A Chat with Rizwan Manji, Parvesh Cheena, and Anisha Nagarajan (“Outsourced”)

Although I mentioned in the intro to my chat with Ben Rappaport that my encounter with him at the 2011 Winter TCA Tour was the first time I’d ever spoken with him, it was not the first time I’d talked to a cast member of “Outsourced.” I had the pleasure of speaking with Rizwan Manji and Parvesh Cheena back in August at the summer TCA tour, and having enjoyed watching the ensemble of the show really come together since then, I took advantage of the opportunity to talk to them again. It was an added bonus, however, that the lovely Anisha Nagarajan, who plays Madhuri on the series (and who I’d not met previously), happened to walk up while we were chatting. All three were jazzed about the way “Outsourced” has been coming along and, perhaps more surprisingly, are actually kind of excited about their new 10:30 PM timeslot, which takes effect tonight.

One housekeeping note: there are a couple of questions within the piece which were asked by my TCA compatriot Bill Brioux, who has a great and appropriately-titled site called TV Feeds My Family. Poor Bill was forced to battle his way through the last half of the tour with an excruciating case of laryngitis, and he asked if – in lieu of trying to croak out all of his questions – he could piggyback on a couple of my interviews, so if you should happen to be one of the few people who reads both of us, let me assure you that any crossover between our pieces on “Outsourced” is totally authorized.

Bullz-Eye: You and I first met back in the summer, for the initial “Outsourced” panel. Are you nervous about being back amongst the critics?

Rizwan Manji: (Laughs) You know what? We’re very excited to be back. We’re glad that we’re still here and that we’re doing so well, so we’re very happy about that. Yeah, I think we’re a little bit more relaxed than we were in August. We were very nervous about what we were going to be asked, and we hadn’t done it before. Now, we’re sort of…we’ve gone to a bunch of different events now, so we’re a little bit calmer than we were in August.

BE: Plus, you guys are a hit now.

RM: Yes! We’re very excited about that!

BE: I liked the show from the get-go, actually. I used to work in a call center, so I had a natural affinity to the concept.

RM: So you’re the real Todd, I guess? (Laughs)

BE: Well, I did my best. In fact, I just spoke with your onscreen nemesis a few minutes ago.

RM: You did…? (Cuts eyes suspiciously around the room, then laughs)

BE: You guys really have some great chemistry together, a hero/villain dynamic or whatever you want to call it.

RM: Oh, thank you! Yeah, me and Ben, we have a tremendous time. We actually even live really close by each other, so we actually even see each other on the weekends. My daughter loves him, and whenever she sees him on TV, she’s always, like, “More Ben! More Ben!” (Laughs) She’s two, and that’s what she can come up with. You know, it’s…I’m so thankful that, as you said, the chemistry worked out, because we never auditioned together. It was one of those things where I found out really late in the game, because, as I think I might’ve mentioned to you in the summer, I auditioned for a different part. So when we actually met was the first time we were reading it for the network, and we were, like, “Oh, my God, this works!” So it could’ve gone horribly wrong, or it could’ve been this, and I’m so happy that we have a little bit of chemistry.

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A Chat with Ben Rappaport (“Outsourced”)

The last time I was out at the TCA tour, I talked to Lucas Neff, the star of Fox’s “Raising Hope,” and I was surprised to find that he was fronting a prime-time comedy when his only prior TV experience involved a couple of scenes in A&E’s “The Beast.” Little did I realize at the time that Ben Rappaport, the star of NBC’s “Outsourced,” was coming in with even less of a television background. I mean, literally, it’s “Outsourced,” and that’s it. When I was in Pasadena earlier this month, I managed to meet and chat with Rappaport for a few minutes about the way his series has been coming along and found out his feelings on the change in the show’s timeslot. Fortunately, it sounds like tonight’s 10:30 PM debut is the perfect way to show newcomers to “Outsourced” just how far it’s come since its debut.

