Who is Gerrard? How would you describe yourself in a nutshell?
I don't know myself sometimes :-) Maybe because I'm always changing. That's a part of the journey I think. I would say at my core, the things that are constant are a love of craft, an intense focus (sometimes at the expense of everything else), a general sense of empathy, a curiosity about why people are the way we are, and a struggle to stay balanced.
Where are you originally from? Tell us about your hometown.
I was born in Karachi, Pakistan. My heritage, on both sides of my family, is from a place in India called Goa. My family moved to the U.S. to what was then a small town in northern New Jersey called Mahwah when I was six.
For me, Mahwah was a great place to be raised. As a kid, free time consisted of playing outside with friends. This was before the time of cell phones and GPS. It was a very suburban upbringing - Kick the can or manhunt at night with the neighborhood kids. As we got older, it was pickup basketball and backyard football games.
As a young teenager, we'd scope out different areas of town to play basketball or football. If one court was too crowded, we'd head somewhere else (or if we were going for more challenging games just try to jump in). We'd be shooed away from some places if we were playing football in the rain and tearing up the grass. There was always some place to play at any time of the year.
One of the most fun things to do was playing football in the snow. Depending on what side of town we were playing at (usually it's own debate and discussion), we'd either go to a local deli after to grab some snacks or over a friends house to get something to eat. Most of us played sports together throughout high school as well.
Some people ask why I didn't get into acting while in High School. When I think back on it, no one I knew was an actor. No one in my family and none of my friends. I think our school put on one or maybe two plays a year, if that. I always went to see them. I was a part of the school chorus, and I did enjoy it.
Actually, a lot of the football players were because if you were a part of the chorus, you received an extra letter grade that was factored into your overall average :-) At certain times of the year, we'd have practice before school started, so pretty early. I remember that one of my coaches was questioning my absence at morning lifts because I was a very dedicated athlete (athletes were allowed to use the weight room before homeroom to get in your heavy lifts during the season that you wouldn't be able to do during the day before practice). I told him I had chorus practice for a while and he sort of raised an eyebrow. Then he saw us sing at an in-school concert and after it he gave a nod of approval and said, "nice signing." If you were into sports and were decent, that's what took up most of your time. That and trying to get good grades. Well, at least for me.
Tell us the story on how acting got started for you?
I had a shy tendency in the sense of having a certain kind of social anxiety growing up. I was always fascinated with acting but didn't think it was a possibility since it wasn't in my family and no one I was close with was an actor.
I thought it was just something you're born with.
After college, I did a bit of print modeling and even landed a small spot in a national Subway commercial as a ballroom dancer. Around this time, I was involved with a lady who I eventually married. We separated after about a year of marriage and eventually divorced.
During our time together, I entered the field of investor relations. For someone who was a philosophy major in college, dealing with the business world was very new to me. I learned some important lessons and appreciated being able to learn the skills necessary to excel in that field, however, I felt an intense creative hunger throughout that time. Growing up, probably as early as 6th grade, all through high school and college, and to this day, I was always into writing.
English and History were always my favorite subjects. I had an intense desire to express what I was feeling inside. I'd exercise a lot of my personal struggles in the weight room, through sports, or on paper through free writing and poetry. Nine years ago, when my marriage came to an end, I asked myself what I always wanted to do but didn't think was possible. Acting and writing kept coming into my mind.
I decided to join a creative writing group in Hoboken, and started taking acting classes at night in NYC. My first acting teacher, JoAnna Beckon (a wonderful teacher), had us write a letter to ourselves at the beginning of a 10 month Meisner conservatory, expressing what we wanted out of the course. I wrote down two things- "To see if acting is something I want to do for the rest of my life.
To get work as an actor." I can answer a resounding YES to that first statement. The second part I've realized with experience was naive since getting work as an actor is not always up to you. Except for your performance, most of it is out of your control and booking work isn't necessarily indicative of whether or not you're an actor.
Anyway, toward the end of this course, once I got my first headshot done, JoAnna encouraged us to submit to auditions. I auditioned for Antony and Cleopatra being staged by Take Wing & Soar Productions at The Poet's Den Theater in Harlem. I got a callback and was cast as a part of the ensemble in the role of Alexas.
For two months, I got to watch classically trained actors work on their craft and bring their roles to life from the table reading to opening night. It was awesome. I had such a fun time being a part of that show and it was an incredible learning experience. I was hooked.
Tell us about your experience on “Orange Is The New Black”. What were the most memorable moments?
It's difficult to sum up. I know how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity and experience to work on the most watched show in the world with such amazing talent.
I was just enjoying every moment. Meeting my scene partners and the actors involved in the scenes I was a part of was probably the best overall. Laverne Cox, Emily Althaus, Michael Torpey, Uzo Aduba, Laura Gomez, Kate Mulgrew, Dascha Polanco, and Selenis Leyva are all just extraordinary, talented people.
