Interview With Sendhil Ramamurthy

Source : A.V. CLub 

Though he can't fly, read minds, or stop time, few fans would argue that Mohinder Suresh isn't an integral part of Heroes. For one thing, it's Suresh's quest to continue his father's research into the mysteries of "advanced evolution" that drives the show (it's no coincidence that Suresh is the one who narrates every episode). And for Sendhil Ramamurthy, the Texas-bred actor who plays him, the character of Suresh has done something even more important than saving the cheerleader: It saved him from years of dealing with Hollywood's continuing inability to cast Indian actors in roles that aren't variations on the stereotypical terrorists or convenience store clerks. The son of two physicians (his sister is also a doctor) and a classically trained performer who studied with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Ramamurthy came very close to abandoning acting altogether until Heroes came along, and with it the opportunity to create one of television's most fully realized Indian characters—not to mention being in one of the most popular shows on the planet. Just prior to the premiere of Heroes' second season, The A.V. Club spoke with Ramamurthy about breaking those race barriers, why he doesn't have "superpower penis envy," and what viewers can expect from Suresh's surprising turn this season.

The A.V. Club: How did your parents feel about you being an actor as opposed to following in the family footsteps?

Sendhil Ramamurthy: They were less than thrilled at first. [Laughs.] I was pre-med, so I was going to go into the family business more or less. But I came to my senses, luckily, and backed out, and decided to go to drama school. Now they're happy that I'm playing a doctor on TV at least. And once they kind of got their head around the whole thing, they were really supportive. They paid for drama school, and when I was with the Royal Shakespeare Company they flew out to England to see all of my plays. Of course, now that I'm on TV, they don't understand what the hell Heroes is all about. Every Tuesday after the show airs I have to have the Tuesday morning conversation and explain to them what happened the night before. 

AVC: One thing they should be happy about is you've helped break stereotypes for Indian actors on TV. Do you think there's still an ingrained racism in the way Hollywood writes and casts for Indian actors?

SR: I think so. There isn't any question about that. I've managed to luck out that they've given me a fully rounded character on the show, but in general, yeah. And you know, now more than ever I get everything "Indian" that's ever written. It all comes across my desk. Since Heroes started I've probably had about 15 or 16 film scripts sent to me with Indian characters, and out of those maybe one was good. And the depressing thing is, they're all being written by Indians! Like, how many more scripts can there be about an arranged marriage or an abusive husband? It's the same thing over and over again. I think that Indian writers think this is the kind of thing that people want to see, and it's kind of sad. I literally fling those scripts across the room as soon as I start reading them. [Laughs.]

AVC: You've said that you refuse to even audition for those kinds of roles. If Heroes hadn't come along, where do you think you'd be right now?

SR: Literally, I had bought my GMAT book, and I was going to take the GMAT and go to business school. I was ready to chuck it all in. I couldn't do those parts. I would just rather do something else. And then this thing fell into my lap. It was bizarre. I was unemployed, and I had just had a baby, and I needed to do something. I thought, "Well, I've given it more or less a good crack, and at least I had the chance to do some really great theater." Film and TV-wise, it just wasn't happening. I did some guest spots, and I did a series in England and stuff like that, but nothing that I was overwhelmingly proud of, or that had given me a lot of notoriety, or that even stretched me as an actor. Heroes came along and everything changed after that. Now I'm getting a lot of scripts that have nothing to do with being Indian, and I think that's amazing. I'm really happy about that.

AVC: Is there anything you've signed to?

SR: Nothing I can talk about. There's something in the works that I hope can work out, but it's tough with the shooting schedule because we shoot for nine months of the year. So I have to find something that I love—and if it's "Indian" it has to be something I can do morally, something I will allow myself to do—and the scheduling has to work out to those three months. This thing I'm hoping will work out now, it's not an Indian movie. The character's name is "Miles." I really, really, really want to do it, but so far the dates don't work. We'll see.

AVC: You just completed a Heroes world tour.

SR: It's really been a whirlwind, these past three weeks. They've been insane. But fun, so much fun. You spend most of your time as an actor unemployed, so you're not going to hear me complaining that I haven't had a day off in three weeks.

AVC: What are Heroes fans like overseas?

SR: Much more vocal. [Laughs.] Me and three other castmates did Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Tokyo was okay, because it hasn't come out yet in Japan, so we were really under the radar. The only people who stopped us were American and Australian tourists. In Hong Kong it's come out, but it's on a cable channel right now. We still had some paparazzi and people following us around. In Singapore the whole season has aired on normal television, and we went to a fan event where they told us it would be like 500 to 800 people and we got there and there were just under 8000. That was freaky. It was scary but cool. These people screaming for you, you're kind of hoping they don't kill you too. The group that went to Europe all had the same response. It's great to see that the show hasn't become just this genre, sci-fi show. It really has become this global thing.

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