Kunal Nayyar is best known for his role as Raj on The Big Bang Theory. He won our hearts with his interesting personality and sense of humor. Now, he is taking on a completely opposite role as Neil on Sullivan and Sons, which airs tonight on CBS.
Kunal recently talked to reporters on a conference call to discuss the role, the evolution of Raj and a new project he is working on.
Question: I was wondering if those great pickup lines you use on the show come from you or were they scripted?
Kunal Nayyar: No, it was scripted.
Question: Oh, so you didn’t get - you didn’t improve any of your favorites?
Kunal Nayyar: You know when the writing is so good I tend not to fuddle with it.
Question: Was there anything - then when you joined this cast - I mean, you’re a part of such a great comedic cast already, what was it like joining another great cast like this?
Kunal Nayyar: You know, it’s really interesting the dynamic because a lot of the cast of Sullivan & Sons, a lot of them are predominantly standup comedians. And on - so it was really fun working with standup comedians because, you know, on set every second there’s someone, like, making, you know, like, making a joke or energy is just very infectious because everyone is always laughing.
And not that on Big Bang we don’t have a good time or laugh or any of that but it was just interesting being surrounded by seven comedians who are always, you know, they’ll make a joke out of anything, which I found really fascinating and, of course, very enjoyable.
Question: And what was your pickup line that you got to use?
Kunal Nayyar: I’m trying to remember, there were so many. I like saying, "I like to go for the crazy girls. You know, crazy in the head, crazy in the bed." It was just fun to proclaim that to the entire bar of women.
Question: What was it like playing a different role than Raj because Raj can’t talk to girls and you could on this show?
Kunal Nayyar: It was liberating. It was a lot of fun, you know, it’s always fun to play characters who don’t have a filter because, you know, in society you have a filter.
Everyday you have a filter in your life. We live by these rules that are governed on us, you know, whether it’s family rules or rule of friendship or rules of etiquette or rules of manners.
It’s really fun to play a character who just throws all of the rules out of the book - out of the door and just says what’s on his mind and is sort of liberated and trying to pick up women this way and then completely lies about his ethnicity.
And, you know what I mean, he just has no sense of etiquette and it think that’s really fun to play because you never get to do that in real life.
Question: And, you know, talking about, like, accents, you did so many. Did you pick them or did the show go well you should do this, you know, do the San Diego surfboard - you know?
Kunal Nayyar: That was give - that was what the producers wanted for the show. So, I struggled with it, you know, trying to find the right vowels. Like, there was a word like figure.
I couldn’t say fig - you guys say figure and I couldn’t say figure, I kept saying figured. So, like it drove me crazy. Like, those are ((inaudible)) a few words here and there that were driving me crazy.
But it’s funny because I kept getting the note like no, no, you’re not Indian, you’re American faking to be Indian so your Indian accent cant be that good. Like, so it was funny. I was playing, like, opposite-opposite of myself.
Question: And how did the role come about for you?
Kunal Nayyar: You know, I know Rob Long who is - I have met Rob Long a few years ago and we had stayed in touch and become friends and the ((inaudible)) the show.
And, you know, we had talked about working together or doing something fun together and then when Sullivan & Sons came about this is just a conversation that we were having and they like - they said they wanted to find something fun for me to do and this sort of worked out that way.
Question: And what was it like doing the rehearsal taping and then doing the actual show taping later? Like, what ((inaudible)) for you and what, you know, what was that experience like?
Kunal Nayyar: You know, this wasn’t very different. I mean, an audience is an audience. You know, on Big Bang we don’t do a rehearsal taping. In place of that we just do a run through for the producers and the writers.
But I enjoyed it. you know, the more audience the better because it give you an opportunity to see where the laughs really lie and how to sort of write the - even though every audience is different it just gives you that sort of - it’s a nice way to go into the real taping because it gives you sort of confidence.
You know, this joke is funny and it is going to land.
Question: Where did you draw your inspiration from for this character?
Kunal Nayyar: Oh, I don’t know if I - you know, I don’t know if I sort of sat down and tried to find inspiration for this character. You know, it felt like play for me.