Had you watched the show prior to being cast in it? If so, was there a particular actor you were looking forward to working with?
Yes, I was already a fan of the show. The audition material was a scene with Laverne Cox, and to be able to work with such an iconic individual was definitely something I was looking forward to. I was also always a part of the Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren fan club.
We didn't have much interaction in our scenes, but just being in the same scene as her was pretty cool.
Is there a particular actor you’re inspired by?
On the show, or in general? On the show, Laverne is very inspiring. She is like 10,000 watt light bulb when she walks into a room and on set.
Michael Torpey is also an incredible talent and I was able to spend some time with him when we weren't filming. As evil as he can be in his character, he is equally gracious and down to earth in real life.
Emily Althaus is also someone who's talent and graciousness I hope to emulate. She was the first person I met on the show and was very welcoming.
Whether she was in prosthetics for hours, filming, or just hanging out, she is always chill and crushes her scenes Some other actors whose work I admire? Well, the list is countless. Don't scold me for saying so, but I find something inspiring in any actor who works at what they do.
Have you been in a situation where you’ve had a bad day, but have had to perform that night. If so, how did you get through it?
Oh man, totally. I think every actor has their stories. A few years ago, I had a bad shoulder injury that I kept ignoring because I didn't want to admit I was injured. I was playing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. During fight call (where actors rehearse their fight choreography before a show) I was going through the fight with Tybalt. When I swiped my dagger at him there was a loud crunch. My shoulder dislocated and was just hanging by my side. Curtain was in about 30 min. I was lucky that my shoulder rolled back in place after 5 - 10 minutes. I popped 5 Advil, and did the show. It ended up being a very good show that night. I had no choice but to be present.
What has been the most challenging role you’ve taken on? How did you prepare for it?
I played Richard in Chuck Mee's "True Love" staged at Columbia University, directed by Nikhil Mehta. It was my second play ever, a leading role, and I jumped into the production with two weeks before opening night because an actor had dropped out.
My character enters toward the end of the show, has some giant monologues, all the while physically scolding his son, trying to express his love, anguish, and disdain for his wife, and ends the show by shooting her and himself. It was a very challenging role. One that I am proud to say I very much struggled with, learned from, and brought to life.
As is the case with most productions that go well, I had the support and help of my castmates, Maura Hooper in particular, and our director. At that point, my actor training was all of about two years. The other actors in the show were all receiving their MFA's or had been through programs at prestigious institutions. They were supportive and welcoming, and the director was very tough but fair. I think they appreciated the fact that it was only my second play and that I was willing to work and do what I had to do. We didn't have much time, but I worked tirelessly at the role before, during, and after rehearsal.
It was all encompassing because it had to be. I was working on the role, exercising, eating, and sleeping. I was very scared, but it was a good fear. It made me feel alive. It paid off I think.
What is your proudest moment in your career so far?
When I booked my first SAG television role for Master of None.
What experience has most shaped you?
I can't pick just one. Things constantly present themselves as challenges. You choose to stay comfortable or evolve. First, it was doing a scene in front of a group of strangers. Literally getting comfortable hearing your own voice out loud.
Then an audition. Then a play. Then filming on set. Then doing stand up for the first time.
You just constantly step up to the plate and try to further yourself. You get crushed or not so much. You decide if you want to keep doing it. Stuff comes up all the time and you have to ask if it's something you want to invest your time becoming proficient at. I usually say yes if it's something I can't stop thinking about.
Any upcoming projects that will get your fans excited? Dream project?
I'll be in an episode of Odd Mom Out on Bravo later this month with Andy Buckley, who played David Wallace in one of my favorite shows of all time The Office. And I'll be in a couple episodes in season 2 of Search Party on TBS. Both very funny shows.
My dream project would be to play a superhero or super-villain in the Marvel or D.C. Universe.
What are you reading?
I'm always re-reading Myths To Live By by Joseph Campbell. Mythology is fascinating to me. The stories that different societies create to explain history, nature, and customs. I'm re-reading Macbeth currently because I'm always working on text. And also Larry Moss's book The Intent To Live.
What keeps you busy aside from acting?
Exploring different ways to exercise, cooking, bumping around NYC, going to comedy shows and open mics.
Currently binge watching?
The Handmaid's Tale (IT IS SCARY), GLOW (finished it in two days), The O/A.
Any advice you can give to aspiring actors out there?
Find a respected teacher who you feel like you can trust. Get up in front of people and do stuff. Work at it as much as you can. If you still want to keep going, carry on. You'll develop a love for it, and booking work will be a fortunate consequence.
If you had the chance and opportunity to help a specific charity, what would it be and why?
There are so many and there is lots of good, important work to be done. For my part, I think my efforts would best be spent toward increasing awareness, accessibility, and opportunities in the arts. I believe art can transform people and might be the key to accessing empathy, which is something we could really use a lot of right now.