West Wing Star Devika Parikh On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Entertainment Industry

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“You don’t have to sell your soul to do something…If God called you to it, then there’s a place for you, and He’ll make way.”

I had the distinct pleasure to talk to Devika Parikh. Devika is an American actress, best known for her recurring role on the NBC’s award winning drama “The West Wing.” She can now be seen as ‘Melanie Pierce’ on OWN Network’s juicy new family drama ‘The Kings of Napa.’ Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to an East-Indian Father and an African-American mother, Parikh was raised in Gaithersburg, Maryland and is the middle of 3 daughters. She received her B.S. in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse University.

Parikh’s career runs the gambit from television, film, commercials, voice over and theatre work. She began her career performing sketch comedy & improvisation with groups at the Comedy Store, the Upfront Comedy Theatre, and the Underground Improv. She has recurred on several TV shows, including: CBS’s ‘Three Rivers,’ Fox’s ‘24’, and the Showtime drama ‘Resurrection Blvd’. She has guest-starred on a number of TV shows, including: ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ‘General Hospital,’ ‘Criminal Minds’, ‘Shameless’, ‘Prime Suspect,’ ‘Bizaardvark,’ Rizolli & Isles’ and ‘The First Family.’

Devika, thank you so much for doing this with us. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a story about how you grew up?

I grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland in a middle class neighborhood in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. I was the middle of 3 daughters. My father was an electrical engineer and my mother worked as an administrator for NASDAQ. We were one of three families of color in my neighborhood. My parents stressed education and financial stability. I was very active and energetic growing up. I played the piano, took ballet and acting classes and tennis lessons. In high school, I was active in several school organizations and was voted homecoming queen and best personality my senior.

Okay, wonderful. Can you share with us a story about what brought you to this specific career path as an actress?

As a young girl I wanted to be a dancer, singer, model or actress. And as I got older, my desire to act never left. I would take acting classes outside of school. I just assumed everyone wanted to be an actor but I did not think it was possible and I didn’t know anyone who did it professionally . As I got older, fear set in about how hard it was to make a living as an actress or that it wasn’t a viable career option. So, I decided to pursue a career in journalism instead. My plan was to be a reporter on TV and then ‘slide’ into acting. But, as you know, journalism and acting are two very different fields.

After graduating from Syracuse, I moved back to MD and got a job at a prestigious news organization in Arlington, VA. I worked there for 1.5 years but I was miserable. My heart’s desire was to be an actress. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I took a prayer trip by myself to the Blue Ridge Mountains, in West Virginia, to figure out my life. When I got there, I sat on the side of this mountain and told God ‘I’m not leaving here until you tell me what to do with my life.” I sat there for several hours writing several different game plans for my life. Before I left that mountain I had eliminated every plan except the one that would bring me to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.

Over the next few months, I started moving forward with my plan not knowing if it would work. My first step was to secure a job in Los Angeles. I had an uncle who lived in Los Angeles and I still had a week of vacation from my job. So I came out here and interviewed at several studios. Five days after returning home from Los Angeles, I received a call from NBC Studios in Burbank offering me a position in their Page program. About 4 months after my ‘prayer trip’, I was driving cross country to move to Los Angeles to pursue my dream of becoming an actress. I believe God allowed me to get so uncomfortable and unhappy where I was, I had no choice but to make a bold move.

I’m really grateful that you shared that. I’m sure you must have had a lot of interesting experiences. Can you share with us most interesting story that has happened since you began your career as an actress?

I was working pretty steadily as an actress in the 90’s and then I hit a patch where I didn’t work for almost two years. I had just finished doing a great guest star part on a sitcom and I was praying and asking the Lord what was next and I heard this voice say: “You’re not going to work again for two years.” I thought: “Oh, that’s just the enemy. I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!”

It wasn’t an audible voice, but a strong impression in my mind. I literally didn’t book a job again for almost two years. I did some small stuff and had some residual money coming in but things really shut down. When I asked the Lord, ‘why?’ God showed me that my acting career had become ‘a false God to me’. It had become too important to me and my life was out of balance. It was a challenging, difficult 2 years but at the end of that season, I ‘surrendered’ my career. It became too painful to hold onto my career the way ‘I wanted it’ so I finally released it and decided I would go wherever and do whatever God told me too. My peace and joy was restored. Shortly after that, I booked a part on ‘Sister/Sister’ and the next job after that was ‘The West Wing’ which I recurred on for four years. When God blesses you he is able to do ‘immeasurably more than all you ask or imagine.’

