Sharon Muthu – Ms February 2020

 

 

Sharon Muthu is an actress, voiceover artist, and singer based out of Los Angeles, California. She is also of Tamil-heritage and enjoys representing her South Asian culture in mainstream Hollywood entertainment.
(Photo Credit: Vipoositha Gnanenthra)

 

 

 

 

How and why did you enter the entertainment industry?

I went into the entertainment industry because storytelling & the performing arts have always been my passion and my deepest joy! My decision to be a professional artist was rooted solely on my heart’s desire, and my tenacity to see it through. And, while I knew there were huge challenges that came with choosing this life, I refused to allow the fear of “what might go wrong” to overshadow the possibility of “what might go right.” I guess I’ve always been driven in that way. No one close to me was surprised at my decision to pursue an artistic career. From the time I was a child, I was singing, dancing, acting on-stage in theatre, playing musical instruments, speaking in accents & character voices around the house, joining every arts department at school (from choir and band to drama and speech team), and constantly searching for ways to express me through the arts. My family has also been very supportive throughout my artistic journey, and they did a lot to facilitate my exploration of my talents as a child. I was not born to be in an office, and I instinctively knew that even as a child. I will not mislead you and tell you it’s been an easy journey. But, ultimately, to pursue what I’m truly passionate about, to fight for it daily, and to build my dreams into the reality I want for myself is an incredible blessing. I’m not someone who will ever be content to live a life where I’m just “going through the motions.” I need joy and constant evolution, or I’m not sure I would feel as if I’m living fully.
(Photo Credit: Sharon Muthu & ABC Television)

 

If you have to do it all over it again, is there something you would do different? 

If my current self could give my younger self any advice, I would tell her to stop worrying about what others think & to stop getting lost in being overly competitive! Letting go of these bad habits is an ongoing journey for me, but I’ve gotten much better at it in recent years. Sometimes in this business (or any business), we as humans can make our decisions based on what others think is best for us, or based on how we might be judged by others if we choose to go a certain way. Of course, we all have trusted people in our lives who give us advice or try to help us and guide us. But, in the end, no one else knows what’s truly best for you. You are your own biggest champion and singularly the only person who has to live with whatever decision you make. So, why wouldn’t you choose what’s actually best for you? I know this is easier said than done, but the moments when I’ve let go of my fear of judgment and listened to my own heart have been truly liberating. And, they have always led to amazing results without fail!

Somewhat connected to this idea, is also the concept of competition. This notion of “beating your competition” is one that I struggled with, particularly in my early years as an actress. Fueled by this cut-throat industry, I was constantly obsessed with who my competition was and how I needed to be “the best.” I was envious of others who had already reached certain levels of success, and I desperately felt like I needed to win at all times. My journey had some dangerous years when everything depended on a perfect result. That way of living was exhausting and not productive at all. It was a waste of my time and energy. It was also an attitude that almost directly opposes what it means to be an artist. Artistry is supposed to be about expression, self-awareness, and the celebration of the human condition. You can’t be an open storyteller & connected in your work when you’re always obsessed with “winning.” You can’t evolve within yourself as an artist (or a human) if you are busy worrying about others and getting caught up in thoughts that make you angry, desperate, or resentful. It doesn’t serve you.

I have slowly come to believe that competition is largely an illusion. When you start to realize that you are only ever truly in competition with yourself, you begin to breathe a lot easier. You learn to forgive yourself for being less-than-perfect & allow yourself the space to make mistakes, learn, and grow. Your ego is set aside. Suddenly, you can look back and see your own progress and successes, and your focus goes to a much healthier and productive place. You also learn to see others in their triumphs and can appreciate their hard work and success, letting go of frustration and envy. It’s not an easy road to shift this thinking and maybe there are others out there who thrive in that negative mindset. But, it has never served me. And, while this will always be an ongoing part of my journey, my current self is much better at breaking these bad habits than my younger self!
(Photo Credit: Liz Barlak Photography)

 

How has Hollywood changed for brown women since you entered the industry and what changes are you expecting in the future?

I’ve been in Los Angeles for over 13 years now, actively working in the Hollywood landscape since 2010. My acting resume largely consists of Television and Voiceover work, so I can only speak from my own experience about the parts of this industry with which I’m most familiar. I’m happy to say that there has been great progress for South Asian women (and women of color in general) since I first arrived in 2006. However, I do feel we have a lot further to go. In recent times, there has been a beautiful push in the entertainment industry to want to embrace women and diversity more than ever, and brown women have been part of that evolution. But, I feel that perhaps we are still somewhere in the middle of that journey coming to its full fruition.

