From Bombay Dreams on Broadway to a guest role on ABC’s “Ugly Betty,” Anisha Nagarajan, star of the new NBC comedy “Outsourced,” is using her creative outlets to offset her already outstanding career.
Photo by Jeff Xander
It’s Anisha Nagarajan’s lunch break and she’s calling from the set of NBC’s comedy “Outsourced,” now in its first season. Today, the forecast for Los Angeles, where the series films, is sunny and bright as is the future of the show and its rising star.
Nagarajan, 26, plays a shy employee named Madhuri who sells novelties for an American company that has outsourced its order processing to a call center in Mumbai, India. Quiet and on the reserved side, Madhuri doesn’t imitate life: The “Outsourced” star is self-described as driven (she wants to attend culinary school in Paris) and vocal (she has plans for putting out a CD of her own music by the end of this year).
A Squirrel Hill native, Nagarajan grew up in the East End with her family. Her father is a professor at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh, her mother is a former developmental specialist at Western Psychiatric Institute and her brother is a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Nagarajan was interested in the arts at an early age and started playing piano when she was 3. When she was only 6, she began taking piano lessons at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill. When Nagarajan was a teenager, her family moved to Fox Chapel.
After her freshman year at Fox Chapel High School, Nagarajan traveled to India with her mother to take care of her grandmother. “It was an amazing experience to live there and experience the culture,” recalls Nagarajan. “I even ended up choreographing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the boarding school I was attending.” After almost a full year in India, Nagarajan returned home to Fox Chapel. Back at her old high school, she auditioned for every musical possible—singing, dancing and acting.
On a recent episode of “Outsourced,” Madhuri tells her boss, “My parents always thought I could do nothing better than work in a factory, but then I got this job. Sometimes parents are wrong.”
Eager to discover if Nagarajan’s own parents thought she could succeed as a singer and actress, she is quick to acknowledge: “My parents were actually right because they believed in my ability to succeed. They were and still are my biggest champions.”
When it came time to apply to college, Nagarajan filled out 17 applications: half for piano and the other half for theater. She also asked her father for his advice about which path to choose. Instead of an answer, he replied with a question: “Would you rather be practicing alone in a room all day long, or do you want to work with a group of people?”
Nagarajan decided on the latter and was accepted at New York University.
Q&A with Anisha Nagarajan
During college, what was a highlight for you as an actor?
I was a sophomore at NYU and auditioned for the Broadway musical Bombay Dreams for Andrew Lloyd Webber and A.R. Rahman and landed the lead role as Priya.
Was there an unexpected surprise during your run on Broadway?
During production of Bombay Dreams, I met my husband, actor Aalok Mehta. We quickly became friends and were married in ’05. Neither one of us expected to fall in love.
Another highlight was getting the role of Madhuri on “Outsourced.” Explain.
As I was finishing my B.F.A. at NYU, I auditioned for “Outsourced,” and the next thing I knew, the producers flew me out to L.A. for a test pilot. It was 6 a.m. the following morning when I got the call that I was cast. I moved to L.A. last July.
From Bombay to America. Tell us about being cast on “Ugly Betty.”
It was a small guest role in ’09. I played a coat-check girl at the restaurant [where] America Ferrara’s character, Betty, was eating. My line was: “Plus one?”
Do you visit Pittsburgh often?
Yes, as much as I can. On a recent visit in late December, Aalok and I went to a Steelers game with my father and brother.
Is there a favorite place you like to visit?
I love Bangkok Balcony in Squirrel Hill.
In a recent episode of “Outsourced,” there’s a four-leaf clover hanging in the office. Do you believe in luck?
Absolutely. I’ve always felt that if you believe in luck there’s some kind of hope. If I keep this attitude, things will manifest themselves from a positive outlook.
What’s your future outlook?
I wouldn’t mind opening a restaurant in Paris someday.