Sunkrish Bala. Photo:

Sunkrish Bala. Photo Credit: Sunkrish Bala.

“There are no small parts, only small actors” is how that old cliché goes. Giving life and verve to every character he plays, Sunkrish Bala proves that he doesn’t fall under the latter category. Whether he is playing a zombie, a doctor or both, this Indian-born L.A. transplant — who has quite the penchant for comedy — puts on an unforgettable performance that makes the smallest of roles stand out in the spotlight.

Despite having grown up in Silicon Valley, the 31-year-old Bala decided that the tech world wasn’t cut out for him. Neither was the world of medicine or engineering, a path that many of his friends had chosen. Instead, he began his trek to Hollywood by studying theatre at UCLA. Now, he is a familiar face to many, landing roles in shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead or ABC’s Castle, where he could be last seen flexing his acting muscles as AG tech analyst Vikram Singh.

In a recent interview with Bala, we got to briefly delve into his character Vikram’s world and got a glimpse at his two upcoming films, Killing Poe and Chee and T. We also discussed the issue of typecasting in Hollywood and which British beauty he’d like to star opposite to.

GALO: At what age did you make the move from Bombay to L.A.?

Sunkrish Bala: I was born in India, but I came to America at a very young age. I was a baby when I came over. I went back to India for a bit for elementary school, [but] then I came back. So, I grew up in both places. In Northern California, I wound up going to UCLA to study theatre. Then I never left, I just stayed forever.

GALO: For many people, I think it’s hard to imagine another scenario. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t fallen in love with California.

SB: Well, I grew up in Northern California, which is like a completely different country. It’s so much different from L.A.

GALO: In what way is it different?

SB: I think culturally. The values are very different. It’s like night and day, a different feeling when you’re there versus here [in L.A.]. It’s like East Coast vs. West Coast.

GALO: Before making the choice to study theatre, what made you want to act?

SB: I’ve just always done it. I didn’t know it was a viable option for me. I never thought of it because I grew up in Silicon Valley, and people there don’t go down that path. I grew up during the tech bubble, when everyone wanted to get into the tech industry. All of my friends are doctors and engineers, [and] I really thought that was going to be my path. When it was time for me to go to school and examine what it is that I wanted to do, the only thing that really jumped out was acting. It was then that I made the decision.

GALO: Well, you seem to be doing quite well. You landed a role in ABC’s Castle and prior to that you worked on The Walking Dead. But I’m wondering what your backup plan was if it hadn’t panned out the way you hoped?

SB: Someone — actually, Kal Penn, from the Harold & Kumar movies, he told me, “People who have backup plans end up falling back on them.” So I never had one. I cut a deal with my dad to do a double major in business — and I just never did it [laughs].

GALO: Viola Davis recently gave a moving speech at the Emmy’s about breaking barriers as a woman of color. What challenges, if any, do you face as an Indian actor?

SB: Wasn’t that gorgeous? I loved her speech. I think the industry that I walked into 10 years ago is very different than the industry today. Back then, it was literally [a choice between playing a] terrorist or 7-11 owner, terrorist, 7-11 owner, etc. It was really bad. I think that, obviously, a glass ceiling still exists, but the barrier keeps getting pushed higher and higher. We have Mindy [Kaling] doing her own show. We have people like Kal [Penn] who cleared the way for the rest. People like Aziz [Ansari] who has his own show on Netflix. I think that [now], more than ever, South Asians are being seen as part of the fabric of our society, certainly much more than we used to be.

GALO: Staying on the subject matter for a minute longer, what are your thoughts on typecasting in Hollywood?

SB: I think there is a lot of power in the word “no.” I think it is human nature to put things in a box, but things are so much more interesting if you explore the uniqueness of it all. I think that typecasting is a real problem, but I think that audiences are getting sophisticated. I don’t think that audiences really stand for that anymore. It still exists, but we are in a world that is smarter and smaller than it was 10 years ago.

GALO: Yes, people expect more nowadays. They want films and TV to reflect reality. Of course, there’s still a lot of inequality in many industries, Hollywood included. You may have noticed that typically when there is a minority lead, the movie tends to be geared toward that group, but when there is a white lead, it’s for everyone.

SB: Absolutely. Last year, the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings came out about Egyptians and it starred two white guys — but the bad guys [would] be ethnic. It’s ridiculous.

GALO: I read that you helped to found a non-profit theatre company for South Asians. What did you glean from that experience that shaped you as an actor? Do you still love the theatre?

SB: Yes, in the Bay area. I love the theatre. I grew up in a place with a big South Asian population. We were a new and emerging community in the ’80s. A lot of them worked in the tech corridor, and there were a lot of our stories that weren’t getting told. It was out of that, of course, that a group of us decided to tell those stories for members of our own community, [for] everyone. I just don’t think there was a real avenue to do that. So we decided to do it ourselves.

Sunkrish Bala stars in ABC's "Castle" episode "XX." Photo Credit: ABC/Richard Cartwright.

