Aziz Ansari took the stage Saturday in New York City for the first ever EW Fest to talk about his new project on Netflix, Master of None, with EW senior writer Dan Snierson. The packed house was treated to stories about how the Parks and Recreation star’s project came together and found its identity along the way.
Here are the five most interesting things we learned during the panel:
Master of None began during Parks and Recreation
As Ansari was filming the final season of the NBC mockumentary, he began thinking what his next project would be. Together with Parks co-executive producer Alan Yang, he began conceiving Master of None as the first project he could write for himself.
The pair of creators ultimately pitched the series to Netflix because of the speed at which they wanted to make the project, with film being too slow. The streaming site immediately sparked to the idea, and the series was a go.
Aziz and Jon Hamm almost went to space together
In the period of time when Ansari was trying to find his next thing, one of the film ideas he toyed with cast him and Jon Hamm as astronauts. “I can’t remember exactly what happened,” Ansari said. Eventually, he decided it was too crazy. If you ask us, it was too genius.
The show is “not quite” semi-autobiographical
For people curious about the series, one of the big questions for Ansari was how much of Master of None is based on his life. The answer is “kinda.” “Well, I play an Indian guy,” Ansari said. The show did end up hitting closer to home than Ansari expected when it came time to cast his character’s parents. After testing a number of actors for both roles, Ansari and Yang came up with an out-of-the-box solution, casting both of Ansari’s real-life parents.
But getting his parents on-board had some complications. Ansari first cast his own dad, who was very enthusiastic, putting him through the traditional audition process. His mom was an even tougher nut to crack. She initially didn’t want to do it, fearing people would recognize her on the street, so Ansari offered her an ultimatum. “If you love me, you’ll do this,” he said. To which, she replied, “No.”
She eventually changed her mind.
Casting other roles weren’t exactly any easier
One of the subjects that Ansari addresses as Dev, his character on the show, is acting in Hollywood as a minority and the challenges that come with the territory, like stereotypes and accents. Ansari, who wrote material based on his own experiences, learned even more making the show and having to cast a project himself. Wanting to incorporate minority actors into the show, the two co-creators found themselves with limited options, an unexpected side effect of what Ansari saw as limited opportunities for people of color in the industry.
Inspiration was found in unlikely places
An aspect of modern comedic television that Ansari wanted to avoid was characters that were too funny for their own good. He wanted his character’s conversations to be more conversational and realistic. For inspiration, he turned to the films of Richard Linklater, in particular Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Researching how those movies were made, Ansari instituted rehearsals into his writing process.
For the direction of the show, Ansari looked at ’70s cinema, especially the films of Hal Ashby and Woody Allen. Those stories played out at a slower pace, and it was a style that series directors James Ponsoldt, Eric Warheim, and Lynn Shelton picked up on.