Talk to enough creative people and you'll quickly realize that there's no single road to success. There's no road map to success you can follow on your own personal journey. This might seem frustrating if you're just starting out in your industry and are looking for solid advice. But it can also be incredibly freeing. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, and however your experiences are shaping who you are (and the person you'll become) — in the end, your road is just as important as anyone else's.
In short, there are just as many backgrounds and paths to success as there are writers, actors, artists, and creatives. And Star Wars Rebels star Tiya Sircar is proof that there's no formula to follow.
Growing up, Sircar was the kid who always stepped up to "entertain" people at family parties. That eventually grew into a passion for performing. From a young age, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in acting, which immediately set her apart from the rest of her family. Both of her parents are college professors, and the rest of her family is positively brimming with academics.
Nevertheless, if she had had her way, she probably would've moved to Los Angeles as soon as possible. Thankfully, her parents had cooler heads.
"I had very practical, incredibly risk-averse Indian immigrant professor parents," she told SYFY WIRE. "Though they were supportive, they were also terrified that I was going to do this crazy thing. I wanted to go to USC or NYU so I could just hurry up and start acting professionally as soon as I could. And my parents were like, 'No, no. You will go to a place that is not L.A. or New York.'"
Sircar ended up going to college in Texas, where she grew up, and getting two degrees: one in theater and dance (the one she wanted) and one in business (the one she got to keep her parents happy).
"My parents never actually said, 'You should get a degree in that or that.' I just had this looming thought: What if things go south after this?,'" she remembered. "I know that after I graduate college, I'm going to move to L.A. Who knows how that's going to go, so I better get another degree that I know my parents would be proud of. Who knows if I'm ever going to make them proud again?
"In retrospect, I should've studied something like art history that I was really interested in," she continued. "Because it turns out I didn't really enjoy my business degree. I had two separate lives in college. I had this very creative group of friends in my dance and theater program. And then there was this whole other side. I was actually in a business fraternity because all my friends joined it. And it was very much about networking so you can get a job at a venture capitalist firm. All of my friends from my business program are venture capitalists or work at hedge funds, and I have no idea what they actually do. And we took the same classes!"
In hindsight, though, Sircar has no regrets. "It was such a challenge for me. I'm glad I did it, but I don't ever want to do it again."
After college, her parents' cooler heads once again prevailed. "They said I couldn't move to L.A. with no money, so I had to get a 'real job' and save up a nest egg. Ultimately, it was the best way for me. I might be a disaster if I moved here at 18 and tried to do the Hollywood thing then. But people do it, and it works for them. I'm just glad I had a stable foundation and real-world experience in a place that's not Hollywood."
When I ask her what she thought L.A. was going to be like, she chuckles at the memory. "At the time, there weren't a lot of South Asian actresses at all, but especially in my age range. I thought, maybe I'll just show up, and someone will be like, 'You! I need you in my next movie.' I really felt very good that there was a chance of that happening."
At this point, she laughs at the naiveté of young Tiya. Sure, logically, it might make sense that producers and casting directors would see her and suddenly realize there was an unmet audience who wanted to see her face on screen. Alas.
"It didn't quite work out like that, but that's definitely what I was hoping was going to happen." By her own admission, her first year in L.A. was rough. However, thanks to her parents' insistence on saving a nest egg, she had the freedom to concentrate on looking for representation, submitting herself for projects, and trying to meet people.
"The kind of life skills that one develops in a college environment . . . I needed those to be able to come here and do what I'm doing and not lose my mind or my way. It's such a strange industry. Talent alone is not a determining factor in getting jobs. I was super lucky when I got my first agent. Within a week, I booked my first job, and I was fortunate that once things started to happen, they kept happening. I was making forward progress."
And what was her first job? An episode of Hannah Montana. Which, in a way, got her foot in the door to the Disney machine.
Sircar suddenly made a business of playing teenagers on Disney. After Hannah Montana, she did a couple episodes of Suite Life on Deck, an episode of Phineas and Ferb, and several other jobs for Disney.
None of that gave her an advantage when it came to Star Wars Rebels, though. The show was the first major project after the Disney purchase, but it was still very much a Lucasfilm project. Sircar definitely had to audition, even though she had no idea what she was auditioning for.
All she knew was that it was called Wolf, and it was a new animated series for Disney XD. She didn't know what it was until she got a phone call that said, "Hey you got that job. And by the way, that job is Star Wars. Oh, and you can't tell anyone for many, many, many months."
In the years since assuming the role of Sabine, Sircar's career has taken off. She starred in The Internship (opposite Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson), has a prominent role on NBC's The Good Place, and starred in ABC's Alex, Inc. And if you think landing two network shows at the same time is easy, well, you might work at a hedge fund.
But Star Wars Rebels is still the most significant voiceover gig she's ever had. "And it's the best job ever. How lucky am I?" Clearly, this isn't a matter of luck. Sircar has worked incredibly hard to achieve her successes, but who am I to argue?
As Star Wars Rebels wound its way down to its finale, it became clear just how essential Sabine (and thus Sircar) was to the show. Indeed, she was the only member of the cast to know how it all ended in advance.
"That one was really hard to keep secret. We recorded the series finale, which was very emotional. And we had a big cast and crew dinner that night. But Dave [Filoni] was like, 'You need to stay behind. You need to do this thing.' I had no idea what it was. He sent everyone out of the room, even producers and Disney folks. Everyone left. It was just Dave, the sound engineer, and me. And we recorded that epilogue."
And in true Dave Filoni fashion, he hadn't even printed out her lines. "It was handwritten on a notepad, so no one else had seen how the story would end. That's so Dave Filioni!"
But now that Rebels is at an end and Sabine and Ahsoka are off on a new mission, where does that leave Sircar and her character?
"I love the idea of — whether it's animated or live action or in a film or a series — I love the idea of these two badass warrior chicks are going to go on a quest through the galaxy to save the not damsel but dude in distress. I love that. I want to see that. As an audience member, I want to see that."
Yeah, she's not alone.
"I think she's an inspiration. She has so many qualities that I aspire to. If I have been able to glean anything from Sabine, that would be amazing. She's definitely cooler than I am. I look up to her.
"Now is such an amazing time to be a Star Wars fan. Young girls and boys have all of these incredible female characters to look up to. Not just for girls to get to see characters like Jyn and Rey and Ahsoka and Sabine, but also for little boys to see characters like that. That's so important. And I'm excited that's happening and will only happen more and more."