Aasif Mandvi on iPhone Audition Videos + His Most Memorable Survival Job

Photo Source: Illustration: Nathan Arizona/Photo: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.com

When Aasif Mandvi calls Backstage, Twitter has just unveiled its 280-character feature to all users. He’s liberated by the extra space. “I’m kind of happy about it,” Mandvi says, “because I feel like the 140-character thing is completely arbitrary, first of all, and I’ve always felt that it limits our ability to speak properly and we end up living in this very truncated language.”

Offline, the former “Daily Show” correspondent is set to make his debut as Pazhani “Paz” Kapoor, a spiritual healer, on Hulu’s “Shut Eye.” The show’s second season premieres Dec. 6 and sees Mandvi’s Paz helping Charlie Haverford (Jeffrey Donovan) unpack his newfound psychic visions. Though many are used to seeing him in comedic roles, Mandvi is quick to share that he’s done his fair amount of dramatic work, too. Here, he discusses working on “Shut Eye” and audition preparedness.

What has working on ‘Shut Eye’ added to your acting skills?
I can see the appeal of being a spiritual guru, even though I was just playing one. There’s kind of an aphrodisiac quality to it. It was great to inhabit that role, which is larger than life, but he’s also a complicated character. He’s dealing with a lot of his own demons.

Is it difficult to have that one memorable job that gives audiences a specific perception of what you can do?
Sometimes it is. I’m really happy for it and I’m fortunate I got to do it and really honored to have been a part of that iconic era of “The Daily Show.” Sometimes there is an identification with me as a particular kind of comedian, where as I see myself more as an actor who happens to do comedy and happens to do dramatic stuff. But I embrace it, I do standup comedy. Whenever in this business someone is reducing you down to one thing, it’s always frustrating.

What was your most memorable survival job?
I was working as a paralegal. They gave me a 180-page document about valves and I had to condense it down to 20 pages. You spend a whole day reading about valves—how one valve connects to another valve—all connected to this legal case. So I condensed it down and they were like, “It’s not short enough, you need to make it shorter.” I almost started crying because I was like, “I can’t.”
So I quit.

What was the next audition you booked right after that?
Probably some very low-paying regional theater gig. I probably would’ve made more being a paralegal, but I couldn’t do it.

What advice would you give your younger self?
To keep on creating stuff. For me, that was the big takeaway from a lot of my career. It was when I created content—that’s when all kinds of things started happening for me. Creating content and constantly creating stuff is the way to deal with the insanity of this business. Things are so accessible in that way now. I put auditions on tape on my iPhone. Things have changed a lot.

How do you prepare for those auditions when you’re not in the room with somebody?
It’s always harder when you’re not in the room with somebody, but you prepare for it the same as you would for anything else. You try to understand what it is, you try to understand what the character wants, why they’re saying what they’re saying. You ask the same questions of yourself as if you were going in the room. The only difference is that you don’t get the direction that you would. You have to gauge it yourself, whether you feel good about it and you feel confident. It becomes an internal gauge—do I feel authentic? I try to watch my auditions and look at them objectively as much as I can. But it’s a lot harder.

Have you ever sent off a video and thought you nailed it and it didn’t work out?
A million times. When I was younger, I got close to a really big job and I was really depressed when I didn’t get it. It was my first big TV gig, potentially. I had this moment of “What the hell am I doing?” I remember a friend of mine saying to me, “Look, if you’re lucky, you will not get a hundred more jobs like this.” That was the moment when I realized I get what this is.

What is your worst audition story?
There’s always the audition where you go in and you’re like, I didn’t prepare enough, or thought I could wing it. Usually, I find that if I have a nightmare audition scenario...it usually has to do with something where I didn’t care enough about it. There’s always somewhere where I can go back and say, “Oh, I should’ve spent a little bit more time thinking about this,” or “Maybe I don’t really want this job, I just think I do.” Or you don’t believe that you can get it. Sometimes you go into an audition and you don’t believe that they will cast you and that works against you psychologically.

Looking to get cast? Apply to casting calls on Backstage.