As a Tamil Young Professional (Tamil YP) or student, figuring out what to pursue as a career can be confusing. So many industries, so many titles. We’d like to help you in your journey by inspiring you with stories of individuals from various fields, who share what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
This month’s featured Tamil YP is Sharon Muthu. Sharon is a professional Actress, Voiceover Artist, and Singer, who is currently based out of Los Angeles, CA. After a successful Theatre career in Chicago, she set her sights on Hollywood where she has achieved professional success, placing the majority of her career focus into On-Camera Acting and Voiceover work. Her acting resume includes Television Guest Star appearances on shows such as Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Outsourced, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, and even a recent episode on ABC’s newest hit comedy, Black-ish, which aired last week.
Her professional Voiceover resume includes numerous Voice-Acting roles in Animation & Video Game projects, such as: Johnny Bravo Goes to Bollywood, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Diablo III, Hitman: Absolution, and multiple roles on the new video game, Elder Scrolls Online, the release of which is highly-anticipated by the gaming community. Sharon is honored and excited to be paving the way for young Tamilian artists everywhere who are eager to break into the complex business that is the Entertainment Industry. We recently chatted with her to gain some insight into her career and what it takes to succeed in Hollywood.
TamilCulture: How did you find your way into this career path? Did you always know this was the area of work you would be involved with?
Sharon Muthu: My career in the Entertainment Industry is the culmination of a life-long journey for me. At a very early age, I exhibited interest and talent in the Performing Arts. I was encouraged by my parents to explore these interests, and I continued to grow and evolve as an Artist over the years. I was also blessed to have the support of our friends and our Tamil community back in Chicago, often acting, singing, and dancing at every chance I got! As I grew older and it came time for me to direct my life into a specific career, there was no question or doubt for me; I was determined have a professional career in the Arts. I knew it was no easy task, but I believed the rewards could be great.
“I now wake up every morning knowing that this career is the perfect fit for me. I’m blessed to have turned ‘what I love to do,’ into what I do for a living.”
TC: How did your education and past experiences prepare you for your career?
SM: Getting an education and formal artistic training were vital steps to my success, and were necessary preparation for life as a professional Actress. Over the years, and especially during my undergraduate studies (I graduated from De Paul University’s ‘Barat Campus,’ with my B.A. in ‘Theatre,’ and concentrations in both Acting & Directing), I learned the values of discipline, time-management, stress-management, dedication, passion, courage, and tenacity. I began to hone my acting skills, and I began to learn about the joys and pressures of being an Artist. Those were priceless experiences, and they are the solid foundation on which I’ve built my career.
TC: Briefly describe a typical work day.
SM: I almost don’t know how to answer this question, because no two days in my career are alike! Unpredictability is a part of this career that you must learn to embrace. The entertainment industry is fast-paced, and always changing and actors have to learn to flow with it. That said, I’ll give you an example of a typical day on-set (when I’d actually be filming a role):
On a filming day, I would probably be called to our designated location around 5AM. Upon my arrival, I might be sent to ‘wardrobe’ for any last-minute costume fittings, and then to ‘hair & makeup’ so they could work their magic on me. From there, I would be called to set where we actors would work with the director, writers, crew, and production staff to run-through / rehearse whatever scene or shot is next to be filmed. Finally, after getting into wardrobe, and receiving final makeup and hair touch-ups, we would begin filming.
Filming could go on for hours, and the production staff and crew would continue to adjust every camera, light, prop, set piece, and sometimes even the actors’ lines, until the scene is just right. There are breaks during the day, and they usually do take great care of us on-set (with food, drinks, a trailer to rest in on your breaks, good people around you, etc…), but it’s often a very long day with no specified end-time. Audiences often don’t realize how many people and hours (or sometimes even days) it can take for just a few minutes of a TV show or Film! It’s an incredibly detailed and painstaking process. Being an actor on-set requires patience, calmness, focus, generosity towards others, and preparedness to handle such a pressure-filled situation. But, it’s also a very fun and collaborative experience!
TC: How do you balance your work and personal life?
SM: Work-life balance is incredibly tricky in my business. Most days (and, in no particular order), I am busy:
Reading scripts and memorizing lines
Auditioning & taking meetings
Recording voiceover jobs
Driving from place to place
Keeping up with phone calls/emails
Attending classes and workshops with important industry people
And I do my best to sneak in time for exercise, eating, sleeping, and socializing when I can! It’s an energy rush and an excitement like no other. But, it can also be very stressful for the body and mind, so it’s important to take time away from my hectic schedule to relax.
I often have to – literally – schedule my downtime into my calendar! But, I always allow myself at least one day per week (usually Saturdays) where I unwind, unplug, and purposefully choose not to engage in business matters. Unlike some other industries, I cannot fully do my job when I’m ill, worn out, frazzled, and/or not taking care of myself, because I am the ‘product’ I am marketing! So, my health and wellness is a top priority.
TC: What do you love most about your career and what are some challenges you face?
