The year is 2008.
Vishesh Chachra is an associate in the Leverage Acquisition Finance division of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
For Chachra, this is it. He’s made it. He’s graduated from Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management with an MBA and now has the Wall Street job he’s always dreamed of.
But something is missing. Or, rather, Chachra feels a need to explore his true passion.
“What I love about acting is storytelling,” Chachra says. “Being seen.”
For years, Chachra had strategically planned and built a successful business career in investment banking, and later in corporate development, where he was a vice president. But at age 33, he dropped everything to pursue a career in acting. Now seven years into his Hollywood career, Chachra has appeared in such films and TV shows as VICE, Cobra Kai, Silicon Valley, Criminal Minds, Hawaii Five-O, and most recently, Amazon’s Bulge Bracket series.
‘YOU CAN ONLY RUN AWAY FROM WHO YOU ARE FOR SO LONG’
Chachra got his first taste of acting in eighth grade, when he performed in his school’s rendition of “Our Town.”
“I was the only eighth-grader at 13 years old who could grow a beard,” Chachra says. “I grew this ratty little beard and they made me the dad in the school play.”
Chachra would stick to sports and his studies throughout high school, going on to Georgia Tech in Atlanta for college, where he graduated with an engineering degree. He worked for a few years as a mechanical sales engineer before pursuing his MBA at Vanderbilt.
After graduating from the Owen School, Chachra landed that coveted investment banking job on Wall Street. He recalls the romanticized visions he had of Wall Street life, of big corporate deals, lavish private jets, and fancy parties and events. And while some elements of the fantasy were true, the reality of the everyday job was less glamorous: up to 100-hour work weeks.
“We’d get off at midnight,” Chachra recalls. “Go have happy hour at 1 o clock in the morning at some bar in New York and get up and do it all over again. There was no distinguishment between weekends and weekdays.”
Despite the harsh work hours, Chachra thinks back about his time on Wall Street with fondness. And he credits much of his success and the success of his old colleagues to the lessons they learned on Wall Street.
“That time that we had in New York was so pivotal,” he says. “We made a lot of connections and learned at a high level how to analyze businesses. That’s served us well in what we’ve pursued after Wall Street.”
But throughout his time in the business world, Chachra always carried an innate curiosity for acting. It’s something all of us think about at some point in our lives. A childhood dream of becoming a firefighter or flying airplanes or even being the CEO of a company. And for many, these dreams never really pan out to reality.
For Chachra, that realization came at age 33 during a 2 a.m. scotch conversation with his father, to whom he confessed that all he really ever wanted to do was become an actor.
“I always ran away from it in terms of admitting it or pursuing it professionally in any way,” he says. “That can only last so long. You can only run away from who you are for so long.”
FROM WALL STREET TO HOLLYWOOD
Chachra’s journey to acting is unconventional. But Hollywood isn’t like any other industry. Instead of job interviews, there are auditions. Success in Hollywood is relative. You don’t “work your way up” a corporate ladder. You audition for a role and, if you’re lucky, you hear back that “you got it.” Rarely do rejections even make their way to you. And for a 33-year-old entering the industry for the first time from a suit background, Chachra knew one thing: he had to hustle.
The business world and the entertainment world have more in common than one might think. At least, that’s what Chachra has come to learn.
“Once you go through an experience like an MBA, you understand that you’re there to learn how to think and how the people that you’re going to be working with think,” he says. “It’s no different in the entertainment business. You have to work on your art and your craft in a way that you’re prepared to step on set and act like you belong there.”
Chachra has found that in order to be successful and land acting roles in Hollywood, you have to score high in one of three categories: your image, your acting, and your network. In B-school, similar metrics are often referred to as “performance levers” or the “4 P’s.”
Image, according to Chachra, pertains not so much to how good looking you are, but how well you can embody or emulate a specific character. Think Felicia “Snoop” Pearson in The Wire or Bruce Willis in Die Hard. These actors and actresses excel in the image category because they live and breathe the character.
Acting is the most clear-cut category. It’s a measure of how well versed you are in the art of acting. As Chachra says, these are the people who graduate from prestigious schools such as Yale School of Drama and have mastered the skill of theater.
The last category is your network. This category is all about not what you know, but who you know. And in Hollywood, the network category is the one category that every actor or actress trying to make it can improve upon.
“The reality is that most people are not off the charts in one of these categories,” Chachra says. “What we have to do is make each of the categories as good as we can. And the combination of all three that we bring is what gets us acting jobs.”
For Chachra, his MBA education and Wall Street experience taught him a few things about networking. He knew that if he wanted to land roles, he had to put in the work and connect with the right individuals.
So, he took acting classes and went to casting director workshops, where he learned from the professionals and honed his skills. Between 2015 and 2017, Chachra attended 160 different workshops and connected with a variety of casting directors. Chachra may have been new to Hollywood, but he certainly wasn’t new to the idea of competition, working hard, and applying an analytical mindset to achieve results.
“That was the push and the drive of being from Wall Street and competing for my job as an MBA,” Chachra says.
HUSTLE FOR WHAT YOU LOVE
Chachra’s life looks different now when compared to his time on Wall Street. He’s on TV, for one. And these days, he’s more focused on becoming a series regular on TV shows than analyzing financial models. Ultimately, Chachra hopes to land a role where he can play an “aspirational American character of Indian descent.” Think Indiana Jones or Maverick in Top Gun.
“I want to be that for the young American kids who look at the TV and don’t necessarily see people that look like them,” Chachra says. “And I think I have an opportunity to play those types of roles. That’s what I’m here to do.”
Chachra has had a long road from Wall Street to Hollywood. And there’s still more auditions to be done, more roles to be played, and more lessons to be learned. But if there’s anything Chachra has learned throughout his journey thus far, it’s the idea that if you’re going to hustle for something, it better be for what you love.
“Careers are not predictable,” Chachra says. “Things happen that are outside of your control. When so much is going to be out of your control and you have to invest so much to get to the top of your game in any industry, why should it not be the one that you love?”