Adhir Kalyan Discusses “Paul Blart” And His Unordinary Obsession with Jennifer Beals

Adhir Kalyan in Paul Blart Mall Cop
The first thing you notice about Adhir Kalyan is the accent — perfectly, almost classically British sounds more like that of a young Richard Burton than the exotically accented star of the comedy series Aliens in America or the love-struck Pahud of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. But Kalyan was born in South Africa and spent much of his life in Britain, where he took acting lessons. So far, his career has not included Shakespeare or a remake of The Jewel in the Crown, but it could.

For now, he revels in creating unique accents for his characters. “What I try to do with the accent of any character I play is not necessarily to do something that’s generic — an Indian accent and that’s how it sounds, for example. I think the accent needs to sound authentic on this person. [With] Raja on Aliens or my character Brewster in Fired Up!, I try to find something very specific to that individual. That opens me to criticism from people who say, ‘That’s not how people in that part of the world sound.’ But if you go to that part of the world you will be surprised to hear within two or three blocks a host and range of accents.”

Kalyan, who was scheduled to begin filming Nip/Tuck (he played a very young surgeon on the series last season), had to squeeze in his Paul Blart scenes before the film’s actual production began. “[It] was Kevin James’ only day off for three weeks,” Kalyan says. “A lot of times you get an assistant on set or a script supervisor who will read the other side. However, he came in and … from start to finish, he read the conversation. I thought that was very generous of him.”

It was also fortuitous that James showed up that day because a lot of the dialogue had to be reworked. “I got on the set and one of the assistant directors came up to me and said, ‘Did you receive the revised script? There were some rewrites.’ And there was that moment’s pause, then [I said], ‘No I didn’t actually. Maybe someone could hand that over to me?'” I looked at it and it was completely different. We went to the set and rehearsed it and we weren’t happy with it. So Kevin James, the producer and I went and fleshed out a new scene. In fact the whole ‘peanut Blart and jelly’ line, which was so widely publicized in the trailer, was completely improvised that day. They said, ‘We want you to call him right now and say something funny,’ and through a series of takes that is the one that came out of my mouth and it took.”

I accuse Kalyan of stealing every scene he was in, and he reminds me that he was alone in all of them, so who else had a chance to steal anything? But as funny as he was, it seemed he should have had a larger role. “There were a few scenes that didn’t make the cut, I think in part because of editorial reasons and in part because they decided to go with a PG rating,” he says. “In one particular scene, I appeared naked and there was another scene where I was burning photographs of my girlfriend. I guess they didn’t want to [show someone] who could potentially turn very dangerous at any moment.”

He wasn’t surprised at the success of Paul Blart. “Because it was a PG film … parents could take their children to it. And it was good clean fun, with something for the older audiences as well as the children,” he says. “For the audience it was intended for, very young boys and younger teens, it really resonated with them. Sometimes, when analysts make their predictions, they underestimate the power of that crowd.”

I also got a chance to ask Kalyan some revealing questions, and his answers — alternately hilarious and thoughtful — reveal a man who holds little back.

What has been your strangest fan encounter?

Adhir Kalyan: I was working on the set of Fired Up! at the time the show Aliens is America — the show which brought me to the States — was airing. A young man came up to me; he was my stand-in for the day. Very kind. He said if he could do anything for me over the course of the day, he would be happy to. And I said, “Thank you, that’s very generous of you.” He turns to walk away, then turns back to me and says, “I want to let you know that I think you are so funny and I am such a great admirer of your work.” I’m thinking to myself, “This is very nice. I am pleased that Aliens in America still has a few viewers left.” At which point, he says to me, “Seriously, I told my friends you were here today and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle [is] one if my favorite movies. Seriously, you were amazing in Van Wilder.” At which point I said, “I’m so sorry, that was not me, that was Kal Penn. But I’ll tell him you like him. I’ll message him right now, actually.”