Bullz-Eye: I was actually a fan of the show as soon as I heard about the concept: I used to work in a call center myself.

Ben Rappaport: (Laughs) That’s so great!

BE: Did you have any call center experience yourself?

BR: I did not! My aunt works in a call center, but that’s it. I knew nothing about them…aside from, y’know, occasionally contacting one. (Laughs) But, you know, I didn’t know what was behind them, what was on the other end of that phone. It’s an office, and they have their own office politics and culture there.

BE: When the pilot came out, I know a lot of people kind of bashed it, but how do you think the show has evolved since then?

BR: I think it’s evolved big time! I mean, you know, the term “outsourced” was a way for us to get to India, and now I think everybody’s gotten to know our characters and the relationships and the dynamics. It’s stories about what’s happening between these characters. It’s not political. There’s no agenda there. It’s not sarcastic in any way. We’re just telling a story of people in India.

BE: I was impressed with the direction that it took as far as your romantic storyline. I didn’t expect you to hook up with either of your potential romantic interests quite as quickly as you did.

BR: (Laughs) It was kind of quick, wasn’t it?

BE: Yeah. It’s not bad. It was just surprising.

BR: Yeah, but while it was quick, I think there’s still lots of places to go with it. I mean, I think part of the story might be that it was too quick.

BE: I considered that. Just how long-term is the relationship going to be if they’re willing to jump into the physical side of it that quickly?

BR: (Grins) My point exactly! So we’ll see. We have a long way to go, in terms of fleshing out that whole situation.

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: 9 Memorable Moments from Day 9

For all of the panels that NBC-Universal offered us yesterday, none of them were really chock full of memorable quotes, so I thought I’d go a slightly different route with today’s retrospective and just cite some of my favorite moments from throughout the course of the day…and if you think this is mostly just a way for me to avoid having to trudge through the transcripts, give yourself a hearty pat on the back. Give me a break: it’s Day 9, and I’m very tired from arguing with Kara DioGuardi fans.

And on that note…

1. Bravo’s “Platinum Hit” session

You’ve hopefully already read my open letter to Ms. DioGuardi about my disappointment with the way she handled the inevitable question about her departure from “American Idol,” but that wasn’t the only part about the panel that grated on my nerves. One of the other judges on this songwriting-competition series is Jewel, and…okay, first of all, let me acknowledge that I’m not really a Jewel fan and under threat of death wouldn’t be able to come up with a more recent Jewel song than 2001’s “Standing Still,” but even when it comes to artists I do actively like, I don’t enjoy it when they slip into braggadocio. After Jewel dropped these lines during the panel…

* “I was talking to Steven Spielberg…”

* “I bought my house from all my hits.”

* “Bob Dylan took me under his wing when I was about 20. My first record was considered a failure, but he liked it and he was like, ‘Don’t sell out, don’t change, don’t start doing grunge, just do what you do, stay on the road, stay solo acoustic.’ And I did because he believed in me. And Neil Young was the same way.”

…I pretty much tuned out. I’m sure Jewel’s a very talented songwriter, but as I walked away from the panel, it was more with the feeling that she’s much more talented at namedropping.

2. Oxygen’s session for “The Glee Project.”

Actually, I couldn’t tell you a thing that was said during the session. I was too busy looking at the mike girls – they bring you the microphones to ask questions, then take them to the next person when you’re done – who were dressed in cheerleader outfits for the panel. Yeah, it’s definitely time for me to get home to my wife…

3. Keith David talking about the development of his awesome voice during the panel for “The Cape.”

“I was always a second tenor,” said David. “I was never, you know, Alfalfa. But when about 13, and I was a singer before I was an actor, and all I could sing was loud, and certainly I came into this I came into that Alfalfa transition where all I could do…”

At this point, he switched into a wobbly voice… “is talk like that all the time.”

