Avan Jogia has always been drawn to larger-than-life characters. So when the time came to write and direct his first feature film, Jogia — best known for his performances in Victorious, Ghost Wars, and Now Apocalypse — wanted to make something that was “a little more extraordinary,” a more interesting reflection of the fickle nature of life.
“I just didn’t see a lot of movies being made that wanted to make life more exaggerated,” says Jogia, 29, over Zoom in September from his hometown of Vancouver. “There was this propensity towards realism all the time — or not even realism, but this middle-of-the-road entertainment. What I love about movies is that they’re fantastical, and I think that’s what movies are for — so I wanted to write movies that I liked.”
Jogia’s vision materialized in Door Mouse, a neo-noir thriller that was six years in the making, and is slated for release in 2022. Shot in Sudbury, Ontario earlier this spring, the film centres on a woman named Mouse (played by Riverdale’s Hayley Law) who is stuck in a dead-end, all-night job at Mama’s Burlesque Club. When a work friend named Doe-Eyes goes missing and the cops do nothing about it, Mouse and her sidekick, Ugly (Keith Powers), take it upon themselves to crack the case.
Jogia jokes that one should never attempt to direct a feature film in 18 days unless you have no choice. Although, he says, the “intense” thread of being shut down due to COVID-19 loomed large over the entire independent production, he felt extremely fortunate to be working with “an amazing cast — and people who just gave a shit, who care about making movies.”
“I think, again, the point of making a film that’s bigger than life is that it’s exciting for people,” he explains. “We’re not just shooting two people talking in a high-school corridor; we’re in this completely transformed space that has spray paint on the walls. Basically, I was handing out spray paint cans and being like, ‘Spray whatever you want on the walls.’ And just everyone being able to create and contribute to this thing got people excited, and I think that’s why everyone ended up doing a really good job.”
The past decade has seen Jogia transform from a little-known young actor with a handful of acting credits into a prolific multi-hyphenate who is on the precipice of another major breakthrough in Hollywood. Having risen to fame as Beck Oliver on Victorious, the hit Nickelodeon sitcom that has found its second wind on Netflix in recent years, Jogia has entered mainstream prominence with a series of provocative roles that are a dramatic departure from his days on family-friendly television. For instance, in what is arguably his most highly anticipated role to date, Jogia will play Leon S. Kennedy in the new Sony reboot of Resident Evil, which is based on a Japanese series of horror video games that he has played for years. “I was a huge fan of the original games, so to play Leon is amazing. He’s a childhood hero of mine, so it’s the coolest thing in the world,” Jogia says.
Eight years post Victorious, Jogia still has nothing but fond memories of an early adulthood working with “an incredible cast of lovely, talented, and generous people,” which included the likes of Ariana Grande, Victoria Justice, and Elizabeth Gillies. “I’m always touched by how much it has impacted people’s lives,” he says with a smile. “A lot of people who watched the show are adults now, so I’m interacting with them way more than when I was younger. Even when the show was on, we didn’t feel this level of love.”
The experience, he adds, also forced him to expand his skill set and adapt to different storytelling formats. (“I was never really a multi-camera sitcom kind of actor, so I had to work really hard to fit into that world.”) As he began to make his transition from child to adult actor, which he considers “an exhausted cliché,” Jogia was able to explore the more cinematic style of acting that he had initially been trained to do. “The people who have always inspired me are the ones who genuinely try to be different people, try to inhabit other people’s ways of being and disappear into stuff. I got into the game to be different people. I’m not interested in being a more charming version of myself for 20 years,” he says with a laugh.
But as he continued to audition for projects in Hollywood, Jogia — who is the eldest son of a British−Indian father and a British−Irish mother — noticed that many casting directors wanted him to choose one part of his identity over the other in order to fit into a particular role. He used his decade’s worth of experience as a mixed-race actor and spoke with other people from around the world to write his first multimedia book, Mixed Feelings, which was released in 2019. While he admits that he has seen a lot of “performative change” over the course of his career, Jogia says that, “as a mixed Asian man,” he has seen the roles for Indian people change dramatically, despite never being cast as the stereotypical “IT/tech guy or sidekick character.”
“I think we’ve done some really great stuff as far as changing the narrative and forwarding genuine storytelling from other avenues, but what I am finding is that we’re still not entirely comfortable with people of colour telling stories that don’t pertain to their racial background,” Jogia says. “You can choose many of the Asian filmmakers who are coming up right now — a lot of their films have to be about their racial experience. Their racial background becomes the foundation on which their merit is based as a filmmaker and storyteller, rather than just giving them the option [to tell stories about other communities].
“I just want to be a North Star as an artist that people can point to.”
“To me, that’s not how art works. My film took me six years to make because it’s not about my racial background,” he adds. “I think it’s still a game of ‘Your identity is your calling card’ in order to make a film only about that…And if it’s amazing, maybe we’ll let you make a second film about something else. Their artistic merit should go beyond their racial background.”
For Jogia, social media feels like a freer space to express his whole self. On Instagram, where he has amassed more than three million followers, he has chronicled his style evolution (from floral print shirts and high- rise pleated pants to a more serious “Y2K, Matrix-influenced” look with leather coats and chain collars, though he continues to have an affinity for a good suit).
As he continues to contemplate his creative future, Jogia says that, while directing and editing Door Mouse has taken up most of his time over the past eight months, he “might dip [his] toe back into some music, some concept records,” in addition to seeking out new projects. But at the end of the day, he remains more committed than ever to creating “good art that inspires people” from all walks of life.
“I just want to be a North Star as an artist that people can point to — and little brown kids and little kids of colour through-out the entire spectrum can go, ‘You can just do art, and it’s fine.’ I feel like the entitlement of all people is directly influenced by representation,” he says. “So if we see me making movies and writing books and doing whatever I want, wearing whatever I want, I think that that can hopefully inspire some younger kids to be like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to follow the footpath that’s been laid out for me. I can do a whole different thing.’”
Lead image: Sweater by Perks and Mini, shirt by Dries van Noten, pants by Jil Sander (all price upon request) at Holt Renfrew.
Photography: Alana Paterson
Styling: Leila Bani
Photo Assistant: Mackenzie Walker
Styling Assistant: Hana Pesut
Grooming: Jada Arriola (Richard’s)