Praneet Akilla is an actor as well as a writer/producer who has been in love with the performing arts from a very young age. He was born in Mumbai, India but was raised in Calgary, Canada.
He has been shaped into the actor he is today owing to the theatre-filled path his life has taken since he embraced his love for the performing arts. He has also featured in a significant number of film and television productions and is fast becoming popular.
You used to make short films with your neighborhood friends when you were younger, at what age was that, and was that when you realized you wanted to go into performing arts?
I was 13 at the time. Along with making short films with my friends I also was in school musicals and plays. That gave me the confidence to know that I was good at performing arts and that it really fulfilled me.
What was the first role you ever played?
I played the lead role of Aladdin in my school musical. Professionally on stage, I played Orlando in the Shakespeare play As You Like It.
What is your fondest memory of when you used to create short films with your friends?
I think the fondest memory is filming a feature film called Jewel Fools with my friends and fellow directors Bhaveek and Jashan Makan who are now doing incredible things as musicians and directors. It was a low-budget action-adventure film shot all over Calgary while I was an engineering student intern during the day. Lots of late nights and laughter, sneaking into places we shouldn’t have been to get footage. It’s all a part of the learning experience. The film was a huge hit too, it premiered at various film festivals in Canada!
How come you decided to major in Chemical Engineering in university and not something theatre-related?
I didn’t believe in myself at the time and I grew up in a strict south Asian household that conditioned me to think in terms of financial security and stability. So the arts weren’t an option at first. I was still good at math and science but after graduation and working as an engineer for a bit- I grew miserable. So I quit and pursued my passion. Life is too short. I was still young and that was the shot I had to take.
You used to act in community theatre productions as well as work as an engineering intern during summer, how much of a task was that and how did you cope?
It was a lot of days with no sleep. I would work 9 to 6 and from 7 to 11 pm I would rehearse for my theater shows. I would also go behind my boss’s back and lie saying that I had some random appointment when really it was an audition for something. Mentally it took a toll because it’s like you’re living a secret double life. My life changed when I decided to honor my wants and needs. The change in mindset really made things in my life much easier because everything was finally moving in one direction as opposed to going in circles.
How long did it take you before deciding to pursue acting full-time and how hard was it making that decision?
It took me a long time. About three years of going back and forth. I would work as an engineer and do theater. I had lots of fights with my family who (at the time) thought I was wasting my time. I had friends tell me I was wasting my time being an engineer. I was going on circles and as a result, my work in both fields suffered. Finally, I started booking professional theater roles that started paying me money, and then it happened so frequently (I was very lucky) that I had no choice but to quit my non-acting work. It was inevitable.
What was your reaction to the JEWEL FOOLS premiering at the Calgary International Film Festival?
Pure elation. It was my first major film role and I made it with a group of lifelong friends and collaborators. I’m still working with many of them now on creative projects.
Tell us about your current role in Motherland: Fort Salem. What can people expect this season?
This season is darker and grittier. Incredibly scary. The stakes have never been higher. The witch army is facing a lot of enemies at once and it’s hard to know who to trust. I play Gregorio who is a male witch and believes they have a bigger role to play in the female dominant society. He is a part of the coven that our three main characters join and aids them in protecting the world from ancient enemies. He is also very funny and snarly and I’m relishing being the comic relief.
You are currently working on two television series as the writer/producer alongside Tesh Guttikonda, how soon should we expect both projects?
One is a feature film about a zombie apocalypse at an Indian Weddings and the other is a TV series about a Hindu immigrant priest who discovers musical theatre in the vein of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. Both are still in development and we hope that when our short film Mom VS Machine comes out and gains some reaction we can get more financing to develop it for a network. We are still in talks and will announce soon.
What is a statement you live by?
Control the controllable.
Could you briefly describe what we should expect from your upcoming short film “MOM VS MACHINE”?
Mom VS Machine is a Sci-Fi action-comedy about an Indian mother battling a sentient Indian Food making a robot to compete for the affection of her son who buys it to replace her. So often you don’t see south Asian actors as the leads of sci-fi shows or movies being bad-ass. They are often the side characters to their braver, white main characters. This short film changes that.
Which director, alive or dead, would you love to work with?