My next guest is an old college friend of mine who has pursued her childhood dreams of becoming an actor. Nina Mehta is an actor, writer, and creative dreamer who turned her passion into her profession. As an ensemble member of the renowned theater and film production company, The Collective, she has appeared in numerous media productions, including being a regular cast member of The Amy Schumer Show.
On this episode, we discuss her unlikely journey from being an environmental studies major to hustling her way into theater by following her dreams. We also discuss the challenges of being an actor as a minority, why artistry has always been in her family blood, and what it takes to break into a highly competitive industry. All this and more on today’s episode.
Now, That’s Unusual.
About Nina Mehta
Growing up in northern New Jersey, Nina Mehta loved the creative arts. She was actively involved in theatre in high school, but stepped away from acting in college to pursue Environmental Studies at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. Mehta returned to New York after graduation and worked a ‘regular job,’ but the voice in her head kept calling her back to the performing arts.
Mehta studied acting professionally under Terry Knickerbocker at the William Esper Studio from 2003-2005. She completed the two-year program in the evenings while working for Time Inc. With the economic downturn in 2008, she was laid off from her marketing job at Time – and serendipitously connected with The Collective NY, a newly formed performance ensemble comprised of other Esper Studio graduates. She began attending the group’s Collective Monday workshops, and became an official member of the troupe in March of 2009.
Mehta’s first film, Finding Priya a Prom Date, won several short film awards on the 2008-2009 festival circuit, and she also appeared in The Call Center, an official pick at the 2009 New York Television Festival. She has played several roles on the sketch comedy show Inside Amy Schumer, and most recently appeared on Girls. Mehta continues to work with The Collective NY, serving as a writer, director, producer, and member of the permanent ensemble.
Key Interview Takeaways
The beauty of acting is in the storytelling. Mehta fell in love with drama watching television as a child because it opened up her imagination, and she found it creatively stimulating in that it could both act as a mirror of her own experience and introduce her to new people and experiences.
Listen to that nagging little voice in your head. Mehta got away from theatre to pursue Environmental Studies in college, but once she had gotten comfortable in the working world, the nagging little voice in her head started calling her back – and she is grateful to have been relaxed enough to hear it!
The more ‘of color’ you are, the tougher you have it in the world of theatre, film and television. Mehta recognizes that she has been lucky to have been cast in a number diverse roles.
Acting requires a thick skin. You will hear ‘no’ more than ‘yes,’ so it is necessary to simply do your job well in the audition – and then let it go once you leave the room. 98% of casting involves elements that are out of your control.
To prepare for an audition, read the script – a lot – with someone you trust and get feedback regarding how you come across. Mehta is trained in the Meisner technique, which suggests that how you say the lines on the page may change based on what your scene partner gives you in the moment.
‘Having the other person break up with you sometimes is helpful.’ Mehta had continued to work her day job while she studied acting, but being laid off in 2008 gave her the chance to pursue theatre full-time. This led to her involvement with The Collective and her friendship with a number of talented people, including Amy Schumer.
Graduates of the William Esper Studio receive the parting advice to ‘create your own work’ as a way of taking control over one’s career, and The Collective seeks to provide a space for its members to do just that. As a founding member of The Collective, Schumer worked her sketches with the group, and that rehearsal led to her show, Inside Amy Schumer.
Once you’ve created the work, bring it back to the company. Schumer has cast nearly all of The Collective ensemble who helped her develop the show.
There is no ‘secret sauce’ for making it in theatre, film and television. You must be willing to work hard and hustle, but there is an element of luck too. Mehta suggests focusing on why you’re doing what you’re doing, and following the path you’re given – whether or not that leads to your own show.