Former Miss New Jersey recalls befriending Clint Eastwood, reveals why she’s taking on new film ‘Jungle Cry’
Former Miss New Jersey Emily Shah is still grateful for her time rubbing shoulders with Hollywood royalty.
The beauty queen-turned-actress worked behind the scenes in the 2014 film “Jersey Boys,” which was directed by Clint Eastwood. It was then when she learned some valuable lessons from the 89-year-old, lessons she still treasures today.
Shah, 24, is now starring in the film “Jungle Cry,” which recently made its international debut at the Cannes Film Festival.
Based on a true story, the film follows a team of rugby players who grow up on the slums of India and made history after winning the 2007 Rugby Nations Cup in England.
The Chicago-born starlet spoke to Fox News about what it was really like working with Eastwood, what drew her to the pageant world, and why she wouldn’t mind playing a female Bond.
Fox News: You were previously an assistant in the film “Jersey Boys.” What surprised you the most about Clint Eastwood? Emily Shah: Clint Eastwood was so humble and he was actually very funny and very charming, still to this day. And I remember we were on set in New Jersey and he would always come up to me. I was the youngest person working on the set. And usually to see a woman in production is quite rare. And that too at the age of 17, 18 years old. So he would always come up to me and just pick my brain and kind of tease me about things.
And I remember we were in Jersey shooting one of the scenes at Frankie Valli’s home and he had come up to me and it was 7 o’clock in the morning. I had a bag of Skittles and he had some Altoids. And so he looked at my Skittles and I kind of handed it to him. And he was like, “No, but do you want my Altoids?”
And I was like, “Is that your pickup line, Mr. Eastwood?” And he was like, “Yeah, how’d you know?” So he’s got that spunk where he’s just charming and he is who he is. And one of the greatest things that I’ve learned from him, especially as a director working with actors, is that he never called action onset. And I had asked him why. And I always heard that he never did this, but I never understood why or what his reasoning was. But he said when he used to shoot the Westerns back in the day and [they] would yell action, the horses would go crazy. So he said, “If the horses went crazy, imagine what it does to a human brain.”
So he would have his iPad and he’d walk around on set. And as the actors were ready, they would continue to perform and the cameras would just be rolling nonstop. And I thought that was such a beautiful way to perform, especially as an actor. It gives you so much freedom to express your talents.
I remember on “Jungle Cry” I had a few emotional scenes. There were some very deep scenes, and I asked the director not to yell “action” and just to keep the camera rolling. And I remember there was one day that I had to cry and one of the child actors had to cry with me, and it was quite difficult for him to do so. But I had to sustain that emotion for a period of six hours, and I remember it worked so well just because of that one technique that I learned from Mr. Eastwood.
Fox News: Looking back, what was it about the pageant world that drew you in? Shah: I knew that the pageant world was definitely a stepping stone to where I wanted to be, and it’s helped me in tremendous ways and it’s given me a platform that I didn’t even imagine it could give me. But I mean, even with my public speaking skills and my confidence – I think that’s something that’s so important to have as an artist – to be confident in yourself.
And indirectly the pageant world has given me that. I couldn’t be more thankful. I mean, besides everything else that I’ve gained from it, the exposure, the experience… the friendships that I have made through pageantry. Just these past three months, I was a bridesmaid in two of my pageant girls’ weddings. So it’s really been an awesome experience.
Fox News: You officially started in 2014? Shah: No, I actually did pageants when I was a toddler… And then I did them for scholarships and I ended up winning some scholarship money. So it was good for college. But yeah, I kind of gave it up after doing those when I was about 5 or 6 [years old]… I focused on school. And then once I was 14 I decided I wanted to get back into pageantry. I loved being on stage. I was a dancer at the time, did theater, so it was another form of entertaining on the stage. And so I went back into pageantry and I did a bunch of teen competitions.
… I thought, “This is something that I enjoy doing” and it brings me a lot of confidence. And my speaking skills are great, and it makes me more dedicated and focused on who I am and what I want to pursue. So I continued with it. And then once I was 18 I was able to compete for Miss New Jersey USA. And right off the bat, I had won. So I was the youngest one and I didn’t know what I was doing, but it worked out.
Fox News: Being in the pageant world for such a long time, what are some misconceptions you feel people still have about them, and what’s the reality? Shah: I do hear still to this day that people think that it’s just parading around your beauty and it’s very facetious, and it’s very surface level and that’s someone’s perception from the outside. But if you have anyone that you know who does pageants or you yourself do pageants, you know how much it can ground you and how much it can determine your focus level and your dedication, because pageantry is like a sport.
