Calgary expat Agam Darshi delves into complex character in CTV's new high-concept cop drama, Sight Unseen

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Agam Darshi says acting in the new CTV cop drama Sight Unseen at times seemed like a “one-woman show.”

The Calgary expat is not being egotistical. The unique police procedural boasts an ensemble cast, it’s just that most of Darshi’s scenes had the actress appearing by her lonesome. It is part of the unique dynamic of Sight Unseen, which debuts Jan. 21 on CTV and centres on former homicide detective Tess Avery (played by American actress Dolly Lewis) who quits the force after being diagnosed as clinically blind. She enlists a service that provides a remote seeing-eye guide: Darshi’s seemingly cheery New Yorker Sunny Patel.

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In Episode 1, Tess is haunted by the unsolved case she left behind involving a violent kidnapping so she attempts to solve the crime as a civilian using Sunny as her eyes. While the two form a bond, the characters are meant to be 4,500 kilometres apart. In the early episodes provided to the media, Darshi spends most of her time talking to a computer screen or her iPhone.

“It was really a wonderful collaborative experience, but I feel like I was given a lot of freedom by both the directors as well as (co-creators Karen and Nikolijne Troubetzkoy) to explore this character in the way I wanted to explore her and really dive deep in the way that wanted to,” says Darshi, in a Zoom call with Postmedia. “I think a lot of the choices I made were choices that came from a director’s perspective as well. I was constantly thinking to myself ‘If I were directing this . . . ‘ Who is Sunny to Tess? Ultimately, the show is about Tess, this woman struggling with something very difficult, and she creates this relationship with a woman named Sunny. So what can I do to really enhance who Tess is? As a writer and a director, how would I want to see these two characters?”

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Darshi, who spent her teen and university years in Calgary, has been acting for nearly two decades. But she recently expanded her skill set by writing, directing and starring in the 2022 family drama Donkeyhead, which has allowed her to see performance through a different lens. The early episodes suggest the near-giddy persona Sunny initially conveys isn’t the whole story. She is agoraphobic, a condition apparently brought upon by violence and trauma that is hinted at in the first episode but not revealed. There is also the strong suggestion that Sunny’s curious obsession with Tess stems from an intense interest in true crime, which is also connected to the “dark things that have happened in her own past,” Darshi says.

“I think what was so interesting was playing with public and private,” Darshi says. “Who are we in our private spaces? And, if you are agoraphobic, you are in your private space a whole lot. She would feel a lot of cabin fever after a while. She wants to get out, she wants to see the world but she is trapped in this little space that also makes her feel safe. So who is she in that? How weird can she get? So there were a lot of times when I was able to play with those ideas. I told every director ‘I might go a little far so feel free to pull me back and get me back to normal if you think it isn’t rooted in anything.’”

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Needless to say, this didn’t happen too often. Darshi was allowed to delve deeply into Sunny’s complex psychological makeup, which was presumably a treat for an actress who has been practising her trade for nearly 20 years. Born in England, Darshi arrived in Canada at a young age and moved to Calgary with her family when she was 14. She eventually studied visual art at the University of Calgary while minoring in theatre. It was after taking a course in acting in TV and film at Calgary’s Company of Rogues that she decided to get an agent. By 2004, she was living in Vancouver and had booked her first major role for a three-episode run in the teen drama renegadepress.com.

Darshi has been active ever since, taking small parts in big films such as Snakes on a Plane and 2012 while landing leads in the sci-fi series Sanctuary, the short-lived cop drama Played and the comedy Dan for Mayor. In 2020, she earned a Canadian Screen Award nomination for best supporting actress for playing the free-spirited Radha in Deepa Mehta;s adaptation of author Shyam Selvadurai’s 1994  autobiographical coming-of-age novel Funny Boy.

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She says acting remains her priority, but she continues to expand her resume. Last year, she worked as a story editor for the upcoming CBC crime drama Allegiance and later directed an episode of the series.

“It was a really nice year because I feel like I’ve been able to do three things I love with writing, directing and acting,” she says. “I don’t ever want to stop acting, it’s truly my first love. But I really love writing and I love directing and I’m still exploring that space. I feel very young in that world. But it excites me and I think it just makes me a better actor and vice-versa.”

Sight Unseen debuts Jan. 21 on CTV.

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