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Melbourne actor Rohan Mirchandaney talks diversity and the value of new experiences
Comedy is just something I defaulted into naturally, Rohan Mirchandaney tells Indian Link as we chat about the play Tigers Be Still which recently wrapped in Melbourne. In high school Mirchandaney found he was able to make people laugh easily, but “I’m actually drawn to more dramatic characters.” At an early stage in his career, however, Mirchandaney has decided to “own” a skill that comes to him naturally. “I’ve come to realise all actors need a niche, and comedy is mine.”
Mirchandaney laments the lack of diversity in the Australian acting and comedy scene. “For the most part I definitely do feel typecast,” he reveals. “Australia’s scene is not as progressive as it should be. Neighbours doesn’t reflect society.”
“I find myself getting a lot more American auditions for pilot season,” Mirchandaney says. In May he received a scholarship to train at the Atlantic Acting School in New York and he is excited about the opportunities and training available to him. “The issue is the Green Card lottery for Permanent Residency in the US,” Mirchandaney explains. “The fact they have a lottery to decide who can live in their country is just crazy.”
Though the US pilot season excites him, “Personally, I prefer theatre – working on a character for a long period of time – but there’s not much work in theatre. It’s more about respecting the differences of the mediums; I would like to continue doing all three.”
In Mirchandaney’s recent role for Tigers Be Still, he played Zack, a recent VCE grad with anger management issues tricked into seeing a therapist by his father. The play, written by Kim Rosenstock, who is also a writer on US sitcom New Girl, tells the story of two sisters and a father-son duo facing up to the struggle in their lives. The Off-Broadway smash has been described as “a comedy about depression”.
The Australian premiere was produced by Boutique Theatre, a company known for its solid independent performances, in Melbourne. “They produce thought-provoking plays about progressive social issues,” Mirchandaney says. Indeed the company partnered with beyondblue and donated proceeds from the season to them to help assist the organisation’s cause in supporting those with anxiety and depression. “The themes of the play are reflecting society; it’s about getting people talking,” Mirchandaney says. “For me, depression is the fifth character in the play.”
When asked about his favourite role thus far in his career, Mirchandaney ponders before responding, “My favourite role so far is Zack, actually. The journey he goes on, the way he develops is really powerful. To see someone struggle at such a young age is really affecting.”
Prior to Tigers Be Still, Mirchandaney starred in a play about bullying called Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.
“Last year I started method-style acting training,” Mirchandaney says. “Focusing on character is a really important element. It’s about how to make it realistic and tell the story in a way that people will connect with.”
Mirchandaney details the rehearsal process and says working with the cast and crew means constantly finding new breakthrough moments in the script. He says this style of theatre, showcased in Tigers Be Still, should appeal to a much broader base. “People who don’t normally see theatre would enjoy this. It’s contemporary and accessible.”
In 2011, Mirchandaney auditioned for a role on a television series titled How to Talk Australians. He didn’t get the role he wanted, but the producers wrote a new character especially for him. The show didn’t get picked up by the networks, but the eight-part comedy miniseries was released online and quickly became a viral hit.
After being so successful both with Australian and international audiences, there are unconfirmed reports the show has received funding for TV development. “Some people do recognise me for my work in the series,” Mirchandaney admits. “Other times it’s completely random and people know me from some other entirely different work.”
Such as his stint on reality television. Before Priya Malik entered the Big Brother house in 2014, Mirchandaney was part of the 2013 season. “I definitely felt I filled a diversity quota,” he says.
The show had been attacked with claims of not showcasing the variety in Australia. “So it was like ‘Well, we’ve got an Indian, an Asian, an Aboriginal, a gay, a lesbian…”
Mirchandaney says he sometimes regrets the experience and sometimes he’s thankful for the opportunity. “It’s always going to follow me around,” he says. “At the time, when I was talking with my agent and acting friends about it, the advice was to treat it as another audition experience. I thought it would help with exposure. Being an Indian actor in Australia is not easy. I was hoping it would generate a following, on social media and for my work.”
He continues, “I have tried to distance myself from it somewhat. I don’t want people to see it as me trying to grab my 15 minutes (of fame), trying to stay relevant.”
“Ultimately all the people around me said, ‘Just have fun’, and that’s what I tried to do,” he says. “More than 22 thousand people audition for the show so it was about trying to enjoy the experience.”
Mirchandaney’s parents moved to Australia from India in 1986 and Rohan was born in Melbourne in 1989. “I fell in love with acting after I scored the lead in the high school play,” he reveals.
“It was a big shift. All my friends did law, medicine, accounting, engineering, dentistry… I had to learn about the whole process of acting by myself. Eventually though, people have started coming to me for advice!”
With an acting CV that runs the gamut from Doobie Nights, a comedy webseries that takes a look at the weed experience, to the lead in Adjust, a Cannes International Film Festival Short Film winner, Rohan Mirchandey has an increasingly bourgeoning international career. But he still has the same sometimes embarassing parents as the rest of us.
“My dad is a real Facebook dad,” Mirchandaney laughs, “Always telling everyone about the work I’m doing. He’s always bringing a big band of Indians along to all my shows, proudly pointing out my stuff online…I like to think that all my friends in those other careers are now living life vicariously through me!”