“The Interview From Hell” is a new short film starring India-born actress and model Sameeksha Laveaux Katyal. As a filmmaker, Sameeksha has studied at Chelsea Repertory Lab at the Acting Studio and she has been a part of numerous Off-Broadway theatre festivals. Her first movie “U& Me” was produced in 2019 and earned seven nominations at film festivals. It even earned a finalist award at the “Lift Off First Time Filmmaker Festival.” Her second short film was a psychological thriller entitled “Scary Mirage” which was accepted to more than ten Film Festivals. “The Interview from Hell” is Sameeksha’s latest project. An office comedy, the movie has been screened in more than a dozen film festivals and has won numerous awards including Best Director and Best Audience Choice Award in August 2020.
“The Interview From Hell” was co-written by playwright Michael Chabler who was inspired by his experiences job hunting and subsequently working alongside unhinged individuals. The satirical comedy was read at the National Writers Union in NYC and the piece was performed in workshops at Theater For The New City. This is Sameeksha’s first project as the sole Producer and Lead Actor. It is the Director debut of Frank DeChirico. The script was shot—despite COVID—on a Saturday in a private office space owned by friends of Sameeksha’s family in New Jersey.
Sameeksha is now working on her first feature film and uses her social media platforms to raise awareness of this work as well as inspire other women to embrace their creativity. She also serves as a youth volunteer with the United Nations Women and runs a free Tennis Boot Camp in the summer for girls of all ages.
Sam recently discussed this film via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in becoming an actress and why have you gravitated towards film so much?
Sameeksha Laveaux Katyal (SLK): Being born into a conservative family in India where the only ‘real’ careers were becoming a doctor, engineer or a chartered accountant, I always found myself as that girl with a voice. Early in my growing years I was a well ranked Tennis champion, I practiced for 5-8 hours every day to gain sponsorships and maintain rankings while working through my entire academic load. Then during the Asian Games trials, I got hurt. My injury was misdiagnosed which led to a gap between the bones. Two surgeries fixed the ankle but I lost my professional sports career. My creative interests came to light after I went through a journey of depression, loss of purpose, eating disorder, body image issues, self- esteem and self-worth. I wanted to experience myself as a person, feel who or what i was without outside circumstances, and found myself at a theatre camp, I expressed there through a piece they gave me to perform. It was electric, I felt myself come alive. I started feeling great and started finding opportunities to get more involved. Through one of the performances, I got picked by a director from the National School of Drama in India. I worked with him on multiple theatre projects as an actor and a director. Filmmaking came to me way later once I had moved to the US. I realized my stories had messages which can be reached by the media. I started taking acting classes on camera and loved it, and it seems other people liked it too since they were interested in working with me and thus, began my career as a filmmaker.
MM: How did you find the script for “The Interview From Hell” and what most appealed to you about it?
SLK: This idea struck us in the middle of the desperate times when I was suffering long hours and one of my friends, Michael Chabbler, who co-wrote this script was fired and was struggling with finding jobs. Michael is an upcoming playwright and he wanted to express his frustration with job hunting, the standard interview questions and working alongside crazy people. I loved the idea and asked him to put a draft involving his experiences. Michael wanted to make fun of this and write dialogues that only he wishes he could say in interviews. We particularly got stuck on one mocking question the interviewers love to ask: “Where do you see yourself in five years” We wonder how managers in a capitalist society expect job applicants to have Five Year Plans. It’s especially absurd because we work in a world where any one of us could be fired or laid off at any moment, no matter how well we are performing in our jobs. Yet, hiring managers expect to hear how we are willing to commit our lives to the firm. Additionally, when you work some place long enough, you might have gone through a process to get your position. But then they hire some guy who’s completely insane. You wonder — did he have to go through the same process I did? And there you are doing this person’s work or fixing his work, plus still doing yours and trying to be reasonable with someone who is unreasonable and a bully. He will chase clients away and threaten the whole firm’s prospects, and no one will say a thing. And now we live in a world where insanity along with The Will to Power, is dominating more and more of our reality.
