Leila Ladiner, who voices Mira, the lead character in Disney Junior’s animated series, “Mira, Royal Detective,” which released on March 20, says Mira is “just a normal girl who happens to be a South Asian.”
The 16-year-old actress is the voice behind television’s first South Asian female lead in a Disney show. Disney says the series, set in the magical Indian-inspired land of Jalpur, introduces a brave and resourceful girl named Mira, a commoner who is appointed to the role of royal detective by the queen.
This is Ladiner’s first voice over project and to be part of an ensemble cast of established South Asian actors is “exciting,” she told this correspondent. Although Ladiner did not get to spend time with them in the recording booth, as each actor recorded at different times, Ladiner said the premiers on the east and the west coasts was the first time she met the iconic actors. “It feels surreal to be working along with actors I have idolized all my life,” she said. Ladiner herself went to the recording studio a couple of times a week, straight from school. “It’s a magical place,” she said of the studio.
The cast of “Mira, Royal Detective” includes Freida Pinto, Kal Penn, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Hannah Simone, Jameela Jamil, Aparna Nancherla, Aasif Mandvi, Karan Soni, Maulik Pancholy, Sarayu Blue and Sarita Choudhury.
An actress, dancer, singer and songwriter, Ladnier’s credits include a principal role in the feature film “Boris and the Bomb,” as well as “Touch,” a finalist at the 2015 NBCU Short Film Festival, Channel’s “Bizaardvark” and a lead dancer in “Smurfs: The Lost Village” dance featurette. Her local and high school theater credits include “Aladdin,” “Footloose,” “The Sound of Music,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Tempest,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “Mamma Mia.”
The teenager got the project through her mother who is a voice trainer. When her agent asked her for recommendations of South Asian girls 13-18 who could sing, she pitched her daughter. Ladiner admits that although she didn’t know much about the role, she thought it was a great opportunity to get into an audition room. Soon she realized how “monumental it would be to play a role like this, the first of its kind.” Slowly reality started sinking in, Ladiner said.
She said she is “super excited” for her mom’s generation, who did not have any representation growing up, as well as little kids who will be exposed to South Asian culture. “It is a great feeling to be able to normalize South Asian culture on mainstream TV,” she said. “I definitely think it’s a perfect time for a show like this as I feel everyone is ready to embrace diversity.”
This being her first voice over project, Ladiner said she had to overcome a few challenges and inhibitions. “It is hard to judge yourself, as you can only hear and not see,” she said. “I had to constantly learn new skills on how to emote better,” she said. Mira is 12-year-old, so Ladiner said she had to raise her pitch and have a little more energy. “The atmosphere for recording is pretty laid back,” she said, which helps.
Ladiner, who watched a lot of Disney and Marvel, and grew up idolizing many strong heroes and characters, said she’s happy young kids will grow up looking up to Mira. She said the series send a message to young kids to know they can have fun and work together but mainly to never give up. Every time Mira lands a case she is always problem solving, never giving up until she solves the crime, she perseveres. And she is calm and poised in tough situations. “She has qualities everyone can aspire to have.” She said that one of Mira’s important qualities is that she’s inclusive, “that is something I get inspired by.” The show has also taught the teenager “a lot” about the business. “What works for me, when I’m comfortable and when I’m not.” And she’s learned what she wants out of this industry.