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Backstage Interview: 7 Questions with Actor Sendhil Ramamurthy

Sendhil Ramamurthy, was a pre-med student at Tufts, but fell in love with acting after taking a drama elective. He followed his passion and went onto study in the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.
Actor Sendhil Ramamurthy in a still from "Beauty and the Beast."
For decades, South Asians were rarely U.S. television series regulars. But actor Sendhil Ramamurthy changed all that by playing dashing genetics professor Mohinder Suresh on NBC’s sci-fi tinged “Heroes” which made him a household name in America.

“It’s wonderful “Heroes” had an Indian character that had a serious role,” says Ramamurthy, who was asked by the director to deliver his lines with a British accent.

Ramamurthy’s roles span not only television, but theater and film as well. On London's West End stages, Ramamurthy starred in The Royal Shakespeare Company production of “A Servant to Two Masters.” He also starred in the New York premiere of Tom Stoppard's “Indian Ink” and “East is East” directed by Scott Elliott.

He had a starring role in Gurinder Chadha's “It's a Wonderful Afterlife,”' which premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The actor also stars as Jai Wilcox inTV spy drama “Covert Affairs.”

Ramamurthy was a pre-med major at Tufts University in Boston. But his interest in acting led him to London, where he attended the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art whose alumni include Matthew Goode, and Terrence Stamp. He left drama school with a comprehensive knowledge of the classics and his future wife — fellow thespian Olga Sosnovska.

Ramamurthy talked to about following his passion for acting.

  1. Did you become an actor by chance?

  2. My parents are from Bangalore. They are both doctors. My sister is a psychiatrist. So when I started school in Tufts University I was initially doing a pre-med major. I came to acting fairly late in the game. I signed up for an acting class called “Intro to Acting” in my graduation year because I needed an arts credit. I also thought it would be easy and there were lots of women in the class!

    Then I landed the lead in a college production of Timberlake Wertenbaker's “Our Country’s Good,” and discovered I loved acting. After two more plays at Tufts I was hooked and decided I needed to change my career goals.

  3. How did your parents react?

  4. I just came out and told my parents straight: I don’t want to be a doctor instead I want to go to drama school. The decision hit my mom and dad like a truck because I had shown no propensity for acting earlier. But then they came round. They were totally supportive and paid for my studies at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, in London. They flew out to see all my productions. I have no regrets. I don’t enjoy being around sick people. It’s not my thing.

  5. The cult character Mohinder Suresh was originally conceived by writers at NBC as a 55-year-old genetics professor at the University of Madras. How did you land the role?

  6. I went in six times to read the script. I don’t know what did the trick but I am delighted they gave me the role. During an audition you have two minutes to make it happen and often it doesn’t happen. I am glad NBC did a re-think after I auditioned for the role and rewrote the entire character. They made me the son of this man in his late 50s who had just died, who was following in his father’s footsteps. I loved the show — it was steeped in mythology and had the son (Mohinder) avenging his father’s death.

  7. Strong roles for South Asian male leads in the U.S. are notoriously thin on the ground but have you refused to audition for stereotypical brown skin roles like convenience-store employees and terrorists? 

  8. I’ve made a very conscious decision that I’m not going to go in on stereotypical stuff — I’m just not into it. I’ve turned down auditions for lots of roles like that. I won’t do it, and my agents won’t ask me to do it. I don’t fault other actors for doing that. Sometimes you just need to work. But for me personally, I would rather just go and do something else.

  9. You have become a household name in America after starring in NBC’s “Heroes” but did you ever consider changing your name? For instance, Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley changed his name from Krishna Bhanji as a way to his first audition.

  10. My first agent suggested I change my name. What was I going to say my name is – John Smith? It’s ridiculous.

  11. How did you feel about landing on People magazine’s 2007 List of 100 Most Beautiful People.

  12. The whole heartthrob thing is news to me. It’s incredibly flattering and my wife loves it, she takes the mickey out of me for it. It’s not like people are constantly reminding me of being sexy.

  13. After shooting in the West how was it to act in “Shor in the City” on a Mumbai film set?

  14. I wanted to see what it was like on an Indian production. Even the terminology was different on the sets in India. It was chaotic as we shot mostly on location. In the U.S., if we had to shoot on the streets, we could shut the street down. I enjoyed the almost-guerrilla style of filmmaking in the Mumbai crowds.

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site and a writer for Forbes India. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism at the University of Westminster, in London.



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