MM: How did you mentally prepare for the role?
SLK: It was interesting to play Eve because I could see her as being a polite person with great manners. Even when she wanted to throw Tom out of her office, she asked security to escort the ‘gentleman’ out of her office. However, playing an ignorant person who wanted to hire someone, literally anyone, was fun especially when impulses are what us Meisner actors eat and breathe. Eve didn’t seem an emotionally complicated character until I decided to go deeper on my point of view, I enjoyed unmasking Eve as a woman with clever words who tried to disarm Tom, and gain his trust by convincing him that he would be contacted if he was a good match.
Being able to take Tom’s discussion as a general rant until it became a threatening agenda were quick beats that gave me little to no time to transition. We had to shoot the last scene enough times till Michael (who plays Tom) was actually able to make me feel afraid for my life to depict Eve dropping her excellent manager mask and feel afraid for her life.
MM: Was it tough to film during the Covid pandemic?
SLK: This is my first project as the sole Producer and Lead Actor, and since our script was well received, I had a lot of pressure in bringing on board a director who could best present our story in a short film. Frank DeChirico is a mentor I made during my first NYFW and I sent the script to him. He has experience of directing and loved this script so much that he decided to make it his Directorial Debut. He assisted me in auditioning for the interviewee Tom. We had a number of actor’s audition virtually, which due to the pandemic was a really tough job to select and decide but did not find our Tom until we saw Michael explain the script to one of the actors via zoom. The look in his eyes as the character was so profound that we felt the script come alive, and we asked him to audition.
The logistics and planning everything as a producer was ten folds tougher than i expected. We shot the script during COVID on a Saturday in a private office space owned by some family friends in New Jersey. There were an insane number of conflicts- getting from Manhattan to NJ was one! Then we had to disinfect the whole place, get the smallest crew possible to do the whole shoot, and make sure everyone was tested, wiping down equipment consistently, cleaning and disinfecting the whole office space after the shoot were some issues of the shoot day, Due to COVID everything was shut down and our processing of the script became impossible. Meeting as a team was not impossible as Michael started showing COVId symptoms, and was later diagnosed with it. We were all concerned about him and his family. Once he recovered, We had to connect to our network of friends in editing, adding background music and finesse it. It took us 2.5 months from March to May to complete post production and the first week of June we started submitting it to the film festivals.
MM: How you found film festivals to enter it into?
SLK: We did a lot of research on the best ways to market the film. We contacted mentors and friends, took guidance from various acting associations until we were told that the best way to get the film out was through film festivals. Film festivals offer opportunities for distribution and hence reaching a larger audience. Hence, we found common ways to submit to film festivals. It is a lot of work submitting to festivals as they have parameters and guidelines that need to be strictly followed. We had to write emails for waivers or discounts wherever necessary and even had to make rational choices to decide festivals for which we had to pay an Entry Fees.
MM: What has it been like to see the film earn such fantastic praise and/or awards? What has been the best feedback you have gotten regarding “The Interview From Hell” so far?
SLK: We love the response we are receiving. We shared this film with our close friends and family who were all laughing holding their bellies after watching it. Some even re-watched it for the chuckles. We experienced a great response when we read the script at different playwriting events. It seems people are feeling the fun-weirdness of our story. What amazed us was that ‘The Interview from Hell’ was the most watched film for 3 straight weeks at Direct Monthly Online Film Festival and was voted the winner of the Best Audience Choice Award in August 2020. We are still nominated for awards at a dozen international film festivals. This is unexpected and exciting and I personally have so much gratitude for everyone who is taking the time out to watch the film and vote for it.
MM: What new projects are coming up for you soon?
SLK: I am writing a script for a documentary-based film. I have offers from a lot of talented established artists in the industry to collaborate as a filmmaker, producer or actor on their scripts. As for ‘The Interview from Hell’ we are getting a lot of interest from people in distributing our film to multiple platforms like Amazon prime, Hotstar, Vudu but we are still competing in film festivals.
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To learn more about Sameeksha, follow her on Instagram @sameeksha.lav for more information and links to her short films.