When Disney Channel picked up the Jessie spin-off Bunk’d, fans couldn’t help but wonder what was in store for three of the four Ross kids as they traded in their comfy penthouse in New York to go to summer camp. Now in the second season, Bunk’d, has managed to become its own thing while still upholding the imprint left by its precursor.
Being a part of this special family for about five years now, seventeen-year-old Karan Brar has already left his own historic footprint in the Disney Channel world as the first ever Indian American actor to star in a Disney Channel primetime show after having the character of Ravi Ross created specifically for him by Jessie‘s creators and producers. When Karan and I got on the phone for our interview last week, our conversation ranged from seeing what viewers can look forward to in season 2 of Bunk’d to getting to know both Ravi as a character and Karan as both a person and an actor more.
Working as a child/teen actor, you’re putting your make or break/trial and error years on display for basically the world to see which can without a doubt be an intimidating weight to carry to do what you love. While Disney stars tend to sometimes make cameos on shows down the line, it’s not often that they return to do another show after their initial show is done. Zendaya, who first got her start on Disney’s Shake It Up at the age of 13 before she made the decision to return and do KC Undercover has talked before about her decision stemming from having a responsibility and a platform to make a difference.
Similarly, when Karan who started working with Disney at the age of 12 was given the opportunity to decide if he would continue or part ways, he didn’t take the choice lightly, “I think that making the decision is sometimes very difficult because it’s one of those scenarios—I was listening to this Jennifer Lawrence interview and she was saying there were very few times in your life where a simple yes or no question can have a big effect on your life and your career. For this, going into it, I wasn’t very sure at first because I had spent four years on Jessie and I was like, ‘Okay, am I satisfied with the four years that I spent there or do I want to continue with it?’ And working with this amazing team and having such good people around me definitely I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t think this is the end of the story for me. I wanna keep going.’ And I love the people that I work with and I wanna keep going for it.
“And I also think it’s cool, what Zendaya said,” he continued. “I mean, we sometimes forget we are role models for kids and it’s also really cool that a kid can look up to me and be like, ‘Hey, I can be in his position, even though I’m Indian, I can still be in his position, I can still be on Disney Channel, I can still pursue my dreams and do whatever I want.’ I think that’s really awesome to be someone that kids look up to. You know, being younger, I always looked up to other actors and other entertainers to inspire me to keep moving forward, and if I can give that feeling back to kids, that’s amazing and I want to keep doing that. That’s, like, one of the main reasons I stayed on Disney Channel to keep inspiring kids and keep working with Disney people I’ve been working with and putting out shows that really inspire kids and bring families together.”
Continuing down this path, I followed up asking him if having this title and responsibility ever made him scared to make a mistake, “Yeah, definitely, I wanna be conscious of my decisions because there are people watching and I don’t wanna be—being a Disney kid people expect you to trip up, they expect you to fall down a hole or do something bad but I always try to be conscious of my decisions and realize that I do have fans. But also, I’m thinking, ‘What would my family think?’ I’m also thinking on smaller terms as well as bigger terms because I wanna make my family proud and I think that extends to my fans like I consider fans family and I don’t want to let a kid down because I’m doing something stupid by going off to a party and doing something dumb. I definitely wanna be that role model for kids that we don’t need to do dumb things to be cool, you can be a normal kid.”
With this mindset, his responsible nature comes, for lack of a better word, pretty naturally. “I mean it’s funny because, like, my parents are out of town this weekend visiting family and my sister’s off in college so I have the house to myself and people are like ‘Oh, are you gonna go crazy?!’ The funny thing is me and my friends have been playing board games for the past three nights in the row,” Karan says light-heartedly laughing at his choice to avoid what almost any character his age in a movie or television show would do. “So, it’s not too much of a dump for me.”
