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Aasif Mandvi on what it's like to be a 'brown actor' in Hollywood

The actor and performer talks "Mother's Day" and says Donald Trump is a "boil" on America.
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    In "Mother's Day," Kate Hudson and Aasif Mandvi play an interracial couple who hav|Ron Batzdorff, Open Road Films

Is Aasif Mandvi still at “The Daily Show”? The actor, performer and writer, born in Mumbai, made his name as one of their correspondents, often focusing on race and diversity. He hasn’t been on the show since Trevor Noah took over. “Technically I still work there,” Mandvi tells us. He says he’s in the same spot as John Hodgman or Lewis Black. “If there’s something I really want to pitch them, I’ll do it. But I’m not officially on staff anymore.”

One reason: He’s been busy. Now bi-coastal, Mandvi spends a lot of time in Los Angeles and less in New York, having worked on HBO’s short-lived “The Brink” as well as pitching “Halal in the Family,” a sitcom starring a Muslim-American family that originated as a webseries last year, and which he wants to turn into a prime time show. He also pops up in “Mother’s Day,” director Garry Marshall’s latest holiday ensemble comedy (after “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve”). That might sounds like light fun, but his subplot has edge to it: He plays the husband of Kate Hudson, who hasn’t told her Red State parents she’s in an interracial marriage.

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Perhaps moviegoers might not expect a movie like “Mother’s Day” to say something about our current culture war.
When I read the script, one of the things that appealed to me was there was an interracial marriage, which you never see in big Hollywood rom-coms. Obviously it’s a comedy, and we had limited real estate in terms of the other stories. This movie’s not going to explore these issues in any real way. It’s a family film that makes you feel good. Ultimately, you’re always going to come away from a rom-com with everything working out.

Still, even a film that just touches on it has a way of subtly affecting the culture.
I think that’s true. You have huge stars in this film, you’ve got Garry Marshall. This movie isn’t going to change the world, but hopefully even the storyline about the interracial marriage makes you think about it. It makes you think about it a little bit.

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Looking over your CV I noticed you’ve played a lot of doctors, and even a dentist at least once.
Now you’re understanding what it’s like to be a brown actor in Hollywood. I started off playing cab drivers, then went up to doctors and dentists, with the occasional terrorist. That’s the trajectory. And now I’m Kate Hudson’s husband. So not too bad.

Those old stereotypes are now part of the national conversation, thanks to projects like “Master of None,” where every episode seems to be about a talking point.
The stereotypes still exist in many areas. What was great for me in [“Mother’s Day”] is this marriage would not have existed in a rom-com 10 years ago. That’s a change in the culture. Look, America is changing that way, despite what Donald Trump wants to say. We are much more diverse as a country and as a culture. Hollywood is slowly embracing that. Hollywood is usually five or six years behind the rest of the culture.

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TV is much faster to change with the times.
Exactly. And the ultimate goal is not to just have diversity onscreen but have diversity behind the scenes as well. That’s when you start to get people telling stories we haven’t seen before. That’s what I’m hoping to do with my career: to create more content that has diversity inherent in it, just by virtue of my experiences in America. It’s about who we decide to focus on. Do we decide to focus on the stories of only white people? Or do we see American through different lenses?

Well, there’s a lot of pushback. I always hope that the Trump supporters are just a loud minority, but still only a minority. They just scream louder than everyone else.
It’s a reaction, right? Someone said to me the other day that Trump is like that boil on your neck. It lets you know something going on inside you, that you have a disease. At least it’s letting you know that exists. Maybe you should go to a doctor. It’s that kind of thing.

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What’s wrong with us is some of us are angry at everything.
They’re afraid their America is disappearing. Which it is, ironically. Many of us embrace the idea that change is happening, that multiculturalism and diversity are happening. That terrifies them.

They’re slowly losing their spot as the majority. As a white person I personally think no longer being the center of attention sounds awesome.
[Laughs] I’m glad you think that’s awesome, because a lot of people don’t.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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