Aziz Ansari on His Excellent New Series Master of None, Sexism, and Race in …

11 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

: How Aziz Ansari captures the bizarre paradox of being a millennial.

Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series, Master of None, tries to be many things: a “mature” romantic comedy, a social commentary on millennials, a New York immigrant story, and much more.“I was also asked to audition for a part in ‘The Martian’ (not Kapoor), but I skimmed the script and — no offense — it seemed like a boring movie about a white guy stuck on Mars for two hours who gets fired up about plants, so it didn’t seem worth taking a break from my own projects. (I’ve heard the film is fantastic.)” Ansari wrote recently in a first-person piece for the New York Times. “The Martian” is one of the few “grown-up” movies of the season that’s dominated the box office (nearly $460 million worldwide) and is also a critical hit, which means it’s now in play as an Oscar contender. Indeed, the show’s ambition to cover it all — or, at least, its refusal to be any one thing — is in line with both its title and its core message: that the infinite options hypothetically available to millennials in today’s on-demand world makes it exceedingly difficult to select any of them, or be fully content with the option that’s eventually chosen. Not long after “The Martian” debuted, there was some controversy over the decision to cast Chiwetel Ejiofor to play a character named Vincent Kapoor.

There’s so much that could go wrong: You could end up bored or annoyed with your date, wishing you had stuck with a casual coffee, drinks or dinner. They definitely didn’t intend for her to be gay,” Waithe said. “But when Aziz met me, he was like, ‘I like what I’m seeing and I want to make the character a little more like you.’ They were really cool and went back and rewrote the character to reflect more of my personality, which was amazing.” The Bones writer’s onscreen relationship with Ansari spilled into real life, too. “He sends me weird Dubsmash videos and we text silly things all the time,” Waithe said. “He and I have a natural chemistry. The first time I saw an Indian character in an American movie was “Short Circuit 2,” a 1988 film in which a humanized robot named Johnny 5 goes to New York and bonds with an Indian scientist named Benjamin Jarhvi. In it, Schwartz contends that unlimited options don’t actually increase our sense of freedom and well-being; instead, this bounty makes us more anxious, depressed, and generally dissatisfied.

But after failing to secure Indian actor Irrfan Khan, who wasn’t available because of commitments to other projects, filmmaker Ridley Scott, ultimately decided to make Kapoor’s character mixed race and rename him him Vincent. We both talk really fast, we use our hands a lot, we both pay attention to very small, specific things.” Eric Wareheim, Ansari’s self-proclaimed “token white friend” in the series, also has a close relationship with the former Parks and Recreations star. “I’m the only white boy in the room and I feel like it’s based on my real friendship with Aziz,” Wareheim said. And in the 11 years since Schwartz’s book was published, the rise of social media, online dating, smartphones, and on-demand everything have only ratcheted things up more. Their camaraderie dates back to before Master of None’s inception and relies heavily on a mutual love of food, specifically pasta. “We’re constantly eating,” the 39-year-old comedian said. “Besides the show, the most important thing was ‘Where are we eating for lunch?’ “ For the actress behind Dev’s love interest Rachel, Noël Wells, the most important thing was trying to get into “sexy mode” while filming sex scenes with Ansari. “It was very funny shooting sex scenes and Aziz was kind of being goofy in between takes,” Wells said. “And I was like, ‘But I’m trying to be sexy and you’re being goofy.’ “ Like her character, whose first date with Dev is an overnight trip to Nashville, Wells advocates for unconventional first dates based on firsthand experience. “One of my old college boyfriends, who I dated for two and a half years, our first date was at a strip club,” Wells admitted. “So I think jumping in like that, you get to see what people are made of.”

I rarely saw any Indians on TV or film, except for brief appearances as a cabdriver or a convenience store worker literally servicing white characters who were off to more interesting adventures. When Denise (played by Lena Waithe) suggests that Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Rachel (Noël Wells) fly from New York to Nashville for their first official date, Dev is doubtful. “I dunno — a vacation for a first date?” Dev asks. “Isn’t that kinda nuts?” But Denise is rather convincing: “That’s what’s so great about it,” she says. “Think about it like this: If you do the normal date dinner, then it’s like the next day you’ll be stressing out about ‘When should I text her?’ ‘What’s the next date gonna be?’ This way it’s like 10 dates in a row.” Spoiler alert: Dev and Rachel do end up flying to Nashville for the weekend. Ansari was expanding on the thinking behind the famous fourth episode of his hit Netflix show “Masters of None,” which scolds modern movies and programs that used white actors in brownface to portray Indian characters. They have a lot of fun; they also have awkwardness, silence — plus a pretty tense moment that demands resolution before they resume their regular lives in New York. In his Times piece, Ansari extends his thanks to “Parks and Recreation” creator Mike Schur, who cast him as Tom Haverford and thus, provided Ansari with experience that would help him secure his first television show of his own.

