“Becoming an actor was never in my line of site for my future. I never expected it. I never thought that that was the direction I was gonna go in.” – Rati Gupta
Joining the cast of a long-running and beloved TV show can be nerve-wracking. But what happens when you add becoming a cast-member in that shows final season? Rati Gupta, who just joined the cast of The Big Bang Theory, said she was “terrified” those first few days. You’d never be able to tell though, because Gupta, who plays the fiancee of Kunal Nayyar‘s character, Raj, has blended into the cast so seamlessly, you’d think she’d been on the show for years.
Gupta, who also has a recurring role on Hulu’s Future Man, talks about how her career has changed since booking The Big Bang Theory, working on the show, auditions and how she end up becoming an actor.
Career wise, how is it to be a part of such a hugely successful show? A top 10 network show?
Rati Gupta: It’s been insane. I don’t know how else to describe it except it’s just been a game changer. Normally for an actor, your team pitches you and submits you for things, and they have to work to make you sound quirky and interesting, and all these things, and now I feel like all they say is, “She’s recurring on the Big Bang Theory.” It’s like, “Oh, okay. Cool. We know what that means.” So, it feels like a huge deal, and the biggest door that’s ever been opened for me, on a career perspective.
Even personally, my family has been watching this show for years. It’s my cousin, her husband, and my nine-year-old nephew’s favorite show. They have been watching it for years. My nine-year-old nephew, I think it was last year or the year before, he wanted his birthday party to be a Big Bang Theory themed birthday party. My cousin decided, “You know, it’s not really a kid friendly theme. Maybe let’s not do that,” but he’s been obsessed with the show for a long time.
So when I told everyone I was gonna be on the show, it became this big celebratory moment for everyone. Not only was I making waves, career wise, and making progress on that front, but also I’m gonna be on their favorite show. It was a whole other personal level of an achievement, which was very cool.
I can imagine. I feel like a big shot when I go home and bring my SAG Screeners to my parents.
Rati Gupta: Yeah, I mean that was usually my claim to fame. That’s was the perk of me being in the industry for them, and now it’s elevated a little bit. I’m not just good for the screeners. Now they can brag to their bowling team, and my nephew can go to school and say his aunt is on TV.
Are you auditioning a whole lot more now?
Rati Gupta: It’s been, actually, a little difficult because of my availability. I was shooting so many episodes, so I wasn’t technically available for other jobs. I was able to read for casting directors that I hadn’t read for them before. That felt like a hill that I was able to traverse thanks to this new credit on my resume.
I read that you had auditioned for the show before but it was for a different role. Was it also for a girlfriend part?
Rati Gupta: It was, I think, just a one episode guest star. Another girl that Raj’s parents were arranging him with, and this was maybe five, six years ago. This was a while ago. That woman, that character, was Indian Indian. Most of the women that they’ve had on the show have been Indian Indian, and not so much Indian American. So, when you’re Indian Indian, you’re an actual immigrant, you’re gonna have an accent. It makes sense. And I just don’t have a good Indian accent. So, I’ve just been waiting for them to bring in an Indian American woman because that I can pull off. That is easy for me because that is who I am. So, finally when I read the script and I saw American born in the breakdown I was like, “Oh my God. This is it. This is the one. I can get this one.” And then sure enough, it happened.
When you are auditioning are you asked to do an accent a lot?
Rati Gupta: Not as much anymore. That has been the conversation among Indian actors in the town. I personally haven’t experienced it that often, and I don’t know if it’s because just the general type that I tend to play doesn’t lend itself to the general Indian stereotype of being the doctor, the lawyer, the put together woman. I’m more quirky and sassy, that kind of style. Those roles aren’t typically written for Indians. Indian women are generally written to be more sophisticated and put together, so it’s actually just been hard for me to land roles written for Indian women because they’re not written to be that bold, and brazen, and crazy and funny. Now I feel it’s more than it used to be, but it wasn’t always that way.
