A Conversation with Sheetal Sheth

Sheetal Sheth is an actor, producer, activist, and published author.

Introduce yourself! 

Hi, I’m Sheetal Sheth. Actress, Producer, Children’s Book author, creator, mama, cancer graduate, and proud Independent in this ever growing minefield of a political climate.

Your acting career is so impressive and expansive – from festival featured films, to voice over work, and more – you’ve paved a way forward for South Asian representation in Hollywood.  How did you first get into acting?  How did your ethnicity and cultural identity shape your career? 

I discovered my love of acting when I was in high school. And once I knew I wanted to make it my career, I committed in every way. I was thrilled when I auditioned and got into the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. When I started acting professionally in the 90s, there were very few people like me in the field. And the entertainment industry as a whole was not inclusive, sensitive, or willing to have the conversations we are having now. It was a very different landscape and authenticity was far from the priority. I was asked to change my name multiple times and even lost jobs because I refused to. I have many many stories!

What sort of acting roles are you drawn to?  Has the type of work you’ve been drawn to changed over the years? 

I don’t like to repeat myself. I want to challenge myself and try new roles that are very different from the others. I am really proud of the range of the work that I have done. And I continue to want to push the limits and myself.

You’re also a producer – how did you shift into producing?  Was that a natural progression from acting or a pivot into a completely new direction?   

I think I have been a producer my whole life. Anyone who knows me would say that. It comes very naturally to me and it was a natural progression. I just needed to do it. I was so frustrated at not having more control and say in the projects I was involved in or wanted to do, I decided to actually do something about it. The more I produce, the more I learn and the more I like it. I like putting teams together. I love creative development. I like shaping the narrative from the beginning. It’s invigorating. It’s A LOT of work but creating and telling stories is such a privilege. Now it always feels like something is missing if I’m just acting in a project. I always want to do and contribute more.

In addition to acting and producing, you are also a children’s book author of “Always Anjali,” which is the first picture book series to feature a South Asian hero.  How did you get into writing? How did this book come to be?   

I was expecting my first child many years ago and was dismayed at what was out there in children’s literature. The books I found, if they centered a South Asian, always dealt with a holiday or religion, etc. And not that well, to be honest. So much of it was culturally insensitive or inaccurate. I wanted to write books where we were the heroes of our own stories but where you saw us dealing with everyday things/slice of life. We do all the things other kids do but the narratives we see usually revolve around a few topics.

Historically, our stories were told through a white lens. I wanted to change that and I think the success of the book shows how hungry people are for more! For us having agency around our own stories.

The next book in the series, “Bravo Anjali!,” is set to release September 2021.  Can you tell us a bit about this book?

I wrote Bravo Anjali during the height of the #MeToo movement. And then there was the Hillary/Trump election. I was disturbed at the level of misogyny and sexist vitriol I was seeing 24/7. The media didn’t help. I decided I wanted to tackle this, but in kidtalk. How can I bring this conversation to our kids? It’s abundantly clear we need to be having these conversations with our children. Young. It’s the only way we will see long lasting change. So in this book, Anjali plays the tabla, a traditionally male dominated instrument. And she’s the only girl in her class and she’s the best. The boys don’t like it. And so the story begins…

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?  Personally & work-wise?    

It’s tough to say as I feel like I am always growing and I feel like I am just getting started.

But overall, I am proud to say I’m a fighter. I persevere.

It holds true in all parts of my life. It’s hard to keep going and keep creating sometimes, but I feel like I have so much to do still and so much to share.

Who inspires you? Do you have any role-models in your life? 

The everyday. The kindness of strangers. The little things people do when no one is watching.

This time of COVID-19 and the rise of anti-Asian hate has been difficult for the whole Overachiever community.  How have you been coping with this time?  How has your year been?  Has your work changed or been affected at all? 

I don’t think we can ever go back. I don’t want to go back. I think we have all seen that we desperately need to create a ‘new normal.’ The old ‘normal’ wasn’t working for a lot of us.

The anti-Asian hate has been horrifying. People like to say ‘this isn’t us.’ And it certainly shouldn’t be. But historically, we have been just that. It’s tough to say and admit but there is no way of changing and moving forward without acknowledging the past. We must do better.

What does self care mean to you?  How do you take care of yourself?  

I’ve been working on it. I’ve never been good at it but after I was diagnosed with cancer, I knew I needed to make it a priority. So it’s about setting clear boundaries, carving out and scheduling time for myself, saying no to a lot and really spending time with those I really want to.

Here are some rapid-fire questions: 

Your go-to coffee shop order? 

I don’t drink coffee so if I’m in a coffee shop, I’m usually ordering food or when it’s not summer, hot chocolate!

What item(s) can you not leave your house without? 

My phone, a book I’m reading at the moment, snacks!

Any good films/TV shows you’re watching right now? 

I loved Mare of Easttown. I’ve been dying to watch The Quiet Place 2.

Ultimate comfort food?

Nachos.

What has been the highlight of your day today? 

Talking to my kids who are spending a week with their grandparents

Thank you so much for talking with Overachiever.  Final question: What are you working on right now?  Or what is upcoming for you and your work?  What are you looking forward to? 

I am in post production on the feature film, Hummingbird which I produced and am also in. I am EP’ing a profile series that I am working on with The Conscious Kid. I have several new books coming out next year. And writing a bunch more! Developing a couple TV projects. I’m juggling many deadlines at the moment!


Sheetal Sheth is an acclaimed actress, author, producer, and activist. She is known for her provocative performances in a wide range of memorable roles on film and television. She has starred in over 20 feature films and many TV shows and has earned a loyal, international following. She is also a seasoned voice over artist. Perhaps best known to mainstream film audiences for starring opposite Albert Brooks in Warner Bros’ LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD, Sheetal has become a favorite in the independent film world, having won five best actress awards on the festival circuit. In 2012, fans voted her ‘Favorite Movie Actress’ in AfterEllen’s Visibility Awards after starring in cult classics, I CAN’T THINK STRAIGHT and TIFF’s THE WORLD UNSEEN. She is currently in post production on the feature film, HUMMINGBIRD.

Sheth began her career at a time when few South Asians were making their living as actors. Despite being told she’d have to change her name to work, her successful career has trail-blazed paths for other women of color across media. Sheetal has represented brands such as CHI hair care and Reebok. Sheth supports traditionally marginalized communities not only through her own pioneering work as an actor and author, but by also appearing at workshops and panels and speaking directly to issues facing those communities. She has delivered talks and keynotes at festivals and charity galas and has had op-eds published on CNN, The Daily Beast, 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 to wide acclaim. It won the 2019 Purple Dragonfly Storybook Grand Prize (voted on by teachers and librarians) and is set to be a series, the first and only in this age group featuring an Indian American girl hero. The second installment, Bravo Anjali! will be published in Fall, 2021.

Social Media/Websites: www.sheetalsheth.com

IG: @beneaththesheetz 

Twitter: @sheetalsheth 

FB: /OfficialSheetalSheth 

Head Interviewer

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

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