SM: What I love most is the pride, joy, and satisfaction I feel every day about my career! Even on my toughest days, I am still so proud of this noble profession. And, I am honored to be a face and voice in Hollywood representing Tamilians everywhere. This career is not easy, but it is also not impossible! The rewards can be incredibly satisfying. But, before success comes these challenges to overcome within yourself:
Your willingness to work hard
To study your craft
To be self-motivated
To remain dedicated to your art
To practice patience when your business is slow
To stay optimistic when your insecurities get the best of you
To be focused, and to work systematically to make progress
If you stay tenacious, the pay-off can far outweigh the obstacles. I love that I get to live my life this way. The challenges are part of what make this career so unique and so fulfilling! Staying positive and taking pride in your work play a huge role in successfully maneuvering the Entertainment world.
TC: The arts is not an area that many South Asian parents support as a career. How did your parents react?
SM: My parents have always been incredibly supportive of my career! I know that South Asian parents can be hesitant about alternative career choices for their youth, but I’ve truly been blessed to have a father, mother, and an older sister who are my biggest fans. My father (who is actually a Tamil ‘Pulavar,’ Dr. F. Savari Muthu) and my mother (Regina Muthu) came from Chennai to Chicago, IL in 1969. I was born there many years later. They recognized very early that I had artistic gifts and encouraged me to develop them, but they also worked hard to keep me rooted in my heritage. I speak Tamil fluently. I began singing (Both in English and Tamil) when I was 4 years old. I began studying ‘Bharathanatyam’ with my guru, the renown Hema Rajagopalan (“Natya Dance Theatre,” Chicago, IL), at age 5. I learned piano and flute in grade school. I began vocal lessons at age 11. And, by high school, I was involved in Choir, Band, the Speech Team, and Drama. So, it came as no surprise to anyone in my family that I decided to dedicate my life to the Arts and work to represent our ethnicity in mainstream American entertainment. My success is the direct result of knowing that my family is behind me 110% in everything I do.
TC: There’s a fear that pursuing the arts may not be financially rewarding – what are your thoughts on this?
SM: From the time I was a young child, my parents taught me that you can make good money in any field, as long as you strive to be the best in your chosen field. That’s the attitude I have always taken. There is a common misconception out there that artists choose our careers because we aren’t ‘intellectuals.’ And, furthermore, that if you aren’t choosing an ‘intellectual’ career field, then you won’t have a financially-sound future. That couldn’t be further from the truth. To be a successful Actress, I have to be capable as an Artist and an Intellectual every day. I also have to be extremely business-savvy. When you choose to become a professional actor, you are choosing to be your own boss! You have to know the ins-and-outs of your Business, understand how to work with many types of people, budget for your business needs, market yourself, and be comfortable being in the public-eye (sometimes under intense scrutiny) while you work.
For those who can learn to master the delicate balance of “Artist / Intellectual / Business-person,” the financial rewards can be amazing. It’s not typically an overnight process. And, like any other professional field, some will succeed and some won’t. But, it is my belief that as long you are willing to fight hard and go the distance – and as long as audiences are still watching TV, going to the movies, and continuing to be patrons of the arts – then there will be abundant opportunity to make a fine living being an Actress! I am living proof of that, and I’m just at the beginning of what I hope will be a long and successful career.
TC: What are your future ambitions?
SM: In the future, I hope to achieve continued success as an Actress and Voiceover Artist! I want to learn and grow every day. I want to challenge myself to take on more difficult roles. I want to be a ‘household-name,’ both in America and internationally. I want to travel the world. I want to tell stories and touch the hearts of people everywhere with my work. I want to use my future celebrity-status to bring awareness and funding to charitable causes that are dear to me (Such as funding for arts programs in schools, childhood hunger, poverty, and animal rescue). I want to take care of my family, as they have sacrificed so much to help me get to where I am now. And, I want to continue to live a long and happy life doing what I love to do.
TC: Any advice for people considering this line of work?
SM: Follow your heart, and if your heart is leading you to a career in the arts then BE BOLD! Be kind to others on your journey, and stay open to the possibilities. Do not allow anyone or anything to stand in the way of that dream. Being an Actress (or, any other type of performing artist) requires courage, drive, passion, and a certain amount of fearlessness. One must be prepared to work hard and face obstacles. But, if you are methodical, disciplined, optimistic, and a ‘student’ of your chosen field, then success will inevitably come! So, don’t be afraid to take some risks. As I always say:
“Leap, and the net will appear.”
That’s my life-motto and so far it hasn’t let me down.
To connect with Sharon Muthu and stay updated on her career, check out the following links:
For further updates, photos, full-resume, or to contact Sharon Muthu regarding future interviews, appearances, or bookings, please visit: www.sharonmuthu.com.
All photo images: Copyright © Sharon Muthu, 2014; All Rights Reserved.
Photography By: Liz Barlak Photography
Hair & Makeup By: Angela Mobile Makeup