Published: 23rd October 2017
From Tambaram to NYC, Naren Weiss has captured a lot of hearts, be it in popular TV series or in the classrooms
From being a student in Chennai to starring in shows like 'Elementary', 'The Blacklist' and 'The Brave', Naren Weiss has really made it big. But there's more to him than just that
When you put a strikingly good-looking actor in a classroom full of girls, you've got to be prepared for some crazy fangirl moments. But 26-year-old actor-cum-teacher, Naren Weiss, is probably used to it by now. Standing tall at 6'3, this Chennai boy has already captured the hearts of thousands across the globe. His latest stint is an action serial called The Brave, which will soon be telecast in India on AXN. And when this star is not busy conquering New York City, where he currently lives, he spends his time teaching children. Most actors think of Hollywood and American TV as a distant dream. Naren is currently living that dream, having done spots in shows like Elementary, Blacklisted and Law and Order: SVU. Top that!
Naren, who was born in the United States (Texas), moved to Chennai when he was 12. "My father is American and my mother is Indian. After completing Medical school, my mother wanted to move back to care for the destitute in India. So, we came with her. I grew up in Chennai and loved it," says Naren. That was also when he first gained a love for theatre when he wrote a play for his school assembly, urging his schoolmates to donate their old clothes to charities. He began acting professionally the second he turned 18. A student at the Madras Christian College, he credits it for supporting and nurturing his career choice. "I was working professionally as an actor while in college, and they understood that I was doing something meaningful with my time, and gave me the leeway to pursue it," he says.
Big show: Naren with Abbi Jacobson on the sets of 'Broad City'
While in Chennai, Naren was actively involved in the theatre scene with companies like Stray Factory. He came to the limelight in 2013, when he played the role of a terrorist in Vishwaroopam, starring Kamal Haasan.
From that to American TV was a hop, skip and jump away. So, how was the shift? "They're both more alike than they are different," says Naren, "I think the biggest difference is the love of the written word in storytelling in the west, as opposed to the more visual storytelling pursued in Indian theatre and cinema. I'm always excited to work with directors who marry the two effortlessly."
Doing the WRITE thing: Naren believes that teaching is a suitable way to step outside of your own bubble and think about something/someone else for a change
When asked if Indian actors were subject to typecasting, he says, "I think it happens, yeah. I think it's in the process of happening to me. After this role (that I've thoroughly enjoyed), I no longer have the luxury of taking certain parts. With this, I have to be more mindful." Naren was offered a part in the Netflix series, Gypsy, a year ago, but had to turn it down because he was not yet a part of the Screen Actors' Union. While that was a tough situation for him, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. "If all the parts I could’ve taken in American television had just been ethnic characters, I'd have definitely found myself trying to dig out of an ethnic hole of my own devising. Instead, the next part I got was in a wonderful television comedy called Broad City that aired recently. It was such a relief to be able to play a normal, everyday dude as opposed to yet another Indian guy named Raj." Take that BBT!
"Everything happens for a reason, we just don't know it at the time," he says. But surprisingly, all the fame he has achieved in recent years is not what’s been most memorable. "My proudest moment was getting one of my favourite students to change her mind and say that she will go to college, purely out of love and respect for me. That will forever overshadow any acting moment or award. Being an educator and a role model, there's no character, it's just me," he says.
The journey begins: Naren came to the limelight in 2013, when he played the role of a terrorist in Vishwaroopam, starring Kamal Haasan
Naren believes that if you're not doing something with the next generation or the environment, then you're wasting your time. "Pursuing a career that's as inherently self-involved as art or acting is physically draining. Teaching is a suitable way to step outside of your own bubble and think about something/someone else for a change. And it's not like it's some charity service; I learn so much from the kids I coach and direct. They're so free and imaginative and that's what grown-up actors are striving to achieve. My professional life fuels my academic one and vice versa," he says.
Some things, however, can't be avoided — like star-struck students in his class for one. "The age group of girls I teach have just begun to understand attraction and so, I sometimes end up in classrooms with girls who are just screaming at my being in the same vicinity as them. It's honestly a little difficult to teach when the classroom is just shrieking. Also, I recently discovered that the students' nickname for me at the school is 'sexy teacher,' which is mildly funny, but it's mostly incredibly inappropriate," says Naren.
Awkward alert: Students have nicknamed 'sexy teacher,' which he thinks is mildly funny, but it's mostly incredibly inappropriate
Naren has been living the dream in NYC, but if there's one thing he misses about Chennai, it's the people. "It's sometimes hard being so far away from home, but I justify it with the belief that I'm representing an entire city at whatever stage I'm at. That's what I tell myself anyway, I hope it's true," he says, sincerely.
Although Naren couldn’t divulge too many details about his latest role, it's something he's really enjoying. "I enter the storyline further into season one, and I play one of the show's primary villains. I was hesitant to take on a role that's overtly negative (as I've become very conscious of the types of stories I tell under America's new president), but I had so much fun during the audition process and was also very excited to tell the story of Hadi Tabbal's character. His character, to me, is one of the most compelling brown characters on television and to be able to further that character and bring that story to American eyes was everything I could've asked for and more," says Naren. How's that for a man who knows what he wants?
Photo credit: Jorge Luna (jorgelunaphotography.com)