Beautiful. ‘The West Wing’ is among the most popular shows of all time. You’ve been blessed with great success in a career that can be very challenging. Do you have words of advice for others who may want to consider this path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

There is always a fear of failure. I still get scared. But you overcome fear by focusing on what you want. I had an acting teacher who used to say “any decision based on fear is not a good decision.” You have to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway.’ My words of advice to anyone wanting to pursue an acting career:

  1. Focus and set realistic, manageable goals. If you want to be an actor, learn the business of acting. Read books on acting. The SAG foundation is an excellent resource for all things acting. You can find their panels on YouTube. Get advice from working actors who are doing what you want to do. Try to surround yourself with people succeeding in what it is you want to do. Block out the naysayers and those who are negative or speak fear. ‘When the vision is clear, obstacles disappear.’ (From Dennis Kimbro, ‘Think & Grow Rich: It’s a Black Choice.’)
  2. Get good. Work hard. Study and learn the craft of acting. Go to theater school, take classes, do plays, improv, short films, etc. Act, act, act! Do whatever you can to GET GOOD. This is a business. Doctors and lawyers study for years to earn the money they do. Actors sometimes get paid more. Why do we think we would not need to study as hard and long as they do? Focus on the work.
  3. Make it make ‘cents’. Have a financial plan. Being a professional actor costs money and it is a financially unpredictable career. You need to be able to support yourself. Keep your day job until you are out of debt and you have enough money coming in from your acting career to sustain yourself. Educate yourself on finances and learn how to be fiscally responsible.
  4. Pray daily. I believe in the power of prayer. I pray for wisdom, guidance and focus daily. Nothing is too small to bring to the Lord. He wants to help you and show you He is real.
  5. You don’t have to compromise your values or ‘sell your soul’ to be in this business. If God called you to it, there’s a place for you and He will make a way. But you have to do the work.

So you have really impressive work. What, what are some of the most interesting, exciting projects that you’re working on now and where do you see yourself heading from here?

Playing ‘Melanie Pierce’ on ‘The Kings of Napa,’ has been an awesome experience. The series is about the King family who owns a vineyard in Napa. After Reginald King, the patriarch and visionary behind ‘House of Kings’, dies there is a power struggle about who will manage the vineyard. My character, ‘Melanie Pierce’ is a nurse with ‘Doctors Without Border,’ and I’m the sister of the matriarch. I return from Africa after hearing about Reginald’s death and drop several bombshells that turn the family upside down. It’s a great role because my character made some bad choices growing up and I am fighting to redeem and restore my place in the family. I love that “The Kings of Napa,’ showcases ‘black excellence’ culturally, educationally and financially.

I recently shot a Super Bowl commercial for AT&T starring Demi Moore and Mila Kunis which is still running.

I am drawn to inspirational stories that are message and hope driven. We have been living through such tumultuous times that I would love to do projects that inspire hope and love. Right now I am really praying ‘The Kings of Napa,’ gets picked up for several more seasons.

So Devika you’re a person of tremendous influence because of the role you play. If you could inspire movements that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Because you never know what your idea could inspire.

I think ‘…the greatest of these, is Love.’ Our country has been shaken to its core. The fundamental rule of truth, honor and love has been attacked. I would like to inspire a movement that inspires and encourages ‘loving your neighbor as yourself.’

We are very blessed to have prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch with or a meal with and why? Maybe we could tag them and, and see what happens 🙂 .

I would say Oprah, Barack or Michelle Obama or Warren Buffet. The information, wisdom and life lessons they have would be inspiring and eye-opening.

Beautiful, Devika. How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me at @devikaparikh on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Devika I’m really grateful for your time. These are really fantastic stories and, and inspiration and I’m really, really happy that we made the time for this.

Thank you!!

West Wing Star Devika Parikh On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Entertainment Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.