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Interview

Navi Rawat: The Numb3rs Game

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Imagine this: You book a pilot, film it, and then your character is summarily axed once the show goes to series. For many actors, it might seem like a sweet opportunity gone bad. For Navi Rawat, it was a case of everything working out for the best.

The actor was cast in the pilot for Fox's Hawaii-set nighttime soap North Shore, but her character was cut when the network picked the show up. Fortunately, Rawat had an ace up her sleeve: She had also landed a recurring gig on CBS's Numb3rs, which revolves around an FBI agent (Rob Morrow) who recruits his math genius brother (David Krumholtz) to help solve crimes. She plays Amita, a graduate student studying mathematics. "I really felt like Numb3rs was the one that was more right for me. It was a different character for me, and I was really interested in that, so it worked out perfectly," she says. Her character was initially supposed to be a regular on Numb3rs, so the actor thought she was out of the running because of her commitment to the other show. "I thought it was over, but then they couldn't find anyone for the part, so they ended up letting me do it as a guest star," she says.

The actor hopes that, should Numb3rs get picked up for another season—North Shore, incidentally, has been cancelled—her character might achieve series-regular status. "I really like the show, and I like the actors and the producers," she says. "I also like the character. I feel like it's a positive character, because she's an intelligent female, and she's in college getting an education. I feel like it's a positive role model for people. So I would definitely want to pursue that in a regular pattern if they offer it to me."

TV audiences are already familiar with Rawat, a graduate of New York University's Tisch school of the Arts,thanks to her recurring roles on 24 and The O.C. Moviegoers, meanwhile, might recognize her as the daughter of Ben Kingsley's character in 2003's The House of Sand and Fog. She learned at least one important lesson from the acclaimed actor. "We were doing some scenes where we had to dance, and it was difficult. You have to dance, and then act…. Something he said to me that really stuck with me [was], 'Well, this scene is hard.' And I was, like, 'Yeah.' And he was, like, 'Just let it be hard.' [He was] approaching the work for what it was and not trying to make everything easy or simple. That was really an invaluable lesson, because there are some things that you do that are more difficult, and you just need to let it be what it is and not try to turn it into something."

Rawat added to her film résumé recently with the Project Greenlight horror movie, Feast, in which she plays a character named Heroine. Having the making of a movie documented by Project Greenlight, currently airing on Bravo, means that every part of the filmmaking process is exposed to a national television audience. A recent episode focused on her landing the part and revealed that some involved with the film—including the director—were vehemently opposed to her being cast in the role.

"I was aware of that, some of it, during the casting process, because I knew that the studio really liked me and the casting director really liked me, but I knew that the director didn't really think I was right for the part," she says. "But definitely when I saw the episode, initially, I was really, really hurt…. But I don't know, I guess that's just part of it, and you kind of have to get over it, which is how I approached it when I saw that. I was, like, 'Well, you know, it sucks, it stung for a minute, but just let it go.' This business is full of rejection and full of people not wanting you—I don't think you can hold onto that, because I think it will just drown you if you do."

Rawat seems to have won the director over since that episode was filmed, however—she relates that he called her shortly after it aired. "[He said], 'I'm sorry it came off so bad, and you're wonderful in the movie, and the younger female audience who's seen the movie loves your character, and you did a great job.'"

Rawat, who is of German and East Indian descent, is often described as "exotic-looking," a trait that sometimes hurts actors looking to be cast in a broad range of roles. Given the variety of parts she's played, however, it seems to have only helped her. "People seem to feel that I'm able to pass for a multitude of ethnicities," she says. "So I played Hispanic, I played Iranian, and now I'm playing Indian. Then there [are] a lot of parts that I've gotten that haven't been ethnic-specific: 24 wasn't, I did a TV movie called Thoughtcrimes that wasn't, and Feast wasn't. I think they wanted somebody who was kind of exotic-looking, but it wasn't [specific]. I mean, obviously, there [are] certain parts when they want the girl next door or someone who's blonde or whatever; it's not gonna go to me. But that's okay."

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