Actress Hina X Khan has appeared in a variety of projects, including television series such as The Mick, SWAT and LA to Vegas. More recently, fans of DC’s Stargirl will recognise the actress as Principal Anaya Bowin of Blue Valley High School and a member of the Injustice Society of America (ISA).
In this Exclusive Interview, among other topics, Hina discusses working on the DC Comics-inspired series, her role as Principal Bowin, bonding with fellow on-screen ISA members and experiencing Stargirl’s success as someone who is on the show. Thank you Hina for taking the time to chat with Courageous Nerd.
First of all, thanks for taking the time to do this.
Hina X Khan (HXK): Thank you for having me.
How have you found being on a show connected to DC Comics?
HXK: I’ve found it incredible, the most amazing thing. A DC Comics show comes with a built audience that is so excited. This audience, in particular, has been so supportive and so loving. It’s been incredible to be a part of it.
When did your journey with acting originally start? Was it something you always intended to make your profession?
HXK: My journey was a little convoluted. There were some twists and turns along the way. I didn’t start out acting. I actually started out in the corporate world, in finance. To take it back further to childhood, my parents moved to the US from Pakistan. As immigrants, in their mind, they had a certain set number of professions that were okay for their children to pursue. And acting was not one of them. Growing up, I remember wanting to be an actor, mentioning that to my parents as a child. It was turned down.
So, I initially did the responsible thing. I studied Economics, worked in finance and ultimately found that it wasn’t fulfilling. Life brought me to Los Angeles and I thought, “Well, there’s no better time or place for me to start pursuing what I wanted to do.” I found myself taking acting classes and throwing myself into that world. I haven’t looked back.
I’m sure you and Eric Goins must have had a lot to talk about. He had a similar start in the corporate world, didn’t he?
HXK: That’s right, he did. Actually, I think a few of us ISA members have had not had a straightforward journey into acting. Even Neil Jackson pursued some other professions or other interests at first. It is interesting to see how people find their way into acting.
You have a similar name to a Bollywood actress. Has that caused any kind of confusion for you, in your career?
HXK: It definitely has! Yes, I believe she pronounces it differently. I pronounce my name ‘Hina’ with a short I. I believe she pronounces it ‘Heena’ but it’s spelled exactly the same. If you Google our name, Hina Khan is a very common South Asian name. It’s like in the US being named ‘Jennifer Smith’. It’s just very common. First of all, when you Google the name, it’s so common that you’ll get a lot of hits. I believe she’s one of the top TV Bollywood actresses in India. If you Google my name, you will find loads of photos of her and then you might find one of me.
What was happening is when the Stargirl casting announcements came out, there were articles that would be published and written about me. They would tag a photo of her. That was definitely a little confusing, I think for people. What I had started doing, what I’ve always done is added an ‘X’ in the middle of my name. Just any kind of username, my full name is never available. I’ve always done that and started putting that in on IMDB and other places so that you could actually look up Hina X. Khan. A point of differentiation to help myself and others out.
How well do you remember your first day on Stargirl? Is there anything that stands out in your mind?
HXK: Oh wow, my first day. My first day… the first scene that I shot actually got cut from the first episode. It’s a scene that takes place after the commotion in the cafeteria. I sort of drag Courtney Whitmore, Brec’s character away. So, the following scene was actually shot before the cafeteria one, me with her in the Principal’s office. Just both of us kind of sizing each other up. This is a new girl in school and she’s causing trouble. And for her, she’s in a new school in a new town.
That was the first scene and I just remember how quickly it went. That’s always the case with acting. They always say, “Actors get paid to wait.” We spend so much time waiting, whether it’s in our trailers, for an audition or whatever. The actual time that it takes for you to complete a scene seems like it goes by in a blink of an eye. Even though there’s been so much anticipation up to that point. I remember feeling like it was a well-run machine. You just got an idea of how much they put into it. The passion of the production – creator, Geoff Johns and how much it costs to put something together that looks as amazing as it does.
As someone who is on Stargirl, how has it been to see the show become such a success?
HXK: It’s been a really nice feeling to see how people have embraced it. You just don’t know when you’re filming it. As people say, performances and the show’s really made in the editing room. So, we see our bits and pieces of it. We can imagine what the total outcome is going to look like. But really, I couldn’t have imagined as wonderfully as it turned out.
We learned that Principal Bowin was the wife of the original Fiddler. How aware do you think Principal Bowin was of what the ISA was before joining?
HXK: Oh, I think she was well aware. All of this, it’s backstory that you create for yourselves. It would be nice if you could get a little handbook on this person, this character from childhood until now. But you don’t get that. So you sort of create that on your own. Based on the character and where her journey took her, I would venture to say that she was very well aware of the ISA and their mission. Perhaps didn’t agree with a lot of how it was executed, but definitely aware of what was going on.
Your character, as a High School principal, subverts the expectations of a teen drama. Did it feel strange to be playing a Principal when that was a relatively unimportant aspect of Principal Bowin’s role?