Besides the impression fans, friends, and family leave on Karan, he also takes notes from what Ravi has to offer. “We’re very different people, yet we’re very similar,” he begins when I ask how much of him is in Ravi and how much of Ravi is in him. “I think the aspect that keeps us intertwined is our curiosity. We’re always trying to figure out how things work and we’re always trying to learn and we’re always trying to grow and I think I bring some of that into Ravi and Ravi brings some of that in me. And also what I love about Ravi which I sometimes like to take after—and it’s funny because the thing is Ravi is a fictional character but I also like to take after him sometimes—like how confident he is in himself as a human being and how comfortable he is in his own body. Like, I try to embody that and carry that into my own life.” Karan shares that despite all their similarities and differences, it’s interesting to him that he’s constantly learning from Ravi.
“We didn’t have any realization at the time because we were so young so it wasn’t like work for us,” he responded when answering a fan question on if he knew when he first booked Ravi that he’d reach this kind of success with the show. “It was just having fun with friends on set and playing pretend and it was kinda like, it didn’t really hit us, like we knew our show went straight to series, we didn’t do a pilot and we were like ‘Oh, that’s awesome, that’s so cool we don’t have to like do a pilot we’re just jumping right into it!’” Karan explained that everything didn’t really hit the cast until the show aired and they saw its impact. “Not that we had low expectations for the show, but simply that we were so young it didn’t hit us at the time but when it aired, it was kind of amazing the outreach that the show has. Growing up, I used to watch sitcoms with my family every single night and that was like a family bonding and we’d just hang out and we used to watch the George Lopez Show and it’s funny that like growing up on this tv show, I get to provide that same kind of energy for a family and families can get around and watch our show which is really cool that I get to bring that same feeling.”
Getting to work on a show where the actor’s voice and input is important to the writers when working on the characters, Karan says, is another bonus to being a part of this experience. “It’s cool because it seems like the writers are so open to seeing our characters grow and [with] whatever ideas we have to pitch out there. With Ravi, we definitely want to do a lot more growing and we definitely want to make him more mature and less of like struggling to be mature if that makes sense. Like, not trying so hard, but instead fits naturally into the role this year and we’re bringing his energy less into being all crazy and all over the place into a bit more mellow and growing up as a teenager,” he says commenting on how he and the writers are making sure the second youngest Ross sibling grows into his own rather than staying static.
He added, “And it’s really fun because we’re really in sync with our writers, so it’s not like they’ll throw curve balls at us. We’ll always think of where the characters going and where we want them to go, which is really cool. They’re always open and receptive to any suggestions we wanna do with the lines and anything we can do to make it move more towards the direction for the characters we’d like to take.”
Working on Jessie and Bunk’d, Karan has also made strong connections with his co-workers. When I bring up his bromance with his on-screen brother Cameron Boyce and the fans love for them, he’s both surprised and appreciative. “He and I were just talking about that the other day, because right now, he’s on Descendents so we kind of been communicating through phone,” Karan begins about why he thinks he and Cameron managed to become such great friends. “But the thing is, we just immediately jumped into that friendship and it’s been going on for like six years now which is crazy I mean, he’s my brother. We’ve been through so many life experiences together and I think what really makes our friendship stronger is sharing big life experiences with each other. As well as being on Jessie and keeping a second show with Disney, those are both life experiences we’ve done together and experience those experiences together and grow together and I think that’s really connected us hopefully for a lifetime. I mean it’s kind of basic, we’re just like brothers at this point.”
“I didn’t know that people were obsessed with our bromance, I didn’t know that was a thing,” He responded when I asked if he had seen any response through his Twitter. “I mean like I should really get on the Tumblr field, but like, it’s very overwhelming.” He laughed talking about how he once tried to make a Tumblr and it ended up not working out, “It was a lot of cat memes and I just really couldn’t compete and I wasn’t making a lot of snarky comments like replying back to people’s posts. It was really difficult, it was really stressful, man.”
He quips that while Tumblr was hard for him to work with, he can work with any “straightforward and easy” social media describing himself as an “old man” when it comes to technology.
