Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
April 30, 1981
Currently Known For:
The Big Bang Theory
April 30, 1981
The Big Bang Theory
“Just think of me as a brown Martha Stewart.” Ranked as the third highest paid television actor in the world in 2015 thanks to his incredible earnings on The Big Bang Theory, Kunal Nayyar is undoubtedly living his greatest dreams after making his way from London and New Delhi to Los Angeles, California. Born on April 30, 1981 in Hounslow, London to a Punjabi family, Nayyar was raised in New Delhi, India where he attended St. Columbia’s School and played on the badminton team. After high school, he moved to the United States and settled down in Oregon where he enrolled at the University of Portland to pursue his Bachelor of Science degree in Finance. While there, he discovered that fitting in was incredibly difficult and joined the school’s theater department with the hopes of making new friends.
“I got into acting because I was lonely,” Nayyar admitted. “I arrived in America 15 years ago to study business at university. I didn’t know anyone, and I looked, sounded, and smelt different to everyone. I wanted to do something where people were forced to interact with me. A lot of people gravitate toward theatre because you can feel safe about not being what society expects.”
Finding that safety net and making plenty of friends, Nayyar balanced his course requirements while working on a handful of productions. He earned his degree in finance but knew he couldn’t ignore his passion for acting especially not after his experience performing with the American College Theatre Festival. “I was in the middle of a play on stage,” he recalled. “I don’t know what happened to me, but I had almost like a moment of enlightenment. I realized this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I finished the play and called my parents, who are in India, and I said, ‘I’ve decided to be a professional actor,’ and they said, ‘Okay that’s good. You should follow your dreams and do whatever you want to do.’”
Deciding to pursue acting full time, he moved to the East Coast and enrolled at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting. After graduation, he made sporadic appearances in television commercials and frequently returned to London to hone his talents as a theatre actor. Back on American soil in 2006, he gained his earliest taste of fame when he received widespread praise for his performance as an exchange student named Rajiv Joseph in the 2006 production of Huck & Holden. Months later, his work cowriting the play, Cotton Candy, earned rave reviews in New Delhi before he returned to Hollywood and made his primetime television debut with a guest role on NCIS.
Nayyar finally caught the break of a lifetime in 2007 when he auditioned for and won the part of an astrophysicist named Rajesh “Raj” Koothrappali, a role that would ultimately change his entire career and redefine his success in Hollywood thanks to The Big Bang Theory’s incredible success and critical acclaim. With the show now in its 11th season, let’s take a closer look at the character who earned Nayyar five Screen Actors Guild Award nominations and made him a household name in the industry!
All About Raj: Selective Mutism, Bromances, Astrophysicist and More
“They don’t call me brown dynamite for nothing.” One of the most beloved geeks on The Big Bang Theory, Rajesh Ramayan “Raj” Koothrappali is an astrophysicist at Caltech and shares a “bromance” with his best friend, Howard Wolowitz. Inspired by the show’s co-creator, Billy Prady, and his early work as a computer programmer, Raj also shares a few similarities with Nayyar and is from New Delhi, India. Despite his Indian roots, however, he hates Indian food and has little knowledge about Indian culture and Hinduism. However, what he does know is a great gateway for comedy with Sheldon often speaking better Hindu than his friend in addition to Raj’s selective mutism, which keeps him from speaking to women outside his family unless he is tipsy or on medication—at least until the show’s sixth season!
One of five children born into a wealthy family in New Delhi, Raj makes his way to America along with one of his sisters, Priya, who ends up dating Leonard in an on-again, off-again relationship until Leonard finally settles down with Penny. This matters very little to Raj who is more focused on trying to “blend in” with his American friends despite his sweater vest and track-top windbreaker, khaki pants, and skate shoes. He even starts playing Halo with his friends to make up for his metro sexuality and love of things like Eat, Pray Love, Sex and the City, and Sandra Bullock films.
Raj’s selective mutism also adds insult to injury especially since it takes alcohol or medication to make him comfortable enough to talk to women and, even then, he typically says something inappropriate. Coincidentally, this aspect of Raj’s personality has been the most challenging for Nayyar who studied Raj’s personal qualities as well as “the physical symptoms of pathological shyness and what it means to have selective mutism.” Fortunately, the show’s writers put Raj in comedic situations like when Raj couldn’t speak in front of Penny until the sixth season, which left Leonard, Sheldon and Penny plenty of opportunities for jokes and fun.
Because of his selective mutism, Raj isn’t involved in any lasting romantic relationships, which offers unending comedic twists from his parents setting him up with his childhood friend, Lalita Gupta, to his new nickname as “Quick Draw” after finding himself in bed with Penny. By the seventh season, Raj gains enough confidence to speak to women and starts dating Emily Sweeney, an attractive dermatologist he met online. As their relationship unfolds and includes an unexpected love triangle after Raj meets and befriends a screenwriter and bartender named Claire, Raj’s life gets even more complicated as he dates other women in the tenth and eleventh seasons.
The Dish on Dating and Relationships
“Tell her that her eyes shimmer like opalescent lilies in the lake of the palace of the celestial maidens.” Despite Raj’s difficulty in talking to women and finding a lasting relationship, the 36-year-old Nayyar doesn’t seem to have that problem after marrying Miss India 2006—fashion designer Neha Kapur—in December 2011. The couple first met in 2009 and, although Kapur wasn’t impressed, Nayyar instantly fell head over heels in love.
“The first time I saw Kunal, he was wearing a trucker hat, cutoff gloves, hipster glasses, and a scarf,” she recalled to Glamour magazine after admitting that she had never seen The Big Bang Theory prior to meeting Nayyar. “It took me a while to find him among all that…” Nayyar, on the other hand, was instantly hooked saying, “My first thought was, ‘This is the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.’ My second thought was, ‘She’s way out of my league.’”
Fortunately, that wasn’t the case as the two quickly started dating and married in New Delhi two years later. “I knew she was the one when she met my family for the first time,” Nayyar said. “There was an unspoken language. She just knew how to interact, be with, give love to, put herself in very organic place with my family.” For Neha, she loves how humble and kind Nayyar is despite his incredible success. “I think the fact that he doesn’t necessarily play his professional life out too much to people, and how humble he stays, especially with how big the show is, and how far and wide the fans are spread,” she says. “He just completely stays committed and humble and dedicated and hardworking.”
Still happily married today, Nayyar remains modest about his life at home and his incredible success on The Big Bang Theory. He’s made a few appearances in films like Ice Age: Continental Drift, The Scribbler, Consumed, and Trolls as well as on television shows like The Mindy Project and The Late Late Show. He returned to the stage in 2015 as Kalyan in The Spoils but is happiest on the set of The Big Bang Theory where he says the cast is truly like family. “Every day we all sit around together, we’re reading the newspaper, we’re having coffee, we’re talking about life, you know, it’s just so easy. What you see onscreen is how it is off screen.” He also recognizes the incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he has on The Big Bang Theory and has promised to never take it for granted. “It’s difficult to answer but I can say that to be an actor, to have an opportunity like this, it’s a dream come true,” he says. “We are all living the dream and we know how lucky we are.”