Catching Feelings with our 'Big Bang Theory' crush Kunal Nayyar
For the next interviewee in our series, Catching Feelings — where we ask our favorite male stars to get mushy with us and talk emotions, fears, and what makes their hearts go pitter patter — I got a chance to talk to Kunal Nayyar. You probably know him as Raj from the The Big Bang Theory (the new season kicks off tonight!) or from this season’s premiere of The Mindy Project. He has a new “not exactly a memoir because I’m 33” memoir out called Yes, My Accent Is Real: And Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You (out now), which is filled with delightful tales of family, love, life, and…badminton.
As an Indian-American girl with lots of family over on the subcontinent, I was delighted to read about his life, partly because he’s handsome and famous and funny, but also because his stories are so much fun. From playing the most intense badminton game of his life, to his seven day wedding, to his time as an international student in Portland—everything feels fresh and new and different.
HG: What kind of emotions did you go through when writing this book?
Kunal Nayyar: It’s a little difficult to pinpoint one emotion because there were times of nostalgia, remembering … Obviously I remember a lot of the past. There were times of a little bit of heartache remembering, especially the sections of the book that hurt. The moments that things didn’t go my way. I found myself dreaming a lot about the past when I was writing the book because it was always on my mind. There were also feelings of elation. The moments when I did succeed in the book, I remember writing those and having goosebumps, almost like it was just happening, because I had to really dig in and remember what things felt like, or smell like or really specifically what this felt like to really paint those pictures.
Then, of course, anxiety. Anxiety was a big one because you’re writing about your life, and you’re afraid that people will judge you. People will judge you regardless actually, but there is a lot of anxiety that you have to deliver the best possible book. I owe a book to my editor, and what if I don’t do it, or what if it’s bad? There was a lot of anxiety obviously, especially because I’m writing about my life.
HG: Yeah, I can see that. That actually ties into my next question, which is what makes you have butterflies in your stomach?
Kunal Nayyar: Well, when we were taping The Big Bang Theory, I still get butterflies when they called my name, announced your name, you go up and take a bow. That always give me butterflies because…you have to get it so correct and right, every speech in the TV show because we taped in front of a live audience. Over the course of that one episode, maybe five million people in the world will watch it. That one episode will be watched over and over and over, probably millions of times. Three years from now, maybe five million people will have watched it. We have three and a half hours to get it right. I feel butterflies in my stomach while I was doing a play this summer off Broadway. Right before the lights go dark, and I’m about to make my entrance is when I feel the most butterflies.
HG: What about what makes you irrationally angry?
Kunal Nayyar: Bad manners. If someone has bad manners, like if you’re getting out of the elevator and the people don’t let you get out first, it drives me insane. Or, if you let someone into traffic, and they don’t acknowledge that you have done that, or they don’t thank you….Those things just drive me insane. Also, when people wear yoga clothes to dinner, like Spandex. Do yoga, just get out of that and all that stuff.
HG: My next question is what are you afraid of?
Kunal Nayyar: Failure. That’s my biggest fear, is just realizing that I failed at something or that I did something and I failed at it. I want everything so badly that I continuously am afraid that if I step off the gas then I’d lose all of this.
HG: In that case, what makes you misty-eyed? A song or a movie that makes you cry?
Kunal Nayyar: What really gets me misty-eyed, I know it’s going to sound silly, is The Voice auditions, or American Idol auditions. When I see kids auditioning, and they don’t get it, or they get kicked off the show, knowing all the sacrifices they made to get there, I think of that journey. That gets me every time. When I’m feeling melancholy, and I feel like I want to be masochistic, I just go on YouTube and I’ll start just watching auditions, like American Idol auditions, or The Voice auditions where they have all these stories behind them. They do such a good job of portraying these emotional stories that by the time they get onstage, we’re already so invested in their lives. That really gets me. That and Notting Hill. Notting Hill always makes me cry.
HG: That’s so sweet. When was the last time you cried?