There have been many TV shows, films, animated series, and video games in recent years where strong female leads and women of color are being featured, and that is absolutely incredible. There have also been many wonderful and talented south Asian actresses who have paved the way for others & fought to win opportunities that give our community a place and a voice on the global stage. However, I feel that Hollywood is still learning and growing in this push towards diversity; it’s not a perfect and fully equal landscape quite yet.

That said, I believe the South Asian community is present & being acknowledged here, and we continue to make new strides every day. I also believe that as more women, and people of color, begin to be in positions of power and decision-making, Hollywood will continue to evolve. I trust that boundaries will continue to be broken and that decision-makers will further evolve into showcasing women & people of color in bigger and better spotlights.

It’s our job as South Asian artists to continue to show up, fight hard, and gain opportunities that show the powers-that-be that our community has a presence and deserves to be heard. That we are a culture to be celebrated. That we deserve to be playing multi-dimensional roles within the stories that are created in Hollywood. We also need more budding South Asian writers, producers, and directors to come here and ensure that our stories are being told authentically. There are a lot of pieces to the equation and it’s not always simple. But, I am inspired and encouraged as more and more brown kids arrive here each year in the hopes of lending their talents to the stories being told in Hollywood. There is power in numbers. It’s a brown-movement, and it’s amazing!
(Photo Credit: Liz Barlak Photography)

 

What challenges do you see brown curvy/plus women entering the entertainment/arts industry facing and what advice would you give to overcome them? 

Much like the push for ethnic diversity, there is also a push in recent years for body positivity. Increasingly, there are characters in stories who don’t fit the traditional size, shape, and color of the heroes and heroines of old. I find that truly inspiring and exciting! I enjoy having art imitate real life, and I’m thrilled when Hollywood can share authentic stories featuring real people of all sizes and shapes that audiences can connect to and enjoy. I think that brown curvy/plus women have similar challenges as curvy/plus women of any culture. It’s a type and a voice which hasn’t been showcased as much historically, but there’s been a slow and steady introduction to larger & alternative sizes being a more normal occurrence on-screen. Change takes time and a lot of courage. So, we steel our courage and fight the good fight. I would advise all curvy/plus women, and brown women, in particular, to trust in their own value & keep seeking out opportunities to tell their stories. The only real way to fail is to not show up.

That said, with regards to curvy/plus and brown women, we have a few added challenges with the “brown” part. To that end, I want to share a personal mission of mine which is to encourage South Asian families to allow their children to choose careers in the arts. Before we can start the conversation of “brown and curvy/plus women in the arts,” we first have to address the matter of “brown kids in the arts,” in general! The movement to see more of our culture represented in mainstream entertainment must begin with us. If brown parents limit their children from entering alternative careers in the arts, then we can’t be surprised or complain that no one is out here telling our stories! If we don’t show up here on a mission to share our stories with the world, then we have no chance of ever gaining momentum. It’s simple mathematics: The more of us who are here in the entertainment business, and the more varied the types of brown talent who want to share our stories and talents, the better the odds are that we get our opportunities. Strength in numbers!
(Photo Credit: Liz Barlak Photography)

 

You are an ambassador for the Dark is Beautiful campaign.  Tell us about it.

The “Dark is Beautiful” campaign has been one of the great joys of my adult life. And, it’s been my privilege and honor to partner with them since 2015 as their “Ambassador to Hollywood.” “Dark is Beautiful” is an international awareness campaign based out of India, and founded by our fearless leader, Kavitha Emmanuel. The campaign team works tirelessly to fight the toxic belief that a person’s worth should ever be determined by the color or shade of their skin. Being South Asian, I know almost everyone has felt the destructive presence of skin-color bias that permeates all cultures, but particularly our South Asian culture. People are brainwashed to believe that someone with dark skin couldn’t possibly be as beautiful (or as successful, or as loved) as someone with fair skin, and thus a nefarious culture of “skin lightening creams,” skin-color prejudice, and too many aunties telling their children to “stay out of the sun” continues to thrive. It is not only destructive, but it is also absolutely untrue. But, together, we change all of that.

The DISB campaign team fights tirelessly — by way of online presence, social media, public workshops, talk-backs, school events, press interviews, and so much more — to spread the message and rid the world of this false belief system by teaching people to the truth: That beauty comes in every shade of skin — dark, fair, and every shade in between; That a person’s worth should come from their character, and not from any external physical trait about him or her; That every person — regardless of the shade or color of their skin — is worthy of love and success.

The “Dark is Beautiful” campaign’s mission is so powerful, and I’m honored to lend my voice and face to their cause as much as I’m able to do. My ambassadorship allows me the chance to help carry their message to a more global audience by way of spreading our message and awareness. And, it’s helped me to grow in my own relationship with myself and my own dark skin. The truth of our mission has touched me deeply. I love my dark skin and I’m proud of it. I consider it a valuable asset and a blessing. I truly hope that we are inspiring others to look in the mirror, love the skin-color they are blessed to have, and pass the torch of body-positivity to others along the way!
(Photo Credit: Liz Barlak Photography)

 

Who is in your support system and how do they help you love yourself?

