Sunnie James D’Souza: a portrait

Sunnie James D’Souza is a Vancouver-based actor. | Photo by David Leyes

move to the mountains! Coming to Vancouver brought some life lessons for Sunnie James D’Souza, a 31-year-old actor of Indian descent born and raised in Toronto. The actor, known for the films Calcutta Taxi (2012), Zoo (2015), and Shadowhunters (2016), has been living in Vancouver for the past three years, having moved here because he saw a greater amount of opportunity in Vancouver. More importantly, at the age of 27, he realized that he had never really moved out of his home and was still living with his mother who, out of love, had a habit of babying him and keeping him in her safety net.

At the age of eight, D’Souza says his father ran out on the family, and his mother took care of him and his younger brother with the help of his grandma. With a single mother having to work three minimum wage jobs in order to pay rent – and only being able to afford one child’s day care – D’Souza grew up with his grandma. D’Souza describes these two women as the most influential people in his life.

“Mom was able to buy a house eventually. She was one of those people who didn’t date anybody; she never went out for movies, one of those who penny pinched until she bought a house,” he says with pride. “And she did it.”

His family went from living in what he remembers as a rather unsafe and low-income neighbourhood to a wealthier, safer neighbourhood, from a place where he learned to beat people up and be tough to survive, to a more disciplined area.

A hike – and a lesson

Mountains!” D’Souza exclaimed immediately when asked about the first thing that strikes to him when he thinks of Vancouver.

D’Souza notes that stories including nature, the mountains, the ocean and hiking repeatedly arise when speaking about the things he likes about Vancouver.

“It’s something you don’t have in Toronto; it’s very flat,” he says.

He took particular joy in sharing his first hiking story about Grouse Mountain, which he describes as a rather cathartic experience that gave him perspective and felt like the perfect analogy to life.

D’Souza’s experience started off with an invite from his friend Olivia, who had simply just told him that they were climbing a mountain. D’Souza thought that was a great idea, but didn’t realize how hard it could be. They got to Grouse Mountain and realized the Grouse Grind trail was closed off, so taking the advice of an experienced local, they decided to go up the back trail.

“We start climbing this mountain together, and Olivia eventually starts getting ahead of me,” he says.

He eventually lost her. As he continued to walk and walk for a long time he realized he was not even a quarter of the way up.

“By this point, I’ve started seeing people turn back in front of me, giving up, but also people who are zooming past me who are younger and faster. I’m dehydrated by now, and I see this guy who’s just running up, cheering me on, and seconds later I’m lost.”

A metaphor for acting

Concerned about his safety – being stuck on a mountain – D’Souza says he really wanted to quit by this point. Eventually the same man who was running up the mountain cheering started running back down, only to bump into D’Souza and guide him back onto the trail. So D’Souza kept hiking up, and as he heard Olivia’s voice calling out for him he realized he had finally made it to the top.

“As I was looking at what I had just accomplished, I realized how it paralleled being an actor and trying to at least make it,” he prompted. “You can start off with someone at the same point, and some people are just better at it than you. And you see people who are younger or older and people who probably shouldn’t be doing it, like the old man with the stick, but they still make it to the top of the mountain.”

D’Souza describes his Grouse Mountain hike as a metaphor for life, where there are so many types of people who make it to the top at their own speed, in their own way and some who just don’t make it at all.

“In the end, if you just stick it out you will eventually make it,” he says.

Vancouver, the first place D’Souza moved to independently, has become his new home. He says when he goes back to Toronto, even though he misses his family and wishes he could be close to them, it no longer feels like home.

“I can’t give up the mountains, the weather, the oceans,” he says. “It just feels right to be here.”

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