From theatre to TV: An interview with Anirudh Pisharody of Never Have I Ever

Anirudh Pisharody in Never Have I Ever Photo Credit: Lara Solanki/Netflix

The daisies are in bloom, keeping the vibes immaculate when Anirudh Pisharody appears in the small window of a Zoom screen. Donning a palm-tree patterned shirt and a tranquil smile, Pisharody exudes the aura of spring from his lodgings in the Cayman Islands. There, he’s shooting the newly announced thriller flick Unit 234, rounding out the star-studded cast along with Isabelle Fuhrman

A testament to Pisharody and his versatility as an actor, this isn’t the only ensemble he’s added his talent to. Releasing August 12th, 2022, he is also the latest addition to Mindy Kaling’s hit Netflix series Never Have I Ever. Cold Tea Collective sat down with Pisharody to get the latest on his upcoming role, his thoughts on Hollywood and South Asian representation, and his sights for the future.  

To hear the complete interview, check out the full Pearls of Wisdom Podcast episode.

Humble theatre beginnings for the South Asian actor 

Anirudh Pisharody began his foray into acting in the sixth grade, at a middle school theatre production. He initially joined because his best friend was taking part, but eventually fell in love with it wholeheartedly. 

“As a kid, when your homework is to memorize a monologue, it beats doing math and science,” he laughs. Coming out of high school, he had that quintessential crisis reserved for an eighteen-year-old. He enjoyed acting and film, but the time had come for him to make the decision: what to be? 

Being part of an immigrant family, Pisharody expresses how supportive his parents were of acting. While they didn’t subscribe to the often-depicted stereotype of taciturn immigrant South Asian parents, they expressed it would be great to have a doctor in the family. He jokes about watching House MD and Grey’s Anatomy, and thinking that maybe he could do the whole “doctor thing.” It would be remiss not to mention that Pisharody picking up a doctor’s role in television is a delicious irony, given his trajectory. 

Throughout college, he worked on getting his degree in Public Health. All the while, he continued to pursue acting as a hobby. He was not yet convinced that he could make a professional living out of it. But a gap year and a corporate stint later, he moved to Los Angeles to be with his now-wife and decided to just go for it. He went out to auditions, got a commercial agent, and slowly started booking roles. 

While his parents were hesitant at first, they encouraged him to go for it if that was what he truly wanted to do. And it was.

Landing Never Have I Ever 

Playing Des, an Indian American teen who is Devi’s brainy elite private school counterpart, Anirudh Pisharody speaks to Never Have I Ever’s groundbreaking representation of the Indian American diaspora. He explains that Never Have I Ever’s representation doesn’t end with its on-screen diversity, but blooms behind the camera. 

For the Indian American actor, it was one of the first experiences on a production working with so many talented Asian Americans and POCs in the crew. The sense of open collaboration felt like a breath of fresh air, and made the “rep sweats” — the pressure of being the sole representative of a community — disappear. 

Of his upcoming role, Pisharody can’t give too much away but thinks fans will love the added layer of drama. He hopes he gets to reprise the role in the next season. His favourite part of the role is the non-stereotypical nature of his character, and hopes that young South Asian kids everywhere feel a sense of inspiration when they take it in. 

Hollywood’s approach to diversity

Pisharody goes on to comment on Hollywood’s often tokenistic approach to diversity. It’s a very reactionary approach, he says, because they’re usually under fire for a lack of diversity. In order to combat that, they undertake quick-fix methods by merely casting diverse actors to window dress the story on a surface level. 

“It feels like they’re forcing the diversity issue onto projects,” Pisharody says. 

Contrasting that with his experience on Never Have I Ever, and the joy of being one of many three-dimensional South Asian characters, Pisharody expresses the effect of representation done right. Never Have I Ever very much centers around a South Asian family. As a result, their social circle, culture, and even Devi’s love life are so organically diverse. Its authenticity is impactful because it’s an innate part of who they are. 

When asked about what’s lacking in South Asian representation in media, Pisharody wishes for more South Asians in blockbuster action movies. He believes seeing South Asian men as leading men is the next step to entering the zeitgeist. Then the next generation watching these popcorn flicks can subconsciously take in that yes, South Asians can be the heroes, not just the one-note best friends or taxi drivers. And, hopefully take that and apply it into their everyday lives. 

The ultimate dream for an actor

Anirudh Pisharody
Photo Credit: Amanda Ramón

Keeping the Ultimate Dream™ in mind, Pisharody states that his biggest goal is what every actor wants: to have autonomy over the roles and projects he wants to work on. Additionally, to have the the projects that he does undertake come to fruition. He also expresses the need to support talented screenwriters and creatives and bring their projects to the forefront.

Speaking more tangibly, he hopes to live bicoastally between New York and Los Angeles so that he could be a part of his first love: the theatre. He hopes to jump back and forth between television, film, and theatre, and get to experience a little bit of everything. 

A Pearl of Wisdom

For young South Asian actors looking to be where he is now, he advises hopefuls to think less. 

“My mom will probably say, ‘how could you say, ‘think less’ to these people?'” he laughs. He clarifies that he doesn’t mean to think about the work less; one should still prepare and do the scene and character work. But he means obsessing less and overthinking less about the variables one can’t control. Unfortunately there are a lot of variables — the casting agents, their history of casting, the open ethnicity auditions, and the minutia of the process. All of which do not do any good for one’s productivity. 

So, in the words of Anirudh Pisharody, current star of Never Have I Ever, future action hero: Think less, be present. 

Never Have I Ever season three will premiere on Netflix August 12, 2022.

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