Ayushi Chhabra saw the film Titanic when she was a girl growing up in India. It was at that point when she fell in love with the grandeur and magnificence of Hollywood and made up her mind that one day she would be a part of these incredible stories.
From a young age, Chhabra worked on that dream, becoming a model, then a television host on shows broadcast throughout Africa and Asia until she got her big break.
Fans of Star Trek might not recognize Chhabra at first — without the incredible make-up and costume she wore. Chhabra played an essential role on Star Trek: Picard. On the episode, “Stardust City Rag,” Chhabra portrayed Pel, Raffi’s estranged Romulan daughter-in-law.
To many of us, Ayushi Chhabra is a “fresh face” or a “new talent,” but for her, appearing on Star Trek is the culmination of years of persistence.
“I have always been very hungry to explore and learn, and be part of everything in this industry,” says Chhabra. “I also consider myself very fortunate that my hard work met with good opportunities.
“It’s just so important to do everything you can to push your career forward, and to make your voice heard, to show up and to be seen.”
While some might rejoice at making it onto a world-famous franchise, Chhabra feels that her role on Trek is part of a bigger process. This is just one step of working in Hollywood, which is very different than television and films in India or South Africa.
“I came by myself with two suitcases and a dream,” she says. “The biggest challenge was navigating business and life, in a whole new country, without the support of my immediate family — or anyone.”
Working in Hollywood requires new skills, but Chhabra also found that she had to work on her natural accent, which she describes as ‘Indian / South African.’
“When I first came to Los Angeles, people [didn’t] understand me clearly, and there were many cultural differences,” says Chhabra. “For example, we say ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ a lot. We call traffic lights ‘robots’.”
While the robots that she’s familiar with are a bit different from the androids that Picard centered around, she had no idea what the show was about when she auditioned. She says that the name of her character and the show itself were a secret.
“I just went in, did the audition, and two days later, my life changed,” she says.
Chhabra admits that she hadn’t watched any Star Trek before getting the part, but got “caught up” in preparation for her role.
“I completely immersed myself in the [Star Trek] world, and love every bit of it,” she says.
One thing that is unique about working on a Trek show is the detail the crew put into props, special effects, costumes, and make-up. For Chhabra’s character, Pel, she spent her fair share of time in the make-up artist’s chair.
“From preparation and testing wigs and brows to the final look, and touch-ups on set — they were so thorough,” says Chhabra. “I hadn’t experienced anything like that before, and I was a little scared at first, but knowing that I was in good hands, [that] calmed my nerves.
“It was so surreal to look in the mirror and be transformed into someone completely different, but still with my essence,” says Chhabra. “Mind-blowing!”
One she donned the traditional Romulan look, Chhabra says that working on set with a well-known director was truly a fantastic experience.
“Jonathan Frakes is the best director, a true veteran of the arts,” says Chhabra. “He supports his actors, and has their best interests at heart — he rehearsed with us, made sure we were comfortable, gave us the liberty to improvise, and was so kind and friendly — it was literally a dream.
“Working with him and my co-actors was my most memorable experience from Picard.”
Since Picard is coming back for a second season, Chhabra is hopeful that she will return as well in her role.
“I think we had a very touching family story, and I would love to see more of that, especially our baby,” says Chhabra. “So far, I haven’t heard anything, but let’s hope and pray!”
Big things are starting to happen for Chhabra. She just wrapped up a role in a foreign language feature, which is due for release later this year. Look for this up-and-coming star in movies and shows soon, and hopefully, we’ll see her again ‘where no one has gone before.’
Watch the complete first season of Star Trek: Picard on CBS All Access.