Back to his regular voice. “And then something began to switch, and now I sound like I sound, you know. I’m grateful to be here because I do get a chance to use all you know, in the first episode, I say I’m using my stage voice. Well, you know, I mean, that was one of the when I read the script, that was one of the funniest moments for me because it’s, like, when I’m auditioning for things, many times I’m told, ‘Can you tone that down a little bit? Can you bring that back?’ So this is one of the few times I’m not always told that. That’s kind of nice.”

4. The “Harry’s Law” panel discussing the age of the show’s star.

By the time someone asked about the fact that Kathy Bates is 60 years old, which is pretty elderly when you consider the demos that the broadcast networks tend to look for, she’d pretty well charmed most of the audience. First, she said she decided on doing the show because, in her character’s first scene, “she had her feet up on the desk, she was smoking pot, and watching ‘Bugs Bunny.’ After that, I was in.” Then, when asked if it was hard to sustain her character’s grumpiness, she admitted, “I come naturally to that. Not to be flip, but I can be a naturally grumpy person…and adjusting to the long hours on the set helped that right along!”

When the topic of age was addressed, which series creator David E. Kelley took it in stride. “Not many networks have come to me recently and said, ‘Can you give me a series with a 60-year-old lead?'” he admitted. “But I have to believe that, given the universe of 500-plus channels, there has to be room on the landscape for one. When we landed Kathy to play the character, (NBC) were beyond thrilled. You can say it’s one thing to have a 60-year-old lead. It’s quite another to have Kathy Bates as your lead. So they probably, with a grain of salt, said, ‘Gee, do we want a series with an older actor?’ But once it became Kathy, there was no hesitation whatsoever.”

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2010: A Look Back at a Lot of Interviews

At the end of 2009, I took a look back at 100 interviews I’d done over the course of the year, and it was exhausting…not only for me, but possibly also for you, the reader. Oh, I still think it was a heck of a piece, but I believe I made a mistake by numbering them. I mean, you get about 20 – 25 into the proceedings, and it’s, like, “Oh, geez, I’ve still got 75 left to go? Screw this, I’m out of here.” So this time, I’m not going to tell you how many quotes are in the piece. I’ll just say that I talked to a lot of really funny, fascinating, and decidedly forthright people during the course of 2010, and I’ll let you dive in. Hope you enjoy the chance to reminisce as much I did, and here’s to a great 2011 for us all!

Big Shots at the Box Office

“I was in Australia, touring with my films and live show, and I got an E-mail from my agent, saying that there was interest in me for Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I thought, ‘Okay, that sounds good.’ I thought it would be for a day or two, maybe a few days or something, and I would’ve been very happy to do that. But then the offer came in, and it was for virtually the entire run of the film. I didn’t even know what part it was for, so I asked my agent, and he said it was for the Knave of Hearts. So I looked up the Knave of Hearts in the original book online and…it didn’t really seem like a character that would require the run of the film. I thought, ‘Something must be different.’ And then I got the actual screenplay, and it was extremely different. I could see that it was written as a sequel. But it was a great part, and I was ecstatic to be in it…and I’m still ecstatic to be in it!” – Crispin Glover, Alice in Wonderland

“They called my agent and said they were auditioning for (‘Inception’), so I flew myself back, I read for Chris (Nolan) once, and I left. I think it was later that day that I heard from my agent, saying, ‘They’ve cut everyone except you. Now, they’re going to go to London to see some people, and then we’ll know more after that. So don’t get your hopes up, but…this is great!’ Then I came back and read again, and I got the job. And then, as you might expect, I freaked out completely.” – Dileep Rao, Inception

“I was actually down at my ranch in South Texas, and my guys called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re trying to get you a meeting with Sylvester Stallone. He’s casting a movie called ‘The Expendables.’’ Several months went by, and he’d already cast ‘The Expendables,’ but he still wanted to meet me for potentially playing the part of Dan Paine. So I went in to meet Sly, it was the first time I’d ever met him, and I’m a huge fan. I remember watching ‘Rocky’ back in ’76 or whenever it was, then getting up the next morning, drinking eggs, and running down the street…and now here I am meeting with this guy!” – Steve Austin, The Expendables

