Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Harjot Thandi: My family bounced around a lot when I was a kid. I grew up hopping between Cambridge, Kitchener and Brampton. I was always surrounded by people, there was just a never ending stream of family going in and out of the house. Being an only child it was both exciting and frustrating, I loved being around people until it was about 12 at night and I just wanted to go sleep alone instead of in the middle of 10 of my cousins. My childhood was vibrant and busy.
Film Courage: How would you describe yourself?
Harjot: I can be extremely outgoing but I am at the end of the day very introverted, I’m that person that spends a week recharging after a big event. I find myself very devoted to the things and people I’m passionate about. It’s important to me to see things through to the end. My parents have been shipping me off alone to different countries since I was pretty young. Being alone in so many airports I’ve gotten to meet some extremely interesting characters in the most odd places. It’s spiked my interest in people and their motivations so my biggest focus in and outside of school right now is mental health. I’m very involved on campus and throw myself into whatever project I’m a part of.
Film Courage: Have you gone to school for acting?
Harjot: I haven’t received any professional training as an adult. I did however go to a dance and theater studio called Gurukul Arts Academy when I was younger. My high school Mayfield Secondary was also a performing arts high school, one of three in the GTA.
Film Courage: How do your parents react to your acting?
Harjot: I’m incredibly lucky when it comes to how supportive my parents are, they’ve always encouraged me to pursue what I want as long as I’m putting forth as much effort as I can.
Harjot: Living in Cambridge and being Indian meant that all the little brown kids went to Punjabi school on Saturdays. The school had a talent showcase night and I got to read a poem and do a little comedy skit. The entire audience heard me ask the MC if everyone would laugh at me, I’d say that’s where I got started.
Film Courage: How did you hear of the audition for LITTLE TERRORS?
Harjot: Through Gurukul Arts Academy.
Film Courage: Since this was your first film credit, what did you do to remember lines? Any tips to share?
Harjot: The perks of going to an arts high school included being able to memorize lines with a fair bit of ease. I write everything out, whether it’s for a psychology exam or a monologue.
Film Courage: Who is your role model?
Harjot: My answer has been the same since I was 5, my mom. If I can be half as resilient, tenacious and brutally honest as my mother it’s more than enough for me.
Film Courage: Can you recall a scene (any movie or TV show) where a particular performance made you feel alive and want to be an actress?
Harjot: When I was in the sixth grade our middle school took us on a field trip to the high school I ended up attending to watch Cabaret. Something about seeing people only a few years older than me move with so much confidence made me want to be up on that stage someday.
Film Courage: Do you think you comprehended what you were in for when deciding to become an actor?
Harjot: Not even a little. It’s easy to romanticize it and being on set for the first time was a reminder that while it’s extremely fulfilling it is still a job, one where you’re constantly learning and working harder than the day before.
Film Courage: What is the scariest part of an audition?
Harjot: Introducing myself, once I’ve said my name I feel much more at ease. It’s easier to own a space when you feel like a somebody instead of just a number on a long list of people being ushered in and out.
Film Courage: What direction did writer/director Maninder Chana give you about your role in LITTLE TERRORS?
Harjot: Maninder made my experience on that set. Hearing about something in a classroom with my drama teachers and being in the moment are so different and I didn’t appreciate that until we got to India. Maninder taught me more while we were filming than I ever learned in a classroom. He helped me feel comfortable in my new surroundings and my role as a whole, if he could help he did. What blows me away is that he did that for everyone, I came out of that with a whole new level of admiration for all that directors do.
Film Courage: Who is your character Afsa in LITTLE TERRORS? What are her motivations, fears, etc.?
Harjot: Afsa is the young daughter of a man who provides a temporary safe house for men preparing to commit acts of terrorism. While Afsa had a unique experience for a fifteen year old, I think her motivations and fears look like those of any other teenager. That being said her fears of “is the boy going to love me forever” extended to whether or not he’d even be alive a week from then. Like many of the characters in the film, she has trouble finding a place between her supposed religious duty and her own desires.
Film Courage: How did wardrobe affect your performance and how you related to your character?
Harjot: Going from wearing jeans everyday to being in a hijab and a salwar kameez for about a month straight definitely helped me get in character. It was the simplicity of what she wore that interested me, it made the small out of the norm moments in her life like dancing much easier to appreciate.
Film Courage: What is the style of dance you are doing for the one long dance scene? How many takes did you do? Was there music playing on set while filming this scene?
Harjot: There is a lot of things I would call that scene but beautiful has not been one of them. We were told to make it as awkward as humanly possible and for two kids who had been doing dance performances together since middle school it was difficult. We tried it with and without the music, it was easier to time with the music. Watching that scene still makes me laugh, but that was the point.
Film Courage: What part of you do you tap into for the emotions of this character?
Harjot: At the time of filming I was also 15, so there was a whole lot of me already there in Afsa. Being a teenager isn’t easy anywhere, Afsa’s life was no different. The other part of Afsa’s experience that I related to was her struggle between her own desires and her family’s. As a teenager I was convinced my family couldn’t even begin to understand why I did what I did and I think Afsa’ s actions speak to the same thing.
Film Courage: Your eyes as Afsa are incredibly important and expressive in the film? How did you know how to use them to convey emotion?
Harjot: Afsa watches Rasin experience a brutal death and the only part of her face visible is the eyes. I’d love to be able to say that it just came to me but it was more something I had to adapt to.
Film Courage: When you had break during rehearsal or shooting for LITTLE TERRORS, what do you spend that time doing?
Harjot: Aside from eating whenever and wherever, exploring. The set was in the middle of a highway inn that was once meant for royalty during the Mughal reign. I was lucky enough to have my mom with me on the trip and we would walk around and make our way through all the crumbling buildings. The sunrise and sunset was always breathtaking.
Film Courage: How long were you on set for LITTLE TERRORS? Where was the shoot?
Harjot: I was on set for a little over a month. Sweltering heat and snakes pretty much sum up days on set. My scenes were filmed at a college, Aam Khaas Baag and a beautiful bungalow. While the weather wasn’t particularly pleasant, everyone on set was great and the food was perfectly spicy.
Film Courage: Once you watched LITTLE TERRORS, was there any scene which you loved and was there any scene that troubled you?
Harjot: The dancing scene still feels like a perfect representation of what it means to be an awkward and lanky teenager. I found Rasin’s death to be beautiful and incredibly well done. That day was one of my favorites on set, Sher had accidentally grabbed a frog on the floor during takes and screamed the house down.
Film Courage: What do you think viewers will be thinking about after they watch LITTLE TERRORS?
Harjot: The simplicity and never ending relevance of the powerful message Maninder gets across.
Film Courage: If you had a magical powers, what film or TV show would you do next?
Harjot: If the world wouldn’t implode at an Indian Felicity Smoak, I’d want to be on Arrow, actually any badass DC character works for me.
Film Courage: What is next for you?
Harjot: I’m currently at University studying Psychology and Women and Gender studies. I didn’t go down the path I expected to after the movie, university took over my life for a while. While I’m not actively pursuing a career in acting I am using my love for the arts to raise awareness and start a discussion about mental health on my campus and within my community. I’ve had the opportunity to help create events that provide spaces for the talented folks in Waterloo to discuss their experiences and showcase their work in the same breath. Within the next few years I hope to find myself in law school gaining the tools to continue to learn about and make a difference in the areas that I am passionate.
Little Terrors marks Canadian Harjot Thandi’s acting debut as Afsa, the daughter who plays a pivotal role in Samih’s decision-making process.
CONNECT WITH LITTLE TERRORS MOVIE: