'Mean Girls' Star Avantika Is Breaking Entertainment Stereotypes One Role At A Time

By Bianca Gracie | March 5, 2024

This interview is part of EDITION's "Class of Now" feature, found in our March '24 "Next Wave" Issue. Click here to subscribe.

Avantika8_copy.jpgPhoto by Sarah Krick

It’s always risky stepping into the shoes of a beloved character, but Avantika gracefully took on the challenge. The actress portrayed the adorably goofy Karen in January’s Mean Girls reboot and will soon showcase her scream queen abilities in May’s Horrorscope. She’ll also be starring in and producing A Grown of Wishes, a Disney+ live-action fantasy series based on Roshani Chokshi’s bestselling Star-Touched Queen book duology. The actress speaks to us ahead of her classes (she’s studying cultural anthropology at Columbia University).

Where did your passion for acting stem from?

Well, I grew up being a dancer and it naturally led into performing arts. But I knew that I didn't want to dance forever. I was in ballet and the environment in ballet coupled with the fact that you're going to probably retire at a fairly young age, it just wasn't speaking to me. So I knew I wanted to stay in performing arts. So I tried a local theatre next and fell in love with it.

How do you think having the addition of music in Mean Girls elevates the storyline?

Music honestly changes the tone quite a bit. And I think that film is far, far more campier than the original and it embraces that. Though I know American audiences have conflicted opinions regarding them, the beauty of musicals is that you get this opportunity to enter your character’s mind in more avenues and facets than just dialogue. I think that that is really beautiful. For example, if we take [the song] ‘Sexy’, that is something that just wouldn’t happen. You would never know that that’s how Karen saw the world unless we saw it in a musical number, or even ‘Revenge Party.’ So using those as vessels to showcase all this color, grandiose and flamboyance is just amazing. And it’s really in the vein of Mean Girls even though seeing it as a musical might be unexpected.

MGM_JW_0306_00924R2_C.jpgAvantika plays Karen Shetty; Renee Rapp plays Regina George; Bebe Wood plays Gretchen Wieners and Angourie Rice plays Cady Heron in Mean Girls from Paramount Pictures. Photo: Jojo Whilden/Paramount © 2023 Paramount Pictures.

I love that you just went completely over the top with the silliness of Karen.

She’s my favorite character from the original. I think by virtue of being a different performer, the performances are gonna be different. And I wanted to honor Amanda’s [Seyfried, from the original 2004 film] legacy and the character she left behind. I think consciously trying to imitate it or completely steer away from it would be a disservice to that. And so I tried to maintain the same essence but place her in the context of a musical film, which I think will naturally change the tone quite a bit. But it was super fun.

You’re also helping to break stereotypes of Southeast Asian actors on screen. Usually, we see more of the nerdy or uncool person. But it’s great to see you in this position because you are the popular girl.

100%, I think that is so important, crucial, vital and liberating. Brown women have this expectation that they can only be intelligent, or they can only be nerds. And I don’t think that’s healthy for young girls to see. Not that education and intelligence aren’t things one should aspire to be. But at the same time, I don’t think that should be the only adjective we think of when we think of South Asian media portrayal. So I think it’s really important for girls to see that they can unanimously be considered beautiful. Or they can be popular and can be glamorous. When I think of Karen in this movie, I also really do think of Kelly Kapoor in The Office. These are two characters of Brown women who are incredibly funny and who embrace their sexuality. That is empowering when done on our own terms and is empowering for young girls to see.

Avantika4.jpgPhoto by Sarah Krick

I definitely want to talk about Horroscope. Can you speak about your experience working on the film?

I had said two years ago that I wanted to be in a horror thriller so it’s really exciting for me to be able to do this. It comes out in the summer. It's an astrological take on something like Final Destination. I'm joined by an amazing, incredible cast. I played someone who's queer, which I think is also really cool as a South Asian person. It's definitely a fun classic summer horror watch.

I also know you're getting into production with a Crown of Wishes. Has your experience with acting helped that side of entertainment?

Oh my God, for sure. I think that acting allows you to see the potential in a script, just because you're the one who, at the end of the day is going to end up executing it. So it's been really helpful to go through writers and throughout the process of evaluating these dialogues and sample scripts from an actor's perspective. I think has been helpful in the whole production process, as opposed to just having somebody who works in corporate evaluating the script. I think it just gives us more of an emotional insight into what the dialogue could be, rather than just limiting it to the words that we see on paper.

Has what you’re learning in classes possibly inspired or changed the way that you think about acting and storytelling?

I’m really glad you asked that question. Because I think a lot of times people are like, ‘What is cultural anthropology?’ This major was centered around how cultures influence human behavior and mindset. It’s influenced my perspective. I was debating between that and a film major, but I thought, I had incredible mentors in this industry. And this is an opportunity for me to develop an identity outside of my career. So it’s been amazing so far. I’m hoping that I get to do all four years and earn a degree.

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Photography by: Jojo Whilden/Paramount; Sarah Krick