Image Credit: Zara Siddigui
The Flash has always had a diverse group of heroes and villains. The latest speedster hero was Fast Track, aka. Dr. Meena Dhawan played by Kausar Mohammed. GGA got the opportunity to speak with Kausar about her experience as a superhero, shifting a culture for people of color and creating spaces on TV and film for fem folx.
Kausar is a South Asian writer, actress, comedian and activist, recently featured on The Flash. Born in San Jose, CA, Kausar displayed an interest in acting by making silly videos and putting on productions with her friends. She discovered sketch comedy while attending UCLA and became a member of the UCLA Spring Sing Company. She is also involved in the all-South Asian sketch Comedy Troupe, The Get Brown.
Some of Kausar film and television credits include 2018’s Paul Feig‘s East of La Brea, Coffee Shop Names, currently streaming on HBO Max, What Men Want, Silicon Valley, and Carol’s Second Act. Her next role is on Netflix’s Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous voicing the character Yaz.
Kausar is a co-founder of the organization, Shift, a racial and gender equity consulting group created by women of color, started in 2017, in the height of the #MeToo movement. I recently spoke with Kausar about her most recent roles, the importance of representation in television and film.
Noetta Harjo: Hi Kausar!
Kausar Mohammed: Hi! So good to meet you.
NH: It’s great to meet you too! I just watched you on The Flash so I’m excited to talk to you.
KM: Oh yay!
NH: To begin, you started acting at a young age putting on shows with your friends. I find this is a common thing among actors. Can you tell me a little bit about your journey?
KM: Growing up it started off with super small theater, in sort of middle school and elementary school and that was kind of the way in. I’d always just liked putting on productions. I remember just like queuing my friends up to put on shows and that sort of thing. That was always a joy. And sort of along the way I started doing more theater. I loved comedy and theater in high school, I went to UCLA and discovered sketch comedy. I had never known that there was a word for being goofy and doing characters in that way, because I had never watched SNL growing up. So, at UCLA, I was a part of the sketch comedy team called Company. That’s when I decided this is what I really want to do and continue doing.
NH: What were you doing before you got the role on The Flash?
KM: Before that I was on The 4400, the first season of that show on The CW. That was a really great and amazing experience. I got to play a queer Muslim woman, which are my identities. At the same time, that’s not something you actually get to see fully represented. The team was amazing. and that’s what I was just coming from.
NH: And now you are a superhero, a speedster. How much of The Flash comic book series did you know before getting that role?
KM: I’m now just sort of getting into comics. Before The Flash, I hadn’t read any of the comics, but I did love seeing South Asian superheroes. Ms. Marvel was one; I know different universe! LOL, But, she’s a young Pakistani Muslim teenager. I loved, loved reading Ms. Marvel.
When I got the part for The Flash, I didn’t know it was going to be Fast Track. The role was under a code name. Once I discovered that and got that news, I dove in. I, actually, have The Flash comics in front of me right now.
NH: There are so many heroes and villains in The Flash comics, so it’s great to see some diversity. The Flash TV show is great about diversifying the heroes and I enjoy that.
KM: Yeah, props to the creators, writers, showrunner Eric Wallace and the team. They’re always who’s down to do that. They chose to pull these cool superheroes from different backgrounds and widen the representation on the show. It’s so important.
NH: Do you find that it’s a big responsibility for you as a South Asian/Muslim actor?
KM: I do think it is important. I realize that we don’t get representation of our identities on screen that often. And when we do, we don’t always get the breadth and the dynamic sort of storyline that a character like Dr. Meena Dhawan gets to have. I don’t take that lightly. And at the same, what excites me … the biggest hope is that showing this South Asian character can lead to so many more South Asian characters. I think the biggest thing about representation and diversity is that we just need more. We need more of all types, different stories, different narratives. So, I definitely take it with importance. I hope that this is one of the many. And for me that sort of lessens the pressure and adds more to the joy.
NH: Definitely. The Flash is great about showing the diversity of characters, heroes and villains alike.
KM: On that last episode, there was another South Asian actress who I love and adore so much, Agam Darshi, who plays The Queen, a villain. I remember I was reading the script and I was just in awe that two South Asian characters could just exist as themselves; both as the good guy, both as the villain. And the whole storyline doesn’t have to be about how their parents migrated from South Asia and this is their trauma. Which is an important storyline in specific cases. But there’s also this power in normalization. I mean the fact that there are two South Asian comic book characters, that aren’t represented in a historically stereotypical way … that’s momentous.
NH: I completely agree. As an Indigenous woman, we don’t always get to see ourselves in creative or innovated ways. There’s a stereotype that is followed for my people in most shows and movies. So, I understand how important it is; especially for young girls to see you, a woman of color, as a hero.
KM: Absolutely. If I had known there would be characters like Ms. Marvel or Fast Track, I think my mind would have been blown. I might have thought of who I was differently growing up.
NH: Speaking of Fast Track, were you able to give any creative input to enhance the character on the show?
KM: When I first got the role, I read the comic books and had a chat with Eric (Wallace). My question to him was ‘how much are we holding on to,’ in terms of the comic books. And how much are we doing differently in the show? In that conversation, what I connected to the most was there’s going to be a very different back story for Meena. In the comic books, she had a very different relationship with Barry Allen and that wasn’t going to happen in the show. But there was a little wiggle room in terms of defining my own backstory, which was really fun. I’m really grateful for this space it provided. I got to have my emotional hook in the story in wanting to heal the world and at the same time having my own motivations to do it.
