Actor Rizwan Manji has been popping up on TV for more than a decade now, with guest spots on shows ranging from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Better Off Ted to 24 and FlashForward. Most recently, he had a recurring role on the CW drama Privileged, and now he’s one of the regulars on the NBC comedy Outsourced, in which he plays Rajiv Gidwani, an ambitious assistant manager at a call center in India. Manji, who was born in Toronto, Canada, chatted with me before the Outsourced premiere about the show, his character and the perceptions that a comedy about Indian call-center workers has had to overcome.
How did you first become aware of the show?
I first heard about the show fairly early on during pilot season. I got a script from my agent, saying, “Hey, you should take a look at this. There’s a couple parts that you might be right for.” I read it and right away I was like, this is the funniest thing I’ve read. I think being Indian as well made me just think it was so funny. I mean, I think it’s already funny, but I could relate to it on a completely different level. I ended up auditioning for the role of Gupta, because the casting director thought I was better for that part. I actually ended up screen testing for the role of Gupta, with Parvesh [Cheena], who ended up getting it. And then we did that for two days—they had other people auditioning for Rajiv. I didn’t get it, and then a week later they called and said, “Would you be interested in testing for the role of Rajiv?” I just went in and within a day I found out that they wanted me as Rajiv.
Were you familiar with the 2006 movie that the show is based on, or have you since become familiar with it?
I was [aware] that a movie existed, and I had heard about it. However, I hadn’t seen the movie, and then once I ended up getting cast, I was going to watch it, and then we were advised that maybe it’s better for us to hold off on watching the movie so we’re not influenced. And I still haven’t watched it yet, because I’m waiting for us to really finish up our first little bit, and then I won’t be affected by it at all. Because I’ve been told that the character—there is an assistant manager character in the movie, but he’s not like the character that we have in the show, so I didn’t want to be affected by that guy’s performance.
One thing that I noticed about Rajiv is that he seems nice, and yet he’s sort of undermining his boss. Is there a balance you have to play between those two things?
I think that’s my favorite part of the character: There’s a duality of it, because he could, technically, as he says in the pilot, become the manager if Todd completely succeeds and they transfer him back to America, that also works. But he also realizes that it might be easier to just get [Todd] fired. He could do it both ways. It’s this fun thing where in front of [Todd] he’s the nicest guy, but he could be doing many things behind his back to get him fired. Even in episode two and episode three, you see more of the whole trying to get Todd maybe fired coming up.
You’re shooting the show in the U.S., but is there any chance that you’ll be shooting in India at any point?
There’s a second team that went to India to shoot the rickshaw scene that we had [in the pilot]. It was green-screened, but they did go there—that exterior is in India, and I know that they have a bunch of footage that’s in India for the street scenes, that we would be green-screening in. There was talk, and I’m hoping that it’s true, that should we get to the end of the season—we get a back-nine [episodes] pick-up—there might be some talk of shooting either the season finale or something close to that in India. I’m hoping that that’s true and that we get to go to India.