When The Big Bang Theory kicked off its first season in 2007, Kunal Nayyar had only one TV role to his name: an uncredited Iraqi terrorist on NCIS. The New Delhi-raised actor changed his fate by auditioning to play physicist Raj Koothrappali, and as The Big Bang Theory closes in on the series' final episodes, Nayyar humbly gave Season 12 guest star Kal Penn credit for inspiring him to believe actors of Indian descent could make it in Hollywood. In his words:
Those are indeed kind words coming from Kunal Nayyar, who has achieved phenomenal heights of financial success and fame as part of The Big Bang Theory, which has basically been television's most-watched comedy every since its third season. (That's when it was shifted to follow fellow ratings monster Two and a Half Men on Thursday nights.) If someone would have asked Nayyar in 2006 to predict his own future, he probably couldn't have dreamed how successful he would become.
In Kunal Nayyar's mind, that success was attainable in part because of Kal Penn's own achievements. Born in New Jersey to Gujarati Indian immigrants, Penn began his acting career in the late 1990s, but became mainstream-recognizable thanks to 2004's stoner comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, which inspired two big screen sequels. Penn's Van Wilder character also got his own 2006 spinoff, Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj.
Kal Penn took that feature film fame and landed a more long-term gig as part of the main cast of House back in 2007. He went on to star in other TV shows like Designated Survivor and Deadbeat, while appearing How I Met Your Mother, New Girl and 24. He's hosted three different shows focused on science-driven subjects, and has also used his influence in non-entertainment ventures, such as serving on President Obama's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, among other more political and socially minded activities.
Even though Kal Penn did a lot of these more large-scale projects after Kunal Nayyar had already booked The Big Bang Theory, the former obviously put years into his craft before making it big. Nayyar, who received his master of fine arts in acting from Temple University, was looking to Penn as an inspiration while performing on the stage for William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost in 2006, as well as for the play Huck and Holden.
Now, the two actors are finally sharing the screen for the first time, all thanks to The Big Bang Theory. That said, I'm not so sure just how much they'll appear together, since Kal Penn will be teamed up with fellow guest star Sean Astin as a pair of physicists who inadvertently confirmed the super asymmetry concept Sheldon and Amy have been working on. Here's hoping Raj butts into the discussions at some point to have a quick moment with Penn's Dr. Campbell.
You can check out Kunal Nayyar's Instagram post below.
The Big Bang Theory is now back in the swing of things with Season 12, with the end nearer than ever. Watch it every Thursday night on CBS at 8:00 p.m. ET, and let us know where you think Kunal Nayyar's career should go next. And don't forget about all the other new and returning shows also debuting on the midseason schedule.
Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.
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