Sunita Mani and her husband thought they were being original when they gave into the impulse to RV across the country earlier this summer.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based couple had suddenly found their time in Los Angeles coming to an end, after Mani’s show “Glow” was shut down an episode-and-a-half into shooting the fourth season (the show would later be canceled entirely) and the risks associated with flying were still very unknown.
“I was with my husband in L.A., he’d made it out right before the shutdown in New York. We had that sort of impulse of an RV trip. We acted on it roughly around the same time everyone else had the same idea — which we thought was, like, being under the radar,” Mani says over Zoom, home in her New York apartment. “It was also fitting into our retirement lifestyle that we were living in.”
Mani, 34, had planned to spend the spring and summer shooting “Glow” out in L.A. before heading back to promote her two fall movies — “Save Yourselves!” and “Evil Eye” — both out now. Instead, she found herself driving across the country, witnessing protests happening from Nevada to New Jersey and trying to make sense of it all.
“It was a very strange time to be off the grid, but an interesting time to be driving across the country, through the revolution,” she says. “Is that our country? Was it?”
Mani has quietly made a name for herself in Hollywood as an innovative comedic voice and performer with a strong commitment to creating diversity in representation. A native of Tennessee, she always liked making people laugh but felt too embarrassed to admit she wanted to be an actor. It seemed too fanciful an idea.
“I was very extroverted and I loved group activities. I played sports, I was in all the clubs. I was one of those overcompensating, overachieving little dorks who wanted to please everybody and took on a bit of a class clown persona,” she says. “I loved the joy of laughter and love making people laugh very much. That was always there.”
She studied writing and acting at Emerson College and after school found herself in New York operating a comedic dance troupe with her roommates called the Cocoon Central Dance Team.
“We had this open space and we treated it like a venue: we would host open-mic nights,” she says. “I would never do that kind of stuff again. But we were so thrilled to invite people into our world through hosting these shows. That kind of became my thing in New York.”
They eventually took the act outside of their apartment and wound up getting an agent, which is how Mani found herself beginning to go for screen roles. She always saw herself as a “goofball comedian” until she was asked to audition for “Mr. Robot,” which she did assuming it must be a comedy.
“That really put me in this incredible place, but I couldn’t really understand at the time that it brought me into this other level of opportunity,” she says. “Even though I don’t go out for such dramatic roles as much, it just put me in the pool.”
These days she’s doing endless press from home for both her films — “I’ve never talked about myself so much before” — and trying to make sense of where to go next, as Hollywood shifts around her and the world at large remains, well, a touch messy.
“I’ve never talked so much about representation. I think a lot of comedians are becoming activists. They’re becoming the social commentary, the stability and almost the voice of reason in a way that sometimes it feels unfair because I just want to go back to smoking my fake cigarettes. I’m talking about nothing fun,” she says. “So I’m struggling with my role in all of that. I feel like the world is asking me to speak on how I’m reflecting about representation in the industry and how I feel like we can move through it all. I’m trying to figure it out, too, and I can’t believe anyone cares. I’m just trying to keep my intentions true to myself as I can because I want to be here for the long run. I think a lot. It has shaped me to go inside and hold on to these truths or Post-its that I need to revisit in my soul, and writing has really helped. I’m trying to just take on the role of writer or creator a little more, and see where that goes.”
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