Adhir Kalyan may not be a household name, but he’s probably a familiar face in many households. Certainly he will be in a few months.
The 25-year-old South African-born actor landed on my radar with Aliens in America, the funny, short-lived CW series shot in Vancouver last season. He made quite a positive impression when the series was launched at the CW press tour session, politely and cheerfully answering questions and displaying none of the star trappings that sometime cloud the careers of young twentysomethings who, as Kalyan points out later on, sometimes get blinded by their lucky break.
While that series did not last, Kalyan’s good nature has been rewarded with good fortune. Besides an appearance in Paul Blart: Mall Cop–the reason for this interview–(see contest posting below) he has recurring roles on Nip/Tuck and Rules of Engagement. He also has four feature films on the go, starring big names like George Clooney and red hot young Canadian Michael Cera.
Kalyan was playing on-screen baseball on his Nintendo Wii when I reached him earlier this month by phone. He says Aliens in America “is a show that holds a very special place in my life because it is a show that changed my life completely.” He was living in London, trying to break through as an actor, when his agent sent him a script for Aliens. He won the part of Raja, a good natured lad from Pakistan who was not the blond-haired, blue-eyed foreign exchange student the family that sent for him in Wisconsin was expecting. The culture clash was a little like that found on CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie, a series Kalyan has only glimpsed in short clips he found on YouTube. “I’ve heard positive things about how that show, like ours, presented positive portrayals of Islam,” he says.
It was the year following Aliens, 2008, when Kalyan’s career really took off. Worried that he might be offered a whack of Raja-like roles, he was pleasantly surprised to find more diverse parts being offered to him, including the role of the angry, obsessive, GPS tracking boyfriend in Mall Cop.
Kalyan next played a flamboyant gay cheerleader named Brewster in Fired Up, a film that flamed out at the box office. Kalyan credits shrewd marketing with Mall Cop’s success and the reverse with Fired Up’s failure. “Mall Cop was marketed and cut together to be a family film,” he says. It was tailor made for a family in these trying times and conditions “to escape for an hour and a half. It allowed the audience to sit back and relax and have an easy laugh.”
Kalyan says he was pleased the film did so well as much for Kevin James as he was for himself. “He was such a lovely man and really extended a great deal of generosity and courtesy not just to me but to the other actors,” he says.
Kalyan was actually just a day player on the film, sneaking in his scenes between takes of Fired Up, which was also shot for Sony. He was amazed when he came in to find James–also the writer of the film, sitting opposite him in a chair on his day off in order to give the other sdie of their telephone conversation. “I thought that was incredibly generous of him, he extended such courtesy to me, really respected me as an actor, even though he may well have never heard of me before or seen anything that I’ve been in.”
James was rewarded for his good karma with a $137 million take at the box office. Kalyan has two other good news stories to tell about famous actors in two other upcoming films.
Kalyan had scenes opposite Brampton’s own Michael Cera in Youth in Revolt, which is coming in October. Shot in Detroit, the film, based on the novel, stars Cera as Nick Twisp, who sets out on an outlandish journey to find his true love.
Kalyan plays VJ, a British intellectual Twisp meets along the way. “One of the things that really frustrates me a lot in this industry is when young actors receive great opportunities and they don’t appreciate them,” says Kalyan. “When they experience a little success they get a sense of entitlement, a feeling that they’ve made it. I really feel that once you start believing the hype you’re in dangerous territory because you’re not focusing on what you really should be focusing on. Michael, despite his success in Juno and Superbad, and how quickly his star has risen, is still a very humble young man.”
Another film Kalyan can be spotted in later this year is Up in the Air. Directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking), the film stars George Clooney as a corporate downsizer obsessed with collecting frequent flyer points.
Kalyan doesn’t have a large part opposite Clooney but it’s a beaut. “I get to shout profanities at Clooney for about 35 seconds,” he says. “In large part, I took it from the point of curiosity to see what this man would be like. He was so warm and welcoming. Very easy going, very witty, very charming and painfully, painfully cool.”

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