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Interview - Sandy Sidhu

Nurses, which originally aired on Global TV in Canada, is now airing in the United States on NBC and opening the series and cast up to an entirely new audience.

One of the leads in the series, Sandy Sidhu, is a Canadian actor who is definitely carving out her own path in the industry. In Nurses, Sandy plays Nazneen Khan, the daughter of a wealthy family in India who moved to Canada to reinvent herself.

You may know Sandy Sidhu from her big break on the ABC series Grey’s Anatomy. She’s also appeared in series such as Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Falling Skies and Arctic Air to name a few.

We had the chance to sit down and talk with the talented actor about her new series Nurses, her journey to landing the role and how representation is very important in today’s television and film landscape.

Pop Culture Principle – How did the cast feel when they heard that Nurses was picked up by NBC?

Sandy Sidhu – It was a dream come true for all of us. NBC is such an established and respected network where huge hits have aired and many of them have made a massive social impact and cultural impact in our community. So, to be a part of that is kind of mind boggling!

Pop Culture Principle – Other than maybe Nurse Jackie, there haven’t been many shows that focus strictly on the nurses in a hospital. Would you agree?

Sandy Sidhu – That is exactly right. Nurse Jackie is the last one, but the tonality of that show is completely different from our show. Nurses is the first show in a really long time to put the spotlight on that narrative in a hospital.

Pop Culture Principle – We learned that your mother is a nurse. Did her being a nurse help you in preparing for this role?

Sandy Sidhu – You know, I get asked that a lot and surprisingly, I really didn’t ask her any questions. The only thing that I did ask her at the beginning of season one is that since my character is quite feminine in her self-expression, I asked my mom could my character paint her nails. She told me that at least in her hospital, you couldn’t do that, and clean hands are required for the job. It did surprise me that I didn’t use my own mother who is a nurse as a resource who is on hand.

My mother is a very loving individual and she genuinely cares about community and always raised us to never have a sense of entitlement and to really have compassion for everyone around us. So, I realized off the top of this show that one of the things that I really wanted to do is honor my mother’s heart in Nazneen. They share a very similar story in just the events of what happened. My mom immigrated from India to Canada to start a new life and became a nurse and it’s the exact same thing for Nazneen.

The heart of a nurse is something I really wanted to capture and that was just the love I have for my mother and how much I respect her and admire her. She is one of my heroes. Growing up as her daughter, she never came home with any sort of stress and I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know how she was able to give us so much love, but yet be able to go to work and give so much love to her patients. So, it’s something I found to be an incredibly astounding quality in my mom, and I know in a lot of nurses out there and it’s one of the things that I personally have a deep amount of respect for and that was one of the things that made this role incredibly special to me was having the privilege and opportunity to share that aspect of being a nurse.

Pop Culture Principle – Being a nurse, there is a lot of medical jargon you have to know and learn. Has that been difficult for you to learn medical terminology as you work on the show?

Sandy Sidhu – In terms of jargon, I actually have a degree in cell biology and genetics. That being said, I have the worst long-term memory on the planet, but my short-term memory is incredible. I don’t remember my degree to be honest, but I have the confidence and the capacity to know that I can pick things up really fast.

Pop Culture Principle – When a nurse is in school, they are told what to expect and how difficult the job will be, but does it really prepare you for when you first experience something traumatic like the death of a patient. Would you agree?

Sandy Sidhu – Yes and that was what I found to be the most fascinating challenge for Season One of Nurses was that the writers and the showrunner set it up that the audience will meet our characters on their day one. So, we got to decide and choose just how we wanted to portray that green energy. Everything will be a first for them. Every loss that they are going to experience on screen is the first time that they are dealing with it, so the audience gets to take that journey with them which is incredible.

I am sure while you are in school as a nurse that you are going to go through loss, but to experience it is an entirely different thing and I can’t imagine what that process must be like to become accustom to it. That’s why I am really proud to be a part of this show and to put a spotlight on nurses because their capacity to carry space for so many people who need comfort, support and care, it’s an act of heroism. Every nurse is a different individual with a different life perspective and to navigate that on their own and to deal with that, they just don’t teach you that in school.

