BY ERIN WALSH
MEET Geraldine Viswanathan, a self-described ‘documentarian of life’ whose current starring role in The Broken Hearts Gallery moves her into leading lady territory, quite firmly where she belongs. EW spoke with GV about how art is survival, and how we can help each other feel a little less alone in this world. Read on below…
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Erin Walsh Geraldine, welcome to our SBJCT Journal collective of fascinating and fantastic folk. I am so pleased that we get to feature you and investigate what it is that makes you tick. I would love to start at the beginning before we get into your latest project, “The Broken Hearts Gallery”. Tell me about your upbringing, where you grew up, and your beginnings in the industry.
Geraldine Viswanathan For the most part, I grew up in Newcastle, Australia. I lived in Basel, Switzerland from ages 6-8, but I do feel like a Newcastle girl at heart. I went to a public, but selective school from kindergarten to grade 12 that specialized in the performing arts. I auditioned when I was 6 years old – I had to pretend to walk a dog. Nailed it, obviously. Apparently, I wouldn’t stop talking about my trip to the zoo, so they were like “she talks a lot, she can do drama.” Every year I’d audition and try to get the lead in the school plays, but no dice. In the 5th grade I got a small part, and my line was a punchline to a joke. It was me and two other girls on stage talking about ‘what kids do these days.’ The other girls would say ‘they ride their bikes’, ‘they go shopping’ and I would just repeat ‘they watch the TV!’.
The parents loved it and I distinctly remember getting a laugh. I think that’s when it clicked for me that comedy was a way for me to feel seen. Ever since then, I became a big comedy nerd, obsessed with Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and I’d make my friends devise sketches with me to perform for the class. Then when I was about 15, my family and I took a trip to LA to go to Disneyland and I took a 3 day teen acting workshop. Once again, I was the underdog. Completely terrified of these confident and loud American teens. I found it really difficult, until the last day where we got to do a comedic scene. The teacher was like “wow, nice to meet you!”. That trip to LA got me (and my family) so excited about the prospect of acting professionally, especially in the States. I was so excited by the endless possibilities and I felt like I had something to contribute. So then I got an agent in Australia and was auditioning occasionally while finishing high school. When I graduated I went to LA for six months to audition and take classes as my “gap year” endeavor. Then I was back in Sydney, briefly studying international studies and journalism, then doing stand up and sketch comedy with a group called Freudian Nip, until I eventually did the self-tape for “Blockers” and that was it. That was my ticket to the US.
This year I’ve been just been taking snaps of little moments of happiness. Or sadness. Or weirdness. Everything!
EW I’ve read that you said you are a “documentarian of life”. What does that look like these days, especially during pandemic living? How do you mark your days and keep track of the moments that matter?
GV I write down everything. I write down to-do lists that I hold on to, to remind myself of what I did that day, ha! I have a calendar for that as well. I also journal every day. I write three pages of “stream of consciousness” thoughts every morning. It’s the only way I am able to process and understand what I’m thinking and feeling. It really does keep me sane. I also take photos, this year only on my phone. I usually like taking film photos because I love how you can only see the photo a while after you’ve taken it, because you need to get it developed. That way, the photo doesn’t replace the memory, which sometimes happens when you take a photo on your phone and look at it instantly. But this year I’ve been just been taking snaps of little moments of happiness. Or sadness. Or weirdness. Everything! When the days are all a blur it’s nice to sometimes sit and go through your camera roll and remind yourself of what you’ve actually been doing.
EW I find it is extremely useful besides the keepsake element, to really keep rituals and rhythms in a time when the world seems out of sync. Do you have any routines or patterns you have been clinging to in order to stay sane and remember who you are during some of these moments in time?
GV I discovered exercising in quarantine. Turns out, it actually feels good??? This is truly news to me. I’ve never enjoyed exercise in my life. I am so deeply in my mid-twenties right now. During quarantine, I’ve loved doing Pilates in the morning, or just stretching, or going for a run and listening to animal collective and crying? That physical release you get!! It’s amazing how getting your heart rate up can lead to emotional release and clarity. I’ve had some major break throughs mid exercise.I also love just thrashing around to music alone in my room. I think that should be in everyone’s daily routine. I also meditate most mornings, and journal. These are things that keep me close to myself. I’ve also loved evening self-care sessions. I love locking myself in the bathroom, listening to music and doing all kinds of stuff to my face. I realized that I do my skin care ritual for myself! Like, I’m not seeing anyone. But I still want my skin to look and feel good. I just love that alone time that is focused on loving and taking care of your body.
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EW How did this opportunity with The Broken Hearts Gallery come about? What drew you to this role and this experience? Tell me about your character and finding your process into her, both physically and mentally in terms of preparation.
GV I read the script and loved it. Then, I met with Natalie (Krinsky) over FaceTime and just got this good gut feeling. Both Lucy (my character) and Natalie had this infectious energy that I wanted to get a piece of! I felt that for Lucy I had to dig deep down in my brightest, lightest place. To me, she felt like someone who just pours love into the world and asks the world to love her back. She’s a weirdo and she inspires other people to be their weirdo self. I think it takes a lot of bravery and strength to wear your heart on your sleeve and put your true self out there. So I felt like I had to connect to that part of myself – the part that is unwaveringly authentic, expressive, and deeply confident and self-assured. I got to say bye-bye to any kind of self-doubt or inhibitions for two and a half months. I felt so free playing Lucy.
