Photo by Justin Stephens/USA
Actress Reshma Shetty plays the capable physician's assistant Divya Katdare on USA's Royal Pains, one of cable's highest rated series, a medical comedy-drama set among the mansions of the Hamptons. She's also the face of the Dove beauty bar in India. But this British-Indian beauty had humble beginnings as a "nerdy" (her word) teenager attending Mills Godwin High School and singing in the school choir before studying opera at James Madison University.
RM: So, you moved here from England right before your junior year of high school. I hear you started in an all-girls grammar school there and then transferred to Godwin. What adjustments did you have to make to fit in here?
RS: First of all, I had to deal with boys. I never had to go to school with boys ever, really, so that was weird. Especially American boys, too, you know. I was a very nerdy Indian girl with a very strong British accent. Scholastically it was also very difficult, because it was the year everyone was applying to college. I just took it day by day at the time. I drifted toward the music department, and choir and orchestra really helped me through those few years because they were like a family and a home for me.
RM: Do you have a favorite thing to do in Richmond?
RS: I used to really like to go down to the Fan and Cary Street. Oh, and I remember one summer I did something very fun. The University of Richmond does Shakespeare outside. They host one Shakespeare play a year, and I was a volunteer and the year I did it it was Much Ado About Nothing. That was really fun.
RM: What do you miss most about Richmond?
RS: I miss driving. I miss just the beauty of the area. The people are terribly friendly in comparison to what you're used to in New York. [In Richmond] I'd have conversations with people while I was shopping with my mom, which happens here [New York City], but not very often. I miss the laid-back feeling that Richmond had in comparison to New York City.
RM: After living in less populated cities like Richmond and Harrisonburg, what was the adjustment to New York like?
RS: I lived on the Upper West Side in Fort Washington. I was so lucky I had a girlfriend from JMU who had her roommate leave, so she had an extra room. It was really affordable and really big. I totally lucked out. My first two years of being in New York were perfect. Most people have terrible, terrible stories. God has been very kind to me.
RM: After high school, you went on to study opera performance and eventually starred in stage musicals, including the national tour of Bombay Dreams. Do you want to continue singing as a career?
RS: There are so many weird opportunities that come up, so if a singing opportunity came up that fit really well and I felt really comfortable doing, I would totally go for it. It would have to be something very special. I have not actually done any singing in about three and a half years. I definitely need to get my pipes going a little bit.
RM: You were married earlier this year to your co-star in the musical Bombay Dreams, Deep Katdare, and USA helped by creating some webisodes about how to get married in New York. How was your wedding?
RS: It was really fantastic because, honestly, doing the webisodes helped me and my wedding planner organize my wedding. I was learning along with millions of people. I think it turned out really, really well. It went so smoothly, and it was a fantastic wedding. I was completely blown away by how well it went. I was worried because you hear all these wedding disaster stories, but it was great.
RM: With your husband being an actor as well, do you all get much time together?
RS: We don't. He's an actor, but at the moment he's doing more of the production and finance side of it. So his hours are not as crazy as mine, but they are very long. The hours of being on the set are really strange. You get picked up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., you're in makeup chairs at 5 a.m., you go as soon as it's light outside, and sometimes you can go until midnight. So your significant other has to deal with just kind of seeing you here and there. Our schedules are pretty nasty, and we don't get to see much of each other, but we have the weekends free, so that's good.
RM: Your character on Royal Pains was almost forced into an arranged marriage. How were you able to relate to Divya's struggle?
RS: I think that all first-generation immigrant children face the core pressure of wanting to please your parents, because you do realize the sacrifices they have gone through to give you a life in the West. Divya's so interesting because she goes for what she wants. She's such a strong woman. She goes behind her parents' back. She wants to become a doctor, but she can't because that's really hard to hide. So she goes and becomes a physician's assistant.
It's very interesting that in her personal life she doesn't have the guts to say, "I don't want this." That comes from something that I can definitely understand. Because when you see the sacrifices your parents have done for you, the least you could is make them happy. I made it very clear to the writers that I didn't want this to be another arranged-marriage story of another Indian woman on another television show.
RM: Having starred in several Indian productions and being the face of Dove in India, do you feel that your character shows an accurate portrayal of Indian women in today's society?
RS: The writers have listened to me when I've said we can't make this a stereotypical Indian-woman-type story. This woman is a strong woman, and Indian women are strong women, and we come from strong family backgrounds. It was more showing Americans that one of the distinct traits of that culture is that family often comes first over your own wants. And it's not a good thing, and it's not a bad thing. I think really good shows show these conflicts. If she chose Raj, there's nothing wrong in that, and if she chose not to marry him, there's nothing wrong in that. I think that's really strong for her, and there's something brilliant in that.
RM: How has Divya changed or grown over the course of the show?
RS: She's evolved beyond measure. I don't think they realized how big her character would become within the show. She was this assistant in the beginning who was the connection to the Hamptons for the two boys, and now she's become kind of an anchor. She's not related to them, but she's like a sister to them. She is such a kind, helpful person. I can't give too much away, but you get to see a much more personal side of her. Some of her demons definitely come out. The character has definitely been fleshed out in comparison to the beginning.
RM: Divya seems very composed and organized most of the time. Is your personality very similar? Or drastically different?
RS: I wish I could be as composed as she is. I am kind of a mess; very last minute about stuff. I love to put stuff off. My husband actually is very much like her. Between us, he is the very organized one. He gives me lists of things that I should be doing. He's on top of everything, and I'm the one who last minute is like, ‘Oh, yeah, I'm supposed to do that aren't I?' I say live moment to moment, he says that I'm just a mess. So I'm not like her in that respect at all. I wish I could be. She's also much more put together fashion-wise than I am. I love her clothes; I just wish I could find them myself. You know, be able to put together her outfits myself. And I wish that I had her love of heels. Give me sweatpants, give me running shoes, give me a T-shirt and I'm good. Divya, not so much. She definitely needs her heels, and she loves it, and she lives in it. I am not that woman. I am not her.
RM: You started as a pre-med major at JMU and later switched to opera performance. Have any of your pre-med classes helped with the show?
RS: I grew up around medicine. I volunteered at MCV in the OB-GYN for a summer. I did the MCV summer pre-med courses that you get to cut cadavers and stuff like that. It's definitely something that I think gets in the blood a little bit. I will say that the procedures are pretty easy for me; I don't find them to be very hard. The medical terms, they're different, they're difficult, but they're not out of reach at all. All my uncles and my dad are all doctors, so I've been around hospitals and medicine since I was a baby. So I don't know whether it was that or whether it was the pre-med. I will say that I do catch on things very quickly. I can see myself playing a lot of doctors down the line. I think my training set me up for my career.
RM: Was there any pressure for you not to pursue a career in acting?
RS: Oh, of course. Obviously it's a difficult thing for parents to allow their kid to follow a dream, especially a dream as far-fetched as the arts. It's very difficult to make a living. One or two percent of actors actually do it full time. And it's a scary thing to let your kid go do that. And I tell people don't do this unless you would want to do this more than anything. If there's anything else you want to do, go do that. Life is difficult, but if this is what you want to do more than anything in the world, then you won't be fulfilled not doing it. So that was the speech that I gave my parents when I decided to change because I just knew inside that this is what I was born to do. And I don't know why I knew it, but I did. And thankfully it's worked out.