Four months after becoming a dad, actor Rushi Kota faced an unexpected challenge: SAG-AFTRA, the union representing actors, went on strike, joining the Writers Guild of America in a season where creators and workers in various industries are demanding more of the corporations that hire them.
On a recent afternoon, we joined Rota, who has starred in a variety of TV shows and movies — “Make Me a Match,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Never Have I Ever,” “Dumb Money” — in his home studio to talk to him about his work, the strike, how he and his wife, Reeshelle, are navigating their new roles as parents, and to photograph him and baby, Rydin, for our cover.
Let’s start in your studio: When did you turn this room in your condo into a studio and what do you use it for?
A room in the house was always meant to be a studio so that I can have a space dedicated to creating self-tapes/VO auditions, or if I have interviews and Zoom sessions. I think it’s crucial as an artist to have a dedicated space to create. I have a writer friend who has a closet in his office where he goes to write exclusively because it is devoid of all distractions.
Are Rydin and Oscar [family dog] allowed in, or is it off limits?
They are more than welcome — as long as they are being quiet. Oscar loves sitting in the office chair and watching me when I’m putting my tapes together, and Rydin is in there while I do vocal warm-ups. I talk and read out loud, so hopefully, he’s picking up on sounds and articulation quickly. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say, though I fear it’s going to be quite a lot. I think the biggest challenge for me right now as a parent is time. Having enough time to make sure the baby is getting enough stimulation, but also having time to be able to be creative. I have so much anxiety trying to make sure he’s getting everything he needs, but also making sure I’m able to give a 150 percent when these auditions/jobs come in.
The biggest joys are watching him learn new skills every day. I get surprised at how he just learns something new at random times. And hearing him laugh. The other day, he was having a full-on meltdown while eating watermelon — full-on screaming with tears streaking down his face, but he kept eating more and more watermelon. It was fascinating to observe him express his euphoria through what I conceived as anger and frustration because he doesn’t know which one is which yet. I don’t know, but it was the most hilarious thing that I am still laughing about it days later. Also, it was really nerve-racking to see him have two extreme emotions at the same time.
Tell us about your upbringing. Did you always feel the inner call to act?
I was born in India and came to New York [Queens] when I was 8 years old with my brother who was nine years older. I didn’t speak any English at the time. I was in a single-parent home.
Mom was a real estate agent who always said the harder you work, the more money you make, which meant she was working all the time.
Most of my childhood was spent trying to figure out what my passion was. I wasn’t really driven towards anything except being lost in the allure of movies and Formula One racing. I guess fiction was better than reality at the time, and movies and racing provided the escape.
You majored in engineering initially, not acting.
That’s right. I majored in automotive engineering because I really loved cars at the time and thought maybe that… could be a path to racing.
I was dabbling in modeling during college, but I never really thought about acting until after graduating. I didn’t think there was a place for people like me in Hollywood, and so the arts wasn’t really a career path to pursue. But while I was interning one summer during college, I met an actor who gave me the 411 on how to start, which I kept tucked away until it was time to explore it.
Then I graduated during the 2008-09 mortgage crisis, and I couldn’t find a job in my respective field. Feeling hopeless, I turned to acting as an outlet to let myself be free — free from any conformed way of being. I thought as an actor I could go live the life of all these different people and find out what it’s like to work in so many different professions and constantly learn new things. So far, I’ve played an agent, a robot, a doctor, a professor, a political aide, a chef, a really good guy, a matchmaker, a billionaire and more. I guess escaping into my dreams has become a reality.
When did you move to L.A.?
I moved to L.A. about 10 years ago, as soon as I graduated with an M.F.A. in acting from Harvard. I was going to take a month off and spend it at home before I made my move, but I was offered a role in a play, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” in Sacramento. I packed up all my stuff in my Ford Taurus immediately after graduating and started my journey to California.
That was the first time I drove across the country. And after I finished my run in Sacramento and was on my way to Los Angeles, my transmission gave out on the 405. Which was really fun, as I was trying to navigate to an exit without using the brake and the accelerator not working. It set me back three grand to get that fixed. So that was my start to life in L.A.
How are you and your family doing during the SAG-AFTRA strike?
It’s been really weird because I have a few projects coming out this year that I am beyond excited for, but I am not allowed to talk about or promote them in any capacity. All of this life-changing momentum that’s been building up is slowly and painfully dying out. I guess at first glance, it’s hard to see all the good that’s come of it because I am someone who tends to measure success based on what’s next versus looking at the bigger picture. I had to remind myself that I can’t control what’s out there and really take note of everything I do have, which is that we got to spend so much quality time with Rydin, and that precious time with him is priceless and such a huge blessing.
What do you have to say about the state of the industry and the future of creatives in Hollywood?
This is a very exciting time in the industry! We are in a huge shift towards equality and fairness not just for all people of color and the opportunities we now have, but also financially for everyone. When I started 10 years ago, nearly everyone I came across said what an exciting time it was to be a South Asian actor, and five years later…I saw was how hard it was to get cast as a South Asian actor. But in the recent five years, I have been observant of how many Indian American actors have been on the rise. Finally, we are starting to get our time in the spotlight. It is very cool to see this growth.
With this strike, there’s hope of at least getting some semblance of fairness between the top brass and everyday actor/writer. The old model of quantity over quality and not paying the people creating the content while the executives make bank has become obsolete, especially with the streamers. Glad we are all getting on the same page about who actually makes what.
Rydin did such a wonderful job on his first shoot. Think a modeling or acting career is ahead for him?
I know! He absolutely crushed it. We weren’t expecting him to bring that much cuteness. I mean, I don’t know if we want to push him to acting or modeling because, on one hand, we don’t want him to have such an uncertain, confusing and complicated life of an actor, but on the other hand, I am there to guide him through all the obstacles. Our dreams for Rydin is that he would become a world-famous DJ or a Formula One racer so we can accompany him across the world to all the music festivals and exotic party places, which would be a dream come true! Ultimately, we will be there to guide and support in whatever path he gravitates toward.
Tell us a little about the difference between your and Reechelle’s career.
She’s a “scientist of cancer immunotherapies,” meaning she develops autologous and allogeneic therapies for various types of cancers. Disclaimer: If you didn’t understand that, don’t worry…neither did I. [When] I was working on “Grey’s Anatomy,” she would come home and say, “We made a huge discovery today that saved a person’s life,” which she did, and I would come home and say, “I had an intense eight-hour fake surgery and ate from three different food trucks that were on set today,” which I did.