In Conversation With Seattle Actress Vritika Gupta, Star of Hulu’s “Under The Bridge”

Local Seattle actress Vritika Gupta captivates in the new Hulu limited series, “Under the Bridge.” The show also stars Lily Gladstone, Riley Keough, and Archie Panjabi

“Under the Bridge” is based on the true story of the tragic murder of Reena Virk by a group of teenagers in Victoria, Canada. New episodes are released weekly on Wednesdays on Hulu. 

I got a chance to sit down with Vritika and talk with her about her experience working on this show, how she approached the role of Reena Virk, and her opinion about diversity in films and television. 

Interviewer: What about the role of Reena Virk intrigued you when you auditioned for “Under the Bridge?”

Vritika: So, originally auditioning for “Under the Bridge,” I actually had no idea about the case, so I didn’t know it was a true story. And I think that aspect was what really intrigued me because I had not known about the case and a lot of the people around me didn’t. So, it was something that was so powerful and something that the world needed to hear, and I really wanted to be a part of that.

Interviewer: What helped you prepare for this role?

Vritika: Yeah, so I think there were a lot of different kinds of factors that helped me. I had a great acting coach on set to help me get into [Reena] and to get into her mindset. I also had a lot of exercises. I made a Reena playlist of things I would listen to that I thought Reena would listen to. Geeta [Vasant Patel], who is our first episode director, and Quinn [Shepard] and Samir [Mehta] were all such great sources that I could use to help me answer some of my questions and the thoughts I had because she was such a layered character. So, it was so important for me to understand every aspect of her.

Interviewer: I’m on episode three and saw the change from episode one. You’re very gangster-type in the way you talk. And then, in episodes two and three, you’re very sweet and innocent compared to the first episode. I’m curious to know what the process was like from the part where she’s sweet, and then slowly, her way of speaking and her mannerisms change. What helped you keep these details on track?

Vritika: I love that question because even before we started to film this series, we had rehearsals before the first episode. And I remember Geeta [Vasant Patel], who was our first episode director. We were talking and discovering elements. The show obviously jumps around a lot with flashbacks and things like that. So, how do we give Reena a sense of differentiating between some parts where she’s closer to her family than when she’s not? One aspect we had was using ranges. So, we would kind of have Reena 1.5 and Reena 2.5. And we would differentiate which scenes Reena is Reena 1.5 and which ones she is 2.5. So, I think that definitely helped me be able to understand Reena more in a complex way and get my findings of her more accurately.

Interviewer: With respect to Reena, just thinking of Reena as a fictional character in a show, is there any action or scene you had difficulty understanding, wrapping your brain around, or feeling sympathetic towards, as Vritika, while filming?

Vritika: Yeah, I think it would have to be her relationship with not just her family but her dad, specifically. I think many viewers can feel sympathy for not just Reena but also her dad. You know, there’s so many feelings surrounding that topic. So, at first, it was definitely hard for me to wrap my head around, “Oh, why did Reena think this way? Why did she feel this way?” But I think having a deeper dive into her character, you start to understand that when people make mistakes, in that moment, they don’t think it is a mistake. They always think they’re doing the right thing. They always think they’re doing the correct thing. So, whether that is correct or not, in the long run, you always do it out of, “Oh, yeah, this is right. This is what I think is right.” So, I think really understanding that was super important for me. And although it was hard to wrap my head around at first, I understood her more seriously in the long run.

Interviewer: Watching the show, I definitely got that there is a rift between her and her parents. And it makes you wonder, how and when did that start? And, I mean, you were talking about the relationship with the dad. I wondered if you guys talked about when that rift between Reena and her parents started. What caused it? What escalated it?

Vritika:  So, when I first got the role of Reena, I decided to do a deeper dive into any sources I could find because this is a true story. So, there’s a lot of not just evidence, but things that could help me understand Reena better from not just, you know, her family’s viewpoints but also the people around her. And I discovered Manjit’s book that he wrote about her. And I think that was vital to my understanding of Reena because I was able to understand not just Rebecca’s viewpoint in her story but also Manjit’s viewpoint. And how Manjit had felt about the whole situation and how he felt when Reena was changing. And I think discussing that with Ezra [Faroque Khan], who plays my dad in the show, it was so amazing to see the relationship between Reena and him grow. And we had talked about that during rehearsals. And in episode one, that dinner scene, we rehearsed [it] over and over again because it was like an onion. There were so many layers to it. And I think that’s something that’s just so special.

Interviewer: Do you think a show like this would’ve been released or done well with the audience 10-15 years ago as it is now?

Vritika: I’m going to be honest, I feel like the show is so important, powerful, and gut-wrenching, and I think it’s up to the audience how they want to interpret that. And I think each audience feels a connection to each character in such a different way. And I think that’s what’s so beautiful about this series is that there’s so many ways that you can connect, and you can empathize with each character, and I think that’s so important.

Interviewer: Recently, there have been many variations [in depicting people] within the South Asian community. How do you feel seeing South Asian stories that are being made now?

Vritika: I think it’s awesome. I think it’s so important to have that representation for the South Asian association and it’s so important to show that culture and that love, and it’s truly such a good show to depict that because there’s so many layers to it. And I think that’s why it’s doing so well: because it makes the viewers think, it makes the viewers wonder, and I think that’s so beautiful.

Interviewer: Considering the overall diversity of the American film industry, how do you feel the American film industry has handled diversity and diverse stories in recent years?

Vritika: Yeah, I think that’s a very deep question. I feel like as the industry is evolving, we’re also evolving as people and our mindsets as well. And I think truly we can only go up from here, and we can take our own thoughts and put them together. And I think collaborating is so important between yourself and the creators, the directors, and the producers, and having a voice is super important.

Interviewer: For you, in 10-20 years in the future, what do you see in terms of acting, or maybe you want to go into directing, producing or writing yourself? How do you hope things will grow regarding diversity and representation in film and television, and how would you like to contribute to that?

Vritika: I’ve talked about this since I started acting, but I really want to act my whole life. It’s something I’m super passionate about and love a lot. And I think going into directing and producing would be a lot of fun. It’s definitely a big responsibility to take on, but I think it’s super fun. I love how kind of diverse the community is and how you can collaborate and have your own thoughts. I think as the film industry is growing, there’s just so much more say in things you can do, and there’s so much more comfortability. And I think that’s so important. So, being able to evolve as an actor throughout my years and hopefully evolving into maybe a director or producer would definitely be a dream of mine.

Interviewer: I’m excited to see that! What do you hope the audience takes away from this show?

Vritika: I hope that audiences can have purposeful conversations because of this series. I hope that audiences can feel the power and the heartfulness that came from this show. I want them to support themselves and surround themselves with people they love and can trust. It does take a lot more than just kindness and love; it comes truly from within, and it’s up to you to decide if you want to do that.

Interviewer:  Any last thoughts you would like to share? Anything you felt that I didn’t ask and you would like to talk about?

Vritika: I would like to say a huge thanks to Quinn [Shepard] and Samir [Mehta]. I think they’ve done so much research; they really put their heart into the show, and it’s definitely paying off. But totally kudos to them.