EW Tell me about TBHG. Can you sum up the general story of the film? What do you hope people take away from it?
GV “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is the story of a girl who turns her heartbreak into art and invites other people to share it with her. For me, that is the strongest message. Pain and sadness is inevitable, you’re just experiencing life, so don’t let it be destructive (for too long). Experience and understand your pain – express it.
EW I want to talk a bit about representation. You are of Swiss and Indian descent and you were raised in Australia. Is that accurate? Who are some of the role models you had growing up that you could identify with, who you felt looked like you and resonated with who you wanted to be?
GV I am of Swiss and Indian descent, but born and raised in Australia. A big role model for me was Mindy Kaling. She was the only Indian woman I saw on TV really and I just admired her so much for creating her own space in the industry. She built her career with substance. She is smart and funny and she created her own show to star in! I found that super inspiring.
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EW What do you consider your role to be when it comes to representation across the board?
GV This is a hard question! I think I’m just trying to be my most authentic self, doing projects that I would want to see and playing characters that are interesting to me. By doing that, I guess I’m unconsciously contributing to the way South Asians are portrayed in the media. The characters I’ve been drawn to have always been fully dimensional and interesting characters not necessarily defined by their ethnic background. I’m looking forward to a time when this is completely normalized and we don’t have to talk about ‘representation’ or ‘diversity’ anymore!
EW How do you deal with the times when you have been frustrated by casting stereotypes or even in the ways characters you have approached have been written?
GV It adds a little fuel to the fire, which means I become more driven to be in creative control.
EW Greatest professional moment of pride thus far?
GV A special moment for me professionally was when I attended the “Blockers” red carpet premiere. When I was 15, my family and I were on a family trip to LA and I used to look online for where the Hollywood movie premieres were held. One day I saw that “Bridesmaids” was premiering in Westwood and we went and stood outside the barricades, getting photos with Chris O’Dowd and Rose Byrne. They were handing out tickets to go see the movie and we ended up actually sitting in at the premiere. It was truly the most exciting night of my life. Then, a cool 7 years later, “Blockers” premiered at the exact same theatre! And my family got to be there. It felt really full circle.
Art is survival. That has been a great silver lining of this year.
EW Let’s talk about the general tone of the film and what it has to offer at this particular moment in time. Personally, I think we could all use a little rom-com these days. What is the role of film and the arts to you these days?
GV We all deserve to feel good! Especially now! It really does feel great to be putting something so fun and positive into the world right now. Could you imagine enduring this pandemic without any entertainment? Art is survival. That has been a great silver lining of this year – endless time to consume (or create) art. I really miss going to plays and shows in New York but we’re so fortunate to have ways to watch entertainment at home. I do find that when I’m sad I listen to better music. I’ve been listening to Joni Mitchell as of late and she’s been working wonders on my 2020 blues. When I’m down on the state of the world, I enjoy listening to music from the past because I feel like it reminds me that things have always been difficult. Every generation thinks it’s the end of the world. Every generation has fought for peace. It gives me great perspective listening to Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan or anyone who was singing about their time because it just connects us to the human experience.
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EW What kind of films are you really into recently? Any you would suggest, besides of course, this one that you are starring in?
GV Well most recently, I’ve found that I’ve mainly been watching rom coms as they are the ultimate comfort food. I go through phases of either wanting to challenge myself and watch dramatic or intense films, or just wanting to feel comforted. I’ve been loving “Clueless”, “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.” Just perfect films. In quarantine, I watched “The Nightingale” by Jennifer Kent which blew my mind. It falls under the intense category I was just talking about but I couldn’t stop talking about it for days. I’m also obsessed with Charlie Kaufman movies. I could also watch “Popstar” until the end of time.
EW Any causes or particular charities that you would love our readers to check out?
GV I’m really passionate about animals and the environment. I love the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots, which is Jane Goodall’s organization that empowers young people to make change within their communities. I also love the Sunrise Movement. This young generation really gives me so much hope!
EW Helpful routine to unwind?
GV I love taking a big ol’ long bath, when I have access to a bath. I usually just drink tea. Any kind of hot water situation is good. I like stretching before bed and taking some deep breaths. Oh and I love watching “Relaxing Old Footage” with Joe Pera.
EW What’s your “go to” reading material these days?
GV I’ve been reading a lot of Jhumpa Lahiri. I just finished Unaccustomed Earth and I’m going to read The Namesake next. She is such a beautiful writer. I’m also about to start reading Watchmen before I watch the show. I love a good graphic novel. I also really love the Buddha series.
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EW Geraldine, what’s your SBJCT? What really moves you and motivates you?
GV I really just want to tell stories and make art that is honest and specific that connects us to one another. I want to make people feel less alone in this world, because I often feel alone! Then I turn to movies or music or any kind of art and I’m reminded that we’re all part of the same thing and we’re all in this together. I feel so fortunate that I get to play a part in things that do that for people. I guess I want to do whatever I can to make this moment that we’re alive for a little bit more enjoyable.
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