May 2024

Summer Screened | Avantika

Getting Into Character With Tarot's Avantika

Photos Martin Rusch | Words Tamara Rappa

"The way the world is shifting, we are all looking for answers and signs more than ever", says  Angie Banicki, the entertainment publicist turned tarot-card-reader-to-the-stars who served as consultant for Sony Pictures' cool summer horror flick named for the ancient practice. Tarot stars the breakout actor we've actively got our eye on, Avantika. The California native, multi-hyphenate, and current Columbia student got an early start in acting, moving to India to begin her career in Hindi cinema at just 11 years old. She's since starred in Netflix's Senior Year, a string of Disney projects, and has been directed by Amy Poehler. The dynamic beauty caught our attention earlier this year when she captivated as Karen in the latest remake of Mean Girls alongside Reneé Rapp and Story + Rain October 2020 cover star, Busy Phillips. Tarot follows a group of friends who recklessly violate the sacred rule of readings: never use someone else’s cards. But the chaos of cursed cards and unspeakable evil are unleashed as one by one, each friend comes face to face with fate, attempting to escape the future foretold in their readings. Avantika plays Paige, a fun-loving yet dependable rich girl, the group's mother hen. We dove into the deck, discussing snapping in and out of fight-or-flight mode for the movie, how being a part of two back to back ensembles has affected Avantika as an artist, learning to drive on set in Serbia, aligning with astrology, what sets the horror genre apart for actors, and more.

Do you believe in tarot and astrology, and have you gotten your cards read?  I really, really do. My mom was always a big believer in astrology. I'm Hindu; a lot of our beliefs have much to do with the stars and the mystical. I feel like I've always been kind of tethered to it in some capacity. And I do get my cards read. Granted, it's by a highly questionable, corner store psychic, but if it's late enough at night, if I'm feeling crazy enough, if I see a special for forty bucks....yeah, chances are, I'm walking in! The cynical argument against astrology is, how could you possibly categorize the entire world in twelve signs? Astrology is beyond that, and offers an observation. It's not about telling you what you're supposed to be. It's pattern recognition, and something fun to reference if you feel like you need the guidance. Horror is my favorite genre so I was very excited to do a movie that combined two of my loves.

How did you decide to interpret Paige? What was on the page, and how did you see her? Anna [Halberg] and Spenser [Cohen] wrote this really cool script around college students. They understood that the modern day college student is a very distinct kind of person. There's the notion that everyone's going to rent an Airbnb; the character of Paxton feels extremely Gen Z; Paige is written as a wealthy, old-moneyed character, and that's why she's providing for everyone and has more of a head on her shoulders. I didn't grow up that way so it was cool to be able to step into her shoes. In my own life, I'm very much not the mom of most of my friend groups like Paige is. I'm the baby!

How do you rate Paige's level courage? I would say her level of courage is quite high, but I also think that innately she's quite rational. Unwavering bravery and courage requires some lack in rationality and pragmatism, so she's actually not the most courageous in the movie. Though I do think it does take someone incredibly brave to venture out in order to find their friends. I don't think she's lacking in bravery in any capacity, but I do think she tries to balance it with a logical perspective on the world.

Does acting within the horror genre of film require anything extra in terms of how an actor portrays their character? It requires a lot of stamina. There's a lot of physicality, like running, and a lot of emotional stamina that is required, which was very new to me. Emotionally you are in this much different place. I have a lot of respect for actors who do horror movies one after the next. I think it must be emotionally strenuous. It's also fun and does give you an adrenaline rush. It's a unique kind of experience for an actor.

What did you do, specifically, to convey fear in Paige?
That's a great question. I normally deal with anxiety so it wasn't a crazy place for me to lock into. It's also why fear is a strenuous emotion for me to tap into. I'm actually tapping into my own real experience. Our directors were really smart in giving us practical monsters. We used very limited CGI so we had practical monsters. There was always someone to play off of and be scared of. That made conveying fear easier, for sure.

