Aasif Mandvi Reinvents Himself, Again

Aasif Mandvi as Admiral Zhao in The Last Airbender. Photo by Zade Rosenthal

“I’m amazed that I’ve gotten to do what I’ve gotten to do,” says Aasif Mandvi.

We are too. The 44-year-old, New York-based actor has done serious theater, Broadway musicals, Hollywood rom coms, Merchant Ivory films, big action movies, and everything on TV from Sex and the City to CSI. He writes as well as acts. He’s a correspondent on The Daily Show. And now he’s got a starring role in M. Night Shyamalan’s martial arts epic, The Last Airbender. “I’m a bit of a chameleon,” he says with a bit of understatement.

So what happened to Indian actors being typecast as cabdrivers and terrorists? Well, he’s done his share of that, too. “Sometimes you have to pay the rent,” he admits. All the same, Mandvi thinks being Indian gave him something of an edge coming up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when brown actors were few and far between. “People didn’t know where to put me,” he says. “I exploited that in some ways.”

Ask him what he likes doing best, and he’ll tell you all of it. “I like to change it up,” he says. But he can’t deny Airbender has taken the fun to a whole new level. “It’s like an adventure I went on!” he exclaims. “It’s going back to jumping off the roof when you’re a kid.”

Mandvi hopes to do more action movies, but true to his chameleon-like nature, his next release (which he also co-wrote) is a small indie flick called Today’s Special – “a totally feel-good tandoori comedy, with a classic old Bollywood soundtrack.” Making the film, which is based on his Obie award-winning one-man show Sakina’s Restaurant, was a nearly ten-year labor of love. “It feels like a huge rock that I pushed up a hill,” he says.

So what’s left for the Jack-of-all-showbiz-trades? “I’d love to do a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis road movie with Shah Rukh Khan.” Given all Mandvi’s accomplished so far, we’re putting our money on this one.

SRK, you’ve been warned.

Story by Republic of Brown contributor Laura Silverman

What’s it like for a brown boy from a private school in England to land up in Tampa Bay, Florida and make it to Hollywood?  Aasif tells us all about his journey in our in-depth Q and A.

Like what you’re reading? Go crazy! Post to Facebook, twitter, and email your friends. Trust us, they’ll thank you for introducing them to a world of Indo-cool. Hey, your mom and dad might even like this. You know, nice brown boy makes good in Hollywood…
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