Aasif Mandvi: Opportunities for brown actors are limited in Hollywood
The actor who plays one of the leads in the supernatural drama, Evil that is being aired on Zee Cafe talks about the series and his journey in Hollywood
The debate between religion and science is one for the ages. Evil, a supernatural series that began airing last year, looked to explore this conversation through a series of cases solved by a forensic psychologist, a priest and a no-nonsense pragmatist. Aasif Mandvi, who plays the pragmatist, says the prime motive of the series is to understand the word, ‘evil’, better. "It can be considered the demons or the ghosts in a spiritual realm or we can also see it as something within people's heart. I believe that the latter is more complex and intriguing than say, performing an exorcism."
With Evil being aired now on Zee Cafe, we talk to the actor, comedian and producer about the show and his journey in Hollywood.
Excerpts from the conversation:
Your character, Ben Shakir, is the go-to guy for scientific explanations. Do you think Indian-American actors get typecast as nerds in the West?
I do think there is a tendency to cast not only Indian but Asian actors in general in such roles. Such nerd character typically don’t have a personal or romantic life of their own in most series. But here, the show focusses equally on the romantic and sexual life of my character Ben. I made sure that the creators of the show Robert King and Michelle King included such aspects for my role, as I felt it differentiates Ben from the typical nerd. I do think the rules of portrayal are changing in the industry, and I’m happy about that.
Are you a pragmatist, like Ben?
I believe there is more to the universe than we understand sensorily, and I am completely different from Ben. While I have a spiritual take on life, Ben loves to examine things and focus on the facts. In fact, it was this difference that intrigued me about this character.
With comedy being your forte, did you have any concerns fitting into a dark supernatural show like Evil?
I would rather identify myself as an actor than a comedian. I understand that those who saw me in The Daily Show or follow my stand-up comedy gigs feel that's all I do, but I have been fortunate enough to play a lot of serious roles too. So when Evil was offered to me, I took it up right away.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge of being an Indian-American actor in Hollywood?
Climbing up the ladder in the entertainment business as a brown actor demanded that I master a whole lot of skills. When I began, there weren't many roles to play for Asian actors. So I had to be ready to grab every offer. Whether it was doing a standup gig, acting in a movie, performing on Broadway, or writing a book, I was game for everything, and this, fortunately, ended up getting me more interesting work than my white counterparts sometimes.
What is in store for the audience in Season 2 of Evil?
We haven't started shooting for it yet. With the pandemic still out there, everything has been put on hold. I have read the script of the first episode and I can assure you that you are in for an astonishing ride.
You have seen the entertainment industry evolve from Thursday night premieres to binge-watching. Which do you prefer as a consumer?
I binge-watch now. I don't think I watch TV the same way I used to. I don't think any of us do. We all consume content according to the convenience of our schedule. Whenever we get time, my wife and I binge-watch a series. We rarely tune into Thursday night premieres any more. I hear that fans of Evil also prefer to binge-watch it than waiting for a new episode every day.
What are you working on now?
I have several writing and producing projects on the pipeline. Firstly, I am planning to produce an animated feature based on an award-winning novel Night Diary, which is based on the partition of India and Pakistan during 1947. This story is told through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl. I hope to make our film as beautiful as the book is.
(Evil airs on week days at 2 PM on Zee Café SD and HD)