A week or so before the film; Stars in Her Eyes’ public release Shane the Gamer (StG) caught up with the actors.
While most of the cast had been in some form of media beforehand, all were up and coming in to their respective acting spotlights – and this is what makes and gives the movie the magic that it has. The exception being the inclusion of Colin Mathura-Jeffree who plays the favourite son; Sanj. Colin for some years now has been in TV and Film, most notably cast as a Judge in New Zealand’s Next Top Model (aswell as a Guest Judge on America’s Next Top Model) and New Zealand’s Hottest Home Baker. Colin has also been a male Super Model within the Global Fashion Industry.
Leila Alexander plays the main character Anousha Patel, Negin Allahverdi-Gorji stars as Anousha’s older sister Lakshmi and Vinay Chinni who we see as Raj, Anousha’s love interest.
Fresh from having interviewed the Writer and Director of Stars in Her Eyes; Athina Tsoulis, we put a handful of questions to the group about their careers, aspirations and their take on the movie.
Shane: Hi everyone, please tell us at Shane the Gamer (StG) a little about your background and how you gained the role in the upcoming NZ / Bollywood film Stars in Her Eyes?
Negin: I am an Iranian born kiwi raised actor. I was only 3 years old when I came to New Zealand. I have never been back to my country of origin but I am still very Persian not only by blood but by heart. I speak fluent Farsi and eat Persian food. I practice my culture with a side of rugby. My agent told me about this role where I initially auditioned for Anousha. Athina suggested I audition for the role of Lakshmi instead which I successfully landed. Wise choice as Leila was amazing!
Leila: I was actually in the course of sitting my Law exams, when I was approached by a Choir Conductor, whose Choir I was in at the time, to audition for a film that required a lead Indian actress. So I thought to myself, why not give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen. I went along to the auditions and they called me back and called me back and called me back and then they said they wanted me to have the part. I initially said that I don’t want to do the film, as they were filming right across the core of my Law exam time but we came to an agreement and that’s how I got in to it. I hadn’t done much acting prior to doing the filming. I was very much new to film acting and my background is mainly in singing. I also have a degree in music and am a professional Opera singer and I’m also currently working in a Law firm and will be admitted [to the Bar] in a few months.
Colin: Well, I was baptized as a Model in 1991 at my first day at Auckland University. The industry was so new and they were wanting a new diverse look, the likes of Naomi Campbell were getting quite big and Miss India won Miss Universe . It was on Queen Street in Auckland that I was discovered and then I became an International Model. So I left University after a couple of years and and took it on full-time, traveled and everything and then I came back home and decided that I’d try acting and just by chance I scored a role as the the King of India on Xena Warrior Princess. I was no actor but I got this incredible role, riding horse back, saving Xena’s life, reincarnating in to a woman, just all of this madness. Then I continued Modeling and travelling. I was kept out of New Zealand. I didn’t really feel that we supported ethnic diversity in the Fashion, Film and Commercial industry. Particularly in the Commercial industry. And if they did do something commercially it was very cliche and I didn’t really like that I preferred more contemporary. I went to retire from my career, I felt it was time for a change. I didn’t really see a projection of where my career could go. On the day that I retired my Agent kept calling up and I thought to myself she knows that I am about to retire, that I’m out.
Finally she got a hold of me and she said you have to go to TV3 for a casting. I said no, I’m not really that interested and she said Colin just one more thing. Just go in there and do it. So I went in and did this casting, apparently I was the last one in and first one hired on New Zealand’s Next Top Model. Which I thought would be the next step of my journey anyway. Transitioning in to TV Presenting. It was incredible, I did three Seasons of that and I was a Guest Judge on America’s Next Top Model, I made two appearances on that and then I had the show Hottest Home Baker. Hilarious, hilarious. In between all of that I get a phone call to act in a couple of other movies. One of them being this one; Stars in Her Eyes. I went and met with Athina and she gave me this script I looked at it and it seemed a bit safe so I asked what is it you want from me. She explained the character to me and I went yes I’ll do that.
Vinay: I come from a family of Engineers. I completed by Bachelors in Engineering (Hons) from University of Auckland. However, I was strongly interested in the arts. So I took a lot of acting and dance classes along the way as a hobby. Then I got myself an agent and started auditioning for roles. One of my friend from acting class told me about this movie and said I should go audition. So I reached out to my agent (Gail Cowan – she’s a great agent) and asked her if she could get me an audition. After a lot of back and forth, I managed to get in front of the director (Athina Tsoulis). It was a fun experience reading with Athina and as they say – rest is history.
Shane: Was this the first feature film for you in New Zealand?
