Meet Leela Ladnier: The 16-Year-Old Voice Behind Disney Junior’s First-Ever South Asian Royal Detective

leela ladnier
MIRA, ROYAL DETECTIVE - "The Case of the Royal Scarf/The Case of the Missing Bicycle" (Disney Junior) AUNTIE PUSHPA, MIRA, PRIYA

Growing up I watched Caillou, Cyberchase, Molly and the Big Comfy Couch, Even Stevens, That So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Seventh Heaven and the list goes on and on. They all had one thing in common, a lack of South Asian representation. The rare times I did see characters who looked and sounded like me (*cough, cough Apu from The Simpsons) they were tokenized. Needless to say, when Disney Junior announced they would launch an animated children’s show, “Mira The Royal Detective,” based on a young Indian girl, I was basically jumping for joy…literally. And to make things even sweeter, we had the honor of attending the New York City premiere of Disney Junior’s “Mira, the Royal Detective,” where Brown Girl Magazine CEO Trisha Sakhuja-Walia had the opportunity to interview Mira’s voice Leela Ladnier post-screening, and we also had the chance to kick it with cast members Kal Penn, Asif Mandvi and Aparna Nancherala.

A quick synopsis for those who may have not heard of Mira yet (but you really should have!): the first-of-a-kind show is an animated mystery-adventure series for preschoolers inspired by the cultures and customs of India. Set in the fictional land of Jalpur, the series follows the brave and resourceful Mira, a commoner who is appointed to the role of royal detective by the Queen. Along with her friend Prince Neel, a talented inventor, creative cousin Priya, and comical mongoose sidekicks Mikku and Chikku, Mira will stop at nothing to solve a case.

 

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Below the triple-threat actress, Ladnier shares with us the process of landing the role, her favorite after school snack, representation o the scene and what’s next for the 16-year-old budding star from Los Angeles.

How does one become a detective?! Tell us a little bit about the process of auditioning for a voiceover character?

My mom’s voice over agent asked her for any recommendations of South Asian girls 13-18 that can sing, and she said, “Well, my daughter!” I didn’t know much about it but I thought it was a great opportunity to get into an audition room. When I got a callback I realized how monumental it would be to play a role like this, the first of its kind. It took a while to hear back but once I did, it changed everything.

When did you first start singing?

Well, I’d say I’ve been singing since I could talk basically. I can’t pinpoint an exact time. I’ve been involved in musical theatre through school my entire life so the fact that I get to sing and act as Mira is incredible.

What is your go-to audition song?

“A Whole New World” from Disney’s “Aladdin.” I loved Jasmine growing up, and the song is so beautiful. I sang it for the Mira audition as well!

 

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What shows did you grow up watching that impacted you in a way you hope Mira impacts other children?

I watched a LOT of Disney and Marvel, and grew up idolizing many strong heroes and characters so it’s crazy to think that someone might look up to Mira the way I looked up to other characters. It’s surreal to think they’ll to see themselves in her.

What were your favorite Disney shows growing up?

Ah, you’re putting me on the spot! Anything the early 2000s was my jam! I would watch a lot of Shake it Up, Good Luck Charlie, Jessie, which is crazy because I went from watching Karan Brar to being on a show with him!

Many Disney Junior shows center around a message or lesson, what do you think Mira’s is?

I think it’s a message for 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.

 

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Born in the Big Apple and raised in Los Angeles — two melting pots — why do you think representation on screen is important?

I was born in New York but moved to Los Angeles when I was two-years-old. I want to move back here [NYC] for college! I believe that everyone is entitled to seeing themselves on stage and on screen. My mom’s generation didn’t have these opportunities. I’m excited for the younger generations to see South Asian culture normalized. It won’t be a diversity check. It’ll be like two kids in a turban, nothing to see here. People will get to learn about our culture.

As an artist starting out in a far more diverse and inclusive market than before, what types of projects do you find yourself gravitating towards? What do you look for in a role?

I’ve always wanted to be in a Marvel movie like Scarlett Johannson, a strong powerful female, and I’ve also always wanted to be on Broadway! My favorite show is Legally Blonde and my favorite character is Elle woods.

How do you juggle school and voiceover?

If you’re doing what you love you’ll find a way to make it work. I get to be a normal kid and go to school and then every other week I’m in this magical place recording for Disney Junior.

“Mira The Royal Detective” is a dream South Asian cast, what was it like to meet all of them?

The cast is full of incredible actors and actresses who are living and work all over the world, so, unfortunately, we don’t spend too much time in the booth together. The premiers on the east and the west coasts are the first time I’m getting to meet these iconic actors, and I’m SO excited!

 

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If you and Mira had a favorite after school snack, what would it be?

It would have to be ice cream, specifically mint chocolate chip.

If we spent a day in L.A. with Leila, what are three things we’d do?

1. Thrifting because #sustainable.
2. We’d go to this vegetarian, Chinese restaurant called Garden Wok, it’s delicious.
3. And we’d go to the beach! You can’t come to L.A. and not go to the beach

What have you learned from being on the show?

I’ve learned a lot about the business. What works for me, when I’m comfortable and when I’m not. I’ve also learned what I want out of this industry. Voiceover is challenging to emote and communicate through a mic. I want to continue to land roles that challenge me.

 

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From chatting all things Mira and the shift of representation in the industry, Disney Junior’s “Mira, the Royal Detective” sets a new precedent in Hollywood, and we’re so here for it. The screening was absolutely breathtaking — from the graphic and visual detail to the cultural and diverse religious nuances, Mira truly made us feel seen (and heard!). Not to mention one of the most memorable moments from the premiere was sitting next to Leela and her mom Kavi Ladnier (@kaviladnier1111) as they held hands, smiled at one another, and watched their hard work play on the big screen.

“Mira The Royal Detective” goes live on Disney and Disney Junior on March 20th, 2020.

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