When Panreet Akilla read Philip Mishra’s role for the new Netflix Faction October series, he was amazed at something that didn’t appear in character.
“For me, as an actor of color, I think they could have easily incorporated his ethnicity as part of the scene,” says the Calgary-born 27-year-old Mumbai-born adult actor. “But I’m glad we’re going to a place that, when I read the script, being South Asian had nothing to do with the characters arc other than having a South Asian surname. So it was refreshing compared to many of the pieces about which I read. “
It’s not that Philip wasn’t complex enough for an actor to embrace. October Faction, which was shot in Toronto and Cambridge, Ont., And begins streaming on Netflix Jan. 23, is a horror comedy about retired monster hunters Fred and Deloris Allen (Tamara Tayler and JC MacKenzie), who take them their teenage children in Fred’s Hometown after his father’s death only to discover the small town is not as peaceful and quiet as it seems. Among other things, there are monsters there: wolves, vampires, witches and wars.
Also, the couple’s teenage son Geoff (Gabriel Darku) finds himself set against Philip, who is the alpha and male high school athlete and most of the city’s most prominent families.
“To compensate for all the pressure he has, he removes it in unfortunate ways in high school by being a Geoff Allen bully,” Akilla says. “There’s a story between the two of them that I can’t give away because of spoilers. But basically, what seems like the tension between me and Geoff becomes something much nicer, let’s put it this way.”
Akilla says the October Fax tone is somewhere between Supernatural and Men in Black: funny, angry and action-packed.
“You don’t take yourself too seriously,” he says. “Side by side, it’s difficult at times. But I think the writers did a great job of balancing the drama and the comedy aspect of it. On the outside, it’s a fun show, a genre that has a lot of fantasy fantasy elements to it. Internally, there are all kinds of social commentary and well-developed characters. “
Alsos is also Akilla’s first big break as an actor, at least in film and television. Former high school student Sir Winston Churchill has been performing on the show since high school, eventually creating a niche for himself as a musical theater kid. He also tried his hand at acting and production for the film early on. The low-budget action comedy Jewel Fools, which starred Akilla as an associate producer, made its debut at the Calgary International Film Festival in 2014. But when high school was over, he decided to study chemical engineering at McGill University, which eventually led him to work for Suncor Energy. Nowadays he was a chemical engineer, but at night he was starring in short films with his friends and doing community theater. Eventually, he decided to make the jump. In 2018, he moved to Vancouver and got an agent.
“My first place of friends was at Darts,” he says. “Which I think is a pass-through for many Vancouver actors. Either that or a thing or a sign. It was soon after, just a few months, when this script came in. I had four or five auditions and a screen test in Toronto “And then we started shooting right away. It was the right place, the right time. I think the character, for some reason, just felt it. I knew who this guy was.”
Alongside his work at Faction October, Akilla continued to work in the theater. This included a performance like Odysseus in a Margaret Atwood’s 2019 Grand Theater London production of The Penelopiad under the direction of his co-star in Fragment Megan Follows. He returned home in October to star in Nicolas Billon’s Iceland for the Calgary Theater. He is currently rehearsing Cipher for the Vancouver Art Club, which opens in February, and will be performing in the Mahabharata later this year at the famed Shaw Theater Festival. This production, which opens in August, is an epic tale in Sanskrit poetry and was first performed in North America by a cast of all South Asian.
But Akilla says his first love is film and television, which he hopes to focus on in the future.
“Part of me just wants to reach kids in Calgary who look like me and from families like the one I grew up in; immigrants who come to town and grow up there and have a definite path for them to go to school , go to university, get a degree and work in oil and gas, “he says. “It will get other people in their community to do other things off the beaten path to try to inspire the younger generation to do it. I have some responsibility to encourage the kids who came to me to pursue their passion and the thing that makes them jump. There’s no need to act or anything like that, but I want to reach out to them and let them know it can be done and done for people like me. “
October Faction begins streaming on Netflix on January 23.