Avantika Has a Master Plan to Take Over Film on Two Separate Continents

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Avantika Has a Master Plan Ben Lamberty
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Contrary to popular belief, playing dumb onscreen actually takes a lot of thought if you want to do it right. So, given the monumental task of reinventing Mean Girls’s Karen, one of the most iconic bimbos in film history, 19-year-old actress Avantika didn’t just rely on her unreal doe eyes and the Tina Fey–written dialogue to do the work for her. She looked a bit deeper. “I leaned into her kindness,” Avantika says, adding that she wanted to show “how unimportant it was to her that she was stupid. She didn’t care.”

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The result—a hot, wide-eyed, and comically clueless Karen who’s even more of a girls’ girl than the earlier version of the character—is a scene-stealing performance that cemented Avantika as one of Hollywood’s most “Where can I see her next?” young stars. Even the original Karen herself, Amanda Seyfried, took notice. And Avantika’s capitalizing on the momentum. Since taking a leave of absence from college earlier this year, she’s been building her career in both Hollywood and India, auditioning while doing press for her Indian television show, Big Girls Don’t Cry, and her new horror film, Tarot, while also somehow having the time to develop an adaptation of A Crown of Wishes, Roshani Chokshi’s YA fantasy, for Disney+.

When she signs onto our Zoom interview a little late—she got caught up in NYC traffic—it’s clear she’s already had a packed day. Slightly frazzled, she’s seated in the middle of a bustling office, headphones in to block out the noise of the people working around her. But as soon as the questions start, she’s laser-focused—and so thoughtful, it’s honestly hard to believe she’s the same person who played Karen—opening up about finding her footing as an Indian American actress and her own experience with mean girls. It’s clear that Avantika won’t let anything distract her from this interview or from her path to household-name-level stardom.

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Sportmax top and skirt. Only Hearts bra. Fleur du Mal bodysuit. Jimmy Choo pumps. Jennifer Behr hair bows. Loeffler Randall bag.Ben Lamberty

Your performance in Mean Girls was singled out positively in many reviews, with people calling you a scene-stealer. But audiences can be harsh. What did that experience teach you about mean girls in real life?

It taught me to be less critical of who I see onscreen. I’ve always encountered hate throughout my career but never to this scale. I have to say that 90 percent of the response I received was so overwhelmingly positive and I’m incredibly grateful. That being said, even the small percentage of hate is magnified just because of how many people the movie reached.

Anything that was a critical acting note, I take as a note and I intellectualize it and process it because I do think it’s helpful to becoming a better entertainer. The racist hate didn’t really affect me, if I’m being honest. Anything that I can’t change about myself, I take it in stride. I don’t know what you want me to do about being a brown woman. There’s nothing I can do about that.

a person in a white dress
a person in a white dress

Cecilie Bahnsen cardigan, bralette, overlay, and skirt. Le Monde Béryl Mary Janes. Jennifer Behr hair bow. Alex Monroe earrings. Buddha Mama necklace.Ben Lamberty

And the racism of Hollywood is actually why you chose to start your career in India, right? How did you get your first role there?

I grew up in Indian classical dance and competed in India’s version of So You Think You Can Dance, a massive dance reality show that filmed in Bombay. It was my first exposure to the film industry, and I fell in love with it. At the time, South Asian representation wasn’t as prevalent in the American film industry as it is now, and so my mom was like, “Well, if you want to be an actor, the best place with the most opportunities are in India where there’s no trope or box you’re backed into by being brown.” My mom found an audition call on Facebook and I sent in a self-tape, booked it, and went to India. It was originally supposed to be a summer project, but I fell in love with it. One offer turned into 10 movies, and I stayed there for four years.

Why did you eventually make the move back to California?

In the Indian film industry, there aren’t a lot of roles for actors between the ages of 14 to 19. And I got an audition for a Disney Channel Original film called Spin. They were looking to cast someone of Indian descent for the lead and asked me to come to L.A. for my callback. The movie got shelved and brought back two years later, but it really opened up this door in my head: Maybe there is a space for me in Hollywood. Maybe there is a space for me in this industry that I can carve out.

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And India also has a pretty pervasive issue with colorism in its film industry. Was that part of why you wanted to move back to the U.S. and work here?

I have definitely always felt uglier in India than I have here. The colorism situation is primarily one of the biggest reasons why. I’m South Indian, and there’s this perception that North Indian women are more beautiful than South Indian women. And the South Indian women who do reach insane levels of success in India are very light-skinned—some have become lighter skinned. So seeing myself represented in Bridgerton season 2’s Charithra Chandran and Simone Ashley—beautiful, dusky skinned women—South Indian women— in Hollywood has made me so, so happy. And I have definitely found that the odds are a bit less stacked against me here than they are there because I can’t change my skin color. But I can convince people that I’m talented and that I deserve an opportunity or that I have a voice that needs to be heard.

a woman sitting on a bathtub
ShuShu/Tong dress. Swedish Stockings socks. Manolo Blahnik pumps. Jennifer Behr hair bow. Alex Monroe earrings. Vanessa Mooney necklace. Almarow ring. Ben Lamberty

Hollywood is still so limited in opportunities, though, especially for women of color, and there’s so much pressure to strike while the iron is hot. Are you ever frustrated that you can’t take time off to go to college?

It’s so deeply frustrating. The pressure is so high because in a room full of a hundred people, Hollywood is now offering spots to maybe three women of South Asian descent. So the fear of I’m going to leave and I’m going to take a break and somebody else is going to come and the world’s just going to forget about you and not give you a chance or not give you a space in that room anymore is so imminent and it’s so real.

