Aziz Ansari was in top form following a screening of his new Netflix series Master of None at EW Fest on Saturday, dropping truth bombs and dishing on the upcoming ten-episode season. In addition to the fact that Ansari doesn’t suffer latecomers (“Was there some crudité somewhere?” he joked as two tardy guests took their front-row seats), we learned all about what it took to put the show together, which is only semiautobiographical and tackles issues from street harassment to treatment of the elderly. Here’s the best of what we heard:
Hollywood has so few Indian-American actors that Ansari cast his parents to play themselves.
“It’s not a demo with a ton of options. And that makes sense. They’re not like, ‘Oh, should we cast Ryan Gosling, or what about this old Indian guy?’”
… and now they’re ready for stardom.
“I asked my mom if she wanted to do it, and she said, ‘No, I don’t want people recognizing me and asking me for selfies.’ She finally agreed at the last minute. The trailer came out this week, and now my dad is like, ‘I’m getting a lot of calls.’ He’s one of the show’s breakout performers.”
Remember all those times Hollywood was racist? Aziz does.
“[In one episode,] you see a montage of every Indian character that I remember seeing growing up. And it’s just: gas station, gas station, gas station, gas station, weird guy from Indiana Jones who eats brains, Zack Morris making some sort of curry joke. And it ends with Ashton Kutcher’s Pop Chips commercial where he dons brownface and is a Bollywood producer named Raj.”
The Indian guy from Short Circuit 2, a movie about a robot who acts like a human, wasn’t actually played by an Indian.
“That movie always had a special place in my heart because it was an Indian lead character in a role. And one day when I was in college, I was like, I wonder what happened to that actor. I never saw him in anything else. And then I went on IMDb and had a shocking revelation that the Indian guy was a white man.”
Racial quotas on TV exist, and Ansari has crunched the numbers.
“That’s a real thing that happens. When they cast these shows, they’re like, ‘We already have our minority guy or our minority girl.’ There would never be two Indian people in one show. With Asian people, there can be one, but there can’t be two. Black people, there can be two, but there can’t be three because then it becomes a black show. Gay people, there can be two; women, there can be two; but Asian people, Indian people, there can be one but there can’t be two.”
Ansari created his own show because no one else would cast him in interesting roles.
“Look, if you’re a minority actor, no one would have wrote this show for you. No one would have been like, Hey, how about we get Aziz to do this ten-episode show and have play this thoughtful character. At best, they would just write something that’s a character based on the qualities people have seen already, like Tom [Haverford].”
He turned down a role in 2007’s Transformers.
“It was a role for, like, a call-center guy who has an accent. And I was like, ‘No, I’m not doing it.’ And then [friend and co-star] Ravi [Patel] was like, ‘I’ll do it.’ And Ravi did it and made some decent money. And I don’t have anything against someone who does the accent. I understand. You got to work, and some people don’t think it’s a problem.”
Empire won’t solve our race problem.
“Guess what? Every other show is still white people. I think there were ten black actors before Empire. It’s not like they just found the tenth black actor and were like, ‘We can finally make Empire!’ It’s long overdue.”
A street harassment scene in Master of None was inspired by women in the writers’ room.
“There’s a scene that goes back and forth between [me and a friend] leaving a bar in New York, and we’re very happy-go-lucky, not a concern in the world. Like, Oh, let’s cut down this alley. When you see us walking, Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ is playing. Then it cuts to this woman walking. When you see her, the music changes to the Halloween score. It shows the dichotomy where guys don’t even think about this shit, how just walking home from the bar can be a terrifying experience for women, almost every time. This was something the women in the writer’s room told us [about]. We were like, yeah, that’s crazy, we’ve got to put that in. It was a very hard thing to make funny because it’s a very dark thing. This woman gets chased into apartment by this creepy guy from the bar.”
Despite these pearls of wisdom, there was a moment in Ansari’s talk when he questioned his own Q&A: “This is a very useless Q&A. No one is listening. They’re just taking pictures or taking pictures of a picture of me,” he paused to say after noticing someone in the audience actually doing this. “You’re holding out a cutout of me and then taking a photo [with me in it]?” he continued. “That might be the most useless thing you have ever done with your life.”