When was the last time you were starstruck?

I was shooting a movie in Detroit and I was standing and chatting with Michael Cera and someone entered the room and we turn around and there is Steve Buscemi walking in. Granted he is a fine, fine actor. But there is also something about Steve Buscemi. He almost has a cult-like following in the acting community. Michael and I looked at each other and were incredibly nervous. I stumbled [through] an introduction, highly embarrassed at being so inarticulate.

What websites do you regularly visit?

I usually just go on Google and spend my hours just Googling Jennifer Beals. I think it’s possible that I have a slightly unordinary obsession with her. YouTube videos. Interviews with her. Pictures I put on my desktop and my phone. I guess if I am that invested in her I should start my own website for her, a fan club of sorts to enlighten the world to the beauty and wonder that is Jennifer Beals. I can’t even explain my delight when I was watching one of my favorite new shows, Lie to Me, and saw Jennifer Beals playing Tim Roth’s ex-wife. Every now and again when we look for goodness in the world it comes to us. One of my favorite shows and one of my greatest obsessions were coming together in a marriage that was fit for the gods. I’m getting overwhelmed talking about it. It was amazing. My friends don’t understand. They think of her as the girl in Flashdance. I see her as the woman in The L Word.

What’s the one item you can’t travel without?

You need to understand the red tape I’ve got to go through every step of the way — so my passport. I am so paranoid traveling that every few minutes I check to make sure that it’s there. I can do without anything else. Even a toothbrush, though I am obsessive compulsive about cleaning. I could always find my way by sterilizing one I found at the side of the road. Alternatively, I suppose I could just buy one.

What is your biggest annoyance?

Standup comics who aren’t funny, because there was genuinely a point when I was growing up in the ’90s [when people] were genuinely funny. But then there was this period when everyone was funny and everyone was cracking jokes and — aaahhhh! — expecting people to laugh. Then people, because they felt bad for those people who weren’t making funny jokes, ended up encouraging them even further by laughing at the jokes that weren’t funny. [And] the nonfunny funniness was born. So now we have a generation of standup comics who aren’t funny, but because of constant approval have come to believe they are the next generation of Richard Pryors and Eddie Murphys and Chris Rocks and Dane Cooks.

What role would you love to play?

Perhaps because my background is theatrical, I have a great affinity with the classics. Hamlet has always been a character of great interest to me and a character I would really love to play. Or a character in a Tennessee Williams play, maybe Tom in The Glass Menagerie.

What would you do if you weren’t an actor?

I was raised in a spirit of the importance of service to your fellow man. My mom is a senator back home in South Africa. My father is a very caring and generous individual. So, being raised in that environment, it would be something service related. Perhaps a psychologist or a teacher, or a position in the United Nations working in programs in Africa. But in an ideal world, I would be a sports commentator for soccer.

What do you always have in your refrigerator?

(He walks to his refrigerator to look) This will be a telephonic episode of MTV Cribs. We have orange juice, three cartons, and a lot of beer that I don’t ever seem to drink.

What do you have on your TiVo?

I’m currently working my way through episodes of Southland that I haven’t seen and a collection of drug-related documentaries — The Rolling Stones: Truth and Lies, Cocaine Diaries, three episodes of Intervention. Other than that, it’s a lot of films that I watch on TCM.

Are the drug documentaries for a character that you’re researching?

I think it’s more out of curiosity. I’ve had a number of friends I’ve been close with who’ve had problems with substances. … Now that I’ve arrived in LA, out here there seems to be a glamorization of drugs. And I think when young people are seemingly very successful and wealthy and good looking, there almost seems to be an arrogance when it comes to drug use and abuse. They think they are exempt from all the effects. They have that feeling of untouchability. Because of my very serious experience with people who have been on substances, being confronted with something so destructive makes for an interesting subject to pursue.

Photo: © 2009 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Beverly Blvd LLC. Credit: RIchard Cartwright