I am very blessed to be surrounded by many angels in my life who love me and support me, who guide me and ground me. Firstly, there is my husband, Noshir Dalal, who is also an incredible actor and storyteller here in Hollywood. He is truly my best friend. We have celebrated many triumphs together, but also walked through hell and back together, hand-in-hand. And, here we are in our 11th year together & stronger than ever before. He’s my rock & my partner in all things, he is always generous with me, and he never lets me forget that he thinks I am beautiful. His love for me empowers me to see myself through his eyes, and that is such a gift, especially when I’m doubting myself.

I’m lucky to have a very supportive family. My parents, F. Savarimuthu & Regina Muthu, have helped me to love myself by encouraging my artistic talents as a child and teaching me about my Tamil culture, which served to ground me in my roots and be proud to celebrate being brown. My older sister, Anna, has helped me to love myself by being one of my biggest fans. She is ever-championing me and always proud of what I am doing in life and career, and that, in turn, makes me feel successful and proud of my accomplishments. I’m grateful for her sisterhood and friendship.

Finally, Noshir and I have an incredible circle of close friends that we hold dear. They are the best humans in the world. In life, finding your community is everything; People who will walk with you, and celebrate you, be there for you when things are falling apart, and stand alongside you as you build your life and career. Our tribe helps me to love myself every day by always reminding me that I am not alone on this journey and that I have love & support in all things, no matter what.
(Photo Credit: Grant & Deb Photographers)

 

Tell us about a time when you were feeling down and what strategies did you use to get through that time?

Where do I begin? I love this question because feeling down is an unavoidable part of the actor’s journey (and, if anyone tells you otherwise, they aren’t being truthful). There is so much about this business to love. But, maneuvering the entertainment world is also tricky. Most people out there see the glamour — the finished product — but they don’t know the real struggles behind the scenes.  It is hard work, and it’s 7 days a week. It’s an exercise in self-management because, as an actor, you are the “CEO” of your own company and brand. You have to be sharp, savvy, and prepared. It can feel fast-paced and full of pressure at times.

All of this has lead to moments when I’ve questioned my decisions, my journey, the quality of my work, my physical body, and on and on. But, I believe that learning how to navigate the highs-and-lows is the secret to longevity. When I am down, the first thing I do is seek out my support system; My husband and our close tribe of friends (some who are in the industry, and some who are non-industry) are the key to me staying grounded. Also, scheduling rest & relaxation time, and coming home to completely normal (non-industry) things are important needs for me. I have hobbies: I love to cook and bake, and we enjoy having friends over for meals. I love to read. I go to the gym & last fall I started to workout with a trainer which has been a great way to relieve stress and feel healthier (PS – Working out for me is not about looking skinny anymore, as it was for me in my younger years. It’s about me feeling healthier now. Trust me, finding the motivation to work out does not come easily to me, so this sense of enjoying it is newer to me too!). I love discovering new television shows (my current favorites are “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Fleabag!”). And, I truly love when I get to travel, because sometimes the best recharge comes from me leaving my comfort zone and going somewhere new, getting fresh perspective, trying new foods, and seeing amazing places; Travel helps me to be a better actress & human, and also allows me to not burnout on the craziness of the entertainment industry. I recognize that I have an amazing life. I’ve worked hard to be financially and artistically fulfilled. But, everyone has down moments, and in those moments I seek out people and things which bring me joy, peace, and gratitude for what I have.

 

How do you deal with criticism?

I had spent many years of my life trying to please everyone, all the time. And, back in those days, I would crumble when I was criticized because if everyone wasn’t pleased with me all the time, then I had “failed.” It was an impossible standard to set for myself, and it was lethal to my mental health. I’m not sure what changed for me — I think with age came some wisdom, plus years of being in this business has also given me better “criticism-armor” — but, these days when the criticism comes, I try really hard to remember this mantra: All I can do is the best I can do. The rest is out of my hands.

Some days it is easier to relish this mantra. Other days, it’s more difficult. But, here are my truths: There will always be potential for someone to be displeased with me no matter what I do, or what decision I make… I will not be right for every role that comes my way, and people may or may not always love my performances… There will always be people out there who think I’m unattractive and unworthy of my success, and who believe I’m being inauthentic… I can’t control other people’s thoughts and actions… I make mistakes sometimes because I’m human… And, for every single wonderful and positive person out there in the world, there is also a negative and destructive person out there too.