It’s like an athlete preparing for a game or any scholar preparing for a test. So I think in that aspect, pageantry really helps women shape their futures and it helps them create opportunities for themselves in any field. I mean, we have Miss New Jerseys who are biochemists, who work for the FBI, who are dancers now… It’s not just the entertainment industry. And I think that people need to realize that pageantry is a stepping stone into a woman’s career and her life.
Fox News: What can audiences expect from “Jungle Cry”? Shah: “Jungle Cry” is based on a true story. It’s a sports film that brings in an element of family, community, education, and it’s really an inspiring story just like most sports films are. But I think the best thing about “Jungle Cry” is that anyone from any background of any race and any gender can really relate to it.
Fox News: You originally read the script and initially noticed that there was a lack of roles for women. How did that change? Shah: When I first read “Jungle Cry,” I saw that it was such a male-dominant story. And of course, rugby is a male dominant sport. And I felt that the essence of a woman and the gentleness of a woman and the feminist in me just needed to know that a story like this should be able to relate to other women. And so every sports team has a sports physio, and nine times out of 10 it’s a female doctor. So I just thought it would be such an easy mesh and combination to add a physio role and for her to be female.
And so when we added the role of Roshni Thakkar, who is my character’s name, it just blended in so well with the story and with the kids, and the element that the kids brought to her life and the impact that she made on the boys’ life as well as the coach. So it’s truly a blended story and she’s the only American who’s in the entire story. So it’s a very diverse cast.
Fox News: You’re the daughter of famed Bollywood actor and director Prashant Shah. What was it like growing up with someone like him? Shah: My father would always bring me to meetings and he would make sure that I was on set when I wasn’t in school, and he made sure that I was involved in the production side especially, and taught me everything that he knew. So our table conversations, even at dinner, always had to do with film or with production or anything that had to do with the entertainment industry. And so I was really brought up in this world, and the entertainment industry was embedded in me as a kid.
And as I grew up, I continued to go to meetings with him and eventually would create opportunities for myself as well as my dad would for himself. And so I believe my dad has really opened doors for me, but it’s me who has done the hard work and who has put myself through those doors. I grew up in an Indian household, so my grandparents raised me. I speak two Indian languages. Gujarati was my first language. Then I learned English and then I learned Hindi. So I grew up watching Bollywood movies, listening to Bollywood music, dancing to Bollywood music, even taking Bollywood classes. So it was really a part of who I am and it still is to this day.
Fox News: You were bullied as a child. How did you cope with that? Shah: When I was a kid I used to have a mole on my face and so I would get bullied all the time. People would call me Emoly or from “Austin Powers” the “moley, moley, mole” thing would come up constantly. And I ended up having to remove it because I have melanoma in my family and it was detected with skin cancer. So that essentially did take care of the bullying for me. However, the way that I overcame that trauma and dealing with that type of negativity as a kid [was that] I had a really strong set of parents and grandparents and siblings that always kept me at a positive level.
And I think my surroundings definitely helped, and my upbringing helped. And I always remained true to what my values were and I remembered that if I was a good person, no matter what I said or did, it wouldn’t matter. And no matter what anyone said or did, it wouldn’t affect me. So I think dealing with bullying is always hard and it’s a tough one for kids. I have a little niece who’s 8 years old and I always stress about her being bullied, but as long as kids have a good support system, I think they’ll be OK.
Fox News: It’s always been said that Hollywood could do better when it comes to embracing diversity and having inclusivity. Do you think it’s getting better? Shah: I absolutely do think it’s getting better. I mean, I watch TV and I watch films and I see more people who look like me or who look like the friends I grew up with and I grew up in New Jersey, which is so diverse.
So for me to not see that growing up, I didn’t quite understand why a TV show had only Caucasians on it, or I just never understood that. But now seeing it, it’s so much more open and broad to these opportunities and it just works. I mean, everyone’s loving it. And I think the one thing that Hollywood definitely has to focus on is that inclusivity and not just having it be … If I were a production house I want to hire actors from all over the world and from all different backgrounds, not just Indian actors or not just Caucasian actors, just a broad cast. That would be my dream to do that.
Fox News: Tell us about your fascination with action flicks. Shah: I would always watch action films and I love action films. I mean, the Bourne series is my favorite. The James Bond series is one of my favorites, and it would upset me as a little girl to never see those types of roles being played by women.
And so growing up I always wanted to be a Bond girl because I thought that that was the only way to do action films or to be a part of such an iconic series. But then once I grew up … Angelina Jolie came out with “Salt,” and so many different actresses have done so many different action features. My dream one day is to have a franchise series that is “Mission Impossible” but with a female. And I would love to play that. So yeah, it is a dream to be a Bond girl, but I think I’d rather be James Bond.