Poorna Jagannathan is an honoree of Gold House’s 2022 A100 List, which recognizes the 100 APIs that have most significantly impacted American culture and society in the last year. The actress currently portrays Nalini Vishwakumar on Netflix’s Never Have I Ever. The third season of the series premieres on August 12.
I recently had the opportunity to ask the actress about being an A100 Honoree and what it means to be on a show like Never Have I Ever. Read our exchange below!
The Nerds of Color: What does it mean to you to be part of the 2022 A100 List? What was your reaction when you found out?
Poorna Jagannathan: The A100 list just has the most baller people in the universe on it, people that impact the way I think and what I do. Like I’m on a list with my idol — Mindy Kaling, people!!! So I’m totally overwhelmed and humbled to be part of the A100 family.
What has it been like to see the effect that Never Have I Ever has had on viewers?
It’s remarkable to see the sense of belonging people get from the show — I think that’s what I take away the most. That people see themselves and their lives reflected back to them, and that in turn validates their experiences. It somehow brings their lives from the margins to the center where it belongs.
Is there any lesson that you’ve learned from the show and feel you will take with you after it ends?
I get to bring my complete self to set, all my lived experiences. Also, there is a constant feedback loop between the actors and the writers — Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher are so open to input and want the show to be as authentic as possible. So, for example, whenever there is a scene where we are eating Indian food, I’ll always be asked for input on what food we eat. Or I love that I can introduce Glinda Suarez, the costume designer, to brands from India and she’s open to collaborating. I hope that on every set I’m on, I can bring all of me to it.
What has been your favorite part of bringing Nalini and the Vishwakumar family to life?
I love this character so much. I love how strict she is, I love how vulnerable she is, and I love how fiercely she loves. Imagine I get to play a woman who is so funny, but also is given space to show her grief and her desires. I never thought I’d be given the opportunity to portray a nuanced immigrant mom — all the ones I’ve seen are usually such caricatures and just foils for their kids. But here is a three-dimensional woman with a great sense of style to boot.
What do you want to see in the entertainment industry going forward when it comes to AAPI portrayals?
It’s happening already — but I wish each of us get to portray characters that are as complex, beautiful, and messy as we are in real life.
What is your message to any members of the AAPI community that want to make a career in the entertainment industry?
I have so many messages:
- It’s our time. With streamers like Netflix and Hulu, there are not only different ways to tell your story but different stories are being told.
- Don’t take no for an answer.
- Get a side hustle that will pay the bills and give yourself the luxury of saying “No” to work that you feel is stereotypical. I had my own ad agency for years so I could say “No” to the million doctor role and terrorist wife roles that came my way. I felt I had so much more to say and so much more to offer.
- Don’t shortchange yourself, or where you come from.