Sunita Mani Is a Fearless Comedy Star | Elle Canada (2024)

“I was a closet theatre kid,” says Sunita Mani. Growing up in small-town Tennessee, the actor-comedian—who’s had roles in critically acclaimed Netflix wrestling series Glow and, more recently, the Apple TV+ holiday musical Spirited opposite Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell—felt like she had to be focused on academics. But in between school and classical Indian music and dance lessons, Mani harboured fantasies of performing onstage. And then she swerved. After high school, she decided to go to a liberal-arts college in Boston; she majored in creative writing, found herself embedded in the campus’ flourishing improv scene and ended up trying, well, everything. “I’ve been running into different rooms my whole life,” she says of her varied interests. “But I always wanted to keep [art] close to me.” And that plurality is what has defined her career, from starting a comedy dance troupe, Cocoon Central Dance Team, with friends (which landed them roles in the viral “Turn Down for What” music video) to an unexpected acting break in twisty thriller Mr. Robot to her role as the Ghost of Christmas Past—and love interest of Reynolds’ character—in Spirited.

Dancing shoes

“I think I’ve always wanted to do a musical. [I can picture] my eight-year-old self, wide-eyed and just hoping I’d get to leave my small town, go to New York and be on Broadway someday. That childhood aspiration and any actual steps that got me here are kind of separate. But being in rehearsals and training with a vocal coach, I was clinging to that eight-year-old. I feel like I’ve always been a bit multi- genre and multi-faceted with performance, so it was a dream come true to get to do all these things, like singing and dancing, at once.”

Canadian charm

“Ryan Reynolds is such a funny, charming guy. I was nervous [to work with him], but he’s so supportive and really kind. It was delicious to improvise with him [and create] a romantic tension that was also super awkward. It was a lot of fun—in my mind, anyway. [Laughs] I was just really happy I didn’t pass out and could actually stand on my two feet [during our scenes] and just go for it.”

Staying focused

“A lot of us in the New York comedy scene worked waitressing shifts or day jobs and then performed four or five nights a week, and I thought I was going to do that forever. There was definitely a point where I questioned if I was going to make it. I considered going back to school, but my soul sank [at the thought]. I really couldn’t do it. And that pushed me harder. But I also feel so lucky—I got an agent and realized that all of [my hard work] was building toward something I couldn’t yet see.”

Stacked resumé

“I learned so many life lessons on Glow. I constantly refer back to that period [to access] confidence and strength of mind to get through difficult times. That show was such a gamut of challenges. I took away a sense of creative control, and I learned to stick to my guns and stand up for myself. Learning how to wrestle requires you to connect with your inner child—to know that if you fall, you can get back up. It was a fun playground, and I try to take that sense of fearlessness with me to other jobs.”

Creative freedom

“I’m working on my own show, and I’ve been really challenging myself to be vulnerable and radically honest in order to get to the specific experience that is my truth. It’s scary to put yourself out there, but hopefully it speaks to a lot of people. I feel like people don’t know what to do with me in this industry—I’ve had some amazing roles, and I’m so grateful for what I’ve gotten to do, but I know there’s more in me. I used to tell myself, ‘It’s not going to happen unless you make it happen.’ I want to create a world and a multi-dimensional character as I crave to see them.”

Photography, Tommy Agriodimas; Hairstylist, Karla Serrano (Saint Luke Artists); Makeup Artist, Andrea Tiller (M.A.C Cosmetics); Stylist, Sarah Tooley (The Wall Group); Stylist’s Assistant, Carlee Princell; Mani is wearing a top from the Frankie Shop and earrings from Completedworks.

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Sunita Mani Is a Fearless Comedy Star | Elle Canada (2024)
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