Exclusive: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT’s Adhir Kalyan Interview

Adhir Kalyan

American television viewers first saw Adhir Kalyan as Raja on the very funny Aliens in America. While that show only lasted one season on the CW, it gave Adhir the foot in the door he needed and he went on to recur on Nip/Tuck while playing small but memorable roles in Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Up in the Air.

Adhir is now a series regular on CBS’ RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, playing the put upon but never downtrodden Timmy, Russell’s (David Spade) oft-abused assistant. Giving as good as he gets, Timmy is the perfect foil for Russell, exchanging banter and cleaning up messes, while occasionally getting a little revenge.

Daemon’s TV talked to Adhir about how Aliens in America changed his life, joining the established Rules of Engagement and working with David Spade, and why he’s not in a rush to root for any particular baseball team.

I think you’ve made a wonderful addition to ‘Rules of Engagement,’ but when you signed on to guest star did you have any idea you would become a series regular?

Adhir Kalyan: Not at all. In truth, the meeting that I had with Tom Hertz, the creator of the show and Doug Robinson from Happy Madison, really didn’t extend to any of talk of long term plans for the character of Timmy. I think at that moment in time they were simply looking for Russell to have any character in any shape or form to perhaps provide some relief from the exhausting sort of antics that he was constantly embarking on, either in the form of dating women or sleeping with said woman.

When we sort of had the meeting they talked about possibly bringing in this assistant for an episode and if that went well then they’d make him a recurring character who’d return maybe two or three times. So it was much to my surprise as well as my delight when one became three became five and then at the end of the third season they offered me a full time role on the show.

Did you and David Spade click right away?

Adhir Kalyan: I feel that from the off he and I shared a very natural chemistry and a great understanding of what the other was doing. I think that in part was guided by how the material was written and how the two characters interacted with one another, but I have to say that he and I shared a natural chemistry from the very beginning. All of the actions in terms of the rehearsal process, everything came out very organically.

As we’ve gotten to know each other better off the set he’s probably the cast member that I spend the most time with, so I think that’s helped to serve our onscreen relationship as well. I genuinely feel at this moment and time we’ve gotten to the point where we have almost an innate understanding of each other now and that’s something which I’m both very excited about and is a great comfort when you’re working with someone and have that sort of relationship with them.

How do you feel about how Timmy has been integrated into the cast as a whole? Has that felt natural to you?

Adhir Kalyan: Well, I think so. I have to applaud the way that the writers and the producers have handled the integration of Timmy into the show. I think what did help was that in that third season they were able to bring him in slowly but surely in five of the thirteen or six of the thirteen episodes that were made in the third season. I think by the time that Timmy was introduced as a full time character in season four, not only were audiences familiar with him, but the characters in the piece were also somewhat familiar with him. That made the integration perhaps easier than if the character had been established as a regular without any prior introduction.

I think season four very much dealt with integrating Timmy into the show fully and now in season five with the benefit of having twenty six episodes this season they’ve really been able to expand his interaction with the rest of the cast, as well as further the relationship that he shares with Russell. I think over the course of the season we’ve seen the moments that have worked best with him, the Russell and Timmy dynamic, have been those situations in which they find themselves that are increasingly chaotic in addition to there being a very rigorous back and forth banter, Timmy giving as good as he’s getting. So it’s been a wonderful season and we’ve just started our last episode of the season today. I think that everyone is thrilled that we’ve been given the opportunity to do a season that has been as long and as complete as this one.

The cricket episode last season, is that something that you pitched?

Adhir Kalyan: I’m incredibly wary these days of what I say on the stage because the writers always seem to be there and thereabouts, hovering like vultures, trying to seize on anything that any of the actors speak about. I think primarily because my character is the newest and they have the greatest freedom to write for him as he’s not really bound or engaged to a marriage they seem to pay especially close attention to what it is that I speak about.

The cricket episode was inspired by them knowing that I play cricket here in Los Angeles. There’s a cricket league that I’m involved in on the weekends and so the producers and the writers are always asking how my games have gone and how I was playing. So it came as no real surprise that finally they decided to utilize what was happening in my real life and sort of incorporate it into my character’s life as well.

Further results of that have been that they heard me speaking French in the kitchen and they said, ‘What other languages do you speak?’ I said, ‘I speak English, as you know, and then Afrikaans because I’m from South Africa,’ and so in the next episode they gave me something to say in Spanish. After I’d sort of performed the line somewhat adequately they said, ‘What other languages do you think you’d be capable of speaking?’ I said, ‘Well, I feel very comfortable learning new languages and sort of doing the accents of those languages,’ and halfway through the sentence the writer in question just sort of drifted off. I didn’t see him again until the next week where my character was speaking half the episode in Italian.

