TBT: An Interview With Rajiv Surendra AKA Kevin G

Mean Girls is, arguably, the greatest movie of our time. We’ve already discussed that Kevin Gnapoor, aka Kevin G is the most underrated character from the movie. But what about the real life Kevin G? Is he really a bad-ass M.C.? Is he a mathlete? What is he doing now? Is he really super hot now? (Yes.) We met up with Rajiv Surendra, the actor who played our beloved Kevin, and asked him these questions and more.

I love that Kevin G is in your Twitter bio, it’s great that you embrace the role rather than trying to distance yourself from it.

People usually ask, “Do you get tired of hearing it; do you get tired of being asked about Kevin G over and over again given that it was 12 years ago?” and I don’t. I think it’s really flattering as an actor to have had the opportunity to play a character that people remember. I personally feel like it’s an honor to be remembered as a certain character. A lot of actors do stuff that’s completely forgotten about or never sees the light of day, but to have played a small part in a movie that’s become so huge is something I completely embrace.

Do people ever recognize you?

Yeah it’s strange, it happens on a semi-regular basis and it happens in the weirdest places sometimes—like in the gas station or on the subway, which is more common. So yeah, it still happens. I’m still surprised by people being able to remember my face from the movie.

Do you have a favorite Mean Girls quote? Hard, I know.

I do. When I read the script originally it was one of the first scripts that I had read that made me laugh out loud. One of the lines that I’ll never forget laughing out loud [at] was when the Vietnamese girls are arguing and the one says something and the other girl says [something back] and then it says: subtitle: n***a please. That was so funny to me that that was the subtitle in Vietnamese. I know it’s one of the more obscure Mean Girls quotes, but that’s the one I like the most.

If there was a Mean Girls follow-up movie made now, what do you think Kevin G would be doing?

I see him actually teaching a math class, like teaching the funnest math class. If he found a way to meld both of his passions together, being a bad-ass and being good at math, he’d finally cracked the code on how to make math fun.

Kevin is a bad-ass M.C. so what’s the most bad-ass thing you’ve done?

I can’t talk about that… I think the most bad-ass thing I’ve done was drop out of college. This is what my book is about, so anyone can read all about it in the book [Editor’s Note: Rajiv’s book, Elephants in My Backyard, comes out in November]. But on the set of Mean Girls, I started imagining how I could continue a successful career as an actor, and to me it didn’t seem possible because as a skinny brown guy the only roles I could play were math geek or terrorist because that’s all I auditioned for. Then the cameraman on Mean Girls one day was like “I just read this book and you’re exactly like the main character of the book—Life of Pi.” So I got the book and I read it and I was floored by how similar I was to the character. And then I found out they were going to make it into a movie and I was like, “This is the part for me. This is mine. I’m gonna go after this.” In order to go after it I wanted to fly to India, where the book takes place, and do a bunch of research. So I dropped out of college and flew to India. That’s like, officially the most bad-ass thing i’ve done.

That is very bad-ass. So your book takes place in India?

The book actually takes place all over the world. It starts in India and ends in Munich. I’m calling it Eat, Pray, Love for millennials—that’s kind of the best way to sum it up. It’s like an around-the-world journey of self-discovery. I didn’t intend on the journey to last for 6 years or for it to take so long for it to reach completion, but I learned so much along the way that I want to share with people who are young and don’t know what to do with their lives or what their next steps are. I hope my story inspires them to take chances with life and embrace it and have fun with it.

You talked about how, being a skinny brown guy, your only roles are as a math nerd or terrorist. Did you happen to watch Master of None?

I did. I thought it was great. There was one episode in particular where he auditions for a part and he doesn’t want to put on the stereotypical Indian accent. I mean, that whole scenario is exactly what I went through, and seeing it presented to the rest of the world in his show was like a huge sigh of relief for me. It was like, yes, this is exactly what I’m talking about! I think [Aziz Ansari] did a great job of making a case for minority actors in Hollywood.

…That’s why Kevin G was so successful—because Tina Fey wrote a role that was atypical to the stereotype, but she chose a more realistic version of a first-generation brown guy in North America. Kevin G is a very real kind of person. He’s the child of immigrants. I grew up with guys like that. I wasn’t good at math so I can’t say I was accurately portraying myself, but I grew up with guys like that, who were so good at school but they tried to have a bad-ass persona so they’d be cool, but they were kind of ghetto. And I think that’s why that character was so well-received by audiences, because it was genuine. And what I say is it’s just a matter of time before writers are writing genuinely authentic roles for ethnic minorities.

Do you think you’ll ever do any screenwriting?

It is something I’ve thought about doing. I don’t think it’s my medium of choice in terms of writing, like I’ve really enjoyed the narrative of writing a book. I don’t know if the medium of a screenplay or a TV script is my kind of thing, but maybe someone will take my book and make it into a movie.

That would be cool. Then you could play the main character.

Yeah, or they’ll cast Aziz Ansari.

I know you do really intricate chalk art. How did you get into that?

It started as a childhood hobby. So when I was 12 years old, someone gave me a bunch of old letters from the 1800s and I was really fascinated with how beautifully people used to write. So I took those letters to elementary school and when we had handwriting exercises I copied the letters. So calligraphy started to become a hobby for me as a child and it slowly grew into my own handwriting. By the time I was on Mean Girls, like when I was writing thank you cards to people on set, they were very very beautiful. I graduated through college and I didn’t get the Life of Pi part. I was kind of stranded with what I wanted to do with my life.

Someone saw my calligraphy and was like, “Hey, why don’t you start a small business doing this? You love doing it, you’re really good at it and there’s a market for it.” So I took her advice and started a small business and amazingly, very quickly it picked up. The pen and ink calligraphy quickly transformed into chalkboard calligraphy because I realized that cafés and restaurants needed, or could use, someone with good handwriting to letter their menus, to go in and make it legible and beautiful. I started actually going door to door in Toronto. If I saw a chalkboard that looked like crap, I would go in and approach the owner and propose redoing it, and a lot of people were very receptive to that. I just went in and went to the manager and said “Your chalkboard looks horrible. I can make it beautiful.”


Is there anything else you’re working on right now?

I think I’m going to start a Youtube channel. I have a lot of working hobbies I’ve been pursuing since I was a kid, like I used to have chickens in my backyard, and I spin wool and I make natural dyes for all the wool … I make soap. I made a batch of goat’s milk soap yesterday. So I’d really like to start a Youtube channel that’s kind of like, the hipster Martha Stewart for young people.

Follow Rajiv on Twitter @rajivsurendra and buy his book, Elephants in My Backyard, out November 8th.


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