Kunal Nayyar is on one of TV’s most highest rated sitcoms, but the 34-year-old actor still doesn’t mind putting himself through pure hell on occasion.
At last Forbes check, Nayyar was pulling in $800,000 an episode as painfully shy astrophysicist Raj Koothrappali so he admits he didn’t write Yes, My Accent is Real (Atria, $26) for the money.
“It was torture doing a book about my life,” says Nayyar by phone ahead of his Sunday appearance at the Miami Book Fair. “It wasn’t cathartic at all. I almost quit three times.”
Luckily, a lot of the groundwork had been laid out beforehand — the London born, India raised actor had kept a diary of sorts of years, scribbling v arious thoughts and musings on airplane napkins; e.g. “There is a lot in this world to be worried about…but there is also a lot to celebrate. Be a smiler. Be a boss.” Reproductions of the napkins appear throughout the 245-pager, complete with cocktail ring stains.
So why go through the trouble? Obviously, seeing the hardcover on shelves feels like a “major accomplishment.”
But there’s a more universal reason: the fans.
“Forget sales. Forget bestseller lists, though don’t tell my publisher that,” Nayyar says, laughing. “When I get messages from people saying I loved your book, you inspired me to quit what I was doing or something that my parents wanted and live out my dreams, that’s nice.”
Nayyar is indeed the stuff American dreams are made of. Initially, he had no intention of going into showbiz, arriving from New Delhi to the United States in 1999 to study business administration at the University of Portland, Oregon. One day on campus, feeling “lonely,” the sophomore saw a sign for play tryouts and figured it might be a good way to meet people, especially the female kind.
Safe to say, the audition went well and parts in several plays followed. The acting bug was caught and turns out, not only was Nayyar pretty good on stage (if a bit histrionic, critics complained), being in front of an audience made him happy.
“Theater’ is where you can be yourself and not feel so out of place,” Nayyar explains. “Everyone has such colorful personalties and they’re allowed to express themsleves without being judged. I think that’s why I gravitated toward it so much originally.”
Armed with a business degree, Nayyar continued with his studies, forgoing Hollywood temporarily to nab a master’s in acting in 2006 at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Unlike most overnight success stories that take a decade, fame really did come rapidly for the girl-crazy charmer whose first role was on an NCIS episode, playing a terrorist.
Faster than you can say the two words, “lucky break,” Nayyar landed a plum role in a new show from Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men) about a bunch of supernerds working at Caltech.
Nayyar realizes his story isn’t like most stars; hence, another reason for the book.
“I think people are interested in my journey,” he says. “I think many would assume when you’re on a TV show that your life is so glamorous. And I was like, ‘Eh, let me tell you how it goes.’ I want you to know, ‘Hey, I’m just a kid from India’ and I’m like you.’ Whether it’s about meeting women, losing my virginity, failing at something. I’m humanizing my journey.”
Nayyar is excited for his first trip to Miami; he’ll arrive with his wife and afterward the couple head to Florence, Italy, for Thanksgiving.
When asked what TBBT fans usually say when they see him in a public setting, he answers: “My goodness. I didn’t realize how handsome you are.”
No seriously, though. “They expect me to be Raj. They’re like, ‘You’re so cool!’
When TBBT does inevitably end, you may see a book or two more out of Nayyar, despite the agony.
“I’d like to be in the position where I’m not waiting for the phone to ring,” he says. “I’d like to be the master of my own destiny.”
For info about his Sunday appearance with actor Jesse Eisenberg: http://miamibookfair.com/event/jesse-eisenberg-kunal-nayyar/