Praneet Akilla graduated with an engineering degree from McGill before setting that aside to pursue a lifelong passion for acting. It wasn’t an easy decision, but he has never looked back.
Praneet says, “The journey into acting was not easy but I always knew that I wanted to do it. I mean, growing up in a South Asian household, specifically an immigrant household, you come Praneet Akilla to take flight with Canadian air ambulance drama >> to this new country, you move to Canada to get a stable life, and your parents only really see you as an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer. And to be honest, I also saw myself as that as well.”
But looks like life had some other plans for Praneet as he decided to pursue his dream of acting after getting an engineering degree.
Now, after successfully making a mark in the entertainment industry through his acting, the actor who was born in India and raised in Calgary is now starring in the CBC series SkyMed.
SkyMed is produced by Piazza Entertainment in association with CBC, Paramount+ and CBS Studios and will make its world premiere on Sunday, July 10 at 9 p.m. (9:30 p.m. NT) on CBC TV and will also be available to watch on the free CBC Gem streaming service. The series was filmed in Northern Manitoba and Ontario during fall 2021 / winter 2021- 2022.
South Asian Entertainment Magazine got to know a little more about Praneet’s upcoming stint as Jay Chopra in an interview. Below are the excerpts from the conversation:
How would you introduce the character you play to viewers? A First Officer pilot with North Air, Jay “Chopper” Chopra’s got a big brain and a bigger heart. He’s an engineer also so he’s a bit of a geek, and a little socially inept. He is like everybody’s little brother. He flies the medevac SkyMed 911 for remote high stakes rescue operations and is always ready to help those in need. He wants to graduate from First Officer to Captain, but also has aspirations to become an astronaut one day. Chopper had a failed marriage and decided to escape to Thompson, Manitoba to work as a pilot.
What do you like about that character?
He’s incredibly loving and caring. He’s willing to go out of his way to use his expertise to help those in need. He’s also really funny – both intentionally but mostly unintentionally – when it comes to his social life, but that’s what makes him so endearing.
What challenges your character most in the story?
He always puts the needs of those around him first. By nature, that’s who he is. However his experiences in Thompson force him to confront the failed marriage in his past, the disappointment his parents feel about leaving engineering and becoming a pilot in remote Canada, and recognizing that time will quickly run out if he doesn’t start seizing the moment and looking out for himself and what he wants too.
Do you feel like you bring a little of yourself to your character?
I feel like Chopper is literally me. I don’t know if the writers planned it that way, but I’m an engineer just like him. We both wear an iron ring (a ring given to engineering graduates in Canada). We both are a little awkward in our social lives, but we both are filled with hope and love for humanity. I’m a huge nerd in my real life and Chopper is the exact same way.
Are there any traits you share with your character?
We share the same general anxiety and worry we have about others. We both are engineers and are competent (well at least I think so) at our jobs. We both are shy and awkward in social circumstances. We both love our family and friends deeply.
What is it about your character that audiences will love to discover?
At the beginning it seems like Chopper is a perfect character who is good at everything and has no flaws. What they will love to discover is how relatable his character arc is. On the outside it seems like he has it all, on the inside he’s conflicted because he goes from a person who has done everything by the book and lived for what those around him want. Eventually on that journey there comes a time where you have to look out for yourself and really ask yourself what you want? That’s what the audiences will love to discover.
What can you tell us about SkyMed?
SkyMed is ‘Top Gun’ meets ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. It’s a non- traditional medical procedural with a ton of action – particularly in showcasing high stakes rescue operations that are conducted by pilots and nurses working together. It’s a show that showcases remote parts of Canada that the world never gets to see. Its characters are well developed and their storylines are moving. The show also focuses on the various indigenous communities in Northern Canada, the inequity they live through, and several Indigenous characters reconnecting with their roots and reclaiming their native land. This isn’t shown in many shows.
How much did you know about the work that young nurses and pilots do flying air ambulances in Northern Canada?
I did not know much at all. I knew that emergency medevac crews existed but I only found out more when I did my research after I got the part. What surprised me is how dangerous it can be and how young some of these nurses and pilots are.
