The Stndrd: Profile on Galavant’s Karen David

Karen David by John P. Fleenor (1)

 

The STNDRD (by Adam C. Better):

Karen David is a captivating young beauty that seems capable of accomplishing anything artistically. David was raised in Canada and also spent some of her formative years in London. She knew at a very early age that she wanted to pursue a career in acting and music.

Her newest project is the ABC show, Galavant. “It’s Monty Python meets The Princess Bride. I feel so lucky to be part of something so special. It really has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” said David in regards to working on her new hit show.

David is also actively involved in the world of fashion and you can learn about that side of her at queenstrunk.com. You can keep up with Karen David’s career at karendavid.com.

Where are you from originally?

I’m a bit of a tossed salad—a mishmosh of Chinese, Khasi (a tribe from where I was born) and Indian. There is a bit of “Mazel Tov” in my surname for good measure. Culturally, I am Canadian and British. But, I was born near the foothills of the Himalayas in a place called Shillong.

How old were you when you knew what you wanted to do for a profession?

I remember the day so clearly—I was only 6 years old when my older sister and I watched Xanadu together. As soon as I saw the gorgeous Olivia-Newton John singing like an angel and acting on the screen…I was bitten hard. I knew right at that moment that I wanted to sing and act just like her. There was no looking back and my parents told me right then and there that I had to take the initiative and work really hard. They certainly had no connections in “the biz.” I love that my parents didn’t discourage me. Normally Asian, or South Asian, families want their children to be a doctor, or lawyer or an accountant. Mine said I should dream big, but back it up with a good work ethic.

What do you feel is your greatest strength as an artist?   

I’m all heart—which is a good thing—but it can make things tough too. I was told by one of my mentors that following your heart is the toughest choice to make. But, it is a much more rewarding path and a regret free zone. When I’m acting or singing, I do so with all my heart. Any fears or nerves I may have subside, because the heart is an honest and “real” place to speak from. There’s no hiding and I kind of like that. Throwing yourself in the deep end and trusting that you will land on your feet.

The fashion world is a big part of your life—can you talk a little bit about your love for fashion?

Growing up in London really taught me a lot about fashion. My wardrobe definitely evolved when I moved over to the UK. I love how everyone in Europe dresses according to their own individuality and their personalities. Fashion is an extension of who they are.

Do you feel more of a personal connection to music or acting?

I think because I started singing and acting at the same time—I feel connected to both. They balance me out creatively. I know being an actor makes me a better songwriter and writing new music inspires me. It takes your mind away from the working actor mentality of ‘what am I going to do in between roles?’ My main goal is to continue to be creative and inspired.

What kind of projects are you usually attracted to?

I love roles that are the complete opposite of myself—or characters with massive flaws. They are fascinating and challenging to play. Roles like that scare me at first and that’s when I know I’m going to love embarking on an adventure with that character.

Can you talk a little bit about the obstacles a minority woman faces in Hollywood?

I know there are challenges. I hear minority actors talk about it. But, I must admit, I have never personally experienced it during my own journey. I’m not saying that what those actors are talking about is wrong. It’s important to bring awareness to it. But, for myself, I never wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m a brown person or I’m a brown actor.’ I just see me. All the good and all the flaws. Just me, and that is what I want everyone else to see. I know my mixed heritage has allowed me to play all kinds of different roles. I have tested a couple of times for roles where originally they said they wanted a more ‘exotic’ looking actress. Then the girl who ends up getting the role is blonde and blue eyed. What can you do? That is something beyond my control. I just focus on being the best that I can be. Every actor has their own set of challenges, whatever ethnicity they are. It’s a tough business, but there is room for everyone who has talent.

 

Karen David is not your typical princess in “Galavant”


If you caught the premiere of ABC’s musical comedy event series Galavant last night, then you saw Canadian-British actress/singer Karen David starring as Princess Isabella. But she’s not your typical princess.

Angry Asian Man:

Born in India, raised in Canada and schooled in London, David has been in several major television and film roles in the U.K., as well as some musical theater and a few pop singles under her belt.

With a self-described heritage consisting of “Chinese, Indian and a sliver of Jewish,” she isn’t one’s traditional first choice for the lady lead in a singing medieval farce (think Monty Python and The Princess Bride). In fact, the character was originally conceived with a “Jennifer Lawrence” type in mind.

Audrey Magazine: Galavant is being heralded as Monty Python meets Princess Bride. Can you tell me about how you got the role, a little about your character, Princess Isabella, and how you did your homework?

Karen David: That’s funny that you mention homework. I have a mish-mosh in my heritage. I have Chinese, Indian and a sliver of Jewish. With the Asian influences, there is an immigrant mentality that you have to work triple hard. My parents said that even if I wasn’t going to be an accountant or lawyer, I had to put in the homework. It’s all about being the best that you can be and always working at your craft.

I loved Galavant when my agents sent me the script. Then my heart stopped when I read the bit where [Princess Isabella] is described as Jennifer Lawrence. So I went into this casting process feeling like the underdog and just having fun with it.