Getting back on track, we talk a little about Cameron’s guest return to Bunk’d in season two in the episode premiering next week, ”It’s cool because we didn’t have to keep it as much a secret like last year, they were kinda just like, ‘Yeah, let’s tell the fans!’”
Besides the return of Luke for an episode, this season of Bunk’d makes another reference to Jessie at the beginning of the season, “It’s really fun because we bring back the same energy, like Kevin Chamberland who plays Bertram leading off the season, setting off that tone was really fun. And having Cameron come back as Luke is always fun because it brings all this energy back that’s always refreshing.”
And while Bertram and Luke have had the opportunity to return and interact with the gang in the new series, we have yet to see the return of Jessie.”That would be so sick,” Karan exclaimed about the idea of Debby Ryan ever getting to guest star in the future. “Like, I think that would be a hilarious to have Debby as Jessie to just come back as an extremely successful actress because that’s kinda where we left off on Jessie so I would love to pick that up. And Debby is like a sister to me, so to have her back would be amazing.”
When we first meet Ravi as a character, he’s still adjusting to American culture and finding his place. Now growing up into his own, on Bunk’d, he takes on more responsibility as a CIT at Camp Kikiwaka. When it comes to a moment where Karan was proudest of Ravi, he shares a moment from the season 2 episode, ‘Hey Jealousy,’ “Emma was getting really jealous of Lu and Zanders friendship and she thought they had a romantic thing going on and so Ravi comes to consult her and I think it’s really cool because he played it really mature. There was this great scene where he played this really mature, really grown up man and he was just telling her like, ‘Look, sometimes you have to be supportive even though things aren’t going your way.’ I think that was really cool because he was being that strong brotherly figure and he was like stepping up to the plate and being there for his sister and not being on the sidelines which I really thought was a big moment for him.”
Following up that question, I asked him if Ravi has any interesting character development this season and a potential love interest, “I think he does. Obviously, I can’t give away like too much but this season has been by far the craziest season. And I think like with a kid that’s coming straight from juvie, Griff who’s played by Lincoln Melcher, I think Ravi is definitely getting pushed to his limits and I think there’s definitely going to be a lot of him playing the fatherly figure with this kid who’s straight out of juvie and kind of causing a ruckus a bit so he’s definitely being pushed to his limits. But, there are small turning points where we’re leading him into this very confident young man.”
“I’m the same way, right now I’m very single. I wouldn’t mind a guest star girlfriend. Someone that’ll fill that gaping hole in my heart,” he laughs about the chance of Ravi getting a girlfriend. “But no, I would love that but I’m gonna be honest, I’m kind of been like really focused on the Zander/Emma relationship that’s going on because that is getting like really real and I’m like all for Zemma right now, man,” Karan praises the show’s main ship. “I’m like pro-Zemma and I’m just watching them from the sidelines with popcorn.”
While both shows have hinted about Ravi’s back story, I took to asking Karan about his thoughts on what he think happened to Ravi’s biological parents and what led to him being put up for adoption. He pauses for a moment before he gives his answer, “We hinted at it in one of the episodes when Griff first comes to camp. We think he starts stealing things and Griff kind of gets mad at Ravi when Ravi tries to talk to him and he’s like, ‘Dude, look I came from juvie, I was poor I need it to survive.’ And Ravi kind of hints at his past like, ‘Dude, I was poor as well, I grew up in an orphanage.’ I think maybe—my best guess to it is that Ravi came from a very poor family and they couldn’t really provide for him and so the best option for him and for the family was to put him up for adoption so that maybe he could find a better home where he didn’t have to worry about the next meal and he could live a more comfortable life. I think that was like a big sacrifice his family probably had to make. And it’s kind of a very deep backstory considering it’s a Disney Channel show, but I think that’s definitely the one I’d wanna go with; that his family had to make a big sacrifice. Even though it’s very difficult to lose your own biological child and give them up for adoption, I think it was a situation that was like, ‘What’s better for our child? Is it to struggle for us to pay the bills or is it to let this kid live in an orphanage and possibly find a better home?’ And that’s the backstory I’m going with.”
