Q&A: Pallavi Sastry talks Land of Gold and The Walking Dead: Dead City
Pallavi (pronounced Puh-luh-vee) Sastry’s a major multitasker. The Texas native’s an actor and producer. She co-founded a production company with her sister, Keertana. She’s a podcaster. She’s a wife and mom. She’s basically busy all the time.
Take Land of Gold. She’s not just one of the acclaimed indie movie’s producers. She’s one of its stars. Currently streaming on HBO Max, the film has earned recognition traveling the festival circuit, originally winning AT&T’s Untold Stories award at the Tribeca Film Festival back in 2021. Its esteemed history also includes being the first production filmed at the Cherokee Nation’s film studios and soundstage in Oklahoma. Land of Gold tells the story of a first-generation Punjabi truck driver who tries to reunite a young Mexican-American girl with her family.
Sastry is also one of the forces behind Invisible: The Film, a documentary about an often misunderstood syndrome, Fibromyalgia. She’s utilized her acting muscles in shows like CBS’ Blue Bloods, Netflix’s Master of None and Showtime’s The Affair, she’s about to become a member of the TWD Family with a recurring role in The Walking Dead spinoff, The Walking Dead: Dead City. The highly anticipated zombie drama stars TWD alums Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan who are reprising their characters from the OG series.
For this TV Goodness Q&A, we learn about Sastry’s projects including Land of Gold; find out what it’s like working with her sister/producing partner; and she touches on the Dead spinoff.
TV Goodness: How did you get into acting and producing?
Pallavi Sastry: I was actually a singer and dancer first and then started acting in high school when I found musical theater. I, of course, knew the classic musical movies like Singin’ in the Rain, Sound of Music, etc., but had no idea it could be someone’s job to sing, dance and act (Broadway) at the same time. I never looked back after doing my first musical my freshman year of high school.
Producing was more of an accident at first. I was hosting events, starting various businesses as a side hustle to support myself as an actor, and then did a couple of PSAs for non-profits not knowing that I was honing my producing skills. I made a feature documentary with some amazing partners called Invisible, based on the real lives of those living with Fibromyalgia — one of those stories was a producing partner of mine. That movie actually comes out on major streamers next month so keep an eye on my social media to find it! That movie taught me everything I know about producing and I’ve been learning and growing from there. So the short answer is, I learned by doing.
TV Goodness: Why is Land of Gold a project you wanted to be a part of?
Sastry: My sister, Keertana Sastry, is my producing partner. We were looking for a filmmaker and a story that had a perspective that we hadn’t seen before. He told us the story of Land of Gold over dinner and we were blown away even before we read the script…for me partly because I was four-months postpartum and so much about Kiran and Preeti’s relationship was hitting home for me. Once we read the script, we knew we could bring our skills and perspectives to enhance his already compelling story of this man learning to show up for this little girl, for his wife, and his soon to arrive baby.
TV Goodness: On your Instagram post featuring the Land of Gold trailer, you say “This has been the hardest creative endeavor and the most rewarding.” What do you mean by that?
Pictured: Pallavi Sastry, Land of Gold
Sastry: A film is like birthing a child. Which is why we often call big projects a “creative baby.” You work with so many people who support you in bringing the story to life. So on a personal note, this took a lot of compromise and sacrifice on my family’s part to make it possible for me to work on this film as a producer/actor. My mom stayed with us to take care of my daughter so my husband could still work, we pulled my daughter out of daycare so they could come and be with me on location in Oklahoma for a part of production, and not only is producing a film a stressful job, I was acting in the film and as I mentioned before — parts of my personal story ended up in my character so I had to make sure my mental health was sound throughout the process. This movie was sort of our entire core team’s coming out on a big Hollywood stage so it took everyone in our lives to enable it to happen. So that’s why I posted that quote — to celebrate and honor my family, my team, and myself.
TV Goodness: You are not only one of the producers of Land of Gold, you are in it as well. Who do you play? And what did you enjoy most about this experience from an acting perspective?
Pictured: Nardeep Khurmi and Pallavi Sastry
Sastry: I’ve never built a character from the ground up. It’s such an honor to have that sort of trust from a filmmaker and Nardeep (Khurmi, the Land of Gold director/writer) made that possible. So I think this acting job will always be at the top of my most memorable roles for the rest of my career.
TV Goodness: Land of Gold has done really well on the festival circuit. But now it’s coming to HBO Max/MAX. What do you hope people take away from this film?
Pictured: Nardeep Khurmi and Caroline Valencia
Sastry: A lot of this story is about a family who love each other making space for each other’s mess on their way to finding themselves. I hope people watch this and can find grace and patience for the people we love to be messy and flawed. If we do that in our own lives we’re more likely to have the same for people who we may not know as well and that leads to finding chosen family like Kiran and Elena.
TV Goodness: What can you say about your role in The Walking Dead spinoff, Dead City?
Sastry: Not much! haha As we know, those shows are such a mega operation. What I will say is that working on that show was a bucket list! It was amazing to watch all those special effects elements come together in front of your eyes. I think Eli Jorne (showrunner), Lauren Cohan, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are all pros and such generous leaders and I’m hoping that we get a second season.
TV Goodness: Why should The Walking Dead fans add this show to their watch lists, and why should new viewers discover this spinoff?
Sastry: The visuals and the stakes are sky high and worth watching even if someone isn’t a TWD expert and with the universe taking on New York City, I think the show is unlike anything we’ve in the TWDUniverse.
TV Goodness: What’s it been like to film the show? What are some of the challenges and highlights of working on such a big series?
Sastry: Ya know, for me as a recurring character, the challenge is always coming to work and making sure my game is matching the main cast. The highlight was definitely seeing those incredible zombie creations up close.
TV Goodness: You and your sister have your own production company. What’s the goal of your company? What type of projects do you look for and why?
Sastry: Our goal has always been to redefine “tradition.” And what we mean by that is, the stories themselves might actually be themes and plots we’re familiar with, like a family drama, or a road trip movie, or a rom-com…but the perspective is what we haven’t seen before. So for Land of Gold it’s a road trip drama from the point of view of a Punjabi-American trucker and a 10-year old Mexican-American.
We have a few different films on our slate — from a rom-com centering [on] a late 30-something South Asian couple who accidentally books the same Airbnb as a 20-something Gen Z couple; a film about a 60-year-old retiree who’s trying to find himself and his lost Volvo a-la-Kelly Reichardt; and a dark comedy about a sober female comic who is forced to look at her past when her estranged son shows up in her life before a big show.
TV Goodness: And what’s it like to work with your sister?
Pictured: Keertana Sastry
Sastry: It’s awesome but can also be challenging. Awesome because we know each other’s taste and working style so well and, of course, we trust each other so there is a shorthand. It also comes with this inherent ride-or-die energy because we’re so invested in each other. But the challenge is finding the line between being business partners and sisters. We try to make sure there are days of the week and times of the day that we are not working and we just get to be family. She’s a wonderful aunt to my daughter and I try to be a good big sister by having family dinners and outings on the weekend.
TV Goodness: What’s next for you?
Sastry: My first hope is that the WGA (writers) get the deal they deserve. If they do and the strike ends, they will be able to keep making the shows we love and create opportunities for actors like myself to keep working.
And pending the strike, my sister and I are incredibly hopeful and confident that we’ll be in pre-production if not shooting our next feature by the beginning of 2024.
Land of Gold is currently streaming on HBO Max (simply MAX starting May 23); and The Walking Dead: Dead City premieres Sunday, June 18 on AMC.
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