Kunal Nayyar is a British-Indian film, television, and theatre actor. He stars as Rajesh Koothrappali in the internationally successful CBS situational comedy ‘The Big Bang Theory’. When he was attending college, he began taking acting lessons and played roles in school plays. After graduating, he did a few American advertisement campaigns before appearing in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2006 production of ‘Love Labour’s Lost’ in Stratford-upon-Avon in the United Kingdom. In 2007, Nayyar debuted on the small screen in an uncredited appearance in CBS’ NCIS. In the same year, he landed the role of the geeky astrophysicist with selective mutism disorder, Rajesh Koothrappali, in the sitcom ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ He has not looked back since, and has now also proceeded to hosting reality shows and appearing in major Hollywood productions. In 2015, Forbes magazine listed him third among the world’s highest-paid television actors with earnings of US$ 20 million after the success of‘The Big Bang Theory.’
In 2004, while still studying, Kunal Nayyar appeared as the Pizza Man in Jordan Noce’s film ‘S.C.I.E.N.C.E’. Finishing his education, he spent 2006 doing American television advertisements as well as performing on stage in America, England, and India. His portrayal of Navin, an Indian exchange student eager to experience American culture before going back home, in the West Coast production of Rajiv Joseph’s play ‘Huck Holden’ earned him the Garland Award for Best Male Lead in a Play on the West Coast.
He appeared in both English and American productions of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ by Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare Theatre Company, respectively. Nayyar also collaborated with Arun Das on their play ‘Cotton Candy’, which opened in New Delhi, India to positive reviews. He made his television debut in 2007 in ‘Suspicion’, the 12th episode from the fourth season of action police procedural series ‘NCIS’, playing Youssef Zidan, an Iraqi terrorist.
There is an interesting story behind Kunal Nayyar’s popular role in ‘The Big Bang Theory’. The characters Rajesh Koothrappaliand Simon Helberg’s Howard Wolowitz were not part of the original unaired pilot of the CBS show. When the test audience liked the two lead male characters, Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper, played by Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons respectively, the producers decided to include two more such funny characters.
Thus before filming the second pilot, they included Koothrappali and Wolowitz, thinking if the audience “liked these first two guys, let’s give them two more”. Nayyar’s agent had heard about the producers casting for the role of a scientist of Indian descent and encouraged him to audition for the part. Although the character was initially named Dave, an American born to Indian parents, it was changed after Nayyar won the role, because he came off as “so Indian”. The show became a huge hit and the eleventh season of the series premiered on September 25, 2017.
Along with Helberg, Nayyar served as the co-host of the ‘Tribute to the Nerds’ show in 2011 at the comedy festival ‘Just for Laughs’. In 2012, he voiced Gupta in Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier’s ‘Ice Age: Continental Drift’, his first animated project. Between 2013 and 2016, he provided the voice for Vijay in Nickelodeon’s ‘Sanjay and Craig’.
He did two films in 2014, the suspense thriller ‘The Scribbler’ and the romantic comedy ‘Dr Cabbie’. From May 5 to June 29, 2015, Nayyar portrayed Kalyan, a Nepalese student and the protagonist’s roommate, in Jesse Eisenberg’s off-Broadway production ‘The Spoils’. The play was also performed on London’s West End in 2016.
He guest-hosted CBS’ ‘The Late Late Show’ in 2015. He then went on to voice Guy Diamond in DreamWorks’ 2016 animated film ‘Trolls’. In 2017, he is set to provide the voice for Aziz in Disney Pixar’s ‘Cars 3’.
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Kunal Nayyar was born on April 30, 1981, in Hounslow, London, England, UK to parents Rakesh and HeitaNayyar. At an early age, he moved to New Delhi where he was later educated at St Columba’s School. He used to play badminton as a youth. In 1999, Nayyar went to the US to study finance at the University of Portland. During this period, he fell in love with acting. He attended acting classes and performed in various school plays.
It was after taking part in the American College Theater Festival that he decided to become a professional actor. He enrolled at the Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he eventually earned a Master of Fine Arts in Acting.
Nayyar first met Femina Miss India Universe 2006 NehaKapur in 2008 at a bar in New Delhi. Slightly intimidated by her height—she is 5’10”, he is 5’8”—heasked her to sit down and bought her a drink. From there, it did not take long for the couple to fall in love. They got married on December 22, 2011, in their hometown in a traditional Hindu ceremony that lasted six days. At present the couple resides in Los Angeles, California while his parents still live in New Delhi.
He published his memoir ‘Yes, My Accent Is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You’ on September 15, 2015 through Atria Books. As he humorously states in the book, it is not exactly a memoir—heis not a president, or an astronaut, or a Kardashian to publish one—buta collection of stories from his life.
Having grown up in India and having spent a considerable part of his life in the US, he can drive on both sides of the road with equal ease.