Shevalier Shehantha is making his country proud as he reaches great heights in his acting career. We recently sat down with him and talked about some of his upcoming projects including playing the lead role in the feature film “Hollywood Dreamers” written and directed by Martin Elicea-Ruiz and “POV” (Point of View) a web series written by Kevin King and directed by Steve Hosford.
Please introduce yourself to the readers:
Hi, I’m Shevalier Joseph Shehantha. You can call me “Shey”. I was born and raised in Sri Lanka. I’ve always dreamed of coming to the US to realize my dream and I’ve been living in LA for three years now. It’s been such an amazing learning curve and experience meeting new people from all walks of life and embracing different cultures since LA is full of diversity. Almost everyone I’ve met here is in some way or the other related to the entertainment industry, so I try to pick their brains whenever possible because there’s so much to learn and their incredible stories motivate me to strategize my road in this business.
How and when did you first get into performing?
I was and still am a huge fan of Disney’s “The Lion King.” When I was 11, my mom read an article in a newspaper saying that a local theater group “The Workshop Players” was producing the musical and thought it would be a good experience for me to have. So I auditioned and got in and played a lot of miscellaneous parts; you know… baby elephant, grubs, hyenas, wilder beasts and even grass! I had a lot of fun and I was hooked to the splendor of what theater can be! The costumes, lights, singing, dancing and the incredible acting – I just knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Ever since, I’ve never been able to stay away from acting for too long and be happy, so I know this is what I am meant to do.
Who were some of your biggest inspirations?
Many actually! Growing up I didn’t have many people around who encouraged me or dreamed big, so I drew inspiration from the heroes I saw on screen. I love Tom Hanks. His ability to play the “good guy” interestingly and charismatically bringing forth a deep humanity to the roles he portrays. All of his roles are very endearing because of that. I consider Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton to be the best actors ever. Their ability to blend both style and realism is just phenomenal. I love Al Pacino’s intense characterizations, Ralph Fiennes’ magnetism, Robert Downey Jr.’s confidence, the screen presence of actors like Gary Oldman and Ian McShane and Hugh Jackman’s versatility. However, taking into consideration in terms of what types of characters I am good at playing and most importantly, how Hollywood would view and bill me as a commodity in this business, my hero and idol is Omar Sharif and also Anthony Quinn. They were ethnically ambiguous and portrayed a wide array of characters of different nationalities that has stood the test of time. They were great character actors who billed themselves up to become character-leads and formidable leading men of cinema. I’m glad these icons paved the way for actors like us in terms of their body of work, work ethic and what they represented.
What kind of training have you had if any?
I completed both of my fellowship Diplomas in Performing Speech and Drama as well as in Public Speaking from The London College of Music (LCM), a faculty of the Thames Valley University, UK. Before that, I achieved both of my Licentiate diplomas in Acting as well as in Performing Speech and Drama also from LCM. I won the highest score All-Island for my Associate diploma in Performing from the Trinity Guildhall College of London. The Acting Medallion from LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts) was the first of many UK performing exams I completed. I’m an alumnus of “South Coast Repertory” in Costa Mesa having completed the Actor Intensive Program (AIP) in the Summer of 2013. I graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) with an Associate of Arts Degree and upon graduation was a finalist for the “Thomas Jehlinger Award” for demonstrating the spirit of an actor and artist and won the “Michael Thoma Award” for demonstrating the most growth as an actor and an artist by the faculty. I was a member of the Los Angeles Academy Company 2013-14 Season where I completed my Advanced Actor Training.
My family has always been supportive of my dreams and believed in my talents. However, since the entire industry was foreign to us, my parents advised me to get a profession in something else as a fall back option. Therefore, I did my Bachelors of Business Administration Majoring in International Business and Management from Northwood University, Michigan. It honestly helped me understand the profession as a ‘Business’, the Entertainment Industry. Also, I’ve been fascinated by Marketing since my father was into Marketing himself; so I completed my Professional Graduate and Professional Post Graduate Diplomas in Marketing from the “Chartered Institute of Marketing” Birkshire, UK. I also hold a Group diploma in Marketing from the “London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.” In the meantime, I also went for acting classes and took exams and performed in two of the annual island-wide performing arts festivals in Sri Lanka; “The Sri Lanka Festival of Music, Dance and Speech” which is organized by the International Institute of Music, Speech and Drama as well as in “The Sri Lankan Festival for the Performing Arts” organized by the Institute of Music, Speech and Speaking Skills. Both of these festivals are affiliated to the BIFF (British and International Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech UK of which Her Majesty the Queen is Patron. From these festivals, I’ve won a combined total of 37 Gold Medals, 31 All Island Winner Trophies, The Pandu Liyanage Shield for the Most Promising Performer (Senior) All-Island for two consecutive years in 2008 & 2009, an Outstanding Performance All Island Award and the Priscilla Morris Shield for the Most Dramatic Performance All-Island for the year 2007.
What has been your favorite role to play so far?
