Monica Patankar

March 2024 View more

Naperville actress (and attorney) earns a part in Ava DuVernay’s film Origin

Ava DuVernay and Monica Patankar
Patankar (right) with DuVernay on the Origin set.

Balancing a career while pursuing a dream is not easy, but Monica Patankar seems to have figured it out. She has a law practice in Aurora—and a budding acting career. The Naperville native recently had a small part in writer-director-producer Ava DuVernay’s new film Origin, released in theaters in January. Based on Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson’s 2020 book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, the film investigates the concept of hierarchies in different societies and time periods. “It’s a comparison of what happened in the Holocaust to what happened in America as it deals with racism and the caste system in India,” Patankar explains. “It’s very intense, it’s very dramatic. It’ll leave you really thinking.”

Growing up, Pantankar always wanted to do something creative (she played in the orchestra and was on the speech team) but never considered pursuing it as a career. “I was dead-set on being a lawyer ever since I was at Naperville North [High School]; when I was a senior I took Introduction to the Supreme Court, and I was hooked. Once I started doing litigation, I really enjoyed it, being in the courtroom, drafting documents. I like arguing cases.”

But even with her law career in full swing, she knew she had to revisit those creative dreams of her youth. “I had decided that if I was ever going to do it, I needed to do it. I really enjoy performing. I started doing commercials and modeling and that evolved into acting.”

It probably doesn’t hurt that acting seems to run in her family. Her grandfather in India owned a traveling theater company; her uncle worked in Bollywood and appeared in the 1982 movie Gandhi; her brother (and fellow law partner) is also an actor and model. “I think it’s in my blood somewhere,” Patanker says.

Monica Patankar

Q: What was it like working on Origin?
A: Filming Origin was incredible because Ava DuVernay is one of the most celebrated directors in Hollywood. She is amazing. The whole thing was just a very surreal experience. I remember the day of filming, it didn’t hit me that I was actually doing this until they brought her director’s chair in. That was “pinch me”—but you have to stay grounded because you’re there to do a job.

Q: What did you glean from that experience?
A: I learned to take everything one step at a time because when the time is right it’s going to work out. As an actor, it’s just hard because you try out so much. A lot of the time you don’t get the part. But when the part is right for you, it happens, and it’s really amazing.

Q: You also were crowned Miss Illinois for America 2019. Tell us about that.
A: Competing in a pageant was something I really wanted to do for a long time. While I had that title I did probably 100 appearances all over the community, all over the state, for so many different organizations. I got to speak at different events. I was invited everywhere so that was a really great time for me to learn about our community and be in front of people.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to pursue acting?
A: Do it for the right reason. Do it because you love it. A lot of time you see someone on TV, but that’s their thousandth time auditioning. It’s a very slow reward, but you have to keep trying. Just stay positive and motivated.


Photos: Monica Patankar