Colin: No. No it wasn’t. I wouldn’t call myself an actor by any stretch but I have acted in things before. I acted in a movie called Channeling and it was a movie about a young woman and I played the character Lord Shiva in that movie. That was incredible but I had to learn this dance, there was no dialogue for me, I had to dialogue through dance and I was hired because I looked like the Hindu God. So much fun and as far as I know there’s still footage of me but I ended up on the cutting room floor. I think that was my first ever – but it happens, I loved the experience and it was paid.
Vinay: Yes. This is my first feature film in New Zealand.
Negin: Yes! I was super excited for this. Every minute on set was pure joy for me as I have never had this opportunity before so coming to work everyday was exciting regardless of the long hours.
Leila: Yes. Yes it was. I’d done little bits and pieces over time as I’m an artistic, theatrical person. So I did little tiny things on Shortland Street (New Zealand drama TV Series). But otherwise I hadn’t done proper films.
Shane: What role / character do you play in the film and what drew you in to taking on this role?
Negin: I am Lakshmi, Anousha’s sister. Her no nonsense character was awesome. I liked playing the bitch and being somewhat looked up to for it by Anousha. It fueled a great character relationship between us and made me more sassy. I loved it!
Vinay: I play the character Raj. He is goody two shoes and is pursued by the protagonist. He’s honest, shy, a little naive, waiting for his dream girl to come into this life. He is the type of guy that believes in traditional values and astrology. I had to play a guy who was pursued by the protagonist. That sounded so much fun. As humans the basic desire is to be wanted. I found myself lucky to have this character. Also, I knew I could draw from my life experiences to bring this character alive.
Colin: The role that I play is one of the siblings. I come from a very tight family, so that role was very entertaining. I play a very famous Cricket player [called Sanj] with a VERY big secret. And it’s the secret, which I don’t want to give the spoiler away, is what made it very interesting to me. Very funny, very good.
Leila: My characters name is Anousha Patel, she’s the main character in the film and she is pushing 30, she’s a little bit overweight, she doesn’t have a proper job – she looks after her mother fulltime and she writes a Star column. And that’s what she calls her ‘job’ but it’s basically a blog that she doesn’t get paid for. It’s her only hobby in life. I was drawn in to the role because firstly it was interesting to play an Indian character. I am half Indian and my Indian heritage is always something that I had wanted to explore. So this role called me to draw on the values that are inherit within Indian culture. It was also a role that I could relate to as it was a woman going through a transition from feeling unattractive, not fitting in anywhere, not having her own sense of self and trying to transition in to the person that she wants to be. Also separating out what other people want her to be. These are themes that all Western Woman and Indian woman go through. So it was really cool.
Shane: Now that the film has wrapped up production and releasing to Cinema’s from the 18th of November 2016, what’s next in line for you now?
Leila: I really don’t know. Having done the film it opened my eyes to a acting career. I know it can be really difficult having an acting career especially here in New Zealand. Having done that (Stars in Her Eyes) I am definitely open to the prospect of acting roles. But not too sure if I will actively be pursuing acting roles in the next year or two but I will probably look into getting an agent which I have not had and I’ll definitely be doing my singing which is another thing that I have wanted to do. I am working in Law at the moment so I’ll see how all of those things can fit together. But if any offers come up in the acting realm I’ll definitely take them.
Vinay: I moved out to Los Angeles to pursue acting further. Currently, I am working my with manager (Bohemia Group) and agent (Aqua Talent) in LA to get me out for auditions. Fingers crossed, hopefully, you’ll see me soon on American Television.
Colin: Well I’m very blessed. I get propositions to act in movies and to present all of the time. So what I want to do with this movie… I used to model in India, I used to live in India and I know that this kind of movie would be a huge hit in India so I want the crew, my fellow actors to do a showing there, it would be a huge hit in South India, maybe even Mumbai which is entrenched in Bollywood, they would just lap this up. I think we go there. And I don’t mind, I always do the odd appearance in Movies. I seemed to be typecast as a King or a God or a Scientist in movies. I want to be a Villain. I’ve always been a bit of a Hero [character]. But yeah, I really enjoyed the experience, the favourite thing was making friends with my fellow actors, with the cast. We have all become very tight.
Negin: I just signed up for Acting classes with Michael Saccente which I’m excited for. First class was November the 17th (2016) and the SIHE premier was November the 18th (2016). Pretty awesome timing. I want to see where this can take me. I love learning about the craft of Acting. It inspires me to be a better person.
Shane: A huge thanks guys for taking the time to chat with StG. we really appreciate it.
The cast of Stars in Her Eyes were an awesome bunch to chat with and you should most definitely check out the film which is currently showing at the Monterey Cinema at Howick, Auckland. It will later be available on VOD (Video on Demand).