“Fame can be depressing”: Amrit Kaur on her sudden stardom and sharing South Asian stories on screen
The breakout star of Mindy Kaling’s hit comedy The Sex Lives of College Girls comes home to Toronto for the TIFF premiere of The Queen of My Dreams
Amrit Kaur catapulted to fame thanks to her role in Mindy Kaling’s hit HBO series The Sex Lives of College Girls. Now, the Toronto actor is starring in Canadian filmmaker Fawzia Mirza’s The Queen of My Dreams, which had its world premiere at TIFF last week. In a striking dual performance, Kaur plays Azra, a queer Muslim student who returns to her ancestral home in Pakistan after the sudden death of her father, as well as a younger version of Azra’s mother, Mariam, with whom she has a fraught relationship. Here, Kaur—who was named a 2023 TIFF Rising Star—talks about sharing South Asian stories on screen, choosing Canadian projects after finding success in the US and her go-to spots when she’s back in her hometown.
You became a household name after the international success of The Sex Lives of College Girls. Why did you choose a Canadian indie as your next project?
A lot of the actors I look up to, like Cate Blanchett, work in theatre, film and TV in their home countries; then go to the US; and eventually return home to elevate the film and television industry where they’re from. Canadians do that too—and I’m excited to be part of the club.
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What drew you to Fawzia Mirza’s script?
I knew that I wanted the first film I did after Sex Lives to be dramatic and meaningful. I decided to do this one because it scared me. My process as an actor involves looking at myself—all the parts of myself, including the ones I love and the ones I dislike—and putting them into my work. I have both the characters I played—Azra and Mariam—in me. On a personal level, I hadn’t explored all the subjects covered in this script in depth before: sexuality, a strained relationship with a mother, a tainted relationship with a homeland, judging it, loving it. Before we shot the film, I was in full panic-attack mode for months. I’m grateful to my acting teacher for pushing me to go to those places. I’m grateful that the film forced me to look at things I’ve never looked at before and, as a result, develop a better relationship with myself.
Your parents immigrated to Canada from India before you were born. You’ve said that, with your work, you want to keep telling the truth of what it is to be brown. What truths were you tapping into with this film?
South Asians can be gay. South Asians can be sexual. South Asians can be abusive, loving and judgmental. South Asians can have a God complex. Telling brown stories means telling the truth about what it is to be alive, telling the human experience. Because, in many ways, brown stories are the same as every other story, except the circumstances are different. Hollywood, and every other film industry, has to be braver in humanizing us.
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Has your rise to fame changed your relationship to acting?
It’s hard because fame is so antithetical to what the job is—acting has nothing to do with fame. Acting is about being one with everyone, about admitting that we all have the same experiences of love, hate, self-love, self-loathing. For me, acting is spiritual, and fame distorts that. I guess fame has a purpose because it gives me a platform to say important things to bigger audiences. But it can be scary when the world views celebrity as something hierarchical. That depresses me. It makes me feel like I’m moving further away from my true spirit, which is just to be a devotional actor. I do this work because I love acting, not to be celebrated. But it’s also a battle with my ego, because I am also someone who’s desperate to be validated. I would say that’s something I’m working on: doing things for the love of it instead of for the inner child who always wants to be validated.
You’ve worked with a bunch of South Asian trailblazers in the industry—first Mindy Kaling, now Fawzia Mirza. What has that been like?
It takes a lot of bravery to be a leader in an industry where there aren’t many people who look like you or share your experiences. Mindy was one of the first to break barriers in Hollywood. And Fawzia, who is queer and Muslim, is breaking barriers too. But I want the industry to get to a place where there are so many South Asian artists, film directors and producers who are just being themselves that we don’t even have to ask these kinds of questions. We don’t have to ask white people what it’s like to work with so and so or so and so.
You grew up in Markham. What do you love most about Toronto?
I love that it’s home. Toronto is where I started acting many years ago. I was living in a little apartment where I paid $375 a month for a small room with a curtain. I spent all my money on acting classes, and I was like, I don’t care. I just need a bed. Remembering what I’ve sacrificed to do what I love is really grounding. So I love Toronto because of the nostalgia, and I love to go home to see my parents in Markham and speak Punjabi with them.
What’s your favourite place in the city?
A restaurant called Federick. I’ve tried so many other Hakka Chinese places in an attempt to find somewhere better, but it’s the best. I need to go again while I’m here. I also love the coffee at Saving Mondays, walking in High Park, and shopping for vintage furniture and clothes. Mostly, though, I love sitting on my best friend’s couch—he used to be my drama teacher—and watching 90 Day Fiancé.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.