HXK: Well, the interesting thing is that when I got the role, they, as with most shows of this nature, kept everything very hush-hush. You don’t necessarily even know what you’re auditioning for. I did know that I was auditioning for a Principal, I did not know that it was also going to be a supervillain. When I got the script for the first episode and the characters were listed. My character was listed as Principal Anaya Bowin/The Fiddler. So, right up front on the first day, I knew that I had this alter-ego. However, a lot of the cast I don’t think paid that much attention to the character list. When it was finally revealed in the episode with Eric… or even before that, when I go into Brainwave’s room and start Fiddling that little tune.
I think the rest of the cast sort of stopped and went, “Oh! Wait, you’re the Fiddler.” So even some of the cast members, at first, thought that she’s the Principal who’s kind of strict but that’s about it. It’s interesting to see that as a character that is the Principal, which seems an innocuous character, going to be sort of a wallflower. You don’t imagine that she’s part of a villainous society.
I’ve spoken to some of your fellow ISA members – and they’ve each discussed the strong bonds formed between the actors in that group. What was your experience with them like?
HXK: Oh, they’re the best. If anyone were to have seen us behind the scenes having our ISA meetings, they would not have taken us seriously. We definitely did not match the personalities that we were conveying of these very focused, evil villains. We were just having a blast poking fun at each other. We got very, very lucky with the cast that’s the ISA. All just incredibly, incredibly good, funny, talented humans. We got along so well, I think we were harder to control than the “children”. We were just having so much fun.
Like the rest of the ISA, Principal Bowin eventually learned the identities of the New JSA. As it wasn’t explored in the show, how do you feel she would have felt, perhaps knowing some of them personally?
HXK: I wonder about the backstory of the ISA, what that is. Was Principal Bowin an educator and also a villainess? Or, is it that these villains showed up into Blue Valley and then assumed roles that would put them in powerful positions. Was it, “Why don’t you take on the role of a Principal?” Why doesn’t The Gambler take on the role he did? Why not put ourselves in positions where we have oversight into the areas of this town that we would need. Certainly, one of the places if you’re going to brainwash millions, one of the places to have oversight is a High School. To have interaction with these students and their parents, have a level of influence.
I would like to think that it was a very intentional thing, that it wasn’t that she happened to be a Principal by chance, that it was intended to be that way.
When you think of the characters and cast members, is there anyone who is completely different in real life?
HXK: Oh, wow. I think most of the villains are completely different in just the sense that they’re just such pleasant individuals to be around. It’s funny to see them as villains. I think one of the actors that seems so much like their character, going in the opposite direction is Luke Wilson (Pat Dugan). He is so… not that he builds giant robots in his spare time but he is so goofy, affable. That is both him and the character. You just can’t help but love him and also be like, “Do you know what you’re doing?” He’s so goofy and that’s just his humour and charm. It’s so effortless with him.
Max Frantz plays your onscreen son, Isaac Bowin. How conscious were you both of the importance of your scene in episode 12 and what it could potentially be setting up?
HXK: Very much so. That scene in the Principal’s office where he’s been bullied and he comes in, upset about that. That was the first time you really see a close interaction with this parent-child relationship. You sort of see that Principal Bowin is very protective of her son, just based on the things she says in the ISA meetings. You don’t actually see the interaction between the two. It’s written in where there is a moment where you see that she is struggling with that decision of, “Is she going to be overprotective and coddle him? Or, is she going to let him in a little bit on, ‘this is what you should think about a little bit in terms of defending yourself. Here’s what your father did.'” And then at the end of that scene, he looks over at his tuba, just indicating what’s to come in the next episode. What can he do with that instrument as a defence tool?
I guess we’ll have to wait for Season 2 to see what he does exactly, based on the origin material. You look at his character in the comics. That would be now the third iteration of The Fiddler, at least in Stargirl. He is not a violinist, so far. Neil Jackson and I were joking – we did a live takeover on the CW – he did one. We were saying it’s a cumbersome instrument to carry around. If you’re a villain and sneaking into places to try to hypnotise people, it would be more difficult to do with a tuba. I would imagine that he’s going to take up violin, very quickly. We’ll have to see what happens.
Stargirl has a large cast of characters and actors. Were there any storylines that you enjoyed, either while reading the scripts or as a TV viewer?
HXK: It’s so different reading the scripts and then actually seeing it on television. Watching it was really incredible. Especially, like I said, because you edit performances together, cut the scenes together. It’s a visual medium. One of the storylines that I really enjoyed was Wildcat/Yolanda (Yvette Monreal). Watching how… and I think actually Stargirl has done a great job of painting a picture of how these characters came to be who they are today. You see it with Yolanda’s character, how she was bullied. She was a sweet girl. With the incident that happens with her boyfriend, that changes her. I think that’s something that’s so relatable.
It’s one thing when you look at a character, especially with the villains and you think, “Well, okay, they’re just evil.” When you take a step back and look at where they came from, it’s insightful to see that everybody has a story. You can really relate to it because whether it’s on TV or somebody that you know in real life, you begin to understand that everyone is who they are because of the path that they’ve been on. I really enjoyed watching that.
Is there anything you’d particularly like to say to fans of Stargirl, who have been watching for the past 13 weeks?
HXK: Oh, I would like to express my deep gratitude for how wonderfully supportive they have been and how much love they’ve shown Stargirl. You never know when you make a show, how it’s going to be received. The reception of Stargirl has been truly amazing and humbling. I hope that they will come back and show the same support for Season 2.
This interview has been edited/condensed for length and clarity.