NH: I read that you are a voice actor as well on the upcoming Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous. How does one get into voice acting?
KM: That is actually a huge gift that I stumbled upon. Like I didn’t know sketch comedy was a thing, I didn’t know voice acting was a thing either. Voice auditions started coming my way through my agent and I ended up booking a thing here and there. Like sketch comedy, it lends itself naturally to characters and character voices. I love accents. I love being goofy. And I started auditioning more regularly. Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous was one of the first big things that I booked. And I’m so grateful for it. When I got it, I had no idea it was Jurassic World. It was called by a completely different code name. And it took me way too long to figure out that this was actually going to be a part of the Jurassic World cannon.
NH: Voice acting seems easier than on screen acting because you have the facial expressions and the body language onscreen. Do you still do all of the body movement in the studio when you’re recording just your voice?
KM: I believe voice acting has made me a better actor. Because I do all of the same faces and the emotions and the breathing. Funny enough, in Jurassic World, we have to yell at the top of our lungs a lot. I mean, we’re constantly running from dinosaurs. Even in The Flash there were moments of screaming or running or efforts that you see a lot of in the last few episodes. I felt like those moments were easier for me coming off of the voice acting experience.
NH: In addition to acting and voice acting, you also write, direct and star in The Syed Family XMAS Even Game Night. Coming from a race of people not traditionally known for their comedy, I’m fascinated when I see other races put out comedy films.
KM: Thank you for saying that. I feel like you make such a good important note of how it’s, again, this thing of us folks … who were not historically seen represented on television. It’s usually because we’re represented as a stereotype and never seen us fully human. But lo and behold, part of being human is joy and laughter and having fun. Comedy is such a strong vehicle for that.
The Syed Family XMAS Even Game Night is this queer rom-com short film that I wrote and starred in. It’s directed by Fawzia Mirza, who is also an amazing Muslim, Pakistani director. The story came out of wanting to see a queer couple, who is of color … partially within a Muslim family … who at the end of the day get their happy ending and get the acceptance from their family. I really workshopped it with Fawzia to make sure it was centered in comedy and centered in funny moments. Of course, having that heart but at the end of the day, how can we just have fun with this. There’s a power in being able to laugh at ourselves. It’s kind of like the great humanizer.
NH: In addition to acting, directing, writing and everything, you started an organization called Shift. Tell me more about the organization and it’s purpose.
KM: Shift is a gender and racial equity consulting firm and it’s all about giving a voice to fem, queer, BIPOC, and people of the global majority. We started back in 2017 at the height of the MeToo campaign. I was on set and realized that, even these spaces need language, tools and vocabulary to be able to discuss and understand the impact of consent, sexual harassment, gender and all this stuff. I felt like I had those places in sort of these artivisim spaces that I was more involved in during college.
We are all over the United States. Two of my really good friends, Veline Majarro and Natalie Bui cofounded the organization with me. We provide educational tools and ways to discuss consent, white supremacy culture, and how to address microaggressions, and things like that. We go to organizations and universities and corporations. At the end of the day, it’s important for us to uplift the voices of Black, Indigenous, people of color, fem folx, survivors and queer folx. And putting them at the forefront of these conversations.
NH: You have a pretty nice resume. What has been your favorite role to date?
KM: Hmmm … I can’t pick favorites! (Ha ha!) For me, the role I get in that moment is the role I’m supposed to have to help me grow and develop personally. They’re all so important to me. Every character I play, I see them as a friend that becomes your best friend in that moment. And every now and then you get to hang out with them again when they call you back on set.
NH: I like that, that’s cute. Do you have any projects behind the camera coming up?
KM: Yeah, I’m continuing to work and develop projects with Fawzia. Along with comedy, I’m such a fan of horror. I’m working on something that duly comedy and horror. And I’m also part of an All South Asian sketch comedy team, The Get Brown and we’re actively developing projects together as well. I’m really excited about what’s to come in all of those spaces.
NH: Who would you say has been your biggest influence in your career?
KM: This is a good question … hmmm … acting wise, I love Helena Bonham Carter. I love the way she works. I love her commitment to character. And I really love Melissa McCarthy and … coming from this groundlings character background and what she’s able to take on. Then seeing people pave the way. Like Issa Rae and taking this model of … Hollywood not necessarily being made for women of color, in her case Black women. She created this character that is just so dynamic. I really respect and look up to Issa Rae. Props to every woman of color in the industry who came before me … who made possible for me to be here.
NH: Is there anyone you’d like to work with in the future?
KM: I would love to work with Riz Ahmed. Also, So Brilliant. Yeah. I’m going to put that out there and see if it comes back around, LOL
NH: Do you have any advice for any aspiring storytellers or activists out there?
KM: Don’t be afraid of doing things your way. I found after much failing and many ups and down, the things that really help me get my foot in the door … or the things that bring me joy … are the things when I’m not worried about the way I’m supposed to do it. Have the courage to do things your own way.
NH: Thank you so much for your time. It’s been wonderful talking to you. I wish you the best of luck in everything and I can’t wait to see more of you.
KM: Thank you for the thoughtful questions. It really was lovely speaking to you as well. I really appreciate it.