Sunkrish Bala stars in ABC’s “Castle” episode 802. Photo Credit: ABC/Richard Cartwright.

Stana Katic, Nathan Fillion and Sunkrish Bala star in ABC's "Castle" episode 807. Photo Credit: ABC/Richard Cartwright.

Stana Katic, Nathan Fillion and Sunkrish Bala star in ABC’s “Castle” episode 807. Photo Credit: ABC/Richard Cartwright.

GALO: Tell me about your role as Vikram Singh on Castle. How different was it from being a part of the Walking Dead?

SB: I’m not a zombie in this, so there’s that. I play the guy holding the gun and shooting. I play a good guy, so that’s the most exciting part for me. I have a scene where I’m running from bullets like in an action movie. It’s exciting for me.

GALO: Which of the two recurring roles was more challenging?

SB: I think there is a lot more to Vikram [Singh] for me to explore. When you’re doing TV, you’re learning with the audience about your character. You get the scripts by the episode, so it’s been interesting for me to figure out what Vikram’s motivations are. Are they absolutely pure? Is he coming from an honest place? Are the things that he’s telling the truth? That’s been exciting.

GALO: You’ve starred on a variety of shows, from MTV hits, to primetime shows, to ones with a cult following. Out of all these experiences, what role has been the most memorable for you?

SB: One of the very first things that I did — kind of the thing that makes people recognize me. I was the guy with the erection that wouldn’t go away on Grey’s Anatomy way back in the second season. If I get stopped on the street for anything, it’s for being “the boner guy.” It’s memorable because it’s the part that won’t go away.

GALO: What current show would you like to break into?

SB: I would love to be on The Amazing Race. My roommates and I have a dream of being on that show. I should say that in every interview so that they hear me and put me on. I. Want. To. Win. That. Show.

GALO: You’ve worked with zombies, and you’re now working alongside detectives and criminals. What is your dream role, and who would play opposite you?

SB: Honestly, I would have so much fun doing a multi-cam sitcom. You basically combine theatre [with TV], and it’s really funny to have the audience there. It’s really fun. I would love to share a frame with Emily Blunt. I think she is amazing. I have a crush on Emily Blunt.

GALO: I also noticed that you are starring in two upcoming movies. One of them is Chee and T. In Chee and T, you are one of only two guys in Silicon Valley who doesn’t work in the tech field. From our conversation, it almost feels ironic that you got this role — as if it was written just for you.

SB: That’s my life. I go back to see buddies from high school and they have those type of jobs. I am the other. And I’m fine with that.

GALO: After this role, you must have a little bit of a better grasp of the tech industry. Plus, as a society, we’re surrounded by new technological advancements on a day-to-day basis. Where do you see technology heading in five years?

SB: I think everything is becoming more tactile. I don’t know, I’m an idiot. I have no idea, I just use it.

GALO: I think you’re being too harsh on yourself! A lot of people these days still don’t know how to use certain technologies, so I would say, you’re ahead of the game. Moving on, your other movie, Killing Poe, takes you back to that Walking Dead darkness. It’s a comedy about students exacting revenge on their professor in a way that only Edgar Allen Poe could imagine. Tell me more about what we should expect from this film or your role.

SB: This is a fun movie. It’s a comedy and I love the script. It’s a smart, little dark movie. There’s a premiere next month in Chicago.

Video courtesy of Killing Poe.

GALO: Prior to filming, how familiar were you with Poe’s work? Did you have a favorite poem or short story?

SB: I’ve taken classes [that deal with his works], but the cool thing about the movie is that I learned a lot. He coined the term “the imp of the perverse,” which is basically a thought you have… Let me put it this way, do you ever think when you drive down the highway about how easy it would be to swerve and hit another car? It’s about how much you have the power to change things in a second. I think it’s an idea that’s just positively creepy and scary.

GALO: Have you ever had an instructor similar to the one in the film?

SB: No, I went to Jesuit school. I never wanted to kill an instructor.

GALO: [Laughs] Of course not! Now, I’m not suggesting that you ever felt like killing a teacher, seldom of us have, but we’ve all had one of those teachers or professors that we didn’t have the strongest liking for. The students in the film, I’m sure they had a reason to feel the way they did.

SB: Oh yeah, he deserved it.

GALO: What are your passions outside of acting?

SB: Well, acting is all-encompassing for me. I’ve wanted this so bad. I love comedy. I’m a hungry comedian. There are a few comedies that I have been working up the nerve to get on pretty soon. It’s a very scary possibility.

GALO: We’ll keep our fingers crossed! What other upcoming projects are you working on? Is any of the work behind-the-scenes?

SB: Well, I have [those] two movies coming out. Other than that, if you know anyone who wants to hire a bearded Indian actor, you let me know. You have my number.

Want to know more about what Sunkrish Bala is up to or when his next film is coming out? Follow him on Twitter @sunkrishbala.