What is it about the show that audiences will love to discover?
It’s a part of the world they don’t usually see. What they will also love is how they can relate to the main characters that all moved to remote Canada to run away from something or to go find themselves. They will also love the emergencies in each episode. Though dramatized, they will love how the characters all work together to solve problems. It’s also really funny and endearing.
Describe a typical day on set during production.
Being on set for this show is an absolute blast. First, I travel with our big ensemble cast in a van to set (this is where most of our bonding happened). Then we get into hair and make-up. I usually do some warm up exercises in my trailer. Then we go and block the scene with the director, producers and crew. We get mic’d and we get ready to shoot. In between all this craziness is where the real fun is. Collaborating with the director, producers and cast to figure out scene intentionality, different choices we can play and have fun with, and just simply get to know each other. Everyone in the cast and crew became fast friends.
Personal Fun Facts
First job: Cleaning computer labs in high schools shut down for the summer.
Fondest memory: Vacationing in Europe with my family.
Indulgence: Various cheat meals – pizza and burgers.
Inspiration: My storytelling heroes – Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino and Dennis Villeneuve, but most importantly my parents. They’re the hardest workers I know and they gave me the love and enthusiasm for storytelling that I have.
Motto: Focus on what you can control.
Greatest accomplishment: Doing what I love for a living and being a good son/partner to my family and my loved ones.
Vices: Carbs and sugar (bubble tea, pizza). I’m also really obsessive and over think every little thing to the nth degree.
Personal style: Casual/athletic.
Pet peeves: 1. When red tape and bureaucracy get in the way of simple things.
2. Obnoxious people who lack self-awareness.
Superstitions: Before I start a new job or go on a new adventure I pretend I’m gathering all the negative garbage around me and throw it behind my back. (Weird I know.)
First kiss story summed up in three words: School. Musical. Jasmine.
The best part of my job is: Getting to inhabit characters and universes and play pretend like we used to as children. On top of that getting paid to do it?! I thank my lucky stars for it every single day.
Person you would most want to meet and why? If given a chance, I would love to meet my great grandfather. He worked for the British King in my home state in India and was, by all accounts, the first artist in my family. I want to get to know him and understand what drove him, his life experiences and what his passions were. I always feel a weird connection to him, like I’m his reincarnation or something.
I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing: Jorts.
Do you cook? If so, what is your specialty?
I cook! My specialty is Indo-Chinese fried rice. I’m actually really good at making Indo-Chinese fusion cuisine.
Three things you can’t live without:
1. My beautiful girlfriend (soon to be fiancée).
2. Live theatre/movie theatres.
Three things people don’t know about you:
1. I love hot sauce – I will put it on anything and will gladly go on the show “Hot Ones” to prove myself.
2. I’m a big musical theatre nerd. I’ve been performing in musicals since I was a kid and would love to keep doing more.
3. I’m a popcorn connoisseur. I love it so much that I have analyzed popcorn at many events, theatres and stadiums to compile a list of favorite popcorn places in North America.
List any rituals you may have when prepping for an audition/key scene: Repetition. I walk around saying the words out loud thousands of times so it’s ingrained within my body. That way I don’t have to think about what the next line is, I can focus on the character and what they want in the scene. The first thing I do in the morning is: Brush my teeth in the shower. The last thing I do before I go to bed at night is: This is bad I know… but I’m usually sending out emails on my laptop.
Describe yourself in three words:
Curious. Persistent. Inspired.
What did you find challenging working on set?
I didn’t particularly find it super challenging. I was grateful to have a lead role in a really well-written series and then getting to inhabit the realities of my character and play him on incredible, large, expansive sets and location was a dream. If anything, since we shot on location a lot in Manitoba, it got very cold. Trying to act when you’re super cold isn’t fun.
What did you enjoy about working on set?
Bonding with my fellow cast mates, crew and creative team. The fun of the experience of shooting really came from all of us being passionate about telling this story but also having fun with each other in doing so. That’s what really matters to me at least.
Photo Credit: CBC