'Blacklist' Newcomer Anya Banerjee Talks the 'Universal Impact' of Representing 'Three-Dimensional' AAPI Characters Onscreen

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When the beloved NBC show Blacklist announced that its tenth season was also its last, it’s safe to say loyal fans of the show were less than happy. After all, the show captured millions of fans since the first season back in 2013.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Blacklist follows ex-intelligence officer turned criminal Raymond “Red” Reddington (played by James Spader) after he surrenders himself to authorities. After his capture, however, Red begins a partnership with the FBI as they go after fellow Blacklisters in exchange for his legal immunity.

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In the new season, in addition to continuing the Red-FBI alliance, showrunners also brought in a surprising new character: MI6 intelligence officer Siya Malik (played by newcomer Anya Banerjee). As it turns out, Siya is the daughter of Meera Malik (Parminder Nagra), a CIA agent who was brutally killed in the season one finale.

Talking to SheKnows, Banerjee opened up about joining the legendary show for its final salute. “It’s been a surreal experience to be entering at a time when people are saying goodbye,” she says, adding that she’s somewhat used to the “emotional rollercoaster” due to her experience in theater. “I step onto set everybody has their own rhythms already established and I’m juggling all these lines, weapons, fight choreography, and different directors.”

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“Within all of that hustle and bustle, I think I managed to make some pretty meaningful relationships with the cast and the amazing crew,” she says, before giving a special shout-out to hair and makeup “who work absolute miracles every single day.” “I’ve certainly learned a lot from being thrown in the deep end that way,” she adds.

Speaking of learning, Banerjee says working with Spader was “so educational.” “He is a real master of the craft,” she says, adding that she “couldn’t have asked for a more talented receptive group of actors to work opposite.”

THE BLACKLIST -- "The Sicilian Error of Color" Episode 1013 -- Pictured: (l-r) Anya Banerjee as Siya Malik, James Spader as Raymond "Red" Reddington, Sami Bray as Agnes, Harry Lennix as Harold Cooper -- (Photo by: Scott Gries/NBC via Getty Images)
Anya Banerjee as Siya Malik, James Spader as Raymond “Red” Reddington, Sami Bray as Agnes, Harry Lennix as Harold Cooper. (Photo by: Scott Gries/NBC via Getty Images)

Banerjee learning from the show, however, started much earlier than her joining the cast. “Watching Parminder Nagra as I was growing up had a profound impact on what I believed to be possible for me as an actor,” she says. “And so I really just hope that I’ve done justice to her legacy on the show, and hopefully inspire others who are like me to go out and do the thing because it’s so possible.”

For the newcomer, who is of South Asian descent and moved to New Zealand after being born in the U.S., her multifaceted identity has been a huge part of how she sees this opportunity. “I’m so proud to be representing the South Asian community in a lead role on screen,” she says. “It’s a tremendous honor.”

And, although her character Siya has a different identity from her, Banerjee’s life experience also helped shape her character. “I think [my upbringing] gave me another insight into the immigrant experience that Meera and Siya would have shared being of British upbringing and Indian ethnicity,” she says. “My personal nationality and heritage gave me that inherent outsider’s perspective which I think bleeds into Siya and informs the way that she approaches the world. She’s a very keen observer of human behavior, which all immigrants have to be as we seek to assimilate into whatever culture it is that we’re growing up in.”

“I think that that’s also a really important thing to reflect in representations of AAPI characters is that we’re not just one thing, we have all of these other multicultural aspects that go into our identities that impact things from accent to idioms and languages that we choose to speak,” she says. “And so we’re not just out here checking cookie cutter boxes, we are three-dimensional global citizens, and reflecting the accurate state of reality and our world by doing so.”

“It’s through being specific that you can get to that universal impact,” she adds.

To watch more of Banerjee as the multi-dimensional Siya Malik in Blacklist, check out the show’s last season airing on Thursdays at 8 pm ET on NBC.

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