Awards Daily talks to Ella Mika, who plays Chad’s little sister Niki on TBS’s Chad.
Young actress Ella Mika, who plays kid sister Niki on TBS’s Chad, went to improv boot camp on set of the show. It’s no surprise, considering that the series, which follows the adventures of a teenage Persian boy, has a veteran comedienne at the helm: Saturday Night Live vet Nasim Pedrad (who also plays the teenage boy!).
I talked to Mika about how the audition process kept her on her toes, seeing Nasim as Chad, and what the episode “Whiskey Slaps” tells us about the brother-sister dynamic between Chad and Niki.
Awards Daily: How did this role of Niki come about for you?
Ella Mika: It was definitely a really long process for me. I went through about six or seven auditions for it, and it was pretty long for me. The first round, which was made up of two auditions, was mostly for just reading the script, seeing if I matched the character in the way they roughly imagined it to be. And then the second round of auditions was more to test out my improv, because there is a large part of improv implemented into the scenes we filmed. So we had a good balance of improv and following along with the script, which is why I think they made sure everyone they were auditioning was able to be quick with their improv skills. For the third round, it was more of a chemistry read Naz [Chad’s mother] and people auditioning for Naz [the part would go to Saba Homayoon] and with Nasim as well, just so we could see the sibling dynamic to match the vibe they wanted for the show. It was a really long audition process, but it was also a really enjoyable one. The script changed for me each time I went in, so that was another difficult part of it, but overall it was so interesting to go through so many processes of it, and I’m so glad I got the role.
AD: That’s so interesting! What was it like acting opposite Nasim, knowing she’s playing a teenage boy? Was that weird?
EM: Yeah, she’d show up in the mornings to our table reads and dress normally, and then we’d see her in her whole Chad wig and outfit and it would be really weird and unusual at first, but she’s just so great with taking on that role and becoming Chad. It really felt like I was with this awkward teenager. It all felt pretty real, her being such a great actress. She really made that feel really authentic for us all.
AD: You mentioned improv. How skilled in improv were you before this? Did you have to brush up on it? What was that like?
EM: I never really thought I would do a comedy, because I thought comedy wasn’t something I was the best at. But I always took improv classes and went to conventions just to practice those skills, and I was into more serious characters. I never thought comedy or a sitcom was something I’d be doing, but I think this is a really great opportunity for me to train even more. I do thoroughly enjoy it a lot, and I never considered I would. I’m so much more open to embrace a role in comedy now. Even during filming we got so much practice on improv, without even taking any classes. Nasim is like the queen of improv. She taught us so, so, much. It was like a bunch of mini-lessons every day for me. I definitely came out knowing a lot more than I did before.
AD: I love “Whiskey Slaps,” which is a showcase for your character and her relationship with Chad. What do you like about Niki and Chad’s sibling relationship?
EM: I think they really have a super-duper strong love-hate relationship. There’s no in between. They either really hate each other’s guts, or they really love each other. Throughout a lot of this season, we mostly see the hate side, with them constantly bickering, which is reality for a lot of people. I know it’s a reality for me and my younger sister. But I love “Whiskey Slaps” because we really get to see this side of them where they’re sentimental toward one another, and even through that arguing like normal siblings, they still love one another. They have that soft spot for each other sometimes. I think that’s really beautiful that people will be able to see that, since we haven’t been able to see much of that throughout the season.
AD: Yeah, it was such a great way to see them. That episode is a game-changer for them. As the audience, you see why they are the way they are. But why do you think Chad is more uptight than Niki?
EM: I think he’s so much more embarrassed of his culture. Niki just accepts it. She doesn’t necessarily embrace it; she doesn’t go around school telling everyone she’s Persian. She just accepts it. She doesn’t try to be cool. Chad has this really obnoxious way of really really trying to fit in and be cool. Niki is just there and she’s popular. She doesn’t try. She’s so much more up-to-date on things. Chad is just now finding out about K-pop. He tries so hard, where Niki doesn’t. It just comes to her.
AD: What’s it like being part of such a diverse/inclusive cast?
EM: I’m so proud that we’re so diverse and inclusive. A lot of people growing up haven’t seen Middle Eastern portrayed as good people. We’ve seen them as terrorists or negative people on television and in the industry. I think it’s so important that we start bringing out other cultures, people, other ethnicities, so that people can feel welcome. This show is so inclusive that even though it is a Persian family, you can relate it to a Black family, an Armenian family, a Hispanic family. Anyone can relate. You see that family dynamic, and it’s made and written so well. I think so many different types of people can relate.
AD: I’m white, but I 100% empathized and related to it. I think Chad portrays what it’s like to be a teenager so well.
EM: We see his ups and downs throughout. It’s pretty raw.
AD: Yeah! I agree. One more question: What was your experience like playing Young Helena in Birds of Prey like?
EM: That was a really memorable experience. I was going to have a crossbow scene, so I did crossbow training. I never in a million years thought I’d be doing crossbow training. Also, we had the scene where I had fake blood on myself. It was this really sticky consistency and it was splattered all over me. Then there were the mom and the dad, and they got splattered, too, piled on top of my body. Then having the pressure of having them on mine, combined with all of the sweat we had working all day, when we had been finished filming, there was a really matted part in my hair and it would not remove. The hair and makeup people were so great and kind and took towels and microwaved them and tried to remove all the blood. It took a few showers to get that out.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.