Culture

Name to know: Melanie Kannokada

With two new shows this year, the actress is making dreams come true

Melanie Kannokada's parents have been over the moon since she landed the lead role in CBS’ medical drama Code Black, which will debut later this year. And not just because this is the Stanford alum’s first meaty part since she switched up her mechanical engineering background for a shot at Hollywood, four years ago. Her academic Malayali family — she has a battalion of engineer uncles — is excited she at least gets to act as a doctor. “It’s hilarious,” admits the 28-year-old, who plays Malaya, one of the four first-year residents thrown into the deep end of the busiest emergency room in Los Angeles. But she gets it: “Growing up I loved math and physics, and we never talked about a career in the arts.”

In Kannokada’s defence, she’s never been your typical geek; more the annoying all-rounder. She’s been a national-level karate champion, a cheerleader through school and college, a model and sheepish Miss India America in 2007 (“I was a little embarrassed, but it helped me get a start in entertainment”) and co-founder of the NGO Hospital for Hope, which provides for the underprivileged in Jharkhand. Plus… look at her.

Since reluctantly leaving “the stability” of New York for LA, Kannokada quickly bagged roles on TV shows like NCIS, Parenthood and Rules Of Engagement. And the great run continues: She recently married the love of her life (Neeraj Chandra, chief at private equity giant Tiger Global; total hottie, too). She also plays an education activist alongside Jack Black and Tim Robbins in the HBO comedy The Brink, about the American government tackling a political crisis in Pakistan. She credits faith and her parents for keeping her afloat: “They watched over me and made sure I was eating right and could always afford health insurance!”

The Brink premieres on HBO Defined on June 22 at 9.00pm

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