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Cou Cou cardigan, tank, and skirt. Falke socks. Pandora Jewelry earrings and necklace. Vanessa Mooney ring. Hill House Home bed set.Hearst Owned

And you also feel really shitty for feeling that way because, at the end of the day, the last thing you want to be doing is for someone to open the door for you, and as soon as you make your way into that room, you shut the door behind you. That’s not my vibe. I want to start a production company. I want to be uplifting South Asian voices. I’m hustling right now because I want to make moves in the industry that will help open up doors, so that the opportunities are so many and so plentiful that South Asian women of color don’t feel like they’re scrapping for things and fighting against each other.

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Part of that hustle is producing the Disney+ adaptation of A Crown of Wishes. Why was this the project that made you want to go into that side of filmmaking?

The Western fantasy genre is dominated by a Western mythology, or Nordic mythology. It just feels repetitive and redundant. And Indian mythology is so rich and so fascinating. After Black Panther came out, I thought we needed to find a way to showcase Indian mythology on a bigger, grander, commercial scale. I was 16 when I read the book and fell in love with it. I wrote a letter to the author saying, “Hey, I know you sold your previous set of books for a massive fee. I don’t have that money. This is literally coming from my first paycheck, but I promise to really take care of it and treat it like it’s my baby.” I laid out everything that I planned on doing with it, and she was like, “I believe you. I trust you. Take it.”

I ended up selling it a year and a half later, and I really thank God that the first thing that I pitched was sold because it gave me so much confidence. Being a young artist in this industry is so centered around questioning yourself, especially when you’re around older corporate executives, so I’m really grateful that my first experience went well. We’re in development right now.

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Dôen cardigan. Only Hearts bra. Tae Park shorts. Falke socks. Manolo Blahnik pumps. Jennifer Behr hair bow. Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello glasses. Retrouvaí earrings. Buddha Mama necklace. Ben Lamberty

You are very unapologetic about embracing your heritage. I noticed you often wear a bindi on the red carpet, which used to be a popular accessory for white pop stars in Hollywood to co-opt. Why is it so important for you to wear—or not wear—a bindi at these events?

My mom has worn a bindi my entire life, and she’s always been very anti-assimilation. She held on very strongly to her culture and has encouraged me to do so. My mom would send me to school with a bindi because it wards away the evil eye, and women are so much more powerful in their minds. She would say that a bindi condenses all the power to the center of your forehead and will keep you grounded. So I would hear all these things and I’d be like, “Okay, okay, okay.” And then I would go to school—I was bullied—and I would take off my bindi and stick it on my desk. At the end of the day, I’d stick it back on and go home. It wasn’t that I disliked it, I just felt like my mom didn’t get it.

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Adeam cardigan. Only Hearts bra. Ganni skirt. Rene Caovilla heels. Jennifer Behr headband. Swarovski ring. Serpenti Apparel bag. Ruggable rug.Ben Lamberty

As I’ve grown older, I have found a lot of comfort in my faith and my culture. I’m Hindu, and so much of Hinduism is centered around spirituality. And that spirituality has remained in me. My bindi is symbolic of how open I am about who I am. There’s no hiding anymore.

It’s interesting. Some days I just won’t feel like wearing it, but then there are some days when I’m like, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t wear it.” It’s been interesting to question why I feel like I shouldn’t be wearing it in certain spaces. But, really, it’s just a constant reminder of who I am and the kind of values my mom instilled in me.

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You said you’re very spiritual, which goes well with your new horror movie, Tarot, about cursed tarot cards. What made you want to do a horror movie?

Horror is my favorite genre of all time. And when this came along, I originally auditioned for another part, and then writer-director Spenser Cohen had a meeting with me where we talked about astrology and its cultural impact right now.

My mom was very into astrology in her youth. My dad doesn’t believe at all. But I was very interested in it, and I thought it was cool to see my favorite genre venture into the space of tarot and astrology. And while some elements of tarot are dramatized, at the end of the day, this is a horror movie that’s supposed to entertain. And I think it’s cool that we’re seeing the occult represented in a horoscope space rather than a witchy space.

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Carolina Herrera dress and belt. Falke socks. Malone Souliers pumps. Kule hat. Jennifer Behr hair bow. Heaven Mayhem earrings. NST Studio rings. Ben Lamberty

What’s your sign?

What do you think I am?

Oh, I’m so bad at this. I’ll guess…Gemini?

No. I’m an Aquarius, but all of my best friends, historically, have been Geminis. Maybe 80 percent of them.

And have you ever gotten your tarot read?

I frequently get them read! Every five months or so, with a shitty, corner psychic. But I just got my tarot cards read a few days ago with an actual tarot reader.

What tarot card do you think you would pull right now, in this moment?

I don’t think a “new beginning” is accurate because a new chapter has already begun, but I think a Death card would either confirm that, indeed, this new beginning is a new beginning and it’s not just a peak of a chapter that’s going to close tomorrow or that this is a moment of reinvention in my career.

a woman in a dress
Adeam gloves. Pandora Jewelry earrings and necklace. Urbanwalls wallpaper.Ben Lamberty

Lead image: ShuShu/Tong top, sunglasses, and bag. The Frankie Shop long-sleeve shirt.

Stylist: Cassie Anderson. Hair: Davey Matthew at The Only Agency using Covet & Mane extensions. Makeup: Karina Milan at The Wall Group. Manicure: Elizabeth Garcia using Zillabeau.

Creative director: Mallory Roynon. Entertainment director: Maxwell Losgar. Visual director: Kristin Giametta.

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