“I’m sort of like an Indian person, wrapped in a British person, wrapped in an American,” Mandvi tells TheWrap
India has never had much need for baseball or Hollywood, preferring its existing amusements — cricket and Bollywood — to imports from another imperialist power. Aasif Mandvi, a star of “Million Dollar Arm,” hopes his new movie can help change that.
The Indian-born Mandvi is in Los Angeles working on “The Brink,” a new HBO series in which he appears alongside Jack Black and Tim Robbins. Though he resides in New York as a correspondent for “The Daily Show,” he is on a brief hiatus to make “The Brink” and promote “Million Dollar Arm,” Disney’s latest sports movie about a baseball agent who heads to India in search of talent.
Mandvi plays Ash Vasudevan, business partner to J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm). TheWrap spoke with Mandvi about the future of movies in India, “The Daily Show” and his new TV series. You can watch the first video at the top of this post, and see parts two and three at the bottom.
In May you’ve got movies like “Neighbors,” “Godzilla” and “X-Men.” What makes this movie stand out, and what initially attracted you to it?
This is a great story. It’s a true story, and as much it is a sports movie, it’s also a really heartfelt story about these two boys and this American dream that they get of coming to America and becoming major-league baseball players. They come from this small town in India and they’ve never even picked up a baseball and within the year they are having tryouts for scouts in the MLB.
Were you familiar with it when it happened?
No, I didn’t know about this at all; I’m not a baseball person.
Are you a cricket person?
You know, it’s hard to follow cricket when you live in America. I read the script and I actually know the real Ash, the character that I play in the film. Ash is his business partner in the film, which is not exactly the relationship they have in real life.
Ash is an investor in the Million Dollar Arm franchise, but in the movie Ash and J.B. are business partners. Jon Hamm, who plays J.B., plays this lothario, sort of playboy, who has this great single life and is driving a Porsche around L.A. and sleeping with models.
And Ash, his business partner, is kind of the family guy, with the twins, and the wife, and the house, and the suburban and the whole thing. The two of them are living completely different lives, but they share this dream of making this Million Dollar Arm thing into something huge. So, they end up taking these two boys and turning them into baseball players.
It’s odd that Jon Hamm always ends up playing a lothario when he’s been with the same woman for so long.
I know, I know, and the funny thing is that the real Ash, that I play, is actually single.
Since it’s about a sports agent, there is a natural comparison to “Jerry Maguire.” Is that something you guys welcome?
“Jerry Maguire” was a big, big hit, so why not? I like to say that it’s “Jerry Maguire” meets “Slumdog Millionaire.” There are a billion Indian people — and that’s what the movie talks about. There are a billion Indian people and some of them have to be able to pitch at 85 miles an hour or higher.
Though oddly enough neither one of the kids who end up winning the contest cared about cricket.
Cricket has the wrong arm motion. They went out to find cricket players and found out that cricket bowlers don’t make great baseball pitchers. And the two guys that won the contest, one is a javelin thrower and other one played field hockey. There are also a billion Indian people who will hopefully go and see this movie at some point.
What’s odd about the Indian market is, unlike China and a couple of others, it’s been self contained because of Bollywood.
India has it’s own sort of star system, studio system. The Average Indian doesn’t care about Hollywood movies because they have far too many movies of their own to watch, to miss, and I hope a story like “Million Dollar Arm,” that is actually about India and deals with these two Indian kids, resonates over there and makes people want to go and see the movie.
One of the intended goals of this competition — at least in theory — was to inspire more people in India to aspire to play baseball. Is that something that the producers checked to see that happened?
There’s definitely a couple more baseball schools that have cropped up in India and the guy, the character, this wonderful actor named Pitobash plays this character named Amit in the film and the real Amit has opened a baseball school in India. They teach young boys baseball so it’s sort of catching on, but it’s a culture where you have cricket so entrenched.
It’s going to be hard to get kids to stop playing cricket and start playing baseball. Maybe it will never happen, but even if you get 1 percent of the Indian market that is the entire state of Texas.
You were born in India but moved before you were even cognizant, right?
Before I was cognizant, yes. I’ve never heard it put that way, but yeah that is true, I was not really cognizant of what was going on, I was a year old. So I was cognizant, I just didn’t really have a say in anything, I wasn’t really in control of my destiny at that point, so my parents decided to move me to England, and I had to go with them, because I was depending on them for food and clothing and shelter.
It would’ve been cute to have you, a one year old…
Yeah a one year old be like “I’m not going, I’m staying here!” you know “send me my allowance!” Uh no, so I grew up in the U.K., and then we move to the states when I was in high school, so like I’ve had like three identities. I’m a little bit like a turducken, I’m sort of like an Indian person, wrapped in a British person, wrapped in an American kind of thing.
But the American is the exterior.
The American is the exterior. That’s what you see, but inside, there’s a little British school boy who loves fish ‘n’ chips.
Would you say that “The Daily Show” was your big break, or do you feel like you had roles before that helped establish you?
“The Daily Show” was the most culturally visible thing that I had ever done, so yes in that sense, it was my big break. It made people aware of me in a way that they hadn’t before but I was doing a lot of stuff before — Broadway, movies and all kinds of stuff. But “The Daily Show” changed my life in a way by virtue of the fact that it is part of the cultural zeitgeist.
Is that why you think it is such a good launching pad for so many different actors and comedians because there are just so many people who come out of that and have gotten their own shows?
I don’t know why it is but I can imagine it’s a great sort of incubator and there is so many great talented people, behind the camera as well as on camera. It became a great place to learn about comedy and writing comedy; it was a great place to grow as a performer.
Since you have been out here writing on the show were you aware of what was going on with Larry [Wilmore] and his new show?
Wait, what? What happened with Larry? Wait, what? Who? What? No, I’m very excited for Larry. I hope his show is hugely successful and he is calling it a “Minority Report” — which I hope it is and not just a black report! That’s … Larry, if you’re listening, have me on the show is what I’m saying.
Have you talked about that? Contributing in anyway?
No, Larry doesn’t speak to me. He doesn’t really engage with me that much.
Now that he has his own show.
No, even before he had his own show. He is a lot taller than I am so it’s hard for him.
So, he talks right over you?
Yeah, he just talks right over my head.
What’s the show you are working on in L.A.?
I’m doing this show called “The Brink” with Jack Black, Tim Robbins and executive produced by Jay Roach. It’s a comedy for HBO and it’s about the end of the world and Jack Black plays this guy who is foreign service agent in Pakistan. Tim Robbins plays the secretary of state. I play Jack Black‘s driver and friend who ends up getting him out of a lot of crazy situations. It’s a bit of a caper about how to stop the world from destroying itself.
When does it come on?
I don’t know; we haven’t shot it yet. We shoot it later this fall. And it will probably come out next year on HBO. And it’s exciting. Boom! HBO.