Sophia Ali Tells It Like It Is
Written by: Terry Doe
Sophia Ali is dropdead gorgeous and fun to be around. She makes good conversation, she’s funny, personable and likes to laugh a lot. But, she does have a serious side — well probably a more practicle side that understands who she is, and show business. We talked to Sophia about life, her family and Hollywood.
Terry Doe: You grew up in a household with siblings who were also actors. Did you ever feel pressured or feel a sense of competition at home?
Sophia Ali: Actually, my brothers took on acting as a hobby of convenience because I was so involved in it. They’ve never really had an interest in pursuing it fully, so that fizzled out for them at a young age. Sometimes I do fantasize about how cool it would be if they had stuck with it and the three of us worked together as siblings. But they’re off doing their own amazing things that they’re passionate about and this industry is not worth it if you’re not passionate.
TD: You have grown up in front of the camera in the television industry. What would you say is one life lesson you were given as a young actor that you still apply today in your daily life.
SA: I struggled with my weight and identity a lot as a kid, a lot of it was because of the pressures of acting and the fact that there wasn’t ever an opportunity to play my own race. “I have to be skinny if I want to book, I have to be Latina if I want this part, I look too old for my age, I should say I’m older than I am.” I wish someone would’ve told me when I was a kid what I know now, that whatever I am, own it. This business is ruthless, you can be perfect and they’re STILL going to find things to criticize. It’s kind of corny and obvious to say this, but I didn’t realize when I was a kid that you really must love the aspects of you that make you, you. Your world is all you have. You should be the only person who gets to decide what’s “attractive.” Take it from my 10-year-old eating disorder self, your world is a much better world to live in. Eventually the world molds to yours.
TD: How has your upbringing influenced your point of view as it relates to your overall ethos on life?
SA: Both of my parents have really emphasized ambition and independence. Growing up, my dad worked, and my mom was always supportive of anything that I wanted to do. So, when I was eight years old and said that I wanted to be an actor, my mom was ready to make it possible. My dad’s family are Pakistani and grew up in a more traditional household, so they didn’t understand the concept of getting my GED, leaving high school early, and not going to college to pursue a dream. Like any loving family they were naturally worried for me. I think it made it even more crucial to me that I be successful. I have a lot to prove to myself and had a lot to prove to them. It also gave me this need to represent my people in any way that I could. I realized when I was 17 that there’s not a whole lot of accurate representation of Middle Easterners on television. It made acting about more than myself, I want to be a true depiction of what it means to be Pakistani in America. Give girls like me and my family someone they can watch on TV that’s Pakistani, or a hijabi, but normal just like them.
TD: What would you say your trajectory has been from a young girl growing up in the industry to now as a young woman?
SA: It hasn’t been a steady trajectory, that’s for sure. One of the most stressful things about being an actor, aside from being a woman, is the ups and downs. There have been so many moments in my career where I have felt on top of the world. I’ll fly for a beat and then I’ll come back down, and I might not work for a month, or three months, or a year! The down times are the most crucial. You must be so conscious of how you view yourself. It also helps you appreciate the times that are up, appreciation is so important. As actors, we’re so lucky to get to do what we do.
TD: When not reading a script or in front of the camera, what is the one thing you enjoy most in solitude?
SA: I love to write. I feel like my mind goes a mile a minute and sometimes in social settings it can be overwhelming. So, when I’m alone it feels good to sit down and write out my thoughts. Plus, it helps me sort of file certain things away so that I can use them later, or never, rather than have them always bubble up in my head when I don’t want them to.
Have you notice a significant effect on the industry as the result of the #MeToo Movement? And how has it directly affected you in the profession?
Oh, absolutely. I still do experience discrimination, that’s not completely gone. I’ve noticed a shift in jobs, more opportunities for women. For example, Grey’s Anatomy came to a point where it was mostly about the men on the show, it was also run by a man. Recently there’s been a shift. Krista Vernoff made a killer 14th season mostly centered around our strong women lead surgeons, and the show has honestly never been better! That’s also very much my opinion, but the ratings say so too. Just being around on set this 15th season, watching some of these women on the show flourish and show how strong we are on and off camera it’s so beautiful and so encouraging.
Has it visibly affected your growth as a woman and as an actress?
I have felt like I have more of a voice. I also feel like there is more opportunity as an actor. So many projects now are centered around women, made by women, and run by women. THAT warms my heart. That makes me so proud to be a woman in this day of age. It has affected my growth tremendously as a woman. I’m 22 years old, I’m still molding who I am. So, to be in a world that is slowly being taken over by amazing, strong, loving, independent women is so inspiring. It’s made me believe that I am truly capable of doing so much for this world. All women are.
If you could impart a piece of advice or knowledge which you have learned over the years to an aspiring artist, what would that be?
I think persistence and patience are the most important qualities for an aspiring artist. You know you’re talented, you know you’ve got what it takes. Hearing “no” repeatedly doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to be perceived. Having patience is the trickiest part about being an artist, especially when you’re surrounded by success. If you stick to it, keep igniting the fire that drives you to get whatever it is that you want, you’ll become the person who you so desire to be, and the world just sort of follows along.
If you learned that you were only allowed one item from your belonging to keep with you for the rest of your life, what would that single item be?
Gosh I don’t know. A kindle? Something with an endless supply of books so I’ll never be bored. Is that cheating?
As an artist, why do you feel the artists voice is needed now more so than ever before?
I think artists have a compassionate and open mind. I think we need that in the world always. There should always be a balance.
What makes you most proud to be an American?
I love the opportunity that America can give you. I think America is responsible for some ambitious people. There’s a lot about America that doesn’t make me proud to be an American right now, but I think that our mindsets are evolving slowly and becoming more open. I love being an American, however it feels like we live in our own bubble sometimes. Also, being Pakistani, I feel like there’s a general lack of understanding for other cultures in America. We must remember that we’re people before we are Americans, and we live in a world full of different societies and forms of beauty.
In your view, what makes America Cool?
Literally speaking, we control a lot of fads and trends. A lot of popular music, television, and movies come from America. People around the world are constantly exposed to our culture, our vibe, and all the things that make us “cool.” It’s a place a lot of people like to visit, it’s big, and there’s a lot to do. I think it’s cool that we have so much pride and that we have awesome football.
What makes you cool?
I don’t think I’m cool by any means. I do like to consider myself a laid back, go with the flow kind of person though. I tend to avoid unnecessary conflict and try to make the lives of those around me a little easier. I think that’s the coolest part about me. I also have tattoos, that’s pretty cool.
Knowing what you know now, what message would you impart to your younger self about your future?
I would just tell her not to worry. It’s hard being a kid and not knowing things. I still consider myself a kid. I was always so focused on trying to “figure things out” that I never really enjoyed just being a kid. I’m never going to know everything. I’m learning slowly to just enjoy my life, and the learning just comes naturally. I don’t have to try so hard.
Final Question: A Book or The Movies?
Oh man, I know I’m an actor but a book. I have the attention span of a mouse. I love to read, and dissect, and read, and think, and read, and dissect some more. It takes me a long time to finish a book, but I love it.