“I was privileged and honored to work side by side with Sly (Stallone in ‘The Expendables’). Most of my scenes take place with him, and I’m telling you, man, he took me under his wing, and it was a brilliant thing. I don’t know what else to say. ‘Rocky,’ ‘Rambo,’ just everything he’s done is iconic, and it wasn’t lost on me. I love the man, and I can’t wait to do another one, ‘cause Sly’s the king of the sequels…and in my whole career, I’ve never done a sequel to any one of my projects. So I’m, like, ‘Sly, I’m ready for ‘Expendables 2,’ okay?'” – Terry Crews, The Expendables

“Jessica (Pare) was just about to disrobe…we were in the (hot) tub…and they were, like, ‘Ready!’ And she took off whatever was covering her in the tub. And somebody asked the boom guy a question just as she was disrobing, and all he could say was, ‘Yesssssss…’ He could only whisper. I didn’t make a joke about it, though. I was just, like, ‘Okay, Craig, keep it cool, keep it together…’” – Craig Robinson, Hot Tub Time Machine

“I made the mistake of using one term loosely and saying (filming in 3D) was a tedious process, and somebody made it sound really bad. The bottom line is that it took a little longer, and the one that suffered more than anybody was (director Kevin Greutert) and the camera guy, because they have to get it right. You know, calibration and being specific with lights and all that stuff. For me, it was a good excuse to go play with the crew that wasn’t on set and crack a couple of jokes, so I got to socialize a little bit more.” – Costas Mandylor, Saw 3D

“Usually, when you’re coming in completely blind with who you’re working with, you don’t know if you’re going to get along, nor do some people put the time in to try to get along. We were all in Pittsburgh, and we did do, like, two weeks of rehearsal before we started shooting (‘She’s Out of My League’), and in those two weeks, we hung out a lot…and, luckily, it went good rather than bad. Because sometimes it’s just awful, and you’re going, ‘I can’t stand that guy!’ So we were lucky. I know a lot of people always say this when they come off work, because they’re kind of trained to say it, but with this one, we all really got along, and I think that’s what helps our chemistry on screen so much: we thought each other were funny, we even liked to hang out afterward, and that played well. ” – Nate Torrence, She’s Out of My League

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Clippin’ Out: “Outsourced” (NBC)

“Outsourced” is NBC’s new workplace comedy series centered around a catalog-based company, Mid America Novelties, that sells American novelty goods including whoopee cushions, foam fingers and wallets made of bacon, and whose call center has suddenly been outsourced to India. After recently completing Mid America Novelties’ manager training program, Todd Dempsy (Ben Rappaport, off-Broadway’s “The Gingerbread House”) learns that the call center is being outsourced to India, and he is asked to move there to be the manager. Having never ventured out of the country, he is unprepared for the culture shock. Overwhelmed, Todd discovers that his new staff needs a crash course in all things American if they are to understand the U.S. product line and ramp up sales from halfway around the world. The sales team Todd inherits includes Gupta (Parvesh Cheena, “Help Me Help You”), a socially awkward employee; Manmeet (Sacha Dhawan, BBC’s “Five Days II”), a young romantic who is enamored with America; Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood, BBC’s “Doctors”), a smart, striking woman who finds herself intrigued by Todd; Rajiv (Rizwan Manji, “Privileged”) the assistant manager who wants Todd’s job; and Madhuri (Anisha Nagarajan, Broadway’s “Bombay Dreams”), a wallflower who suffers from extreme shyness. Todd also discovers other transplants working in his office building, including an American expatriate, Charlie Davies (Diedrich Bader, “The Drew Carey Show”), who runs the All-American Hunter call center, and Tonya (Pippa Black, “Neighbours”), a beautiful Australian who runs the call center for Koala Air. (Premieres September 23rd at 9:30/8:30c)

  

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