Watch out Devi, there’s a new boy in town. Coming in through the door in dramatic slow motion is Des (short for Nirdesh), played by the very charming Anirudh Pisharody. We don’t know if it’s the eyebrow game, his infectious smile or the fact that his beauty comes with brains, but we’re going to need a moment to pick up our jaw from the floor. I spent a Friday night in conversation with Pisharody over Zoom discussing everything from high school to Hollywood to find out more about his journey as an actor and his experience playing Des (who btw is a solid 10, but a total mama’s boy), here’s the tea:
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ELLE: Can You Take Us Through Your Acting Journey? What Sparked Your Interest In The Field?
Anirudh Pisharody (AP): Honestly, I’m still very new at this. I’ve only been doing it professionally for about five years but growing up, I did a lot of theatre. But you know how Indian parents can be when you graduate high school— they want you to think about a career that’s more stable. I knew I enjoyed theatre and I loved movies and plays, but I never really gave it a serious thought. Instead, I decided to listen to my parents and get a degree in public health. My whole plan was to go to med school and be a doctor. After graduating college, I took a gap year, went for a nine-to-five job in Washington DC….and hated it. It wasn’t for me, I was just floundering there.
My girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife, was living in Los Angeles, and so I decided to quit my job and move out there. This was in 2017 January. My initial plan was to try and go to UCLA med school and improve my MCAT score. I decided I was going to study for it, do some shadowing. But at the same time, I thought to myself, I’m in Los Angeles, so why not try to explore my other interests as well? I reached out to a commercial agent and they signed me. It was fantastic, I started going on all these different auditions and it just got to the point where I was doing way more things related to entertainment than anything med school-related. I called my parents to tell them that this is what I want to do, expecting a dramatic reaction but they understood. There was definitely a lot of trepidation in their voice though, a lot of doubt too. My mom still tells me things like it’s not too late to get a real job (laughs).
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ELLE: What are some interesting characters you’ve had the chance to play over the years?
AP: I’ve done a lot of stuff. I once played a spaceman on a foreign planet. On the show 9-1-1, I play a firefighter and I might not be 100% accurate on this, but I think I’m the first South Asian firefighter on TV in Hollywood. One of the first jobs that I did was a student film with no budget really, and one of the scenes involved me being tied up in the middle of the desert without any clothes on. It was 97 degrees, super hot and I was just bare skin on the dirt. That was the only time where I did have a doubt about what I’m really doing (laughs).
ELLE: In what ways are you similar or different from your character Des?
AP: (Pauses) How do I not sound cocky or overconfident while saying this? (laughs) I won’t be superficial, but I will say there’s an aspect to Des that’s very kind. At his core, he’s a very kind person. And I think I try to be that, you know, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. He’s also into the sciences, he’s kind of a nerdy guy and I must profess I’m a very nerdy individual and I champion that, I think nerdy can be sexy.
ELLE: We’ve seen what high school life is like on Never Have I Ever, but how was high school like for you in real life?
AP: Oh man, definitely emphasis on the nerdy. I feel like I had a glow-up going into college and adulthood. I was in ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) which is essentially a junior military club. So that involved putting on military attire, making sure your haircut adhered to proper standards, always having to shave etc and it was essentially supposed to instil discipline. Initially, I did it just because my friends were doing it but then I stuck with it for four years. So that was definitely a defining aspect of my high school life. Apart from that, I would go to my after-school clubs, do theatre, ride bikes around with my friends, and play a lot of video games. I think a part of what makes me me is that I try to cherish every moment and not to take life too seriously, which is what I learned during my high school years.
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ELLE: The cast of the show has been together for two seasons, what was it like being the newbie on set?
AP: Terrifying, it’s so terrifying! It’s like joining any new job where cliques have already been formed, they have all these inside jokes and everything. But honestly, everyone was super open and welcoming and it really made me feel like I’m part of the family. Hollywood is a place that is often dominated by Caucasian individuals but being on a set that has so much diversity and so much inclusion, it really does make you feel much more. It made me feel like I belong there, I didn’t have imposter syndrome.
ELLE: While we are seeing a gradual shift in the way South Asians are represented on screen in the West, Indians almost always end up playing like the nerdy side character. How was it like finally playing a cool Indian kid?
AP: It was fantastic! With Des, the aim was to rebrand nerdy, to show that nerdy can be sexy too! The whole point is to break the stereotype and I’m so glad that I am able to do that as an actor because I remember when I was a kid, I never saw anyone like that on-screen and it was maybe once in every 10 years, that a character came along that’s like that. But now like you’re saying, there’s a gradual shift happening, where it’s happening year after year after year. It’s so amazing and I can’t wait to see what the future holds and what the younger generation has to say after projects like this come out.
ELLE: Are you afraid of being typecast in a role, or do you think this show will open up new avenues for you?
AP: I think that fear is always there. I will profess that I do get a lot of auditions and I do a lot of jobs where I’m playing the charming boyfriend and things like that. So there is a fear that I’m going to be typecast as that, but I still relish it if there’s a depth of character. I think the only thing that I can do on my end is just making sure that I’m bringing my authentic self to every single role that I do. And just making sure that everything that I do and everything that I’m portraying is true. And if I’m still typecast after that, hey, just gonna have to roll with the punches, you know what I mean? Just really lean into it (laughs). And it’s good, you know, at least people can see it’s an Indian guy who is the boyfriend.
ELLE: Were there any Indian things that you and your co-stars connected over?
AP: Oh, the food definitely! Because we have a lot of scenes where we’re eating at the dinner table. We bonded over a lot of South Indian dishes like idlis, dosas, pongal, and all these different foods that are common amongst all of us. I’d say dosa is my personal favourite. My mom makes it so well and, I can throw back twenty of them before I realize how full I am. Especially when you go to the South Indian restaurants, they’re just so massive, it’s great.
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ELLE: Do you watch Bollywood movies? Can we expect a debut here soon?
AP: I would love to do a Bollywood movie! I do confess that I don’t watch as many as I should be watching but I’ve seen a lot of the classics with my parents. I will say Aamir Khan is one of my all-time favourite actors, I think he’s phenomenal in everything he does.
ELLE: Besides Never Have I Ever where are we going to see you in next?
AP: You can see me on 9-1-1. I’m also filming a show right now in New Mexico so I’m splitting my time between LA and New Mexico. I don’t know if I can say what it is yet but it will come out sometime in September. Just keep your eye on headlines and you’ll definitely see my name pop up soon!
Watch Never Have I Ever Season 3 on Netflix on August 12