The often rocky road to becoming an actor did little to deter Vinny Chhibber – in fact, it only made him more dogged in his pursuit. The New York native credits his hometown for being a perpetual source of creative inspiration. His new show, The Red Line, navigates issues of racial profiling and implicit biases in policing. Chhibber also has his own production company, Chhibber Mann Productions. He served as executive producer for Lost in America, a documentary that aims to shed a much-needed spotlight on youth homelessness.
Cliché: How did you first discover your interest in acting and producing?
Vinny Chhibber: Like most actors I enjoyed my time in high school theater. Then I took a class called “Speeches & Monologues,” where I discovered that acting wasn’t only performing, it was pretty much like my spiritual calling; a way for me to find peace and my truth… after that it was a matter of finding out how to engage in that process creatively as often as possible; which is what led me to the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York, and finally, The Red Line. I’m not going to say it was easy (it wasn’t) but there was no other path for me really; I simply love it.
As for producing… after being in LA for a few years, I realized that many of the actors who I admired were/are producing. From Chaplin to Clooney to Khan (Aamir, Shah Rukh or Salman), almost all of them were engaging in writing, directing, producing and developing stories that they were passionate with friends that they admired and respected. At that point, I started Chhibber Mann Productions with my producing partner Mike Manning, to develop and produce film, television, and new media projects not only to change the world around us, but also to impact audiences through compelling, original storytelling. Lofty I know, but we believe it.
You’re originally from New York and graduated from the Stella Adler Conservatory there. What was it like having NYC as a backdrop to cultivate your craft?
Man, New York. NEW YORK. What I love about NYC is that there are so many people following their dreams that you can find inspiration and beauty anywhere, all the time. New York has history – it’s where the greats studied, Brando, DeNiro, Pacino – where the Group Theater, Broadway started – where I learned craft from the best. New York is also unique in that not only does it provide a backdrop for individualism, it encourages that, without reservation – which I think is vital for artistic development and expression in any field.
Talk about your new show, The Red Line, and your character, Liam.
THE RED LINE is an eight episode original limited series that follows three very different Chicago families as they journey toward hope and healing after a tragedy causes them all to consider how race and racial biases affect their lives. The show is a family drama set in the wake of a tragedy that eventually binds together the citizens of Chicago.
Liam Bhatt, the character I play in The Red Line, is a Gay Muslim Indian-American teacher who works at the school where Daniel (Noah Wyle) is also a teacher. Daniel’s daughter, Jira (Aliyah Royale) is one of Liam’s students. When Harrison (Daniel’s husband) is killed, Liam does his best to be there for both Daniel and Jira, and help them cope with the tragedy.
The show revolves around the mistaken shooting of a black doctor at the hands of a white cop. How can viewers and the community at large become more aware of the impacts of racial profiling and implicit bias in policing?
I think the way to address awareness is by encouraging empathy; which is what we’re trying to do with The Red Line. We hope the story motivates viewers to question their assumptions and become informed about both racial profiling and implicit bias in policing; without judgment – and ultimately, come to their own conclusions through the lens of empathy for their fellow citizens, who may have different perspectives and life experiences from their own.
Your character Liam is a gay Muslim man. There’s often a belief that people of faith and LGBT folks antagonize one another and that an individual cannot be both LGBT and religious. How does his faith intersect with his sexuality?
Although it’s not overtly expressed in the show, in Liam’s backstory, those two identities, which understandably are often in conflict, in this case are not.
What does it mean to you to be able to represent the Muslim LGBT community?
I think it’s important to point out here that the Gay Muslim experience that Liam is having is singular and is not representative of either the Muslim American experience, or the Gay experience in totality. As an actor, I’m honored and grateful to have been given the opportunity to bring this character to the screen, and I hope viewers will feel I did Liam justice.
You have lots of other roles coming up, like a recurring role on TNT’s Animal Kingdom and a film with Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Tell us about those!
On Animal Kingdom I’m playing Rahul, an arrogant British billionaire used to getting what he wants; be it luxury items or women. When he’s told he can’t have something, he’ll spend any amount of money to have it. As far as the film w/ Scarlett I can’t say much, but I can say that it was a wonderful experience to work with an auteur like Noah Baumbach and with actors as talented as Scarlett, Adam and the rest of the cast – you dream about those opportunities.
You also executive produced a documentary, Lost in America, that chronicles the lives of homeless youth in America. What message do you hope to send about youth homelessness?
Briefly, Lost In America is a feature documentary takes an all-encompassing look at the pandemic of youth homelessness by exploring issues like: human trafficking, the foster care system, youth rejected because of their sexuality, domestic violence, abuse, and more. The film also examines what many organizations, politicians and other public figures are doing (or not doing) to help these youth.
We decided to help get this film made after watching maybe 3 minutes of footage, because in those 3 minutes we realized that these kids had no voice, and we wanted to give them one. The challenges they face on a day to day basis would make anyone blush about ever complaining about anything ever again. These kids are resilient, intelligent, courageous and… unseen. Unheard. We walk by them every day; sometimes without even realizing they are in the same vicinity. The goal of the film is to explore the issue, educate the viewer, inspire change on a person-to-person level that collectivity elevates these children out of the terrible circumstances that most of them are in.
What subject would you most like to cover in a future project?
I’ll let you know when I find out.
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Vinny Chhibber Talks “The Red Line” and Encouraging Empathy. Photo Credit: Kevin Hooks.