Well there are many actually and it’s unfair to pick a favorite considering the subjectivity of each character and what it demands. Playing “Peter” in Prelude to a Kiss was quite rewarding in terms of its simplicity. This man who falls head over heels for this girl and gets to know her so well that when Rita’s and the old man’s souls switch, he’s able to look through the illusion to confront that she isn’t the girl he loves. The fact that he’s able to know and love the person and not the look of a person, to love beyond the physical specimen is very deep and well, here I am, I’m tearing up as I speak, it shows that he truly cared for Rita and through his caring he becomes vulnerable. To have played that character and to experience that you can love someone so much and how a person can have an impact on your life, and how one deals with loosing someone you hold dear and the struggle you go through to find the answers that sometimes no one can understand not only what you are saying but how you are acting comes into question can put you in a very vulnerable position. It feels like the world is against you because no one gets it but only you feel it. The eventual reunion and the celebration of their love for one another is really heartwarming. It was a blast!
Playing TARTUFFE was fun and challenging too. It was an honor to be cast to play the title role and it gave me the confidence which showed that the director Mr. Timothy Landfield trusted me with the role. To play a popular role in the classical repertoire and to find a balance in style and realism in portraying the character to entertain a modern audience was a thrill each night.
Playing Skelly Manor in The Rimers of Eldritch under the direction of Joe Garcia was magical. He gave all of us so much freedom and trusted with our choices that it gave me the creative courage to risk and make bold choices. It was a real stretch from who I am in real life. Although, to realize that if I too, was pushed to such limits and have spent most of my life being misunderstood, suspected and mistreated, anyone could resort to Skelly’s unorthodox behavior.
What projects do you have coming up?
I’ll be playing one of the leads in a feature film production titled “Hollywood Dreamers” written and directed by Martin Elicea-Ruiz. It’s a comedy about three budding actors and unlikely friends from different walks of life; an Englishman, an Indian and a Russian coming together and how they resolve their differences and face the entertainment industry together and the many challenges they face and how they go about facing them. It’s currently in pre-production and we are all contributing towards the script as well. Being involved in the creative process is both humbling and rewarding.
I’ll be performing in a situational comedy web series titled “POV” (Point of View) written by Kevin King and directed by Steve Hosford with fellow alumnae of The Academy Lianna Liew and Kyle Eastman.
I’m also working with another group of passionate and talented Academy Alumnae on a 12 episode Web Series regarding a subject that we all feel strongly about. I’ll be playing a Mexican in this one and I’m excited about learning the accent to use for it. Apparently, my Mexican friends say “you look like someone from Oaxaca!”
Who would be your ideal co-star and why?
That depends on the genre. If it’s a comedy; situational, slapstick, whether we are playing buddy cops or thieves preparing for the heist of the century – then my ideal co-star would be Ken Jeong and I promise, you’ll be seeing a match made in box office heaven. I can pass as Indian and he’s Asian, make a movie with us and there’ll be over 2 billion people watching! In fact, I’m currently writing a feature film with that intention in mind to pitch it to studios. As my grandfather said “aim for the sky and then at least you’ll clear the tree tops!” and this is my way of paying homage to my grandfather.
If it’s a romantic film, then I wouldn’t mind playing opposite any of Hollywood’s leading ladies. And NO, not as a romantic interest, but as a person who cares for the leading lady nevertheless. I’m talking about what Morgan Freeman did in “Driving Ms. Daisy”, what Anthony Hopkins did in “Remains of the Day” and who could forget “Forrest Gump!” I can be the guy running the 7/11 store that the Lady owns or one of the drivers of the Yellow Cab company she owns. And with much of these wars going on today, I would really love to do a romantic movie set in the middle east or South Asia where the story really is about “Love conquering all” with a gorgeous lady from the west meeting someone from the east and knowing that after all we all need the same things in life in terms of love, success, happiness, peace etc. So it isn’t really about the ideal co-star in this regard but more about the ideal scenario in which we could create something memorable.
What are your plans for the future?
One person who has really inspired me not only through his roles but through his will power and focus is Sylvester Stallone! The man didn’t wait till opportunities came to him, he created his opportunities when he wrote “Rocky.” I’m writing my own material too, some by myself and some collaborating with my friends with the intention of pitching it to studios. Failing which, my friends and I are going to get together and make a film anyway! That’s my plan for the future – to be able to do what I love doing- making movies be it in front of the camera or behind the scenes. Also to be able to pay my bills through my earnings so that I could proudly say that I’m an actor and this is what I do to make a living.
What is your advice to aspiring performers?
As far as acting itself, it’s too early to be talking about technical jargon considering I’m new to the industry myself. However, my advice would be to believe and accept that whoever you are, you’re already an experienced actor who gives world class performances mostly when you’re unaware of it! So whenever you need to act professionally, trust that you have the experience to live the part and to tell the story. And anyone who has survived adolescence has many stories to draw from. You may be new to the “Industry” but not to “Acting.”
As far as dealing with the clichés of being an actor; you know, restlessness, rejection, angst, doubt, fear etc, my advice is to try and love the business more than you love yourself. Wherever you go, LA is full of people who have one foot in the industry. Talk to people and pick their brains as much as possible and learn about the dynamics of the industry and to start viewing the profession as a business and to view it objectively. It’ll help you understand why you aren’t right for a certain part and why you would be for another or why it isn’t the correct time for such an initiative. It helps you deal with rejection and the heartbreak after auditions and so on. When I said treat it like a business, I meant, you can’t expect Hollywood to give you fame and glory from the get go – you’ve got to contribute towards the industry and work your way up to eventually reap the benefits from being a part of this great profession that originated centuries ago.