Ben Rappaport and Anisha Nagarajan takes us behind-the-scenes of NBC's latest Must-See comedy
NBC's latest addition to its Must-See Thursday night comedy line-up is Outsourced, a new sitcom where the Midwest meets the exotic East in a hilarious culture clash. The series centers on the all-American company Mid America Novelties that sells whoopee cushions, foam fingers and wallets made of bacon -- and whose call center has suddenly been outsourced to India. Todd Dempsy (Ben Rappaport) is the new company's manager who learns that he's being transferred to India to run the operation.
To celebrate the series' Pilot premiere, which airs Thursday, September 23rd at 9:30 pm, we caught up with star Ben Rappaport , his co-star Anisha Nagarajan, and Executive Producer Robert Borden. Here is our conversation:
Ben I was wondering what made you want to be a part of this show?
Ben Rappaport: Well first of all I got cast in it, as you can see. You know, I read the script and I remember reading the script on the subway on the way to the audition. And the character reminded me a lot of my father. And it was something that felt really close to me, that felt really, it was like something that fit nice on me. And I remember going into the audition and being like well, I'm just going to pay homage to my dad with this. And it just all really worked out. And I remember after the audition, a week later, they wanted - they flew me to LA to screen test me. And Ken Kwapis in the room after my audition said well, you have the job sir. Here's an empty office and go in and tell everyone you know.
And Anisha, was there instant chemistry when the cast began working together? Or did you guys take a little bit of time for it to gel?
Anisha Nagarajan: No, absolutely. I think Ken Kwapis did a really great thing. For an exercise, he had all of us go do karaoke in character within the first week of meeting each other. And after that, it was like family.
What was the most challenging aspect for you Anisha?
Anisha Nagarajan: I think the move. I moved here from New York. And I think that has been just adjusting to the change, the driving. That's probably been the most challenging thing for me.
Ben Rappaport: Yes, me and Anisha Nagarajan are both the two New Yorkers in the cast. So it's kind of the same. It's the drive. It's definitely the driving. You know, I grew up in Texas so I'm used to driving. But LA driving, it takes a little bit of training I think.
Anisha Nagarajan: Those six lanes, I don't know.
Ben Rappaport: Yes, yes.
Anisha, it's nice to hear you speak up on the call now. Your character doesn't always (does this). (So what) inspired the way that you played your character and like her, you know, voice and stuff?
Anisha Nagarajan: Well I actually lived in India for a year growing up. And I went to boarding school there. And there was a girl at boarding school that I went to school with. And she was very similar I feel to this character. She was always top of her class. Always, you know, got the best grades. But never really spoke to anybody. But then when you came up to her or you asked her any questions about the work or anything, she always knew the answers. And was very much on top of her game even though she didn't come across as being very, you know, talkative.
Yes (that was great). But it was really, really funny. And Ben, you know, this being your first acting job ever, congratulations on that by the way. Do you feel like that helped you play this fish out of water character like even better?
Ben Rappaport: Well I mean, you know, it's my first acting job on screen. You know, I come from the theater world. So in terms of being - in terms of working on television show and in terms of being in LA and, you know, and working with people I'd never met before. It really kind of parallels with my life right now, you know. So the trip to LA is the parallel with the trip to India. And, you know, it's been as I was saying in an earlier interview, the driving part of it is the biggest challenge for me because in New York we don't really do that. So yes, it's been very - it has a lot of parallels.
And how do you guys feel about being sandwiched in between such established comedy with some of my absolute favorite shows, 30 Rock, The Office? Yes and inevitably like being compared to those shows?
Anisha Nagarajan: Well I think we've been really blessed with our time slot. I think that hopefully the people that are watching those shows are going to, you know, either by accident or on purpose watch our show hopefully. And grow to love it because the characters are really very charming and unique. And I feel like very relatable.
Ben Rappaport: Yes it's great. You know, the workplace theme of Thursday night on NBC I think is really, really great. And you get to see, you know, three completely different types of workplaces with Dunder Mifflin and 30 Rockfeller Plaza and us. And, you know, I think what's different about our show is it's, you know, the people that work in that Mid America Novelties really actually want to be there. And they like their jobs.
For both of you, Ben and Anisha, since starting this show, have either of you experienced a customer service call of any kind and gotten somebody who is, you know, like the characters in the show, someone who is clearly not local? And has the show affected how you dealt with them?
Ben Rappaport: I, well first I kind of in doing this show I really haven't had any time to call any customer's business lines. So I have to say I haven't really had any experiences like that yet.
Anisha Nagarajan: I did call somebody to - for my cable recently. And the call was transferred to India. And I got very excited on the phone. And I said oh, you're from India. What part of India are you from? And we started talking because once they saw that my name was Anisha Nagarajan, they knew that I was from India too. So it was kind of a fun conversation.