But after I went to meet Dan [Fogelman] for the second meeting, Dan turned to everyone and said, “That’s my Isabella. That’s my brown Jennifer Lawrence.”

Karen David stars as Princess Isabella in the ABC musical comedy series ‘Galavant’ 

Audrey Magazine:

Karen David has come a long way since her childhood days of being awkward and bullied. You’d never know it now, but her golden complexion was once blanketed with acne. She excelled in school, but her demeanor was reticent. And her ethnic ambiguity invited peer derision. It may well be that these growing pains of youth served as her motivating fuel, and now it is her work ethic, beauty and, yes, even her ethnic “versatility” that may be her most valued assets.

Born in India and raised in Canada, David had already determined at an early age that she wanted to act and sing. She earned a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and then later continued her studies at the Guildford School of Acting in London. Her first acting role was on a London West End stage, as part of the original cast of Mamma Mia! Being a part of that led to her working with iconic Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman on another musical, Bombay Dreams. While performing in the theater, David also had been singing in a studio. She signed a record deal with BMG Europe, and her single “It’s Me (You’re Talking To)” became a hit in several European countries.

Despite these musical successes, it was her presence on British television that garnered the most eyes and accolades. In 2010, she joined the cast of the BBC drama Waterloo Road, in which she played a sexy teacher who falls in love with a student. This storyline generated plenty of controversy, as well as an ever-increasing fandom for the actress. Guest appearances on American series such as Touch and Castle soon followed.

Now American audiences can witness David’s complete set of talents, as she gets to combine her dream of singing and acting for the new ABC miniseries Galavant. Created by filmmaker Dan Fogelman (whose credits include Crazy, Stupid, Love and Tangled), who teamed up with musical legend Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast), Galavant is a medieval musical comedy. But don’t let that faze you, says David. “What makes Galavant so special is that there is something in it for everyone. It appeals to the big kid in all of us and will give you a good laugh. Watch out! By the end of each episode, the songs will be stuck in your head!”

Audrey spoke with David about her new role and her journey to get there.

Karen david


Audrey Magazine: Galavant is being heralded as Monty Python meets Princess Bride. Can you tell me about how you got the role, a little about your character, Princess Isabella, and how you did your homework?

Karen David: That’s funny that you mention homework. I have a mish-mosh in my heritage. I have Chinese, Indian and a sliver of Jewish. With the Asian influences, there is an immigrant mentality that you have to work triple hard. My parents said that even if I wasn’t going to be an accountant or lawyer, I had to put in the homework. It’s all about being the best that you can be and always working at your craft.

I loved Galavant when my agents sent me the script. Then my heart stopped when I read the bit where [Princess Isabella] is described as Jennifer Lawrence. So I went into this casting process feeling like the underdog and just having fun with it.

But after I went to meet Dan [Fogelman] for the second meeting, Dan turned to everyone and said, “That’s my Isabella. That’s my brown Jennifer Lawrence.”

 

AM: Tell me a little about Princess Isabella. How does she match your personality? She was obviously scripted to look different.

KD: She is the people’s princess with a big heart. There is nothing she wouldn’t do for her family and her kingdom. There is something so human about her and approachable, which I find refreshing.

I was born near the Himalayas, in a matriarchal society where the women are mighty. I was brought up with this kind of strength, and I wanted to celebrate that with Isabella.

 

AM: You have dedicated years honing your craft in anticipation of a big break. It can be an intimidating and unforgiving business. What kept you persevering?

KD: I’m really blessed to have parents who weren’t traditional in the sense of what their children should be. My mom says that I always wanted to sing and dance, and I listened to whatever my [older] sister was listening to. When I was 6, my sister was watching Xanadu. I remember that moment so clearly — and it’s what I hold on to when I get faced with rejection. I was so taken with everything Olivia Newton-John. I went to my parents and told them I wanted to do that — to sing and to act.

My parents have always been a huge source of inspiration — guiding me with wisdom and humility. They immigrated [to Canada] with two daughters and $20. They took the leap of faith, and that has been a source of inspiration for me. They taught me to be quietly ambitious — meaning, don’t talk about it. Just let the actions speak.

Also, I was very studious and steadfast with my studies. I had to have straight A’s. If I excelled in my studies, then [my parents] would pay for my acting and music lessons.

I dealt with rejections early on, since I was doing auditions as a kid. But you end up building thick skin. At the end of the day, this is what I love, and I can’t give it up.

 

AM: You are inundated with filming, traveling and press junkets. What do you do outside of that?

KD: Kundalini yoga, pilates and meditation. It clears the mind and gives me spiritual strength. And I love traveling. Also, my husband and I love to cook. It’s all about experiencing life with your family and friends, creating memories and life experiences. These are the things that count the most. It’s stuff like that that makes you a better actor.

 

Galavant premieres January 4, 2015, on ABC.

 

Story by Elaine Sir
Photo by Ilza Kitshoff

This story was originally published in Audrey Magazine’s Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here.