Pop Culture Principle – What I find interesting about your character is that with the other junior nurses, you have unique relationships with each one of them. Would you agree with that?

Sandy Sidhu – Yes, definitely. That is the really great thing about our lead characters is that we lean on each other for different things. Like all friendships in our own personal lives, each friend will bring out something different in you. For Naz, Wolf is an individual that goes against everything that she understands and operates from. His ability to throw caution to the wind and put himself in positions that could almost cost him his job is just mind-boggling to her. Her friendship with Keon is incredibly special because he really brings out Naz’s levity. I think there is an incredible trust and respect with Grace and with Ashley, there is an admiration for her guts and strength and her ability to stand up for herself.

Ashley really knows how to take a stand for herself and Nazneen I think is in a free fall right now in her life in discovering who she really is in this new environment where no one really knows her. So, I think there is a lot for her to process and with each of these characters, she’s able to unpack a lot of her own issues and figure out her own strengths and it’s supported through this incredible bond that’s being formed between our main cast.

Pop Culture Principle – What do you think is Nazneen’s greatest strength and her greatest weakness?

Sandy Sidhu – I think Naz’s greatest strength is how much she does really love herself. She doesn’t cower in self-love which I think is astounding because in my own personal life, that is something I work on daily. I really admire that quality in Nazneen just how self-possessed she is despite figuring out who she is in this new environment.

She really does ferociously love herself and I think that is evident in the fact that she did make this big move away from India. For her to bet on herself to that degree is incredible and to live such a complete and independent life, it shows how much she’s willing to risk in order to be happy.

I think her weakness is her guilt and shame from her past and in Season One, her naivety around certain topics. She’s got a lot of growing up to do and that’s because she was really protected and sheltered in her life back in India, so there is a lot she doesn’t know. She didn’t even know how to make a bed. I think she really does struggle with this guilt with her privilege. I think that she is someone who feels like an outsider because she was shielded from so much that there is a part of here that is really scared.

She just doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. I think there is a lot of fear around that for her. She’s not someone who likes to fail, but she’s never really been given the opportunity to fail. So, failing in itself for Nazneen is the scariest thing in the world. I mean, she got through nursing school, so she’s smart as a whip, but she can hide around a lot of things and nursing will definitely by the nature of the job, force her to come to terms with everything that she’s been running away from.

Pop Culture Principle – We see that Naz is very impressed with the work of Dr. Hamilton and he seems to be taking an interest in her and maybe in a different way that she thinks especially with what may have happened between him and Grace. Will this storyline continue in Season 1?

Sandy Sidhu – This story just puts a pit in your stomach as you watch it unfold. I think Dr. Hamilton represents a future that she can build towards without the help of anyone else. In her eyes, he represents someone who sees her as an asset to the hospital and it didn’t come from family favors or connections. In Naz’s eyes, this was earned on her own and it gives her so much validation that this incredibly experienced and renowned surgeon has placed value on her.

So, I think it excites the heck out of Naz because she now has a purpose, and she is good at this. It is incredibly alluring for Naz to look at Dr. Hamilton as a mentor because she’s being seen. In her eyes, she’s being seen through her own hard work and her ability at the job. In her eyes, now that she’s discovered that she loves nursing, it is a dream come true.

She’s just met Grace and their friendship is developing and they are finding their footing. With Grace trying to navigate how to speak to Naz, Grace might run into some trouble. If she goes about it the wrong way, Naz may interpret this as Grace being insecure or being very competitive. Since Grace hasn’t come out and told her exactly what is happening, it may seem to Naz that someone is trying to take away a win from her. This will all unfold as the season progresses and its forcing Grace to make decisions instead of trying to avoid Dr. Hamilton and now that Naz is in the picture, she will be forced to confront and decide to take actions, whatever that will be.

Pop Culture Principle – Nurses have to play a very tight balancing act. You want to be there and be supportive for your patience, but you also have to make sure that you don’t let on that something may be wrong with your patients. Would you agree with that?

Sandy Sidhu – I can never hide my emotions. It’s one of the aspects of the job that I just have a tremendous amount of awe and respect for. I really don’t know how my mom did it. I don’t know how she was able to show up for me, my brother and my sister and make us feel completely loved and then go to work and do a twelve-hour shift. I don’t know how nurses are able to do their job, raise their family and trying to look after themselves. How they don’t burn themselves out is beyond me.