When I told them that I had musical theater experience growing up it wasn’t long before an acappella episode arrived on the scene either. Now I tend to be as quiet as possible and drift my dressing room to set and back, avoiding eye contact with as many people as possible.

What can you tease that’s coming up for Timmy?

Adhir Kalyan: In the episodes that have yet to air this season, having had previous experience as an assistant to an event planner, Timmy offers his services to help plan the wedding of Adam and Jennifer. This is very much within Timmy’s wheelhouse, and lets just say that he gets a little carried away with the proceedings and really imposes his vision of the wedding as opposed to really paying attention to what Jennifer is hoping to do.

Then there really is more dirty work for Timmy to sort of embark on. Russell ends up having a dalliance with a certain character who is friends with Audrey on the show. After she sort of fails to show any interest in Russell, Timmy is left with the task of hunting her down and tracking her every move, and as he states, since he’s been in Mr. Dunbar’s employ, the tasks he’s charged with have been rather extraordinary. Those are some of the things coming up for Timmy. I think there’s a lot of fun yet to be had in this season and it’s always especially fun to play when Timmy is enjoying proceedings at Mr. Dunbar’s expense rather than the other way around.

The wonderful and too short-lived ‘Aliens in America’ brought you to the United States. How was that experience?

Adhir Kalyan: You’re quite right in that it was the show that brought me out here, and to sort of further that idea, it was the show that changed my life.

I’d moved from South Africa to London with the hopes of furthering my acting career there. To take you further back, once I finished high school in South Africa I’d gone across to England to audition for their drama schools. This was in 2002 and I was accepted into a school called The Central School of Speech and Drama which I was incredible thrilled about because it’s such a prestigious school. It housed names such as Sir Lawrence Olivier and Dame Judi Dench and in more recent times actors like Gael Garcia Bernal and Andrew Garfield. So it was a wonderful institution. Unfortunately, because of the cost of international tuition and the disadvantages exchange rate between the South African rand and the British pound it was going to cost me sixteen times the amount than an education in South Africa. So I forfeited my place at Central, went back to South Africa and then really began a process of rigorous self-education and working in the theater.

At some point I decided that it was time to return to London, this time not to study, but simply to pursue a career there. My time in London was a very challenging one. It was a hand to mouth existence, trying to ensure that I had enough money at the end of every week to pay rent. I really couldn’t get arrested, let alone get an audition. It wasn’t until halfway through the second year where, I would say that I was getting disillusioned, but certainly spirits were down knowing that I only had less than a year left on my UK visa that the script for ‘Aliens in America’ arrived on my agent’s desk.

Through a series of very particular events and very particular sequences things unfolded in such a way that I was offered a role and it brought me out to the states. It was a truly remarkable experience. I was shooting up in Vancouver and it was really just the five of us that were up there and we all became very close.

For the first time in my life really I was able to work on a television show where I was working every single day. I went to work each day with a very intense enthusiasm and feeling a great sense of privilege and that’s something that’s carried on to all the projects that I’ve had. Even though it only ran for a season it afforded me the chance to get a career out here. So for that I will always be grateful to that show.

On Twitter I noticed that you were getting ready to pick a baseball team and in a picture you were wearing a Red Sox jersey. Are they now your team?

Adhir Kalyan: I have so many friends who are either Red Sox fans or actually are from Boston or the greater sort of Boston area, and then I have my manager and a handful of other friends who are Yankees fans.

Whenever the Red Sox or the Yankees come into town I tend to go and watch a game, usually down at Angel’s stadium and watch those teams. So my friends are trying to pull me one way or another. They’re fairly biased, so I would put a picture of me in a vintage Yankee jersey and a picture of me in a vintage Red Sox jersey and see what the responses were like. It definitely polarized my followers. I haven’t yet made a decision for fear that I will lose too many one way or the other.

It might be best to stay neutral –

Adhir Kalyan: I think it’s wisest this moment in time, as the foreign kid in town to just appreciate baseball rather than pledging allegiance at this moment.

Are there any other shows on television that you’d like appear on?

Adhir Kalyan: I’ve never gotten that question before, actually. I suppose my favorite show on television is ‘Modern Family’. So if the opportunity ever presented itself to do something on that show I think I would like to be a part of that. The other show that I’m watching obsessively right now is ‘The First 48’ on A&E. I don’t think I’d want to be on that show in any shape or form, and it would probably be detrimental to my career anyway, so I guess it would be ‘Modern Family’ at the top of the list. That show will be on for many years to come so perhaps the opportunity will present itself at some point.

Rules of Engagement airs on CBS Thursdays at 8:30pm eastern/7:30 central.

You can read all our Rules of Engagement coverage here.

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Adhir Kalyan