“I’ve never really thought about a full backstory, because we’ve kind of hinted at it so I think that’s where I’m going for it,” He says when I ask him if that was the first time he ever thought about it. And while our conversation may have been the first time, he admits that personal experiences have influenced his version of Ravi’s story, “I do know a lot of families that have adopted kids and they told me they’ve met the parents putting their children up for adoption and most of the time it’s the case of like ‘I want this kid to have a better home than I could provide for them’ and I think that’s where Ravi’s origin is, or that’s my best guess.”
Talking briefly about his own family, he shares a little about how being First Generation influences his goals and work ethic, “I think that definitely as a First Generation, I wanna hustle as hard as my parents did when they first came to America. My father had kind of a crazy story, where he, like, ended up in this country with fifty dollars and had to drive around a taxi and survive and my mom had to hustle over here as well. So I think a part of me wanting to do really well is to make them proud and to work as hard as they did and to achieve the goals that I want to achieve because I mean, they worked nonstop to get to the position that they’re at and to provide for us. I definitely want to reach that, as well as, be able to expand cultural boundaries and prove to people that regardless where you and your family come from, you still have a chance anywhere in the world and you still can follow your dreams. And I wanna show Indian kids you don’t always have to end up like a doctor, you don’t always have to end up like the engineer, you can do what you love and you can still be passionate about that and be successful.”
Being the only actor in his own family referring to himself as, “the black sheep of the family,” Karan jokes that if it doesn’t work out, he has a backup plan: “My sister is off at college right now, she wants to be a dentist so the backup plan is that if she becomes really wealthy as a dentist, Imma just live in her guest house and freeload off of her so that’s the backup of the moment.”
Slowly beginning to wind down our interview, we talk a little about acting including how he memorizes a script and what he thinks is important for aspiring actors and actresses to know.
“For movies, it’s a bit different because if I’m on a movie, I’ll look at the scene for the next day or the scenes and I’ll memorize the lines for those the night before because those scripts are probably like 150-200 pages and sometimes they can change on the spot or the night before. So I’ll just go over it like two days before or the night before,” Karan says differentiating film and sitcom scripts. “But, for sitcoms, the script changes like every night so I’ll get familiar with it. So if we do the run throughs, which is like performing it from beginning to end for the producers and the network, we can hold our scripts and we can look at our scripts so by the time we’re at shoot date even if there are changes, we can still adjust to them. The cool thing as an actor is that if you’re staring at a script and you memorize it cold, word for word for word, then when they throw a line change on you at the last minute—or you need to improvise at the last minute—it’s super difficult to make that jump. But, if you keep it a bit loose, but also stay on top of that, you can interchange the line and that’s what I do. I get familiar with the line and by the time I reach Thursday, which is our first shoot day, and Friday, our second shoot day, I’ll have the lines memorized.”
As for what advice he has to give any aspiring actor/actress? “I think that, don’t get discouraged by a no. I’ve been giving this advice for awhile, but I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. I think that the key aspect of this industry is that you are going to get a lot of no’s. Like that’s kind of a given. I mean, no actor at this point, none of like the greatest actors at the Oscars, they didn’t just book every single role that they were given like there were definitely no’s along the way. But, I think the best thing you can do is always go into that room or however you’re pursuing that career and always give it your 100% and you just have to leave it on the table and we can take it or leave it and if they say no then know what? You can take your business somewhere else and you can pursue it and keep going for it until you find that person that does say yes and trust me you will find that person that does say yes.”
Listen to Karan answer some bonus fan questions:
Starting tonight, new episodes of Bunk’d air on Disney Channel Fridays 7/8p C.
(Photo Cred: Wes Klain)