An Interview with Aasif Mandvi from #MillionDollarArmEvent

Who remembers Miami Vice?  It was this television series that Aasif Mandvi made his television debut as a doorman at the Biltmore Hotel in the episode “Line of Fire”. You don’t have to be a fan of Miami Vice to know this actor, he’s also appeared in the HOT television shows: ERThe SopranosSex and the CityCSIOz and various editions of Law & Order. 

He’s been a regular correspondent for The Daily Show. He had a small roll in Die Hard With A vengeance and more recently played the role of Mr Chetty in the comedy The Internship starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.

These days he’s Jon Hamm’s sidekick in Disney’s Million Dollar Arm, playing Ash Vasudevan, JB Bernstein’s business partner. It was for this movie, on May 10th, Walt Disney Studios, offered 25 bloggers, myself included, the opportunity to sit down with Aasif Mandvi and do an interview.

I was invited to this event by Disney as part of a media event. Accommodations and other expenses were paid for in exchange for my coverage of the event, but all opinions are my own and were not influenced in any way.

 #milliondollararmevent aasif mandvi interview

Once a Performer at Walt Disney World, After graduating from the University of South Florida with a degree in Theatre. We asked Mandvi if, while he was performing at Walt Disney World,did you think you would get to play in Million Dollar Arm and what has that experience been like going into this?

“Into this, in terms of like being Disney? Well, you know, I was a Street Performer at the Disney/MGM Studios and now I am in a Disney Movie so it’s a very, very different experience.  There’s less Catering involved.  You don’t get a Trailer, you don’t get Catering; Make up and Hair, nothing.  Disney, the — the MGM Studios was my first job out of College so it was kind of an amazing experience. It was my first Acting job, professional Acting job, you know, and — and it was really fun.”

“We sort of opened the MGM Studios back in ’89 and did these Street performing Characters and so it was a great place to learn Comedy and learn Improv and stuff like that so it was amazing.  It was fun when I started.  I hope this is not where I end but it’s where I started.  It came full circle, right?”

And after starting his career with Disney and MGM, many of us thought Mandvi went into Stand Up Comedy.

“I was never really a Stand up Comedian.  I did some Stand-up because I thought maybe I’d like to be a Stand up Comedian but –I ended up sort of doing more Theatre. I created a One Man Show.  Occasionally, I come back to the Stand up world, since The Daily Show, mostly because people want me to do Stand up. They pay me to do Stand up so put something together and do Stand Up. I don’t consider myself a Stand up comedian.  I came more from the Theatre track.”

After hearing Jon Hamm’s favorite scene in the film, we had to know Mandvi’s.

 “My favorite scene to film.  It was really actually fun going to India and shooting because having been born there and having family there and have visited India many times, it’s a whole different experience when you go with an American Film Crew to India.  It’s actually the best way to see India–to be in the bubble of a big Hollywood Production.  You don’t have to deal with any riff raff [LAUGHTER] going around, you know, in an Air Conditioned car and stuff.  It was great, it was actually kind of just experientially, it was just like an amazing experience to go to India  and for me like I got to visit family.’

“I got to see the Taj Mahal, which I’ve always wanted to and never had.  And now I got to do it on Disney’s dime so you know, so it was kind of great.  Yeah.”

In Million Dollar Arm Mandvi plays a character who is funny next to Jon Hamm’s straight man. We were curious was attracted him to the character he played and what it was that made him want to be part of this film.

“I think my character is funny but he’s also the — he’s also the grounding Character.  He’s the one that is the counter point to Jon Hamm’s sort of Playboy Lothario Character.  I like that aspect of it.  I also feel it was an interesting Character to see as — a South Asian Sports Agent because I don’t know any!  I’m sure there are but it was sort of an interesting Character to play somebody I never played before . I felt that was kind of fun.”