Kunal Nayyar: Other than every day? To be honest, I’m not much of a crier. When I do cry, I cry hard and I cry for a long time. When we lost one of our cast members last year who played Mrs. Wolowitz, Carol Ann Susi, she did Howard’s mother. When she died, I cried for a very long time. Sometimes I feel like I end up crying because I cry so sporadically that when I do cry, I’m crying for other things as well. Crying for other people I have lost that I was unable to grieve.
HG: Oh wow. Yeah. I totally know what you mean. It feels like it all builds up when you don’t cry a lot, and then it just is like a wave.
Kunal Nayyar: I really envy people who can have that release of emotion. I think it’s very healthy to be able to do that.
HG: I think so too. My next question, what hurts your feelings?
Kunal Nayyar: That’s a good question. Maybe this is selfish or self-motivated but if I have done something nice for someone, and they don’t acknowledge it, it always hurts my feelings a little bit. I think it’s because I’m an actor, and I’m always playing to a crowd or something. Part of the job is also entertaining, and I think I need that … Much to my wife’s dissatisfaction, I always need compliments or something. I’m insecure, so I always need like, “Oh, you look nice today,” or, “Thanks so much for doing that. That was very sweet of you.” I go out of my way for someone, and if I don’t get the acknowledgment of the fact that I’ve done something good for someone, it hurts my feelings. Though I’m admitting that it’s completely irrational, and that I am completely self-motivated, but I’m just being honest – catching feelings.
HG: Actually my next question, since you mentioned your wife, could you describe what it feels like to fall in love?
Kunal Nayyar: Everyone has a different experience with falling in love. For me, it was clarity. It was very clear when I met Neha that this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. It’s difficult to explain what falling in love feels like, or being in love feels like. I’ve certainly been when I was younger, infatuated with people to the point where I wanted to do something crazy but when I met Neha, there was a sense of calm. There was a sense of clarity, of specificity. The goal had become very clear very quickly. If I sound unromantic … For me, that was the most romantic thing that there was this sense of calm. I don’t think I am explaining that well, but it’s the best I can do.
HG: No, it makes sense. What do you consider to be a romantic gesture?
Kunal Nayyar: Simple things. Waking up in the morning and having a cup of coffee already made for you, or vice versa or when you know someone has had a hard day, and you go out of your way to make sure that they come home to an environment that is calming. Maybe it’s small things like lighting a nice incense candle, or I don’t know, tidying up the living room, or something simple like that. Because I think those are the little things that are very thoughtful and can be overlooked.
HG: What really cracks you up?
Kunal Nayyar: What really cracks me up is when someone’s not trying to be funny, and then they do something funny. I think that’s very hilarious to me. What I don’t find so funny is when someone’s really trying hard to be funny, and be loud, and want people to acknowledge the fact that they’re being funny…What I find very funny is subtle humor. Like if I’m telling a really animated story to someone, and I’m not getting the point across, and then they’re just like, “Yeah, I’m not listening.” That stuff for me is very funny. If someone is walking around, trying to strut their stuff and they trip slightly and they look around to see if anyone saw that. I think that’s the most hilarious thing ever.
HG: On that note, what makes you really really happy?
Kunal Nayyar: Family. For me, the happiest thing is my family, to have a happy and healthy family. I know I sound like a Hallmark card, but I just feel so much that nothing can value happiness like having a family. It just can’t. Nothing can fill that void without love and you need the love the most of all. That’s what makes me really happy. Just a nice evening at home with the dog and the wife by the fireplace or something like that, or getting into bed at 10pm and watching television is a lot of comfort.
HG: My last question was, do you have a favorite childhood memory?
Kunal Nayyar: I have many. I think my favorite childhood memory probably was in class 9th grade when I won the first for badminton champion at the club I played badminton at. That was probably my favorite. Because I don’t know, I fought very hard for two minutes.
HG: That was good. I really like that section of the book. Because I played badminton when I was seven or eight.
Kunal Nayyar: You played badminton?
HG: Yeah, I played it and it was funny when you said, “It was in my grandmother’s backyard.” We played in my front yard when I was growing up in New Jersey.
Kunal Nayyar: Hilarious.
HG: Did you want to add anything else about feelings?
Kunal Nayyar: No, I think I’ve already said too much.
[image via CBS]