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HOLLYWOOD BRIEF / RACHEL ABRAMOWITZ

In suburbia, a world of woes

September 03, 2008|RACHEL ABRAMOWITZ

Like her character, Bishil is a uniquely American cultural blend -- part Indian, part Hispanic, part Caucasian. As a child, she lived in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, but spoke only English. "I didn't really know I was Indian until I was in my teen years. I thought I was Saudi Arabian. I thought I was Arab," she says, noting that her father went off every day to work in traditional Arab garb. After Sept. 11, she and her brother and sister and her American mother moved to a Mormon community near San Diego and she attended a regular public high school for a week.

"I hated it," Bishil says. "I was called a whore on the first day of school, and somebody said they thought my dad funded terrorism. I just knew that nobody was ever going to want to be my friend there. I had panic attacks the first year of my life here."

Ultimately, the family moved to Arcadia. Her mom home-schooled Bishil, who says it was her passion for acting that ultimately helped her assimilate to America. "I always wanted to act. In Saudi Arabia, I would watch movies sometimes too adult for me like 'Pretty Woman' and 'Edward Scissorhands.' I watched movies all day. As soon as we came to L.A., I thought, 'I'm here. I want to do it.' It was something that helped me adjust. Without it, I don't know where I would be." Her mother drove her to auditions. She landed parts primarily in Disney Channel fare until Ball discovered her during an extensive casting search that reached from Detroit to London.

In "Towelhead," Bishil must imply -- and occasionally perform -- a range of sexual activity on camera, though Ball wound up cutting most of the graphic sex out of the film. "Summer was a pro," Ball says. "I think it was much harder on Aaron than for her."

Still, Bishil found one particularly violent scene was upsetting. "I knew this stuff would have to happen eventually but I didn't think about it," Bishil says. Afterward, however, she remembers going back to her dressing room and "having a little emotional tantrum and crying. And being very sad. I was really tired too. I wasn't sleeping a lot. I was working 16 hours a day and operating on four hours of sleep. I'd come home and couldn't sleep.

"Everyone was so nice about it. There wasn't any reason to be crying," Bishil recalls. But just living in Jasira's mind was sometimes hard. "I didn't realize the toll it took on me, until now."

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rachel.abramowitz @latimes.com

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