HBO Max debuted The Sex Lives of College Girls last November, bringing to television an inside look at four very different girls-turned-roommates as they navigate a prestigious New England college and their first months of freedom on campus. Amrit Kaur stands out as Bela, an aspiring comedian determined to be accepted by the school’s legendary, career-making comedy publication, the Catullan. She’s also, as she puts it in the first episode, “ready to smash some D’s.”
The show is set for a second season and as we wait for new episodes, LA Confidential sat down with Kaur to talk more about Bela, her epiphany about acting and working in a caution tape dress.
Warning: This interview has spoilers for The Sex Lives of College Girls and discusses sexual assault.
What made you want to pursue acting as a career?
My high school teacher is now my best friend. I’m actually going over for dinner tonight. I was one of those theater geeks who made best friends with their teacher.
I did my first play, I think it was grade eight. Rumor Revisited was what it was called, and then grade nine was mandatory drama. But I actually wasn't allowed to take drama in grade 10 or 11 because my parents, coming from where they were, they didn't understand how it was a serious subject in a way, which they've now grown to see the intelligence and process and vigor required to be an actor. So I did improv instead. I convinced my dad that if I couldn't do drama, at least I could do improv, and then I was the team captain of the improv team.
What was the greatest lesson you learned from those years in improv?
I think physicality— that the physicality of the character, listening to the moment, trusting your instincts. When we were doing what we called the Canadian Improv Games. We were all a team and we would have to pick something out of the hat and act it out as a team. And they set a timer on, I think 30 seconds, a minute or so. So you don't have time to think about your impulses. You have to trust the instrument, the artist inside and just go for it.
How did your years at York University in Toronto shape you as an entertainer and artist? I feel like a lot of people assume aspiring actors need to be in New York or L.A.
You don't need a university education to be an actor. You need to train, you need a good teacher. My best training has been in the past six years with my mentor Michelle Lonsdale Smith at Gracemoon Arts Company. York University was good. It was phenomenal. I learned discipline through that. We had movement class, acting class, voice class, but my ego still wasn't fortified. So there were notes that I was getting from my mentors at the time that still my vanity was quite high. I hadn't realized why I actually loved acting. The insecure girl who wanted attention was still driving my training, so I wasn't able to hear the notes from my teachers where they would tell me that acting is an intelligent art form. Acting is not about your looks. Acting is about etc., etc., looking at your flaws, looking at your insecurities. I wasn't prepared. So they are beautiful notes and I actually have remorse. One of the teachers who gave me the hardest notes was probably the best teacher I had, but I wasn't prepared to listen to those notes. So it wasn't until I graduated and my ego was a little bit more fortified that I got many of the same notes and I was able to hear them. But it taught me the importance of discipline, of staying vigorous with your training.
What has been impactful about training at Gracemoon Arts Company?
The school's name is Lonsdale Smith Acting Studio and we have a production company that's a sector off of that studio. So when I first audited that class, I was emotional throughout the class. The class comes out in three parts. We do a relaxation exercise, which is in the beginning. We're moving our body and trying to find tension in parts of our body. And the theory is that we hold psychological, emotional tension in our physical tension. So we're trying to release. It's actually Lee Strasberg’s exercise that has been adapted. It's very process-oriented. And in that exercise when I was auditing, a lot of people were making admissions, and it's hard to explain, but sometimes you come to consciousness about yourself or come to terms with yourself as you're releasing your bodies. I saw women talking about insecurities that I felt as an actor, as a woman, as a person exploring their sexuality in patriarchy. There were so many admissions made— race admissions, gender admissions from both people of all races, all genders at such a deep humanitarian universal place, which then in admitting, we put into our acting. So what I learned from this studio is that my life work is my acting work.
The Sex Lives of College Girls Season 1 Episode 1.
Sex Lives of College Girls was pretty quickly confirmed for a second season. Why do you think the show resonated so well with people?
I don't know that we've had a show looking at so many different characters in the college timespan. I know we had Gilmore Girls for a little bit and then Girls was right after the group of them had graduated. So this is an area that is so vastly relatable to so many people that kids going into university or college will look at it and people who have graduated will reminisce about university/college life. But I also think that Mindy [Kaling] and Justin [Noble] have this amazing capability of looking at dark subjects with a sense of humor, which people appreciate because everything can be so dark right now. It is a global state of moving through consciousness and often work is really hard. So this is a nice way to look at issues of race, patriarchy, sexuality, big dreams, intersectionality in the comedy circuit of all those different things with a sense of humor.
Bela is the comedic lead of the group and such a source of laughter, but she also goes through what is probably the season’s darkest storyline. What preparation went into portraying Bela’s sexual assault experience?
Bela isn't a particularly emotional person. That's not how she expresses herself. She expresses herself, her pain through humor and that was very important to the writers and directors that that's how she copes. There was a lot of conversation from the first assault. I worked with my coach and we discussed how it was personal to me and there have been moments in my life where I've been so desperate to get something and there have been instances where my safety has been challenged. And there's this desire to sacrifice my safety because I'm so desirous of something, which is what Bela has. She's so desirous of being on the Catullan that she's deciding whether she's going to sacrifice her safety, whether she's going to allow herself to be exploited, whether she's going to deal with the patriarchy and it's difficult. So the initial scene when the assault happens, my interpretation was that the reaction would be very bro-y as a way to not escalate the situation or be like, “Yo, bro, what are you doing bro?” instead of showing too much scared or getting too loud. Because when there's a perpetrator across me, and I've experienced that, if I make the perpetrator feel like they do something wrong in the moment, the assault could go further. So there was a conscious choice in how she might behave. She is intelligent. She's not a stupid girl. So as an intelligent woman, how is she going to behave in code red? And then continuing on, when she's revealing things to Leighton and her other friends that she is looking at it through a sense of humor and she isn't really sharing her vulnerabilities. She hasn't gotten there in season one and she might in season two.
The Sex Lives of College Girls Season 1 Episode 10.
Bela also really embraces having the full college experience and is always rallying the group for some fun. When the finale closes with an anything-but-clothes party, she wears what is essentially a body-con dress made of caution tape. Did you have any input in this top-tier frat party ensemble?
I take no credit for the caution tape. I do take credit for suggesting that she wear as little caution tape as possible. But that was very hard to act in. Because if I moved a little bit, there would be something that popped out here. I moved a little bit too much with my legs and my bum would pop out. So it was funny to actually navigate that, but I think she's embracing a new body and she so wants to flaunt it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Randall Ross; Jessica Brooks; HBO Max