If my friends and I were just messing around and we were like oh my god, look at that guy, this is probably how that person talks or, you know, it’s sort of there was this Ed Hardy revolution that happened in Los Angeles that brought our really the worst in everyone, where everyone is just wearing Ed Hardy behaving in just insane ways.
I know it’s a silly thing but my friends and I had an Ed Hardy - we talked about having a big Ed Hardy party where we would just dress from head to toe in Ed Hardy and skulls and, like, walk around and just pretend to be these type of guys.
And so, that’s, like, where it came from. I was like I know how to be this kind of guy because we talked a lot about pretending to be this guy and it was fund, you know.
I find it - like I said, I find it very fascinating. Whenever you’re an actor and you play a character you cant judge that character. I can’t judge, you know, I can’t judge (Neil) for doing what he was doing in the show because then it wouldn’t be endearing, then I would not be liking my character.
(Neil) is a guy who really likes himself. So, it was really fun to just - go for it. You k now, I didn’t censor myself and I wasn’t self conscious about it. I really, really enjoyed it. Much too - you know, maybe too much. I’m not sure my wife was very happy but maybe too much.
Question: Okay and I just want to shift the gears a little bit. We saw the season finale of the Big Bang Theory, your character completely evolved. How do you feel about that?
Kunal Nayyar: You know, it’s been a long time coming, obviously, for Raj. Playing that character for six years, feeling all of his frustrations and emotions and his uphill struggles with, obviously, not only selective mutism but also finding the love of his life.
And when all that fall apart, just to be an actor - people, you know, on multi camera shows they’re always like oh you’re on a multi camera sitcom, like, your characters are so one dimensional it’s so false because we - this year I think especially every character really got to dig deep and sort of, you know, confront things that have been hindering them in their life.
And I think it was really great as an actor to get - and as a fan of Raj myself, I love Raj. You know, I played that character, I love that character, I care for that character. To just see him finally have a breakthrough is - was - it was a very, very touching moment.
Question: How did your haircut play into this role?
Kunal Nayyar: I didn’t cut it for the role. I had really long hair and I have to have long hair throughout the season and my hair’s curly in real life, we flatiron it on Big Bang. and it was hot and I just wanted to chop off all my hair, so I just cut it.
Question: And what are you doing this summer in between Big Bang?
Kunal Nayyar: I just finished shooting a moving called Dr. Cabby for eight weeks and I just got back and then Sullivan & Sons and then I’m doing some writing this summer and I just produced a documentary - a cricket documentary called, Beyond All Boundaries and I’m trying to get that sold and also trying to sleep.
Question: What is Beyond Boundaries about?
Kunal Nayyar: Beyond All Boundaries is about three lives centered around India winning the Cricket World Cup in 2011 and how it shapes their lives and how cricket is a way out of some of the challenges that you face living in a third world country and what cricket means to India as a whole. It’s a beautiful story - beautifully tragic story.
Question: Did you ever expect the Big Bang Theory to be such a cult following - have such a huge cult following?
Kunal Nayyar: No, you know, I always knew it was special but you can never imagine this level of success.
You dream about it, but to actually come to terms with it or expect it to happen, you know, it just - it’s not like that, because being an actor, you know, I mean, you’re praying for an audition, then you get an audit, then you’re praying to get called back, then you get call back, then you’re praying to book the job... Sorry. So as an actor, like I said, you know you’re praying for the audition and the call back and then you’re praying to get the job.
And then when you get the job you hope that the pilot gets picked up and that the pilot gets picked up you hope you don’t get recast and then you don’t recast and you hope you get one season, then you hope you get the back nine and then you hope you get another season.
So, you just - you’re always just trying to live in the moment. So you never - you hope these things happen and you imagine them happening and you pray for them happen but you really know.
So, no, to be honest, I didn’t know it was going to be such a huge cult following and I’m still constantly surprised at the fans and the numbers. And it’s hard to stay in the moment because it almost feels like it’s happening to someone else, you know, like I’m looking at myself from the outside.
And I know when it’s over and, you know, 10 - 15 years from now when I look back I’ll realize what a huge thing I part of and I’m very humbled by all of this but it’s just hard to grasp it or to fathom it, to be completely honest.
Thank you to Kunal and TBS for this opportunity and tune in to Sullivan and Sons tonight on TBS.