Nadiya Chettiar is very good at what she does. Originally an actress, she transitioned to writing for television, and now, she is nominated for a Leo Award.
The Leo Awards, which celebrate and promote the achievements of the British Columbia film and television industry, will take place on May 28, and June 4th and 5th in Vancouver, where Chettiar resides.
“It is super exciting and totally an honour,” said Chettiar, describing how it feels to be nominated. “It's a privilege to work in this field and be nominated. I feel really grateful.”
Chettiar is nominated under the Best Screenwriting in a Youth of Children's Program or Series category her work on the sitcom Some Assembly Required, which she worked on for three seasons. The program was the first writing job Chettiar worked on after transitioning from acting, and her talents were immediately recognized. She describes the experience as one of the best of her life.
“Some Assembly Required was one of my first jobs and I was lucky enough to climb the ranks. All the writers became familiar with each other,” she described. “When we came to work at that show, we knew what to expect and who was going to be there. You really felt comfortable. I got to work with some super talented and very, very funny people. I got to spend hours just getting to be in this environment where we were just discussing stories and jokes, lending ours brains exclusively to those two things. It was a dream.”
Chettiar was definitely right about getting to work with some very talented and funny people while writing Some Assembly Required. One of which was the co-creator of the sitcom, Dan Signer. Signer also created YTV’s Mr. Young and Disney's A.N.T. Farm.
“Nadiya was a great addition to the writers' room. She has strong opinions but is easy-going and a pleasure to work with. The perfect combination,” said Signer. “Nadiya has a unique point of view that comes through in her writing and she is always pushing herself to make her scripts better and better.”
The series, which originally premiered on YTV, is also a Netflix Original. Chettiar, who grew up in the small town of Grand Falls, New Brunswick, has evidently come a long way.
“Growing up in a small town, I was bored a lot. My dad was a technophile and we had one of those big, white satellite dishes in the 80s,” she described. “Most people only had 13 channels back then but we had a lot more. I watched a lot of TV. There weren’t really kid shows back then, it was mostly sitcoms. So, we watched a lot of sitcoms.”
Chettiar has had her love for television since she was a child, but her love for writing began when she moved from Toronto to Vancouver, which was around the time of the infamous writer’s strike.
“Everything had slowed down. There weren’t a lot of acting opportunities in Vancouver at the time,” she said. “I started writing a little thing that I thought would be a radio play, but it came kind of naturally. I realized through doing that out of boredom that I actually wanted to write. Very quickly the next thought was: 'and I want to write sitcom.'”
Chettiar is gifted. Switching from acting to writing came very naturally for her. After being an established actress with ample amounts of training, she was able to use that when it came to writing.
“In my acting career I discovered playing characters. I wasn't being cast as the girl next door or anyone like myself. You are tapping into someone else or some other frequency when you perform like that. That is the same as writing,” she explained. “It’s a frequency in your brain and you start listening to these other people talking, not to sound crazy. From writing not only do I get to hear the voices and play the voices, but I get to explore my own ideas and how these characters behave. And I like writing jokes because it satisfying to make myself laugh, of course if anyone else laughs that is good too.”
Chettiar is good at making people laugh. She also worked on the sitcom Package Deal. Unlike Some Assembly Required, Package Deal was a cast of adults, which allowed for a different type of writing. She worked closely with Andrew Orenstein, who worked on hit sitcoms such as Third Rock from the Sun, Malcolm in the Middle, and Chris Rock's Everybody Hates Chris.
“Package Deal shot in front of a live studio audience. We got to rewrite on our feet and pitch new jokes between takes and let the audience decide what worked. It was so much fun and immediately rewarding,” she said.
Chettiar liked filming in front of a live audience and being able to hear their laughter at what she had written.
“When people would laugh I would think ‘Oh, I can write a funny joke.’ That was a really special experience for me,” she said.
Chettiar understands writing. It was something she was born to do, and she understands the challenges.
“The thing with writing is you have to develop a practice with your it, like a painter,” she said. “And that requires discipline.”
She also understands the appeal.
“I don’t have to get up in front of anyone to write. That was the hard part about acting for me. You needed an audience to do your thing. I like to work. And I couldn't always as an actor. Now, I can wake up and start working in bed. That is so satisfying to me,” she said, while laughing.
Chettiar has a promising career in front of her. She soon starts work on the new sitcom Working Moms, and although she believes every writer one day wants to have their own show, right now she is happy having the opportunity to learn from so many talented writers.
“I am drawn to really great jokes mixed with really great authentic story. I am drawn to shows like Girls, Togetherness, shows that are trying to share authentic experiences in a humorous light. That’s what is really turning my crank, so to speak. I could shut my eyes and listen to an episode of Veep. It’s like music to my ears,” she said. “But then again closing my eyes means I wouldn’t get to look at Julia Louis-Dreyfus.”