Comisery is an Asian-American Science Fiction Screwball Comedy that Quentin Lee and I created and made over eight weeks during the lockdown. It stars Bee Vang, Harrison Xu, Amy Hill, Jennifer Field, Nat Ho, Sheetal Sheth, Richard Anderson, and Verton Banks. It was a screwball comedy response to the pandemic and living under lockdown. It premieres on September 1st on Quentin's streaming service AsianAmericanMovies.com and on Amazon Video.
Full disclosure: when I'm not working on screenplays and film work, I'm a correspondent for Bleeding Cool. In the week leading up to the premiere, the editors of Bleeding Cool have let me run a series of interviews with the cast and crew to talk about what it was like to make a movie during the lockdown, shot on zoom, without leaving home. It's a new form of narrative filmmaking that the industry is still coming to terms with.
Today, we talk to Sheetal Sheth about playing Anika Patel, another character trying to hold it together during the lockdown and already dealing with some odd situations before the alien virus hits. As Skylar's ex-girlfriend and best friend, she shares his bewilderment and shock at the insanity of it all.
Sheetal is an accomplished actress, producer, and author with an impressive resumé. She has starred in over 20 feature films, including Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World and won five best actress awards on the festival circuit. She has been on TV shows like NCIS, Nip/Tuck, Blue Bloods, and done voice work on Family Guy. She is currently in postproduction on the feature, Hummingbird, which she also produced. She's had op-eds published on CNN and Thrive Global. She served in President Clinton's AmeriCorps and is currently on the advisory board of Equality Now and an ambassador for CA First Partner, Jennifer Newsom's, The Representation Project. Her first children's book, Always Anjali, was published in 2018 and won the 2019 Purple Dragonfly Storybook Grand Prize (voted on by teachers and librarians) and is set to be a series.
I remember discussing with Quentin an all Asian-American cast for Comisery since no one had done an Asian-American Science Fiction comedy before as far as we could tell. He then said you were available to be in it. How did Quentin approach you about the role of Anika Patel?
I've known Quentin for quite some time, and we had always talked about working together. I am a fan of his, so it was really a matter of him calling me and telling me about the project. I trusted his vision. Working as an actor during this time was a gift, and it was really fun to figure out how that would take shape in the midst of corona. Connecting to each other over our computers was not just an interesting way to shoot a film, but also very relevant to how so many relate nowadays, with or without COVID. I'm such an old-schooler who enjoys the traditional forms of connection, so this was really different for me.
We probably gave you the least amount of direction in the cast. You just arrived not only fully prepared, but your portrayal of Anika was also fully formed from the start. You brought a dry, sardonic, pragmatic air to the character that set her apart from the others. How did you see Anika as a character in this collection of somewhat eccentric characters?
Ah, thanks so much. When I read the pages, Anika jumped out at me. I instantly heard her 'voice' and imagined who this woman was. I thought it would be interesting to have her be more of an anchor in this world. In the midst of so much upheaval, we all react in different ways, and my take on her was to stay as grounded as possible and try to be the voice of reason. It's survival for her. I also wanted to layer in this feeling of her wanting more. She is not happy with the current state of her life, and she needs an outlet for that. My frustrations with the current political climate and the lack of deference to facts served as a natural bridge to these feelings.
Anika's connection with Skylar and Camila makes her a grounding figure in the trio. She was the down-to-Earth A-type personality, which you brought out in a big way, so we leaned in on that in the scripts because you made it funny. What we didn't expect was your chemistry with Nat Ho in Anika's very odd relationship with Nate. Your reactions to him were priceless. I'd love to hear your take on Anika and Nate.
Ah, I love hearing this. It's the best kind of sauce when the writers take what you are bringing to the role and expand and push into it. It's so creatively exciting. When it comes to Nate, Anika had equal feelings of adoration and exasperation with him. I definitely felt she had a maternal quality to her with him – she got a kick out of him as well. He keeps things interesting, and I think that's something she wants to keep around.
I was only half-joking when I said Anika and Nate could carry their own wacky sitcom about a would-be hitman and his wily manager who does everything in her power to stop him from killing anyone. There are still stories to tell with Anika and Nate. Would you be up for more if we can swing it?
LOL, of course!