Canada's Rizwan Manji is happy to be outsourced to Outsourced, the new NBC sitcom (Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.) about an affable American named Todd (Ben Rappaport) shipped to Mumbai to run his novelty company's call centre. Outsourced has debuted to knockout ratings in Canada and the United States, and Manji has already drawn notice for his portrayal of Rajiv, the call centre's imperious assistant manager. He spoke to The Globe in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.
Kindly describe Rajiv for us.
Rajiv is your basic lovable nemesis. He wants Todd to fail and go back to America so he can be manager of the call centre. Of course he'd be more of a threat if he were actually skilled.
Is he the sort of manager who commands respect from his staff?
They respect him, but out of fear. Rajiv is okay with them fearing him.
Perhaps some envy his magnificent mustache?
Yes, it's real and it took a while to grow. My wife hates it but my daughter loves it. She's 21 months old and just learned how to say "mustache."
I count only two non-South-Asian regulars in the Outsourced cast. Is this a groundbreaking show?
To my knowledge this is the first show on U.S. network television with a primarily South Asian cast, and the first sitcom set in a completely different country. It's a great honour to be part of that. Hopefully it's a great step for minority actors in the future.
What's the reaction to the show from your South-Asian friends and family?
My own friends and family have seen the show, and surprisingly, they find it hilarious, and quite accurate.
You've been acting steadily since 1997. Highlights?
I've had some really great opportunities. One was the film American Desi, which got a lot of buzz when it came out. I also had the chance to work in the film Charlie Wilson's War, which was an amazing experience. I got to spend two weeks in Morocco and do scenes with Tom Hanks.
Your memories growing up South Asian in Canada?
We moved from Toronto to Calgary when I was in first grade. Sometimes kids made fun of my name, or my skin colour, but for the most part I always felt Canadian. Kids have to tease each other about something, and I never felt I was being targeted.
The climate certainly changed after 2001, and I did feel it a bit more. I made sure I got to the airport several hours in advance because I knew I was going to get searched. But even then, I've always felt Canadian and proud of it.
Any reservations about playing a terrorist on the final season of 24?
It was an interesting experience. I am Muslim, and I was approached to play this part (the bomb maker) but I felt it was okay to play the bad guy, because there was an opposite point of view being shown. There were some very positive Muslim role models on 24 that season as well.
Didn't you once play a jollier role on Late Night with Conan O'Brien?
Yes, I played the outsourced Santa Claus. Apparently Santa had been outsourced to India to save money.
Did you log any call-centre experience for Outsourced?
I've actually worked at a call centre, at the Learning Annex in New York.
And like everyone else, I've been connected to a call centre, and I know I'm speaking to someone in India, even if she insists her name is Elizabeth. I want to say to her, 'You can trust me. My name is Rizwan!' Just so she'll tell me her real name.
Have you ever been to the land of your forefathers?
In 2003, I spent six months backpacking in India with my wife. We actually overstayed our visa and got kicked out. While there, I ended up doing a TV commercial for Cadbury chocolate.
Any temptations toward Bollywood?
Most of the movies made in India are shot in Hindi. My Hindi is okay, but I'm not fluent enough to be in the Bollywood films. Or good-looking enough.
And your dancing skills?
Horrible, if you ask my wife. Really, I can't dance at all.
This interview has been condensed and edited.