Anu though was a bit of both. In the first episode, she had a tongue piercing. It’s crazy. I was like, “I have never seen that written for an Indian woman before,” and I was like, “That’s pretty great.”
I’ve done shows before where the cast has been together for a while, and I’m just a co-star or something like that, and I am just completely nervous. They’ve been together for eight million years.
Rati Gupta: Forever.
And you’re not only coming in for an episode, you’re gonna be there for a while. Are you nervous or intimidated? What’s running through your mind the first day or two?
Rati Gupta: The first couple episodes, yeah, I was terrified. I had also just finished working on another show, another recurring guest star, Future Man on Hulu, and I was super tight with my castmates on that show. I was cast as a part of this mini ensemble of five total guest stars who were playing spouses to one of the series’ regulars. So, the five of us were pretty much in every scene together. We functioned as one character as a whole on the show, so we were inseparable. All summer for three months we had a group text. We were glued to the hips, and we had so much chemistry and got along so well. So, I went straight from working in that environment to being the new girl that’s walking into high school two weeks before finals. That’s basically what happened. So, I was scared as hell and I was like, “No one is gonna talk to me. No one’s gonna think I’m a good actor.” So many nervous things just running through my head constantly.
All my scenes in the first episode were with Kunal, and Kunal and I got along so well. He was so reassuring and so calm and welcoming. He made me feel so comfortable, and that made the transition a lot easier. Mayim [Bailik] and Melissa [Rauch] also, even though I didn’t have any scenes with them, just around rehearsal on the stage in between takes or scenes or whatever, they also were super chatty, totally brought me in because they knew what it was like to be the new girl. Both of them joined, I think season four or something? So, they probably understood what I was going through and went above and beyond to make me feel comfortable.
Halfway through my second episode I think I found my groove and Chuck Lorre and Steve Holland were also giving me compliments and telling me, “Good job,” and smiling and nodding to me. So, I was feeling more at ease there, but it took a while for sure.
I know you’ve done stand-up and other things in front of an audience, but how do you like filming in front of a live studio audience?
Rati Gupta: Oh, I love it. I freaking love it. It’s like the best part of the sitcom experience because like you said, I’ve been on stages in front of audiences pretty much my whole life, so that’s what I’m used to, having that instant gratification from other people. So, having the audience right there and Mark the MC, he’s so great and he’s so funny. He does these really fun bits and he has the audience applaud for you in between takes and if you mess up, then he cracks a joke and everyone starts laughing with you. He makes it all very interactive, which is fun. They’re always playing music while the cameras are re-setting and things. I used to be a dancer, so I’m just grooving, dancing on set in between takes and it shakes the nerves off in between as well, and helps me relax at the same time. I love the whole party, live show environment of it all.
You grew up in Indiana, and you went to college and you did a double major. Psychology and…
Rati Gupta: And dance. I was a dance and psychology double major. Everyone at Northwestern University were double majors because everyone at Northwestern University is an overachiever. It’s like literally, if you are not double majoring, people are like, “What?” It’s confusing. So, I was a dance major and a psychology major, and then I fulfilled my premed requirements at the same time. And I used none of it. I use none of those things now.
So, when did you decide, “Hey, I’m gonna move to LA.”
Rati Gupta: I decided to “take a year off” after I graduated college, which is basically just a casual way for me to break it to my parents that I’m not going to medical school even though they were working under the assumption that I was going to after that “year off.” During that year, I was dancing with some companies in Chicago and one of my friends from a company I was dancing with, it was March or something in 2007, he was like, “Hey, let’s go to LA for the summer and take dance classes all summer, and do all of the dancing.” I was like, “Okay.” So we started planning this summer in LA that the two of us were gonna go do, and in the back of my mind I knew that I wasn’t gonna come back. I was preemptively planning to just full on stay and move to LA. I wasn’t making that official. I wasn’t saying that to my parents, but I just knew deep down that LA was where I was meant to be anyway. So, if I’m gonna go for the summer, I’m probably not gonna come back.