Is it hard, was it hard to play a wallflower?
Anisha Nagarajan: I think that I can really relate to her in a lot of ways because I have my moments where I kind of, where I'm in situations where I want to kind of disappear into the wallpaper and not really talk to anybody. And I think that I feel everybody has a tendency towards that at some point, now matter how outspoken or outgoing you are. And I think there's something really innocent and charming about her. And so I'm really enjoying playing the character.
Have either of you or any of you in the cast been doing - misbehaving with the novelty items? When the camera is not working, do you put the whoopee cushion under someone or something like that?
Anisha Nagarajan: Absolutely.
Ben Rappaport: You know, yes, that kind of stuff happens. Yes, there were several times where, you know, (director) okay, ready, rolling and action. And then one of us won't be ready because we're playing with a novelty.
Anisha Nagarajan: The farting garden gnome.
Ben Rappaport: Yes.
So is the biggest culprit and who is the most likely victim?
Anisha Nagarajan: The clown.
Ben Rappaport: The funny kind of antics. He's definitely the class clown of our - the cast clown, and rightfully so. And I would say that the biggest victim, would you agree with me Anisha Nagarajan, is you?
Anisha Nagarajan: Yes, absolutely.
Anisha Nagarajan: It's constant. It's constant. It doesn't ever end.
Ben Rappaport: Yes.
Anisha Nagarajan: It's so funny. If he didn't tease me, I would be worried. I'd be like what's happening?
Ben and Anisha I wanted to know, are there - do you have any funny stories with real life call centers that you can relate to the story lines of the show?
Ben Rappaport: You know, I personally don't. I've never, you know, people have asked be before if I could tell that a call center - that I was calling somewhere outside of the country. And I, maybe it's just me being, not paying attention. But I've actually never, I've never thought that I was talking to anybody outside of the country. I was like oh, maybe it's someone who has an accent who lives in America.
Anisha Nagarajan: I've had only one instance. And I guess it's not really a funny instance. It was just I was calling about my cable. And got transferred to a call in India. And when they saw my name, they were said oh, you're from India. And we got talking about how we're both from India. And that was about it.
I wanted to know how do you address the, all the talk online by some people that think Outsourced is offensive to Americans losing their jobs?
Robert Borden: Yes I mean there are, first of all take it with a grain of salt because there are a few very vocal people. So someone seems to be commenting quite a bit. I don't remember the name. But if you haven't seen it, I think it's a valid question. But when you see the pilot, you realize that it's really just a point of departure to get our lead character over to India and to start the fish out of water story. And then from now on in series, it's not something we address because he's there and he's doing the job. And these characters at work become like hopefully in any good show, they become a surrogate family for him. So for us it was never a show about that. That was how we got to India. And so I understand some people seeing the title might think the show is about that and we're going to make, and think we're going to make fun of that. But we're certainly not. So we're very conscious of that. And it's really just how we start the series.
How close does the series follow the 2006 film?
Robert Borden. : Gosh it's been a while since I've seen the movie. I think it was a wonderful independent movie. And I think we're striving maybe a little bit more for comedy. And their film was more of a romantic comedy. And then also, it will diverse just in the sense that, you know, we've already written the first 12 episodes. And hopefully we'll continue. And so we have so many more places to go than a 90-minute movie. So we're going to get to know our characters more. We're going to go to their houses. We have an episode set on a packed Indian train. We're going to a Bollywood concert. So we're doing all kinds of things that, you know, over the course of hopefully many, many episodes we'll get to see all kinds of different facets of the characters and of life in India.
I grew up in Wisconsin and I have actually had cheese on my head just like that. I want to ask, seriously was that the first time you'd ever put cheese on your head when you did that scene?
Ben Rappaport: Yes it was. That was my first experience with the holy cheese head.
And what did it feel like?
Ben Rappaport: You know, I felt like I had a kinship, an immediate kinship with anyone who lives in Wisconsin. Immediately I was like I need to go to Wisconsin now because I feel like I have family there. Because it's I'd say, yes it's a very cool experience, very cool.
I got a kick out of your account of Karaoke in your character because I can't imagine, first of all, in real life obviously you have a real strong voice because you starred on Broadway in a musical. So what was it like to do Karaoke in that little tiny voice of hers?
You mentioned when you were talking to the caller that you're from India too. Now, do you mean just your roots or did you actually, were you born in India? Tell us a little bit more about your background.
Anisha Nagarajan: I was actually born in Evanston, Illinois. But I have tons of family in India. And so I actually went there with my mother for a year because we were taking care of my grandparents. And I got to live in (Phunow), which is right next to Bombay. And I think that was just a total life-changing experience for me. And I can really relate to Todd's character because I really felt like a fish out of water when I went there. But it became like home for me when I went so.
