"BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — The best new show this fall is the funny, warm comedy Aliens in America (8:30 p.m. Mondays beginning Oct. 1 on WTTV-4), the story of a Pakistani exchange student who receives a rude reception when he shows up to live in a small Wisconsin town.
Adhir Kalyan, a 23-year-old South African actor of Indian ancestry, plays the exchange student, Raja Musharaff, and he does an extraordinary job. I talked to him about the role and his experiences with racism.
NUVO: In the show, when you’re upset that the kids in school are ignorant, I’m guessing that not only is that good acting, but that you’ve had some similar experiences.
Kalyan: Being among the first generation of teenagers in the post-Apartheid new South Africa, I really did live in a melting pot. But before I went to the high school where I spent the majority of my high school years, I was actually at schools that were predominantly white, and I would have people coming up to me and saying, “You just seem so like us, like a white person, except you have a different color skin.” In that sense, yes, I have been different.
NUVO: It’s a cliché that actors, when they’re asked why they took a role, say they fell in love with the script. But with this script, that might be true.
Kalyan: Absolutely. As a young actor trying to carve out a career, one is very much in a position to take on everything that comes by — for the exposure, for the experience, to build oneself up as an actor. But to receive a script like this, it was comedic gold, really. It was such a tight script, so sharp. Very funny, but incredibly layered as well. The stereotypes are presented, the stereotypes are deconstructed, the characters are humanized. It’s not trying to brand anyone with a message, but there is a sociopolitical message that at some point in our lives, we all feel like aliens.
NUVO: It’s a very funny show, yet the best moment of the pilot is when they decide you should stay. You say very little, but you convey so much emotion.
Kalyan: I knew it was the most important scene ... because everything we’ve thought about these characters up until this point is completely thrown up into the air. That scene was very painful to play. But at the same time, I was hoping to try to play it with some restraint because he’s a young man who is led very much by his faith and would have found comfort in his faith.
The Hoosier angle
Saturday Night Live head writer Seth Meyers raved about Peyton Manning’s stint hosting SNL.
“I just did the audio commentary for the best-of DVD for last season, and I realized a lot of those jokes were things he came up with while we were out there,” Meyers said. “He has a real ease about himself. He wasn’t trying to prove to anybody he should be a cast member on Saturday Night Live.”
Manning didn’t write the line in the United Way commercial parody about being willing to kill a snitch — SNL writer Akiva Schaffer came up with that — but it was Manning’s idea to banish a kid to a portable toilet.
Athletes have a long history of successfully hosting SNL — Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter and all the way back to Fran Tarkington — and Meyers thinks he knows why.
“They are so attuned to the pressure,” he said. “They don’t crack, they don’t panic. They also know that no matter how bad the show goes, they’re still going to be great at whatever sport they play. And because of that, you realize that the less nervous you are, the better it goes.”
And speaking of athletes, LeBron James is set to host the SNL season-opener this fall.
Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, explained the decision to cancel Close to Home, the drama set in Indianapolis, this way: “The issue around that show being canceled was more about what shows we had, what pilots we had to put on the schedule. As we said when we went into development this year, we wanted to try different things. We wanted to be daring, and we saw an opportunity to not only do better in the time period but, more importantly, do something that was going to make a little bit more noise and perhaps be a better companion. That’s why Moonlight is in the time period.”