Aruna Shields: A lifestyle of her own

Sunetra Senior Monday 22nd June 2015 08:35 EDT

What has been one of your proudest accomplishments?

 Securing the role in ‘AO’: they were auditioning internationally and had some huge A-listers on the list so it was real privilege to make it. It was a really gritty, animalistic role and I loved to be immersed in nature as a child. I used to run around on all fours and play with animals…

So they’re right on America’s Next Top Model when they say the modelling/acting world involves a lot of physical stamina?

The AO film shoot was definitely gruelling and one of my most challenging. I had to combine prehistoric dialect with body language and there was a snake scene where I got bitten six times! The crew were spraying alcohol on it and we just had to keep going. With regards to modelling, some jobs are easier than others but then others are nightmares. You have to be out in all weathers and up at early hours. I’ve been so tired that I’ve fallen asleep with my eyes open. All the movies I’ve done have had some extreme element. With ‘Prince’ I never knew which building I was going to be thrown off, and in ‘Mr Singh Mrs Mehta’ it was freezing cold.

Tell me more about themarriage of the intellectual and the primal across your career?

The acting and therapizing do feed off and into each other in that respect. As in therapy, the acting is cathartic and you have to be non-judgemental. There is a huge mental element where some of the best performances come out of a meditative trance-like state. There’s the grit that goes into the preparation, parallel with studying and academia, and then it becomes automatic. It’s the same notion with therapy. You have the groundwork through the books, you learn about the mind, but then when you see your clients it becomes spontaneous; you know what is necessary but don’t follow a set script.

Tell me a bit about your transition from acting to psychotherapy?

I’ve always been interested in psychology and been passionate about exploring the mind. Acting is like that, and transfers to the practice of treating clients. It’s about extricating people out of the mind. I play a detective, searching out the beliefs that predicate one’s life. 90% of the time we’re not conscious of why we’re doing something. Everyone is different and informed by individual cultures, events and people, and I find characters so interesting whether they are in film or from everyday life.

What are some of the thoughts you investigate in your sessions?

People are so judgemental of themselves, and that’s propagated through the magazines and media. It creates a lot of neuroses: I need to be married by this age, be somewhere by another, but it is quite improper to say ‘this is how you should live your life’. We’re not robots are we? We’re not all supposed to do the same thing. Rarely do we stop and investigate ourselves; we just go on autopilot.

You say you’ve learnt from the pressures of fame?

I’ve always had difficulty conforming, especially to the label of sexy, attractive female. On the set of ‘Prince’, for example, I was told to wax my arms because they said the press would call me primate- I was very discomfited by that. I have smaller boobs too and they were adding more padding in wardrobe and bringing the tiniest outfits for me to wear.  But I much prefer flowing skirts, billowing dresses. People come to think you are your image. That sexual side is being created by people outside of me - the producer, the media – and when you’re young you just tend to go with it. Celebrities have to be more grounded or they can become their picture. You can actually be a complete dichotomy: Google is showing these vixen images of me and it’s nothing like the person I am.

There is certainly a dilemma with resisting conformity. To what extent can we be free when we are rooted in society?

It’s difficult. I’ve been broke, had a McDonalds commercial offer come in and had to say no. Similarly, I was approached by Harley Street Medical, the plastic surgery company, to be the face of their campaign but I find it unethical: sometimes being mindful is not so good for the bank! You try to do what you can.

You’ve starred in films, been behind the camera, and now use the memories to therapise: What is your attraction to cinema?

It gives a responsibility to your audience and it is important to remember that. You have such power in that moment. When you go into a film, it’s the same as hypnotherapy; there’s music, the darkness, inducing of light trance and suspension of disbelief. You start to take on what you’re told. That’s what I try to harness with my channel; encouraging trust and compassion in a subliminal way.

Would you say your bicultural heritage, English and Indian, has informed who you are?

Well my parents are very liberal themselves. My mum may come from a strict Catholic background and my father may be Brahmin, but she’s is a vegetarian and he eats meat. They’ve been married for over thirty years and they clearly have relaxed attitude towards each other so that’s been very influential. I’m a bit of gypsy and I don’t really see myself as anything. In England they’ve seen me as a brown person and I get the whole ‘where are you really from?’ and in India I’m called a coconut with my liberal outlook,  but I don’t actually mind that.  I think all religions and cultures have their own beauty. I don’t understand patriotism; following football teams. It only creates an Us versus Them mentality.

Name a striking film that you have been to see recently?

Tyrannosaur: it’s low budget, and just goes to show you don’t need lots of money to make a great film.  It was interesting because it was about psychology based in reality - none of that clichéd killing the bad guy and exacting revenge.  In it, the perpetrator of the violence meets the victim and sees their point of view. In a subtle way the lead characters step inside each other’s minds. I don’t think punishing people, giving them life-sentences and worse, is the way to change them. You have to show people compassion and they have to show themselves that as well. Unless it’s a biological disorder- psychopathy for instance - sadness and trauma is what causes people to act out. War; warring amongst ourselves does not solve anything.

What would be a motivational motto?

Give yourself worth, and don’t rely on other people’s opinions. Whether it is a partner leaving you, your parents, or the press, people’s confidence can get knocked. Society often spews out fears and nonsense and they direct it at you: Don’t let that dictate you.


Aruna’s 8 Step Practical Mindfulness Programme:

1 Acknowledgement/Acceptance of what is
2 Non-judgement
3 Patience
4 Not knowing/curiosity
5 Trust
6 Relaxing
7 Letting go
8 Compassion

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