Have you ever had a dream but you weren’t sure that it would come true? Well Anna Khaja chose to believe in herself and followed her dream to become a professional actress.
In 1992, Khaja graduated from CVHS, where she acted in many plays such as “Diary of Anne Frank” in which she played the title role. She then attended UCLA where she majored in theater, film and television. Khaja taught as an acting teacher before becoming a professional actress, appearing in television shows like “True Blood” and plays including her own “Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto.”
Q: What is your favorite memory at CVHS?
Khaja: My favorite experiences were doing the plays. I kind of lived and breathed the drama department here. Mrs. Russell was the head of it and at that point, we were performing in the cafeteria. Playing Anne in “Anne Frank” was a big deal for me; I fought for that role. And playing the narrator in “Our Town” my senior year because the drama teacher said that it had to be cast as a male and I said, ‘No I’m auditioning anyway’ and she had to give it to me because she said I gave it the best audition–so that was nice.
Q: How did you transition into professional acting?
Khaja: Well I started kind of late. I went to UCLA where I majored in theater, film and television. When I finished college, I became a drama teacher at a school for a couple of years and then I started thinking about it and I realized that I wanted a career in acting. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I knew it was my personal calling, so I did the work to pound the pavement, get an agent, get a manager, go to auditions, do plays, and one thing led to another. And I still have dreams. There is a lot more to be done in my career; I haven’t made it to where I want to be yet.
Q: Please tell us about your play that you wrote and performed at our school.
Khaja: My play is called “Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto,” and I play eight characters; I’m the only actor in it. I started writing it and performing it four years ago and I just performed it off Broadway for two months. It’s about the assassinated female prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. It examines the true meaning of some Islamic words like “jihad,” which means to struggle within yourself between light and dark, and goodness and temptation, which a lot of religions deal with. It is called “Shaheed” because in Islam, suicide bombers call themselves “shaheed,” but what it really means is to die for your country for a great cause or to give your life for the sake of God.
Q: Were you always interested in Pakistan’s history?
Khaja: I was. I am half Pakistani and I’m very Western; I had never been to Pakistan until I was older. My father grew up in Pakistan and I was always curious to learn about this place where my father grew up, and what it was like, and what was going on over there. It’s also a very interesting country. It was formed as a democracy or a republic but still founded in the religion of Islam. It’s a country that’s struggling to find its identity and footing, and to be a true democracy with a constitution that is followed that the people can depend on.
Q: Are there any drawbacks to being a big star, like paparazzi?
Khaja: (laughing) Well I’m not a big star! I don’t have that many drawbacks yet. I guess when you put your work out there, everybody has an opinion about it. And they feel it’s their right to voice their opinion about it. You are choosing to make aspects of your life public so the public has a say. I’ve gotten some less than nice comments, and letters, and every once in a while I’ll get little pieces of fan mail; it does not happen to me very often. I don’t think there are any drawbacks for me, but for actors with a superstar status, there are definitely drawbacks.
Q: What do you like best: movies, television, or theater?
Khaja: I enjoy them all. However I feel like you get more in depth with your character in theater. It’s not like a film where you film one scene in front of a camera ten times; in theater you perform the same role every night and you actually feel more involved with the character.
Q: What advice would you offer a student in Castro Valley who aspires in a career in the arts?
Khaja: Here’s my advice to you: if there are several things that you are passionate about, and you are equally or more passionate about something other than the arts, strongly consider pursuing that because there are going to be interesting roadblocks when you are an artist. You’re setting yourself up to put things that you’ve created in front of people and there will inevitably be some rejection and it’s difficult. There isn’t a lot of stability. You don’t exactly have a regular job with benefits and Social Security, and you don’t know where the next check is coming from and those are some of the prices that you pay or may pay for pursuing a career in the arts. But if it is the thing that you are most passionate about, then I say follow your passion, because ultimately, it will really fulfill you. It does me I don’t regret it at all because it happens to be the thing I am most passionate about. It’s my thing. I am living my dream, even on days when an audition does not go well, like if it’s my worst day, I am still living my dream and that still means something.