“And then I got to work with Jon Hamm every day who is dreamy…  [LAUGHTER] “

In the movie, Mandvi plays Ash Vasudevan whose character has small children that seem to take up a great deal of his time. After seeing the movie, we wanted to know what it was like working with the babies. The answer surprised us!

“Oh the Twins.  Well they had, OK, so they had two sets of Twins.  So it wasn’t the same, but you can’t tell because they’re Indian and probably look-alike.  [LAUGHTER]  But if you watch closely, you see that they’re actually two sets of different Twins.  The Twins that I’m feeding in the Kitchen are not the same Twins that I’m holding on the Porch.  And what happened on the porch was…”

Are you ready for just how real to life Disney’s Million Dollar Arm is?

“The scene on the porch….So we’ve got these two sets of Indian Parents who have these two sets of Twins and they’re, poor things sort of hiding off in the Corner. The kids would just cry.  They would just cry.  The scene was not about these kids crying, and — and Craig Gillespie, the Director, he was like, You know, kids cry.  So let him just cry because there’s no way we can stop him.’  We couldn’t stop them from crying.  So we just used it.  Craig’s theory was like every time we see Ash and his children, his children are just screaming.  And that’s just the reality of his life.  So in the bed, they’re crying.  They weren’t supposed to be crying.  In the Kitchen, they’re crying. “

“And then, the piece de resistance is that on the Porch, the kids were again, crying and I’m supposed to be holding them, and the kid is literally screaming for his Mother.  He’s just like, I don’t care about your stupid Movie, I want to be with my Mom.  Finally, I have to like film so I said to Craig, ‘Listen, I can’t do this anymore.  This kid–there’s snot coming out of him and he’s crying.  He’s just a mess.’  

Craig said, ‘Listen we’ve got to get this shot, OK?  We need this shot.  I don’t care how much,  just let the kid cry.  I don’t care.  Just grab him, walk out onto the porch, we get the shot. We’re done. We’re out of here.’

“So I’m like “Fine, OK.”  So they roll Action, I grab this kid, it’s like pulling cheese off a Pizza.”

“It’s literally like I grab this kid.  He’s holding on to me, the hair, the thing, and I grab him. “Come on. Come on, Sweetie! Come on.” We go running on to the porch and I’m standing there getting the shot.  I’m shaking him and then suddenly he looks at me and just puked.  [LAUGHTER] It’s just all over my clothes.  Twice! He did it twice.  It’s in the Movie.  You can see it.  So it’s totally real. You see me go from Character.  I mean like a Character in the Movie to being an Actor and just going, ‘Somebody P.A. !”

“I take the kid, I’m holding him out here — like an Actor who’s suddenly been puked on and the kid is just puking.  There’s puke everywhere.  It’s all in my clothes, in my hair.  But we got the shot. “

Since Million Dollar Arm is based on a real life person, instead of a fictional character, Aasif Mandvi shares what it was like and what kind of inspiration he got from the actual Ash.

“I know Ash.  I’ve known him. I met him before I did this Movie.  We have mutual friends and stuff.  He’s not married.  He doesn’t have kids.  He’s very different from the real Ash in the movie so I didn’t really worry about trying to portray him at all.  I just created a character for the purpose of the film because the real Ash is — more like JB in the sense of he’s kind of a single guy. He’s a tough guy in San Francisco.”

“It was interesting to play someone who actually is a real person.  I’d never done that before.Now people always want to take pictures of the two of us together. He’s thrilled because like I said, we’ve known each other for a long time.  So it’s exciting for him to have somebody he knows actually portray him in the film.”

It’s a great story, but had Mandvi read the story before he knew about the story being made?

“No. I’d never heard of this story. I’m also not a huge Sports guy so I didn’t know about the story at all but when I heard about it. I leaned about this Movie being made called “Million Dollar Arm” and Ash was the guy who got them to America. So I learned all of it through like my friends and it helped that my friend, Ash, was involved in making this Movie.”

In Million Dollar Man JB Bernstein Ash have a few scenes were JB Bernstein groans at Cricket on TV, while Ash speaks of how much he loves cricket. Does Mandvi love Cricket?

