Megan Suri: Making of a monster hit

The fast-rising star spoke to Eastern Eye about her most challenging role in the new horror movie It Lives Inside

Megan Suri

Asjad Nazir

MEGAN SURI has made an impressive impact in Hollywood with a great variety of roles in projects, including the hit Netflix series Never Have I Ever.

The fast-rising star has taken on her most challenging role in the new horror movie It Lives Inside, which will be released in cinemas next Friday (20) after successful screenings at festivals.

She portrays a college student caught between cultures who inadvertently releases a demonic entity and must reconnect with her Indian roots to defeat it. The feature debut of writer/director Bishal Dutta will be released in time for Halloween and has a strong south Asian spin, which signals a sea change in Hollywood.

Eastern Eye caught up with the young American actress via Zoom to discuss It Lives Inside, working with Neeru Bajwa in the film, her love for horror, future hopes and being part of a new generation breaking glass ceilings in cinema.

You’ve had an amazing few years. Have you got a chance to enjoy the success?

I’m making a better effort at enjoying it, but I feel like right now, it’s a weird time as an actor just with the (Hollywood) strikes going on. I’m more focused on, hopefully, this strike ending and us getting back to work. But yes, I do need to take more moments where I just sit and appreciate the wins that I have had.

How do you reflect on hit Netflix series Never Have I Ever, where yours was one of the most loved characters?

It’s surreal. I didn’t really realise the impact of that until the show came out. And people from all walks of life have said they’re fans of the show. And to be able to have been a part of that cultural zeitgeist of a moment is one that I will cherish very deeply for the rest of my life – to just have been a part of a show that opened the doors for more representation. And hopefully, it doesn’t stop.

How much does it mean to you as an actor that you’re getting such unique parts like It Lives Inside?

I’ve been doing this for over a decade. So, I’m very well-versed in how lucky I am. And it’s about time, really. But also, it’s taken a lot of time. So, it’s very surreal for me. I was so excited when this movie came my way for the fact that it was just a horror film. I feel like we never see that. So that alone was super exciting. But absolutely, I feel very lucky and grateful. And just soaking it all in.

Megan Suri

I don’t think it’s just a horror film and very multi-layered. What did you most like about it?

I think you’ve literally just answered it Asjad. For me, it’s not just a cliché sort of horror film with jump scares. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge horror fan and love those movies, too. But what I loved about this and the work that I want to continue doing is playing characters that are multilayered, complex and have many different facets. I feel like as an actor, it was super exciting to delve into a character that feels like an actual human, with human feelings and was multi-dimensional. That was definitely a large part of the appeal.

Did you feel the pressure of playing the lead role of Sam in such a pathbreaking movie?

I don’t think I felt the pressure until I was on set. Prior to auditioning, I thought I’m not ready to lead this. I was very much interested in (the supporting) Tamira’s role. I met with (writer/director) Bishal and it was pretty apparent from our first meeting that Sam was who I wanted to play. The great thing about Bishal, is he was able to instil the reassurance and confidence in me that I could do it.

One thing I really loved about your performance is that you did a lot of acting without speaking. Was that the most challenging aspect?

Absolutely. Bishal is a director who likes to have the camera right up in your face. So, it was a lot of subtle movement and very uncomfortable. But after a day or two, you’re just like, alright, this is how he shoots. I’m glad that you brought that up. Actually, it was the biggest challenge of my career so far. How do you express these very complex emotions that Bishal has on the page, onto the screen. I hope that it translated.

The film also stars Indian cinema icon Neeru Bajwa. What was it like working with her?

Neeru is also a legend in real life. Obviously, she is such an amazing actress and incredibly professional, but also very down to earth and kind. I’ll tell the story forever. We were filming on location in Canada. I’m from Los Angeles and was feeling homesick, just with the food. But she literally brought parathas onto set for me, without me even asking her. She also brought me a box of almonds and it doesn’t get more Indian than that. She was lovely. You would never think that she’s this huge Indian film star. I would be happy and lucky to work with her anytime again.

Do you have a favourite moment in your new movie?

I have to think about that. I really enjoyed my action sequences. That really was me on the bike. I did that stunt. But I think the movie’s climax was really fun for me, because for the other parts I just spent most of it screaming. So, it was nice to be able to like, have this cathartic raw experience. So yeah, the end of this movie was really fun.

As a fan, what do you love about horror films?

I mean, I’m just a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. I always have been. I love going on roller coasters. It’s definitely that aspect for me. It’s exciting. Sometimes, you know, you just want to go to a movie and be scared. You want to feel things you don’t normally feel. I think that’s the appeal to me personally, but to each their own. It’s very subjective, I suppose.

Are you a fearless actress?

I’d like to think that I’m becoming more of that, especially while moving through this world of acting now, with the calibre of roles I’m able to audition for. It was never like this before. I was always just doing the stereotypical role. But now I have more say in the kind of roles I want to do. It does take a little bit of fearlessness, to be able to say no to some things, even if that means you won’t work for a while. But you know that it’s because you’re doing it for a better purpose.

I’d love to see you doing a full on action movie. Do you have a dream role?

I would love to do an action movie. That is something I’ve always thought about. I feel like I’d hit my bucket list with the horror film. I hope it hasn’t stopped. I would be happy to do more horror stuff. I love this genre. But yeah, I think the next thing hopefully in the foreseeable future, when these strikes end, I would love to do something in action. That would be fun.

Suri in the horror film ‘It Lives Inside’

What inspires you creatively?

Movies. I feel like I’m a boring person in real life. I have a pretty mundane life.

 I don’t believe that for one second…

You would be surprised. I’m in my parent’s bedroom right now. I rarely go out, which I probably should, to seek more creative inspiration from outside. But really, it’s just movies, music and books. Really boring. But it’s the truth.

Could you ever see yourself working in India?

I would definitely entertain the idea if the opportunity ever presented itself. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

 You are part of a young generation breaking new ground in Hollywood. Do you think it is an exciting time for an actor right now?

I’m really glad that it’s happening and we’re finally seeing faces that resemble the world. But I think it’s also simultaneously a terrible time just because of these strikes that are going on. So, it’s a weird time to be excited, but I have hope that something great will come out of this and we’ll get a fair deal. And hopefully, we’ll be able to make more projects that look like this.

Why do you love cinema?

It’s such a such a nuanced answer. I mean, I think the baseline is escapism, right? It’s nice to just watch a movie from any part of the world and feel like you understand a little bit more about that country or culture. Growing up, I watched a lot of Bollywood and American movies, so was able to understand so many dynamics and different types of relationships, I was not in, at a young age through the lens of cinema. So yeah, that’s why I love it.

Why should we all watch your new film It Lives Inside?

You should all go watch the film because it’s the first of its kind. It’s exciting. It’s horror and with October, the spooky season is upon us. It’s a fun time to go watch a scary movie.