The friend that I was gonna move to LA with ended up getting into the Alvin Ailey School in New York, which is amazing, so the day I left for LA he moved to New York. So, I came to LA by myself. A friend of mine from college, a sorority sister, was here so I crashed on her couch for a few weeks and got situated. Another friend of a friend from college was looking for a roommate, and then we connected and I moved. I made the whole transition, and I moved all my furniture, moved my car out here, and I never left.
Northwestern has a great acting program. Did you ever once think about taking a class there?
Rati Gupta: Nope. I took acting for non-majors for one quarter. You have to take two classes per department or something to fulfill your general liberal arts requirement, so I took acting for non-majors for a few months, but that was it.
Becoming an actor was never in my line of site for my future. I never expected it. I never thought that that was the direction I was gonna go in. It was dancer/choreographer. That’s what I was gonna be doing. I was gonna be a dancer for Janet Jackson, I would end up choreographing for her, becoming her best friend. That was the goal. Things happen.
Now, if I could go back in time and go do college all over again, I would take advantage of the fact that I had access to one of the best theater programs in the country, and actually take acting classes, because I didn’t then.
So, what was your first role out here? The one, I guess, that got you your SAG card.
Rati Gupta: It was a commercial. It was a Hallmark commercial that I booked the day of. It was directed by… oh my God I’m forgetting his name. Joe something, but he was a legendary commercial director who did all the Pepsi commercials with Michael Jackson, Britney, that whole era. Tall guy, straggly white hair, balding spot, and also scary as hell. My agent warned me and was like, “Just so you know, he’s tough.” I was like, “Cool. Great. First job.” Oh, yeah, Joe Pytka. At some point, I was turning the wrong way or something in a take and he was like, “Come here, come here. Give me your SAG card. I want to see your SAG card.” I was so scared. “I don’t have my SAG card with me, what is this?” The commercial never ended up airing, which I thought was interesting. How does a Joe Pytka commercial not go to air?
Well, you know why? Because you turned the wrong way, that’s why.
Rati Gupta: I turned the wrong way. I ruined the whole thing. I ruined the whole commercial.
What’s been your worst audition or most embarrassing?
Rati Gupta: Oh, oh God. Okay, so this was for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I was reading for Felicia Fasano for the first time, and I got this audition because I had done The Moth GrandSLAM, a big storytelling show. Five, six hundred people attend these things, and head of casting for the CW was there, Lori Openden. She emailed me the next day. Said I was “adorable. Come to my office. Let’s meet.” This was right after that CW had just bought Crazy Ex-Girlfriend from Showtime. So, they were looking to add an ethnic female character to the show. So, Lori referred me to Felicia to have me read for this character. Lori knew I didn’t sing. I told her, “I can sing, but it’s not totally a thing that I do,” but I had to sing for this audition. So, I spent all night cramming to learn this Taylor Swift song, and I don’t know why I picked Taylor Swift when clearly this is gonna be a very Broadway kind of show, but I picked a Taylor Swift song. I spent the whole night working on this song and I thought it was great.
I go into this audition and I do the scene. The scene is great and I feel really good about it. Then she’s like, “Okay, sing,” and I sang about half a line and I just freeze. I couldn’t remember the words, I couldn’t remember anything. Then I had to do it again, and it happened again and again about five times until Felicia is like, “Okay, honey, we got to move on. You can put it on tape and send it to me.” I was like, “Ugh, okay.” Anything you put on tape, you know that’s a bad sign. They’re not gonna watch it.
Then also, I left but I left my phone on her desk, so then I had to drive back, interrupt her next session to get my cellphone back. Disaster upon disaster. I was like, “Felicia is not gonna call me for anything else ever again.” I was green as hell. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but that’s where a year later she puts me on Better Things, the FX show. So, they forgive you I guess, is the moral of the story. They forgive you when you do terrible, embarrassing things.
The Big Bang Theory airs on Thursdays at 8pm on CBS