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The Big Bang Theory had a spectacular 12 season run. By the end, the characters all played off each other so well it was like watching a math equation get expertly solved, but everything wasn’t so smooth and figured out at the beginning. The show’s original pilot was rejected. It took years to get the second one on the air, and apparently, the plans for key character Raj Koothrappali were originally very different.
Actor Kunal Nayyar recently sat down with Metro UK, and while there, he discussed his time on The Big Bang Theory. Specifically, he discussed his character’s origins, and it turns out, producers were originally moving in a different direction. He was apparently named Dave and the show was accepting auditions from people of all kinds of diverse backgrounds. Here’s a portion of his quote…
When they were rounding out the cast of Big Bang when I was auditioning, at that time the character was called Dave, and he was supposed to be a first generation American… but I came and I brought my big New Delhi self to it! I was auditioning against Koreans, Japanese, Pakistanis, Chinese… they were really trying to fill out the diverse characters into this show. It wasn’t particularly ‘oh here we want an Indian scientist.’ I got very lucky and it happened to fall into my hands.
In a way, Kunal Nayyar’s story and the evolution of Raj is similar to what happened with the overall show. The original pilot was shot and did not go particularly well. Creator Chuck Lorre once even bluntly said it “sucked.” The network let the creators go back to the drawing board, and they ultimately decided to keep what worked, which was Sheldon and Leonard, and they reworked almost everything else. As part of that rework, they auditioned actors for several new characters including Penny, Howard and the aforementioned Dave.
Obviously Kunal Nayyar nailed his audition, and at that point, the decision was made to retool the character a bit, rename him and let the actor really lean into the role. In retrospect, it was obviously a great decision, and it was one Nayyar is still really thankful about, as not every creator would have been so comfortable tweaking things for an actor who was just hired. Here’s some more from Nayyar…
They allowed me to really be an Indian, who has Indian qualities who doesn’t always run away from them, but also does run away from some of them. That’s just what all of us do. All of us have cultural appropriations that are attached to us, that sometimes we run away from, and then sometimes unbeknown to us, we fall into, and I think they found a really nice balance with Raj.
The Big Bang Theory was, of course, a smash hit by the end of its run. It was in the top three in the overall ratings for its last seven seasons. It made all of its stars a lot of money, generated a spinoff and it also opened the doors for additional projects. Nayyar recently appeared in a very well-received episode of Criminal:UK playing a very different kind of role, and he’s even appeared as a voice actor in both of the recent Trolls movies.
Good actors can adapt to the character in front of them, but good creators also know how to make tweaks in order to set their stars up for success. I’m sure Kunal Nayyar would have done just fine playing a blander character named Dave with less Indian connections, but I don’t think there’s a single Big Bang Theory fan that would trade that for the magic of Raj.