Local teenager plays lead role in new Hulu limited series “Under the Bridge”

With seven years of theater, short films, commercials, modeling and voiceovers under her belt, 14-year-old Bothell native Vritika Gupta landed a lead role in the true-crime drama series, “Under the Bridge”.

The series — which premiered on Hulu in April — is based on a Rebecca Godfrey book, re-telling the true-story of 14-year-old Reena Virk of Saanich British Colubmbia. Throughout the series, Virk tackles her strict family and navigates friendships as she attempts to mold into a clique of fellow teenage girls who have tangled pasts. In November 1997, Virk was attacked and drowned in a river.

Eventually the attack was traced back several of Virk’s peers, including the clique of girls —Kelly Ellard (Izzy G.), Josephine Bell (Chole Guidry) and Dusty (Aiyana Goodfellow) — and a teenage boy, Warren Glowatski (Javon Walton).

Gupta, who attends Leota Middle School, has been eager to sink her teeth into acting since she saw the Disney Channel show “Bunk’d”, at seven years old. She credited the show’s behind-the-scenes clips and the sets as what sparked her and her sister’s interest.

“I did lessons with [my sisters] and kind of just some classes and coaching to really get into the feel of it…she quit, but I kept going,” Gupta said.

Gupta earmarked the end of the COVID pandemic as the time when she transitioned from theater to on-camera acting — which she said she prefers.

Gupta’s mother, Upasna, who had a past passion for performing in skits, said once Gupta decided to act, she committed to every task that came with the job.

“Anytime I used to say ‘we need to do this coaching, we need to do this audition at 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock,’ she used to do it without hesitance,” Upasna said smiling. ” It’s a big commitment and a passion that I saw in her.”

Besides acting, Gupta also participates in competitive swimming and club volleyball.

“I think it’s super important to have those two separate worlds, you know, my social life and acting,” she said.

Although Gupta has acted in 14 short films and TV series, seven commercials, four theater productions and seven internet productions, “Under the Bridge” marked her first involvement in a project based on real events.

At first, like many of her fellow young cast mates, Gupta wasn’t familiar with Virk’s story. Once she began to learn about the incident, she saw the importance of resurfacing the story, as there are “so many Reena’s out there, she’s not the only one.”

“Being able to share that story and also understand it myself and learn as I go is something that’s so useful, not only as an actor but as a person to be able to educate myself…and learn about that was super important to me,” she added.

Undertaking a non-fictional character whose story has reverberated in different forms throughout 27 years, was difficult to navigate at times, Gupta admitted. While some actors had old interviews and articles to base their character after, Gupta had to mostly study Virk through others’ written words.

Alongside Godfrey’s book and leaning on the series producer and showrunner Samir Mehta for guidance, Gupta found the pillars of Virk’s identity through “Reena: A Father’s Story,” authored by Manjit, Virk’s father.

“I wanted to learn more about Reena not just as a teenager, but as a sister and as a friend, and to be able to really understand her past and her childhood,” Gupta said. “I think [Manjit’s] book did such a great job of being able to show the emotions that not only he felt, but what he thought she felt. I feel like those things were so useful to get into that mindset and to get into that mental space.”

Gupta also credited the casting director Julie Schubert’s orchestration of several callbacks and chemistry reads over Zoom as the reason castmates “instantly clicked.”

Although on screen, the relationship between Gupta and the clique of teenage girls had many tension-filled scenes, off-screen, the girls did school, explored Canada, hung out by the hotel pool and ate together.

“I think [chemistry] is something that is so important to have. It can translate to on the screen if you have it off-screen,” she said.

After watching the series, Gupta hopes people glean lessons beyond spreading kindness and positivity in the world and to understand the importance of surrounding oneself with trustworthy and supportive individuals.

“I think that’s so important because understanding people’s mistakes and also empathizing with them is so important, and being able to always have kind of a support system and something to lean on, is truly the most valuable.”