Melanie Kannokada, a Stanford graduate, left her plum job at McKinsey & Co to pursue her dream of becoming an actress.She talks to Postnoon about her life and career so far
It wouldn’t be surprising if she was a character straight out of the TV series, Big Bang Theory discussing about Astro Physics and engineering with Sheldon Cooper. After all, she has a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University to prove it. Meet Melanie Kannokada, former Miss India America, who left a plum job at McKinsey & Company to follow her dream of becoming an actress.
“My parents migrated from Kerala to a suburb near Chicago a long time ago. I grew up in a conservative household and it was always a struggle for us in the beginning. My mother used to work as a nurse in a hospital and she would work for long hours to take care of my brother and me. Sacrifice was always deemed as important part of our lives because of our humble roots,” Melanie recalls. She confesses that she was interested in Maths and Physics when she was in school and from the age of nine, she began practising Shotokan Karate. “I have a second degree black belt in Karate,” she chuckles adding, “It was amazing because I got a chance to compete at the junior level in the Pan American Games.”
So what else were you interested in? “I learnt tap dancing, jazz and how to play a piano. And I was part of the Cheerleading team in my high school,” she confesses. A cheerleader? Now, that’s interesting. “You know, when I tell people in the US that I am a cheerleader, they go ‘Oh…Wow’, whereas in India, when I tell the same thing, people have this ‘Oh…really’ expression. It’s essentially a combination of gymnastics, dance and stunts. I don’t know about India, but it’s quite a big deal in the US,” Melanie quips. By the time, she graduated from high school, she had already turned down admissions from several Ivy League Schools on the East Coast and decided to go to Stanford University. “It was my first choice, afterall,” she says.
While she was studying at Stanford, she co-founded anon-profit organisation, Hospital for Hope, to build a hospital in Jharkhand. “We raised a lot of money for this and I am excited that already 75 per cent of the construction of the hospital is complete,” Melanie says.
Her Stanford experience, where she served as a Student Body President, landed her a job as at McKinsey & Company. “I moved to New York and began juggling between my job and modelling. This went on for almost a year, during which I even took up acting classes. One fine day, I decided to quit everything and followed my dream,” Melanie recalls. Soon she appeared in ads of leading brands like Nescafe, Verizon, P&G, LG and Verizon. From New York, she moved to Los Angeles and soon she got supporting roles in TV shows like Rules of Engagement and Parenthood. Earlier, Indian actors hardly used to make it big on American TV, but that seems to be changing now. How tough is it to find a breakthrough? “Indian characters are not stereotyped on TV, but still there’s a long way to go before lead roles are written for Indians,” she admits.
Melanie was recently selected as the face of Bare Escentuals International, a beauty product and she recently made her debut in Love, Lies and Seeta, she’ll soon be seen in a Telugu film. “I just want to do good work, no matter where I go,” she signs off.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Hemanth writes primarily about Telugu cinema, although he finds inspiration from the works of filmmakers like Woody Allen. Apart from writing, he spends most of his time on Twitter discussing about cinema, travel and life in Hyderabad.