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For twelve seasons, millions upon millions of The Big Bang Theory fans watched and cheered on Kunal Nayyar in his first (and extremely lucrative) major TV role. Taking into account the show's repeat-friendly syndication success, it's safe to say that the most hardcore viewers have watched roughly 2.3 gazillion minutes (a most scientific number) of Raj Koothrappali's journey from youthful bachelor to...slightly older bachelor. In any case, Nayyar opted to portray the polar opposite of Raj for his first TV follow-up role in Netflix's crime drama Criminal: UK.
With a Season 2 cast that also boasts Game of Thrones vet Kit Harington and Death on the Nile's Sophie Okonedo, Criminal: UK is a unique series in that it is mostly held to a single location, and focuses heavily on dialogue-driven performances through investigative interviews. While the setting does seem ideal for a multi-camera talk show, Kunal Nayyar is not going for laughs in playing a ruthless and emotionally bereft murderer named Sandeep Singh. In fact, he talked to Metro about taking the killer role as a way to distance himself from his instantly recognizable Big Bang Theory character. In his words:
Physically, I’m so recognizable from my voice, I’m so recognizable from my face… it was important to do something that completely breaks the barrier. I still have some mannerisms of Raj. Just as I have some mannerisms of this character, but I wanted to make sure that whatever I did next was like, 'Wait, who is this? Oh My God. Is that the guy from The Big Bang?!,' as opposed to 'Oh there’s Raj, playing a killer.' I hope if there’s anything that can be taken away from this is that that’s what I would have achieved – that the first instance is 'Wow, they’re so different!'
As cool as it would have been if Raj rocked out with a full mustache-and-beard set-up at any point during The Big Bang Theory's run, the character was much more comfortable keeping his face as soft and smooth as his comfiest jackets. It probably also helps that Big Bang didn't inspire any decade-long fan theories about Raj being a serial killer in secret, unless I was just reading the wrong Reddit threads.
Interestingly enough, while the role wasn't written specifically for Kunal Nayyar, it apparently wasn't too difficult a gig to land. Nayyar explained that he was in contact with Criminal: UK's casting director for a different project, and she happened to mention the killer role being available. That inspired the actor to go home and watch the first season, which co-starred Doctor Who fave David Tennant, and Nayyar said he quickly started emailing the casting director after he finished watching it, showing how interested he was.
Check out Kunal Nayyar in action, so to speak, in the Criminal: UK trailer below.
Fans theoretically won't have to wait too long before seeing Kunal Nayyar in another role on the small screen, this time as a series regular for Apple TV+'s crime drama Suspicion, with Uma Thurman as its lead. Production on that show was halted back in March due to the pandemic, but here's hoping it's back up and running soon if it isn't already.
Criminal: UK Season 2 debuts on Netflix on Thursday, September 16, at 3:01 a.m. ET. Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for more on the show and Kanal Nayyar's career – as well as everyone else form The Big Bang Theory cast – and head to our Fall 2020 TV premiere schedule to see what new and returning shows are on the way.