Karan Brar didn't have Disney Channel in the years before he joined the cast of "Jessie," so he just assumed the network featured characters that looked like him - a kid of Indian descent. He soon learned Disney had Indian guest actors appear, but his character Ravi would be the first series regular for the channel.
Brar compared his groundbreaking role to discovering a new indie band before everyone knows about their great sound.
"I discovered them. I was the first one to get into their music. It was that same proud feeling," the 16-year-old actor tells Headlines & Global News. "Disney is expanding culturally and it's really cool to be a part of that process."
Brar's parents emigrated from Punjab, India, to Washington state where Karan and his sister Sabreena were born. His father Harry had taken acting classes in college and encouraged his son to do the same, albeit at a younger age, when they both realized Karan would never thrive at sports.
"I spent so much money on sports equipment, it was ridiculous. I'm not good at sports," Brar says with a laugh. "But after that first acting class, I fell in love with it. It was amazing. My dad was my inspiration and has been so supportive throughout the year."
"Jessie" has given Brar the opportunity to strengthen his comedic skills and introduce his Indian culture to a broad audience. The young actor realizes his character sometimes draws criticism for an ill portrayal of Indian Americans, but he's most proud when he meets Indian families who say they love Ravi because he's "expanding the culture."
Brar has traveled to India three or four times to visit family and shared those experiences with the writers to possibly incorporate into the character of Ravi. His father also provides his own insights on Indian culture and helps out on set sometimes with accuracy and translating.
"It's really cool to see the roots of where my family came from," Brar says about visiting India. "It's a huge culture shock. Every time I'm in India, it's very humbling because everyone is very respectful and humble regardless of who you are."
Growing up in America, Brar had to learn an Indian accent when he got his first role as Chirag Gupta in "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." His first stab at the accent was so terrible that producers almost eliminated it from the character. Professional dialogue coach Tony O'Dell had confidence he could teach Brar the accent and convinced the producers to let him have a week to work on it with him. O'Dell succeeded, and now the Disney star receives compliments from fans when they meet him and hear his real accent.
"They say, 'We genuinely thought you were form India.' That's really sweet that they think my accent is real. It's more of a complement to me," Brar says.
What Brar appreciates most about his time on "Jessie" is the relationships that he and his co-stars have cultivated. He considers the cast family and a great support system for a bunch of teenagers trying to navigate Hollywood and adolescence together.
"Being a teenager that works and goes to a school is a lot on its own because your hormones are all over the place. Your mind is berserk," Brar says. "What's cool when you're a teenager is you find yourself. You discover things about yourself and to be able to share that experience with my best friends has really brought us together. You have someone by your side and we've all been helping each other through tough times."
He also credits his older co-stars Debbie Ryan, 21, and Kevin Chamberlain, 51, for guiding the younger kids through difficult situations that they have faced in their own lives. "They're constantly there with us and great for asking for advice or helping us out when times are tough."
They all waited with bated breath as Disney decided to renew the show for a fourth season. Another season has allowed the writers to further explore the characters and maybe give fans what they've been asking to see.
"I know there are fans that constantly tweet, 'We want to see this storyline. It would be so cool if you had this,'" Brar says. "I know the writers are going into stories that haven't been explored and that we've been waiting for. This is going to be like the cherry on top."
One of those storylines may be Ravi finally getting a girlfriend. He and adopted brother Luke (Cameron) have a "really cool arc" where they'll meet some girls they like. That episode will also see British pop band The Vamps stopping by the show.
Even though "Jessie" keeps him busy, Brar volunteers as much of his time as he can to The Thirst Project. The Los Angeles-based organization is working to solve the global water crisis, and the actor lends his voice to help spread the word.
"It's a little bit hard for me to fly out to other countries to go build wells, so I try to help on the homefront because the more people involved, the sooner we can end this global water crisis," he says. "It's a big problem throughout the world that I don't think many people pay attention to."
Moving forward in his career, Brar wants to expand into more dramatic and serious parts, but he credits his time on the Disney channel for teaching him so much about comedy. He just wants to keep having fun and learning along the way.