Aziz Ansari doesn’t necessarily want to call his new Netflix series Master of None autobiographical, but the actor did pull elements from his real life into making the show, which focuses on an Indian-American actor named Dev.
At the first-ever EW Fest on Saturday in New York, Ansari spoke at length about one particular episode of Master of None, titled “Indians on TV,” which has roots in Ansari’s own experiences in the entertainment industry.
“Basically the episode starts with my character in 1990, as a little kid, watching TV. He’s watching Short Circuit 2. He sees the Indian guy in Short Circuit 2 [played by Fisher Stevens, who is white]. It goes into the TV, and then you see a montage of every Indian character that I remember seeing growing up,” Ansari said. “And it’s just gas station, gas station, gas station, gas station, weird guy from Indiana Jones who eats brains, Zack Morris making some sort of curry joke. It ends with Ashton Kutcher’s Pop Chips commercial where he dons brown face and is a Bollywood producer named Raj. It’s one of my favorite things we did.”
The episode then turns into a larger discussion about representation in Hollywood, Ansari said, after his character is asked to do an Indian accent during an audition and refuses.
“Should I do an accent? Should I not do the accent? That’s a thing that a lot of minority actors grapple with,” Ansari said. In fact, he and Master of None costar Ravi Patel have often debated the merits of doing an accent onscreen — something that also wound up in the show.
“I once was asked to audition for Transformers with Michael Bay. And it was a role for a call center guy who does an accent. And I was like, ‘No, I’m not doing it,'” Ansari recalled. “Ravi was like, ‘I’ll do it!’ And Ravi did it, and he probably made decent money being the call center guy.”
Not that Ansari held it against his friend or anyone else in the industry who does an accent. “I understand,” he said. “You have to work and some people don’t think it’s a problem. You do it.”
As for minority representation at large, Ansari said the narrative that “the diversity thing is kind of solved now” because people like him and Mindy Kaling have shows is a bit of a myth. “Guess what? Every other show is still white people,” he said. “White people have every other show. It’s still kind of unbalanced. I know there’s Empire. That’s there. But I think there were 10 black actors before Empire. It’s not like they just found the 10th black actor. ‘We can finally make Empire!’ It’s long overdue.”
Master of None debuts on Nov. 6 on Netflix. More about Ansari’s EW Fest panel can be found here.