We had the good fortune of connecting with Lara Shah and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lara, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was born and raised in our beautiful Garden State – New Jersey – in a tiny little town called Iselin. If you’ve ever been to Jersey, you’ll understand its quirky vibe. That weirdness, the eclectic hodgepodge feeling, that coming-of-age energy, the beta to New York’s alpha, runs strong and deep within my blood. Mind you, I also grew up there in the 90s, where anything and everything was possible. Jersey is the armpit of America, the dumping ground for NYC’s garbage and bad jokes, and the loser little sibling to our big, shiny Manhattan sibling, but there’s a reason so many movies are set in NJ. There’s something so magical about it – Sinatra, Atlantic City, the Jersey Shore (the place not the show), homey diners, Bon Jovi..
I’m idealizing it now.. but I RAN far away right after high school graduation. I ended up at Boston University for college, Manhattan for the rowdier side of my 20s, and Austin for the more energetic part of my 30s. I live clear across the country now in sunny LA, but NJ is the place I still consider ‘home.’
Additionally, where I grew up in New Jersey is nicknamed “Little India,” because of its variety of Indian restaurants, stores, and population. East Indians/South Asians flocked to Edison because of the affordability and proximity to NYC where they generally worked in tech, finance, and attended medical school. My parents never really *left* India because it followed them on over. I was bullied in school for being a “dot head” and “smelling like curry” (my Mom’s homemade Gujarati food didn’t have curry and bindis are beautiful), so I was dealing with being the nerdy loser in school AND being from the nerdy loser state in America. (My therapist gets paid handsomely.) To say I developed a determined, resilient, tenacious underdog complex would be an understatement.
Coming from both of those backgrounds, however, is inextricable from who I am today. My personality is ALL Jersey. I try to be refined, sophisticated, and fancy, but I’m happiest in nature, hiking, exploring, getting dirty. I can be in the mountains, but the vast ocean has an undeniable pull on my heart. I can try to be a lone wolf but the second a friend or neighbor needs something, I’m there. The values of family, community, and loyalty are so hard-wired. Growing up surrounded by people from my background and culture also allowed me to stay connected to my Indian roots. I grew up having access to Indian food, speaking my language, and learning about where I come from without even having to leave my neighborhood.
And let me tell you about the bagels..
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My career is still a tiny little fledgling, ten years after I first began acting. I’ve been in up to three classes a week to taking almost three years off for personal reasons. What I’ve learned is that patience and grace are key in the momentum. What sets me apart is that, even ten years down the road, I’m still wide-eyed and bushy-tailed every time I’m on a set. There is an innocent, childlike wonder I still experience and a profound gratitude to every person and every moment that have led me up to this point. My career is a long haul – I’m fully mentally and emotionally prepared for that – and I want nothing more than to get to explore my personal and professional lives fully and wholly. I’m deeply passionate about connecting with my audience. and I’m even more passionate about using my voice to help others. Elephants are really important to me, and I want to bring more awareness to the protection of their species. The journey has, by no means, been easy. Financial hardship, divorce, relocating, resettling, losing friends, making friends, learning how to heal, setting healthy boundaries, learning how to love myself, learning about myself, the lowest lows and the highest highs.. it’s been a lot over the past ten years. But my personal mantra is “adversity builds character” and I sure do have a LOT of character. 😉 The way I’ve overcome any challenge in life is simply to remember it’s all ephemeral. The hard times, the best times, they’re all fleeting. So I feel through it all, embrace whatever life is teaching me in that exact moment, and move on stronger, smarter, braver, and better than I was before. My story, my legacy, is simple: move through life with grace and compassion – for self, for others. We are all connected, we’re all one. Find joy, recognize the beauty in people, animals, nature.. fall in love with every moment of your life.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live on the west side and would probably never leave this little pocket of LA haha. I’d def take her to The Butcher’s Daughter, a cute little vegan spot on Abbot Kinney in Venice. We’d go have some snacks and margs at Gracias Madre in West Hollywood, another trendy vegan spot (that’s actually where my best friend told me she was pregnant with her first!). For going out, I love the rooftop bar of EP&LP on Melrose where I take all visitors for a fun night out. For shopping, I love Abbot Kinney in Venice and Melrose Ave in WeHo. I’m a creature of habit!
My favorite hike, so far, is Los Liones in Santa Monica, after which a couple bubbles from Moonshadows in Malibu would hit the spot. For some semi-local yums, we’d do breakfast tacos and queso from HomeState (yay Texas!) and some coffee from Intelligentsia (I should just live on Abbot Kinney). If we MUST go east side, Home in Los Feliz is cozy and delicious, Roots & Rye in Echo Park has the BEST acai bowls I’ve ever had, and if we’re heading SUPER deep east, I used to live at The Americana at Brand in Glendale which boasts some fun shopping.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My shoutout is dedicated to one of my favorite humans on the planet – Mrs. Kathleen Dopart. ‘Mrs. D’ was my middle school English teacher for just a couple years but a friend to this day. She’s my very own Mrs. Frizzle (for you Magic School Bus fans out there) and she embraced all the weirdness of my awkward teenage years. She encouraged our tiny little nerdy army to keep learning, growing, and exploring. She had a sign in her classroom that said “Don’t Lick the Walls,” just in case someone had the inclination. Some of the best moments of my childhood were in her classroom. There was absolutely no judgement, I could talk to her endlessly after class, and we still keep in touch to this day. Mrs. Dopart, if you’re reading this – I love you and I appreciate your impact endlessly.
Lara Shah | Headshots by Theo & Juliet