Share some Tarot BTS. We filmed in Serbia, which is so, so cool. I love traveling. Originally we were supposed to film in Canada. I was excited...but I was even more excited when the location changed to Serbia. Shooting in a different country, especially one that's so far from your hometown, comes with its own set of adventures. I learned how to drive for the first time while there. Paige drives in the movie, and I didn't drive prior to making this film. When I was on set and we were doing car trials, our driving teacher was very upset and baffled by why I was asking about the difference between the brake pedal and the accelerator. But I will never drive. I'm so anxious and failed my driver's exam three times. I really don't think I'm cut out for that life! I wouldn't say I'm a bad driver, I'm just someone who panics a lot, so I don't think it's meant for me.

You've had two closely recent ensemble cast experiences, both with Mean Girls and with Tarot. What did you learn about being a part an ensemble group? Were the experiences similar or different? How do you think it may have enhanced and advanced you as an actor, at this point in your career? I have to say you have given me really, really cool questions. I rarely ever get questions like these, so this is very fun. You obviously learn a lot if you play the lead on a film; you're shouldering the weight, and it's kind of a lot. I think I've always learned more from my ensemble projects. I was one of the least musically experienced Mean Girls cast members.  Reneé and Auliʻ [Cravalho]...they are musical powerhouses so I really learned a lot musically. Reneé would come into the studio and offer to vocal-produce me when I was singing. There was so much guidance and so much to learn from. Being in a horror film with a specific theme is intimidating. I believe it was the first major horror production for all of us, so we were all learning together, which I thought was really cool. It's so much more fun to be on a scary movie with others. I would hate to the sole star of a scary movie. Both of those experiences were amazing, each in their own way.

makeup |robert bryan for exclusive artists using laura mercier

"I am always into Uggs. I have six pairs. Most of them are the standard brown in a variety of heights.  Every time I'm on set, the go-to default shoe they give you when you don't have to be in heels or the costume shoe, is a pair of Uggs. I'm very known in my friend group for wearing them during the summer, even during the heat."I'm trying to get my hands on a pair of corduroy sherpa Uggs. They resell on eBay for like $600. I just did a thing with Uggs, so maybe I can pull some strings!'

"I'm obsessed with having lighter brows. I recently lightened them for a shoot and then I dyed them back to a lighter shade of brown. I've really enjoyed how they make me look a little bit more mature. I feel like they make my eyes pop a little more. My hairdresser Davey said. 'Avantika, please don't go to CVS and use any developer.' He got me something from Balmain. I didn't even know there were Balmain hair products."

"I like stacked gold bangles. I am not an earring person, much to my mom's dismay. Her favorite thing is to see me in earrings. This has been a point of contention with us for many years. 'Why do you always walk around naked with no jewelry, so plain?', she says.  So I've been trying to figure out where I could optimize jewelry and where I feel comfortable, and that's with jewelry on my arms. It gives me something to fidget with. I mix Indian bangles with colorful gold bangles with gemstones from the flea market."

"It's been a few months since I started taking boxing classes. I really hate going to the gym so I'm finding other ways to work out. I go to Columbia and we have this boxing studio right next door called Hiit The Deck."

"Mahmoud Darwish's poetry is an ongoing obsession. I recently got a new poetry book of his. It's old Arabic poetry, and really, really quite beautiful. I can't read Arabic so I have to read the translation."

"I just saw this TikTok that was basically like, friends can either be categorized by those who are keeping up with the Kendrick Lamar and Drake, or, friends who know who Chapell Roan is. I feel like I am both. In my top five last year were Kendrick and Key Glock, most of them were rap artists---but I adore Chapell. I think she's amazing and wonderful and kind and such a star.  Somewhere between Chapell Roan and Kendrick my music obsession."

Watch Tarot starring Avantika in theaters this summer, and on HBO Max in November.