Culture

Supinder Wraich's advice for anyone on the cusp of a big career moment

The star of Allegiance on the leads worth chasing and the ritual she uses to rally herself.

The star of Allegiance on the leads worth chasing and the ritual she uses to rally herself

2 side-by-side images of Supinder Wraich. Left: She's in a car wearing a police uniform in a still from the show Allegiance. Right: Supinder's headshot. She's smiling to camera wearing a denim shirt in front of a white background.
(Photo: L: Darko Sikman, CBC, Lark Productions; R: Dan Robb)

"This feel real to you?" Sabrina Sohal asks her police academy classmate on the day of their graduation. 

Sabrina, played by actor Supinder Wraich, is dressed in a formal uniform and preparing to go from cadet to a rookie in the Canadian Federal Police Corps in Surrey, B.C. She is the third generation — and first woman — from her Sikh Canadian family to join the force. 

"Only way I got through was picturing this," says Sabrina, the lead character of CBC Original 10-part series Allegiance. The show follows her as she's introduced to life on the police force and a flawed justice system, which forces her to navigate allegiances to her family, community, country and her fellow cops. 

The excitement Sabrina displays in the opening scene, knowing she's on the precipice of a big break, comes from a personal place for Wraich. The India-born, Toronto-based actor might be best known for playing the fiercely independent Aqsa in the breakout CBC hit Sort Of. With Allegiance, Wraich is stepping into a major series's starring role for the first time. 

In advance of its Feb. 7 world premiere on CBC Gem and CBC TV, I caught up with the actor to see how she prepared for this moment — and what advice she has for others. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

A lot of South Asian actors have spoken about growing up only seeing themselves depicted as stereotypes or side characters. Was that the case for you, and if so, how did you shift that mindset to seeing yourself as a lead?

Yeah, 100 per cent it was the case for me. But there was also just a lack of presence.

In terms of how I was able to hold on to that desire of "maybe someday," or seeing myself as lead … [it was through] the acting classes that I took. Because when you're in those educational atmospheres, you really do get to play such a breadth of characters. You can be Lady Macbeth. You can be Juliet. 

Having that practice and having those full characters that you sort of grow into playing, the desire to be at the centre of your story and to have those nuances of character, that never really left me. 

And I remember every time I would get an audition notice in my inbox, before I would open it, saying a little prayer or an incantation or just a wish — like, "Just let this be the one." 

As an actor, you're presented with lots of different opportunities and roles. How do you decide which ones are worth chasing?

I think it's instinctual, for me … and sometimes those instincts don't always pay off, right? Before I was a series regular on Sort Of, I was up for Andrew [Phung]'s partner in Run the Burbs. And, you know, you go through a couple of rounds of auditions, and you get your hopes up and you start to see it. So when I didn't get that job, I was really disappointed. And then you watch the show, and you see somebody like Rakhee [Morzaria] step into that role, and you're like, "Oh, OK, that makes so much sense." And if I had gotten that job, then I wouldn't be doing Allegiance

So, I think the one thing that I've learned to do is trust those instincts and go after it, but when it doesn't go my way, also trust that.

Still from the show, Allegiance. Supinder Wraich's character is in a police uniform, standing and saluting a man standing in front of her.
(Photo: Darko Sikman, CBC, Lark Productions)
Still from the show, Allegiance. Supinder Wraich's character is in a police uniform, walking down stairs. Another police character stands at the bottom of the steps.
(Photo: Darko Sikman, CBC, Lark Productions)

Did you have any reservations about this show given the ongoing conversations around police and the treatment of racialized communities? 

What Anar [Ali], who created the show, and [showrunners] Stephanie [Morgenstern] and Mark [Ellis] have done really well is not shy away from the deficiencies of the legal system and its effects on people of colour. I think that we touch on those subjects, but the way that it's done is gentle, and really explorative and hopeful. 

There's a scene in the first episode where a small child goes missing, and we're looking for him in the park, and there's this older Punjabi woman — she's a grandma to this young child. And Vince [played by Enrico Colantoni] goes over and tries to have a conversation with her, and she doesn't want to speak to him, you know? There's a lack of trust. When Sabrina walks over, there's an immediate familiarity. The idea of what it means to police your own community was really interesting. 

In Allegiance, Sabrina is starting a new stage of her career, and as an actor, so are you. Did you draw on those personal feelings in your performance?

Yeah, a lot actually. You know, there were some days that were hard for Supinder, that were also hard for Sabrina, and it was really easy to find that in the scene. Because I was like, "Man, this is three weeks in, no days off. I'm tired." I also have a one-year-old son, who, at the time, was around eight months.

The big difference was, though, I had a lot of support from my family, from my peers, my colleagues. Sabrina's supports are limited because she's self-reliant to a fault. I've learned to let people help, and it makes things easier.

You've talked about how with Allegiance, you were learning how to lead a show. Did you give yourself any kind of pep talk before going onto set? 

[Poet Amanda Gorman has] said she has this incantation she's written for herself. And she says it before she goes out to make any sort of speech, and it ties her into her ancestors. And so, having read that, I searched for a ritual or something that I could do when I was going into a challenging or a difficult moment. So I went back to my own ancestors, in terms of the sacred gurus during times of war. 

In my mind, I literally imagine myself putting on a shield, as if I'm going to war. I take a moment, I take a breath, I close my eyes and I just place this shield over my heart to protect myself whenever I'm going into something that I'm a little unsure about. And that's a little ritual that I do, and it just helps me feel like I'm safe.

Have you thought about how you might handle the level of fame and visibility that comes with being the star of a show?

I do think that I have a bit of separation from Sabrina. When I see that poster, I really don't think, "Oh, that's Supinder's face up there" … it's all of us out there. It's a moment for me, but also my community.

I can't remember where I got the piece of advice, but somebody said to take "you" out of this equation, and think about "you" in the existence of a larger ecosystem of people who have been, like you, fighting to be seen, fighting to be heard.

What advice do you have for readers who also might be facing a major turning point in their career?

To breathe [laughs]. To be where your feet are, in that moment. Because sometimes it's too big. I remember when I got the call, and then I got some of the scripts, and I just was like, "Oh my God, how am I going to do this?"

If I have any sort of advice for somebody who's on the cusp of something, I really would say don't hold it so tightly … let go and let yourself breathe and let yourself trust yourself. Sort Of, Guidestones, The 410 — my experience has gotten me here, and I have to trust in that.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ishani Nath is a freelance entertainment and lifestyle journalist. She has appeared as a pop culture expert on CBC, CTV and Global News Radio and has bylines in Chatelaine, Maclean's, The Juggernaut, Flare and more. Follow her @ishaninath.

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