I know today that is something that is very real. I know when I’m reading the headlines about the pandemic and the burnout that is happening right now. Just by the nature of their jobs they are doing so much, but now, with the pandemic being added on top of that, it’s just too much. We all really need to look after each other as a whole. We all need to do our due diligence and take responsibility for all of our actions so that we can minimize the stress level being put on our hospitals, caregivers and frontline workers.

I really don’t know how they do it, so for myself as an actress, it’s a huge privilege to put on those scrubs and put on those running shoes and try to help to the best of my ability to share that story. All of our frontline workers, nurses and caregivers are real-life superheroes.

Pop Culture Principle – The cast of Nurses has such great chemistry on screen and that is something you can’t manufacture. Would you agree?

Sandy Sidhu – Yes. The chemistry between cast is something that you can never control. The five of us are like magic in a bottle. The five of us come from so many different backgrounds and outlooks and we have such different personalities, but the chemistry is there. Chemistry is not something that you can create or can be designed. It’s either there or it isn’t. It’s one of the things that makes our show incredibly special. Our chemistry is real, and it pops.

Pop Culture Principle – Will we continue to learn more of her backstory as the season continues?

Sandy Sidhu – You will find out about more Nazneen’s past and we figure out what has been haunting her and what drove her to be a nurse.

Pop Culture Principle – Representation is very important in Hollywood today, especially for black and brown people. How important has this role been for your personally and professionally when it comes to representation?

Sandy Sidhu – This is my first series regular. I have been standing in line and knocking on that door for a really long time. I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen for myself and I carried on as an actress because I had a hard conversation with myself a few years ago. I mean, this may never actually work out so, what do you want to do? Do you want to quit? I’m the type of person who has a degree and I could do something else and live a comfortable life.

But after having that tough conversation with myself I realized that I could work in a restaurant for the rest of my life and just keep going out for appointments and auditions because acting makes me happy. I really didn’t know if an opportunity was going to come my way and when it did, when the producers of Nurses took a chance on me, I sobbed. Growing up as a little Indian girl in Canada, I did not have a single example of anyone who looked like me on television. The only example I had was Princess Jasmine who was a cartoon. I watched Aladdin hundreds of times because she was the only thing I could connect to. Maybe there were programs that existed, but they did not intersect in my life and I was not exposed to them.

I am someone, who in this industry, has struggled with a massive amount of self-doubt and self-worth. I didn’t know if I really deserved a space in this industry. I think that may have come from the fact that there were almost no narratives out there for me as a kid to lean on and see myself. It’s so important for children to see examples of themselves on television because stories, they do matter.

That is why Black Panther was so important. When Chadwick Boseman passed away, there was an image of this little child who was crying, and he crossed his arms to show tribute to his Black Panther passing away and I cried because that matters. When a kid watches a program and himself reflected on screen, they think that they can be a superhero to.

One day I pray that diversity is no longer a subject of topic because it’s just a given; it’s still being spoken about today because is not a given. We need to continue to push and strive because that effort is still required to make sure that slots are available for people of color to share their stories and their narratives. So, this is a huge deal for me. I am so glad I didn’t give up because I am now living my dream. This is my dream. I’ve always wanted to be able to pay my bills as an actress, that’s all I’ve ever wanted. Also, to share stories of immigrants is incredibly special to me because my parents are immigrants, and they are my heroes.

It’s now obviously given me a different position in the industry. By this job alone, I now have a degree of trust which will open up even more doors for myself. Regardless of what the outcome for my future in this industry is, I have more opportunity now because the show created a character that I can play. I am so indebted to the producers and for a network like NBC to pick us up and keep that exposure going, it’s huge.

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A huge thank you to the wonderfully talented Sandy Sidhu for taking time out of her schedule to talk with us! You can catch new episodes of Nurses every Tuesday night at 10/9c on NBC!

**All photos courtesy of Ken Woroner/Brooke Palmer/Ian Watson/Mark Holzberg/Matt Barnes/eOne/NBC**

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