He’s obsessed with going to Brooklyn’s hottest spots, and trying to date the hottest girl, without committing to anything that would keep him from the possibility of something even better emerging. Some critics have put it in the context of current cable comedy such as Portlandia, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Louie, but it’s different from all of those. Ansari has jumped full force into the conversation about making television shows and movies more reflective of society, and his advice to those who are already trying is to keep it up, and try harder.

In one episode, Dev and a pal can’t decide what to eat, with Dev going so far as to lament the lack of an “app that analyzes your tum, and tells you what you want to eat.” When they finally settle on tacos, Dev dives deep into the dark web of New York’s online taco reviews, determined to scope out the absolute best as he combs through dozens of ratings, articles, and photos. It comes off as a bit of an overreaction — probably because the revelation makes him realize they’ve taken a huge relationship leap while they barely know each other. “When you’re on a first or second date, you don’t have that mentality of: ‘Let’s work through this together,’ ” Davis said. “Instead you’re trying to have a fun date. It’s a subject Ansari explored in even greater detail in his recent book Modern Romance, which chronicles how much both the process and the purpose of dating has changed for this generation. If those types of things happen, they seem like boulder in the way of having a good time — it’s something that kind of hinders the date.” If you are bold enough to try a marathon date like Rachel and Dev’s, make sure to schedule some time apart — get coffee with a friend who lives in the city you’re visiting, or just wander on your own for a while. “It just breaks things up a little bit,” she said. “It will renew your energy with each other when you get back together. Stevens sit every morning in a makeup chair and get painted an “Indian color” before going on set and doing his “Indian voice.” As a child, I thought the villain of the film was Oscar Baldwin, the banker who tricks Johnny 5 into helping him commit a jewel heist.

When Dev later recounts the story to an older, married colleague, he gets some much-needed perspective. “I’m in a great marriage, and sometimes we’re at 90 percent,” his colleague says. “Sometimes we’re only like 20 or 30.” With so many options, how do you choose anything — be it as minor as a lunch spot, or as defining as a life partner? Stevens and asked, “Can you play Indian?” It was 1987, so we were all a little less savvy about the things we were doing that were actually hurtful to large groups of people, and the answer, for a 21-year-old struggling actor, was yes.

Narayan’s “The Guide” and Hesse’s “Siddhartha.” “I started taking yoga and immersed myself, because I really wanted to be as real as possible,” he said. When Dad asks Dev for help with his iPad, Dev reacts impatiently with, “I’m not your personal computer guy!” and announces he has an appointment to see a movie. Toward the end of the conversation, it seemed to fully hit him how insensitive his casting may have been, and he said several times that he believed the role should have been played by an Indian and that he would never take it today. But I don’t want to judge them before knowing the full story, especially because I know that both films made at least some attempts to pursue Indian actors.

It’s a pleasure to see Danes, away from Homeland, going broad with the humour and slyly mocking the Carrie Mathison character for which she is famous. What’s interesting is that Rachel isn’t a babe Dev lusts after – this is where the series leaves Seinfeld behind – but a funny, warm, independent woman who, very slowly, becomes the woman Dev depends on for fun, warmth and honesty. Instead, there’s a thrilling originality at work – a humanity, a humour that, for all its emphasis on thirtysomething singles, feels formidably grown up and wise. Training an Indian to do the stunts wasn’t practical, and a stuntman is not mocking Indian people; he’s tricking people into thinking it’s me, a real Indian. (If there is a heartbroken Indian stuntman reading this now: Dude, I’m so sorry, and you really need to get a better stunt agent.) Even though I’ve sold out Madison Square Garden as a standup comedian and have appeared in several films and a TV series, when my phone rings, the roles I’m offered are often defined by ethnicity and often require accents. Sure, things are moving in the right direction with “Empire” and “Fresh Off the Boat.” But, as far as I know, black people and Asian people were around before the last TV season.

And whatever progress toward diversity we are making, the percentage of minorities playing lead roles is still painfully low. (The numbers for women are depressing as well.) In 2013, according to a recent report produced by the Ralph J. Here’s a game to play: When you look at posters for movies or TV shows, see if it makes sense to switch the title to “What’s Gonna Happen to This White Guy?” (“Forrest Gump,” “The Martian,” “Black Mass”) or if there’s a woman in the poster, too, “Are These White People Gonna Have Sex With Each Other?” (“Casablanca,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Notebook”).

Even at a time when minorities account for almost 40 percent of the American population, when Hollywood wants an “everyman,” what it really wants is a straight white guy. When we were looking for an Asian actor for “Master of None,” my fellow creator, Alan Yang, asked me: “How many times have you seen an Asian guy kiss someone in TV or film?” After a long hard think, we came up with two (Steven Yeun on “The Walking Dead” and Daniel Dae Kim on “Lost”). Look at “The Terminator”: There had to be someone who heard his name tossed around for the role and thought: Wait, why would the robot have an Austrian accent?

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