berkley, followed by Guildford. People believe that you can’t do both but I believe that if you pay your dues in both, why not? I’ve talked about coming of age in my acting. It was no different for me with music, finding that sound. I went through different chapters where I did exotic pop—the happy medium between east and west. This allowed me to create and bond with my South Asian fan base all over the world. I’m so grateful for that. Now I’m doing a project I’ve always had in my heart to materialize and that is a project called “The Girl In The Pink Glasses.” Now knowing my story as a teenager, you would remember that I wore these ridiculous pink-spectacle-rimmed glasses that I used to hide behind. She’s like an alter-ego for me which I’m going to develop into an undercover ’60s agent. It’s been so much fun putting this project together. This is a bit different for me because “The Girl In The Pink Glasses” is a brand concept where music plays a huge part but it’s also about doing it for the girls who have suffered and are now suffering. It’s to inspire girl/woman power.
So what is this concept from a musical perspective?
It’s a mixture of Blondie meets Gorillaz meets a dash of ’60s elevator music with a bit of Pulp and P.J. Harvey. You have to go through different journeys to figure out who you are, and now I have come into my own skin and found my sound, my music, my brand. This is who I am, who I feel comfortable with and I’m really excited about it. I call my followers my superheroes, and I wrote a song for them called “Superheroes” because they inspire me every day. They are the ones who, when I wake up every morning and log onto Facebook, tell me that, “You got to keep doing what you’re doing because you inspire me.”
You inspire them and in turn, they inspire you; that’s the true magic!
Yeah, and they get what I do. I’m with new music management so I’m really happy. I’m really excited about this new chapter, as I always wanted to find a way to marry my love for acting with my love for music. Not in a theatrical way but in a thematic way.
When can we hope to see something materialized for public consumption?
Well right now I have my 96 second snippet out on my Facebook fan page at karendavidmusic. I’m also putting out a track just for he fans because they really want something and I’m thinking of doing something special for them, soon, followed by an album by the end of the year.
There’s so many entertainers that have a multitude of careers going on, where they are so much more than an actor, musical artist or comedian, they’re a full-fledged brand. Music career, acting career, perfumes, clothing lines, etc. Do you think that the idea of being a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none is the safe route for people to take to ensure they can make a decent living?
The music industry has completely changed. You can’t make a living just from downloads. It doesn’t take much to chart anymore. You could sell 800 copies and chart. Gone are the days of the record shops where you buy CDs. Everyone downloads and then they pick the songs they like, they don’t even buy the whole album anymore. Things have changed: times have changed. Gone are the days where you’d have multi-million-dollar grossing acts.
So do believe that you can’t really have the one career in entertainment anymore?
Not right now.
What’s the single biggest challenge you have had to deal with to date?
Keeping the balance between nurturing my personal and professional life. It’s everyone’s challenge nowadays, right?
It’s balanced most of the time.
What’s that one single piece of advice that you’d give to someone entering your world, based on everything that you’ve learned, experienced, seen and felt?
I remember one of my acting idols, Sally Fields, saying in an interview, the same thing I’m going to say: Anything you do in life has to be because you believe in it wholeheartedly and because you absolutely can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s going back to the start of this interview that if you’ve got that genuine passion in you, it floats throughout your whole body, it’s your being. And if you don’t have that, then chances are that’s not what you should be doing.
Let’s totally shift gears now. You’re a total sweetheart and you’ve had quite the journey—the good, the bad and the ugly. And in the face of it all, you’ve always been just as positive as you can be. I love your aura and I love your energy. I would imagine that a woman like you must find it a little challenging to find a counterpart who could fit within that space, to share your life with— companionship, love, respect, honour, fun, you know. But then I see this cute Scandinavian-looking hottie that you’re parading shamelessly all over the place. (laughs)
(Laughs) My significant other, Carl Ryden. What I love about him is that he’s not fazed by what I do. Carl doesn’t love me any more or any less because of what I do. He loves me for who I am as a person, not because of what I do professionally. In fact, he always keeps me in-line saying, “OK, let’s not talk about work anymore, we’re home now.” I need that; that sense of reality. He’s really good for me in that way. He helps balance me and he’s incredibly calm and laidback, which works great because I’m an Aries woman who’s really feisty, so the contrast is good for both of us. Besides the fact that I think he is a hottie, I love his lack of ego, his low maintenance personality. And the fact that he cooks like a dream and knows how to stitch buttons and iron and all that, what more could a girl want? (Pause) Like any relationship you have your ups and downs, but I remember something Colin Firth said recently. He said that it’s all about navigating – your marriage, your work. Things happen and life happens, passions change and you got to keep navigating, and I have fun doing that with Carl.
Six characteristics your man must have in order to be with you?
Sense of humour, sensitivity, thoughtfulness, patience, independence, forgiveness.
Five ways you spend your time off-duty?
Going for walks, going for Sunday roast, going for long drives, picnics, spending time with my family and friends.
Four words that describe you?
Passionate, caring, effervescent, thoughtful.
Three people who are the most important to you?
My mother, my father and everyone else.
Two things you absolutely have to do in the next five years?
Have children. Maybe get married.
One motto you live by?
Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world!”
First published in The Passion Issue, May 2011. www.AnokhiMagazine.com.
Photo i: Photography By Ilze Kitshoff
Photo ii: Sky (COLOUR OF Magic)
Photo iii: So Television (Pixelface)
Photo iv: Ilze Kitshoff (COLOR OF Magic)
Photo v: Photography By BBC1/Shed (Waterloo Road)
Photo vi, vii, viii, viiii: Photography By Ilze Kitshoff
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