“I actually grew up in England so I played Cricket badly as a kid. I played in the Street outside my house. I also played in School, so I’m actually more familiar with Cricket than I am with Baseball I think.”

Are you working on any new projects now?

“I’m actually doing an HBO Series called “The Brink”, with Jack Black and Tim Robbins that will come out next year.  It’s good.  It’s a comedy about the end of the world and the brink being like the world is on the brink of Armageddon.  It’s a Geo-Political Comedy.  It’s seen through the eyes of three Departments of US Government: the State Department, Foreign Service, and the Military, but it’s a comedy.  And it’s a half hour.”

“It’s nice because it’s similar to what I have done on The Daily Show for years. It is in that vein of clearly satirical Political sort of stuff.  It is keeping with that stuff but it’s from a Narrative standpoint. I’m working on that and I have a book coming out at the end of the year.  So you guys can all blog about that.  The book is called — “No Land’s Man” and it’s basically stories of my life from growing up as a kid in England to moving to Florida and being a High School Student in Florida and then coming to New York….and my career.  It’s humorous essays that are kind of Sedarisesque sort of stories.  My book will be coming out in November.”

How was it working with the guys on set?

“With Madhur and Suraj?  They’re great.  I’m a lot older than they are so they became like little Brothers to me. Suraj is really nice and easy-going.  And Mad was a pain in the butt.  I had that very sort of familial relationship with the two of them.  They were great.  It was really fun to get to work with other Indian Actors, which is so rare. Usually you’re the only South Asian Actor on a set of a Hollywood Movie.”

“And then also, Pitobash who’s so great.  He played Amit, the little guy.  He was so great.  This was a great experience.  Everyone was so great to work with.”

What does Mandvi hope people take away when they’re watching Disney’s Million Dollar Arm?

“What I hope people will take the most? It’s a very American story.  It’s a very sort of American Dream kind of story.  The idea of possibility. The idea that anything is possible. I was talking to Rinku about it, you know, the real Rinku, and I was saying like do you feel like proud?  He was really sort of philosophical about it he said basically, “You know, I don’t because it’s just what happened to me. I just went to this audition and this thing happened and it — it is a story for the world. For me, it’s just my life, it’s just what happened and now what I’m really interested in, is being the best Baseball Player that I can be.”

“So like he’s really focused on sort of just being a Baseball Player.  This whole inspirational story that happened is really the stuff that movies are made of.  You know, it’s not like — relevant to his life as it is today.” 

Now that the story is being told, how does Mandvi think it will impact those maybe in India, that get a chance to see this story?

“I don’t know how it’ll impact people in India. I’ll be curious to see.  I think there is an emotional element to it.  There’s an Indian kind of pride sort of thing about it.  I don’t know how people will take to it.  I know  for example, when “Slumdog Millionaire” came out, a lot of people in India didn’t like the movie.  They were sort of like, ‘Oh, this is India for Western people. Sometimes there’s a kind of exoticization…exoticization, is that even a word?  [LAUGHTER]”

“An exoticism of India, you know what I mean, of like the poverty. You know what I mean?  But I think this movie actually takes a really great sort of realistic approach to like what it is, like that scene with Vivek and –and JB where he’s talking about where the posters and tee-shirst were–  That is so the experience of the average Indian person in India.  What I liked about it was it’s a Middle Class Indian person’s life in India, which is like dealing with the bureaucracy and the sort of red tape of like the system.  You know what I mean?  Everything in India is harder than it really should be.”-

“I think there’s interesting sort of observations about India that are very true in this film.  So I’ll be curious to see how it plays to the Masses over there.”

I really enjoyed meeting Aasif Mandvi. He has a great sense of humor. He is a great character in Million Dollar Arm and brings a fun and reason to the movie.

Million Dollar Arm is in theaters everywhere May 16. It’s a movie the whole family will enjoy.