Most people know the Bombay-born Mandvi from Comedy Central's The Daily Show. Less well-known: He was raised in both Britain and Florida, he has long been recognized as an accomplished stage actor (Disgraced, his most recent endeavor, won the Pulitzer prize for drama), and he is apparently BFFs with Mad Men's Jon Hamm (Mandvi has been shooting Million Dollar Arm with Hamm, who recently told Jon Stewart that he and Mandvi were going to India not to film but to get married).
We caught up with the actor at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, on the heels of the release of his new film, The Internship (out Friday, June 7), and learned what he really thinks about L.A., sweater vests, and doing Indian accents.
DETAILS: Loved The Internship. Hilarious.
AASIF MANDVI: You saw it?
DETAILS: I wouldn't be talking to you if I hadn't.
AASIF MANDVI: You'd be surprised. Last night on the red carpet, I just started making up shit because a lot of people doing interviews hadn't seen the film. [Things] like, "I play the killer who's after Vince and Owen on the Google campus, and in the end it turns out I'm a cannibal and have been eating all the interns."
DETAILS: Well, at least they dressed you in an understated fashion. Your character really rocks the sweater vest. Obviously that look is going to turn you into an international sex symbol.
AASIF MANDVI: It's Mr. Rogers without the sleeves. And it's a tight sweater vest. When we did the fitting, I thought it was really great, because it's not something I normally would wear, [but when] I started wearing it [in character], I became obsessed with the fact that I looked fat and my vanity took over.
DETAILS: How much influence did Google have on the film? I mean, without it you have no story. Maybe it could've been done with Facebook. Or Bing…
AASIF MANDVI: Who? Bing? Yeah, but nobody would go see it. In order for the film to have a certain appeal, a lot of it had to do with the Google name. You couldn't make up a name and call it Froogle.
DETAILS: Your character has an Indian accent. Why? I feel that's kind of racist.
AASIF MANDVI: Really? Why?
DETAILS: Because it's stereotyping.
AASIF MANDVI: Here's what I'm going to say to that: I'm going to say that the Indian accent is not racist, it's your attitude toward the Indian accent that's racist.
AASIF MANDVI: A billion people have that accent. I see what you mean, though. It was a choice to give my character an Indian accent. And so, for me, it's like, do I refuse to do it? Then I'm the racist. What I ended up doing was making his accent not the accent of the Peter Sellers Birdy Num Num character. I gave the accent dignity, in that I don't see any racism. But I think we do live in this world where people hear the Indian accent and blame the accent. Here's [another] thing: The two biggest counters for food at Google are Indian and Chinese—where it's 100 percent authentic. I just wrote an article in The Hollywood Reporter about this very subject.
[Conversation stops as Russell Brand walks by, followed by Emily Blunt, Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Julie Delpy, and Patti Smith.]
DETAILS: When you're in L.A., do you find yourself looking around a lot to see who's here?
AASIF MANDVI: I do. I was at the Beverly Hills Hotel today, and Warren Beatty walked by and said hello to us. I was with my agent, and he gave us a nod of "I know you know who I am."
DETAILS: What do you think of L.A.?
AASIF MANDVI: I've actually changed my view of Los Angeles. When I was younger, I hated it, because I thought it was fake and superficial. As I've gotten older, I've found that to be absolutely true, but I don't care.
DETAILS: What about online? Do you have favorite destinations?
AASIF MANDVI: I go to Buzzfeed and Huff Po, IMDB, Deadline. And then I just Google myself, like "Aasif Mandvi in a hat," and see what comes up.
DETAILS: Did you get your gig on The Daily Show because you worked at the Disney resort in Florida?
AASIF MANDVI: No, it was because I did Oklahoma! on Broadway. Jon [Stewart] was like, "I need a musical-theater guy." So I sang "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No" for him.
AASIF MANDVI: No…I came up in musical theater, and I was in that play in 2002. I came to New York from Florida, and I was like Liza Minnelli.
DETAILS: Sequined tap pants?
AASIF MANDVI: Actually, my notion of New York was more Fame. I came with that kind of mind-set.
DETAILS: Have you seen Liza Minnelli, though?
AASIF MANDVI: I'm straight, and there's no way for a straight guy to say he's going to a Liza Minnelli concert. Even if you were going with a football team of straight guys, you can't say you're into Liza.
DETAILS: So what have you learned in your seven years on The Daily Show?
AASIF MANDVI: Jon said to be me one time early on, "Don't worry about [the show] that much…we get to do it again tomorrow." And I liked that, because I realized he wasn't precious about it. There's no shelf value for the show. It exists right now, and then tomorrow you've moved on. It's all transient. All news is like that now. What's great about The Daily Show is I can use satire and push the envelope. I couldn't do that anywhere else. Even if I was a journalist.
The Internship comes out June 7.