Okay so were you in Evanston because you're family is college faculty or something or?
Anisha Nagarajan: Yes my parents both went to Northwestern to get their PhDs. So yes.
And so what, do they teach now?
Anisha Nagarajan: My mom works with adults and children with disabilities. And my father is a Business Professor, Business Management and Accounting at the University of Pittsburgh.
A lot of people say that this has been a real God send for roles because there just weren't - there's a lot of great actors with Indian roots and not many roles. What have you found in that? Have you found that that roles have been hard to get so far and this is a real boon or what?
Anisha Nagarajan: Well luckily for me, I've been really blessed. I've played a lot of different roles that have to do with the fact that I'm Indian and don't have to do with the fact that I'm Indian. I played Mimi in the Rent at the Hangar Theater which is a Hispanic char - I got a very eclectic set of jobs and have been really blessed that way.
I wanted to ask Anisha what else she's learned about here character since the pilot because we knew she didn't talk a lot? But I'm just wondering as the episodes have gone by, if you have a stronger sense of who she is and what that is?
Anisha Nagarajan: Absolutely. I've grown to find that she is, she's actually quite witty. And she does have, she's starting to come out of her shell a little bit more. And she does have responses to things that people say, and quite smart ones. And she's so charming and innocent in the fact that she hasn't really had that much experience with other cultures. But I think that she's eager to learn about them. And I'm just really enjoying the process of getting to know her myself.
Great and Robert I have two questions for you, the first quick one about casting Anisha. What was it in her audition that won her the part?
Robert Borden. : Well, you know, we were actually struggling just a little bit until she came in because it's - there's a way you can play this part and it can be kind of cartoony (sic) in maybe even one note. And Anisha Nagarajan came in and not only was funny, but you see the humanity of which makes you root for Madhuri. And she was, it was one of the auditions where she just comes in and you say oh, thank God. That's it. And so then after she was it, part of the fun of it now, and this surprised all the characters too is getting to know them and finding new layers and, you know, revelations about them. We're going to find out about, you know, we're going to have some different sides of Madhuri coming forward. One of which we have I think it's probably around Episode 12 is that Todd discovers this. He's near the bathroom in the break room, which in the break room and he hears this beautiful voice coming out of the bathroom. And then Anisha Nagarajan comes out. And so what we find out is that she has the amazing singing voice. But she's only comfortable singing in the privacy of the bathroom. And so Todd, with that kind of American can do spirit, signs her up for one of these Bollywood like an American Idol-type of singing contests. And Madhuri is horrified to be able to sing in front of people. And it's one of those stories that, you know, that's more of Todd's dream being forced on her than hers. But we'll see a new side of her. So, you know, a character like that, it's a great place to start. And then also, you know, hopefully have years of growth and surprise from her.
And then I also wanted to ask, in the pilot you re-shot some scenes with the new actress playing the Australian call center manager. But it appeared like you also might have shot - re-shot some other scenes and tweaked some of the jokes both before he goes over to India and then also in the call center. Can you talk about what you wanted, what changes you wanted to make there? If that was part of an effort to make the humor maybe a little more self-deprecating?
Robert Borden. : Yes we didn't - the only stuff we shot was with the new, the only stuff we re-shot was with the new Tonya character. Everything else you're referring to is editing. You know, we just wanted to tweak some things. It's also you get some distance from the pick up to when you're going to air. And we look at it again and said oh, well let's make this moment tighter and let's go with that reaction. And so we just had an opportunity to get back in and play a little bit. So, and also, you know what it was? Also, you're allowed to deliver a pilot a little bit over time. But then when it's time to go to air, you got to get much closer to your airtime. So we had some moments, we like them. And we had to look at them and say all right, what has to go to make this thing come in at time?
Ben, you have many interests, many love interests I think that are a possibility. And if you could talk about the cast and, you know, the overall feel on the crew too.
Ben Rappaport: Yes it's, this set is really a magical place. You know, I was the first person to get cast back in February. And then a couple days later, they had me testing with all these other people who were coming in and auditioning for, you know, Gupta, Rajiv, Madhuri, Asha and Tonya and Charlie. And even in those sessions, you know, you could really sense a great chemistry and a great sense of bond. And, you know, especially shooting the pilot. We just all had a great time. And it's really great. It feels like we're in an old fashioned repertory acting company, you know, who does, who could - any different kind of piece of theater or any kind of play. And they know exactly what to do because we know each other all ready. We know each other so well. We know how to play off of each other so well. So it's really just a great playground of character and the story. And in terms of the crew and the producers, it's really, there's not, I keep saying this to people. There's not one jerk on the set. It's amazing. I never worked in a situation where there wasn't one diva or one jerk. And this really is a situation like that. So it's really an absolute pleasure.