I will always try to see the best in others. And all I can do is to do my best, with the things I can control, at any given moment. I can try to stay humble and compassionate. I can try to be a light in this world. And, if I am a good person, who contributes positively to society, and I don’t intend to do harm to myself or others, then I have done the best I can do. So, let others criticize. In the end, it’s a reflection of their stuff, not mine.

 

What does body positivity mean to you? And why is this important?

To me, “body positivity” means being unapologetically comfortable and happy in your own skin! And, this is hugely important because there is too much pressure in society to fit a certain beauty-mold. We have to look a certain way, dress a certain way, use the latest products, and keep up with the latest fashion and beauty trends… and, if you’re someone who enjoys that stuff, then more power to you! For me, it’s often exhausting. And, trust me, it’s amplified in the entertainment business, so I understand that this can feel like extreme pressure.

But, all of those matters are external. And, none of that superficial stuff will ever be more important to me than a person’s inner beauty, their thoughts, their contributions to the world. This is where I feel a person’s value truly lies. A person’s height, weight, gender, fashion choices, skin color & skin tone, facial features, and physical disabilities should never be the mark by which they are judged. And, to decide that you know a person’s worth and value based on their external body is arrogant and false.

It’s time for us to claim the truth back for ourselves. And, I like to say it this way best: Beauty comes in every size, shape, color, creed, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and beautiful shade of skin. Period. No exceptions. We’re all on our own self-journey, but wouldn’t we be a happier & more balanced society if we all just accepted each other as we are? If we actually got to know each other & learned from each other as people? If we could see that diversity is powerful, and that beauty has no boundaries? I think that is the goal of all body-positive movements; To help us love and accept the skin we were born in.
(Photo Credit: Liz Barlak Photography)

 

Where do you see yourself in another 5 years? 

This question is the trickiest for me to answer because — for me — to assign specifically where I will be in 5 years puts too much importance on the results, instead of on my journey! I’ve been trying in recent years to be more focused on staying present, and worrying about the end result always causes me to overthink and over-stress. I’ve also learned that one can’t ever confidently say where they will be tomorrow, much less in 5 years — As they say: “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”

But, this much I can tell you: I trust that in 5 years I will be busy & happy with my growing family & my loved ones, and content with my artistic work (Yes, in that order of priority). I trust that I’ll be doing work in my career that brings people joy, motivates others to be better humans, and inspires others to seek out a path that brings them joy and fulfillment in their own lives. I trust that I will lead a life that forces me to grow, learn, and evolve. I trust that I will tell thousands of stories in my work, cook thousands of delicious things in my kitchen, and travel the world with my family. And, I trust that I will always do my best to be a light in this world and to those around me. For me, these are the things that I will always use to gauge my success. And, for the many highs and lows that life has thrown at me, I truly do feel successful, happy, and fulfilled. So, here’s to whatever the future holds for me: I’m ready!

 

“LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR.” ~ Sharon Muthu

 

BIO:

Sharon Muthu is an actress, voiceover artist, and singer based out of Los Angeles, California. She is also of Tamil-heritage and enjoys representing her South Asian culture in mainstream Hollywood entertainment. Originally from Chicago, and born as an actress in Theatre, she followed her dreams to Hollywood in search of a career in on-camera & voiceover in 2006. Most notably, Sharon is currently a series regular, voicing the characters of “Dr. Bellum” and “Agent Zari,” on the Emmy-nominated animation series, “Carmen Sandiego” which streams on Netflix. Her television acting-work includes guest-star appearances on many major American TV shows such as Modern Family, Black-ish, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Criminal Minds, Glee, Desperate Housewives, Outsourced, Monday Mornings, How To Live With Your Parents, and many more. In Voiceover, Sharon’s has voiced roles on various Animation series, most recently in the universes of Curious George and Johnny Bravo, and has lent her acting & voice talents to top Video Games, such as Agents of Mayhem (“Agent Scheherazade,”), Diablo III (“Karyna” and other characters), Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Elder Scrolls Online, Hitman: Absolution, and many others. Sharon enjoys singing professionally (jazz is her forte) and, additionally, is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer (having studied under the renown Hema Rajagopalan & Krithika Rajagopalan of Natya Dance Theatre, Chicago, IL). What is unique about Sharon is that she serves as the “Ambassador to Hollywood” for the international awareness campaign, “Dark is Beautiful,” helping them to spread their mission against the toxicity skin-color bias in the world. Sharon resides in Los Angeles with her husband, enjoys playing piano and flute, loves dogs and elephants, relishes anything related to “Harry Potter” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and considers herself a very talented home-chef and baker. For more information, please follow her online:  INSTAGRAM (@sharonmuthu), TWITTER (@sharonmuthu), and FACEBOOK (Sharon Muthu).

 

Edited by Sharmila Sivasankaran

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