endhil Ramamurthy really doesn’t want to tell you what superpower he’d most like to have. Actually, he’s a bit tired of answering that question—he’s been asked it a lot lately.
An odd inquiry for an ordinary Indian American guy from San Antonio, Texas? Perhaps. But then, Ramamurthy isn’t exactly ordinary. After today, his name (well, probably his face) is likely to become a familiar one in households nationwide.
Ramamurthy is one of the stars of the new primetime drama Heroes, premiering tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on NBC. The show chronicles the lives of ordinary people who discover they possess extraordinary abilities (read: superpowers).
Hype for Heroes
Heroes will air tonight (9 p.m. EDT/NBC) following months of fanfare. Fan web sites dedicated to the show have been anticipating the action since the summer, and NBC created more buzz by offering the premiere as a special free download on iTunes. To access the download, fans had to procure a card bearing a special download code from a nearby movie theater.
Ramamurthy is excited about the show, which he says is “less X-Men and more Unbreakable. It’s pretty dark at times—there’s the supernatural aspect, but how they deal with it is all rooted in reality, which is why we hope the show catches on. We don’t want it to be just sci-fi.”
“NBC has been trotting us out lately, and every single interviewer has asked all of us what superpower we’d want,” says 30-year-old Ramamurthy, who is part of an ensemble cast that includes Ali Larter (Final Destination) and Greg Grunberg (Alias). “My superpower would be the power to stop anyone from asking that question.”
That might be because Ramamurthy’s character, Mohinder Suresh, is one of the few leads who actually doesn’t possess any superpowers. Instead, he plays a young genetics professor at the University of Madras in India whose father’s mysterious disappearance leads him to the realization that there are people with superpowers living among us.
Standing for something
While he demurs from discussing any potential desire for real life superpowers, Ramamurthy is willing to address the fact that he has snagged a major role written for a brown character who isn’t a) a terrorist or b) a convenience store clerk. In fact, Ramamurthy deliberately refuses to audition for such stereotypical roles.
“I’ve made a very conscious decision that I’m not going to go in on stereotypical stuff—I’m just not into it. I’ve turned down auditions for lots of roles like that. I won’t do it, and my agents won’t ask me to do it,” he says. “I don’t fault other actors for doing that. Sometimes you just need to work. But for me personally, I would rather just go and do something else.”
Ramamurthy adds, “I have to take my hat off to Tim Kring for writing a part like this. I’ve never auditioned for a part this fleshed out, this well-rounded. Every facet of his life is touched on in the series. I feel so lucky.”
But it’s hardly just luck that landed him the sought-after role. Creator Tim Kring didn’t originally plan to cast a 30-something actor as Mohinder Suresh. In an interview with Superhero Hype!, Kring says “The character I scripted was a man in his late 50s. We saw several men come in, and our casting director said that we need to take a look at this one actor [Ramamurthy]. My first reaction was ‘Well, why? He’s not right [in terms of age].’ She said, ‘Trust me, you want to see this guy.’ Sendhil walked in the room and opened his mouth and we all looked at one another, so I went off and rewrote the entire character. I made him the son of this man in his late 50s who had just died, who was following in his father’s footsteps.”
Anatomy of an Accent
Viewers watching Heroes tonight will notice the distinguished British/Indian accent Sendhil Ramamurthy employs for his character. But it didn’t come easy—he had to work to perfect it, and he claims that it’s still evolving: “The producers wanted a very specific accent. I did an Indian accent, and I listened to tapes to develop it. Then they came back and said the guy was educated in English, so it should be a British accent, with a lilt of Indian. My accent changes throughout the pilot a bit, because then they wanted it to be predominantly English. It’s kind of been a work in progress. So now, it’s very English with Indian hints.”
Ramamurthy is amazed at his good fortune, especially considering the fact that he was reluctant to audition. “But my agent said, ‘We just think you should do it.’ They kept bringing me back, and then they ended up going with me.” But he’s also a little nervous: “I want to live up to that expectation. It keeps me on my toes—hopefully, I earned it.”
There’s a good chance he has earned it. Classically-trained Ramamurthy, who has made guest appearances on shows like Numb3rs and Grey’s Anatomy, has performed in London’s famed West End. He starred in The Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Servant to Two Masters, a play written by Carlo Goldoni (Italy’s answer to Shakespeare). Before that, Ramamurthy graduated from London’s Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in 1999.
An actor by chance
But, like many South Asians, acting wasn’t exactly the first career option that sprung to mind. Ramamurthy hails from (what else?) a family of doctors: Dad is an anesthesiologist, Mom is a neonatologist, and younger sis Sujatha is a third-year resident in medicine and psychiatry. So when Ramamurthy started school at Tufts University, he naturally decided to be a pre-med major.
“At Tufts, I needed an arts credit to graduate, so I took Intro to Acting my junior year. I thought it would be easy—I didn’t even go to the classes. But 5 percent of your grade required auditioning for a college production, so I tried out for a play called Our Country’s Good,” he recalls.
In a twist of fate, Ramamurthy ended up landing the role of a British officer. “I didn’t really want to do it, and the guy said, I can recast it, but this is college—why don’t you just try it? So I did, and I loved it,” he says. After doing two more plays at Tufts, Ramamurthy was hooked on acting. He decided to attend drama school, but first, he had to break the news to his parents.
“I just came out and told my parents straight: I don’t want to be a doctor, I want to go to drama school,” he says. “My parents weren’t thrilled when I first told them, because it came out of nowhere. Looking back on it, they were as cool as they could have been, especially because I’d never shown any inclination toward acting. Later, they were totally supportive. They paid for drama school while I was living in London, and they flew out to see all my productions.”
Ramamurthy has snagged a major role written for a brown character who isn’t a) a terrorist or b) a convenience store clerk.
Today, Ramamurthy’s family and friends couldn’t be more thrilled about his newfound fame. While Ramamurthy will attend Tim Kring’s lavish premiere gala tonight in LA, his parents are hosting their own small party back in San Antonio. “They’re just really happy that I kinda got somewhere,” laughs Ramamurthy. “My dad keeps sending me all these Google things about me.”
“This is the kind of break we were hoping he would get,” says his father, Somayaji Ramamurthy. “But we were proud of him even before, mainly because of his persistence and perseverance. He was doing his best, putting in hard work. That’s what we appreciate in him.”
One thing Ramamurthy’s had to adjust to is all the attention. “This is hands down the biggest thing I’ve done. A friend of mine sent me a picture of the billboard in Times Square—he said, ‘I see you every morning on the way to work.’ I can’t get used to it.”
He’s also not accustomed to the whisperings on the Internet about his status as the newest brown heartthrob. (Bollywood “heroes,” step aside.) The popular South Asian weblog Sepia Mutiny has mentioned him on several occasions, and more than a few women have commented on Ramamurthy’s charm and good looks on the site.
Ramamurthy is surprised by the attention: “The whole heartthrob thing is news to me. I’m very flattered, actually—I’ve never been in this situation before.” Unfortunately for his fans, Ramamurthy is quite happily taken. He is married to British-Polish actress Olga Sosnovska, whom he met at drama school. Together, the couple has a one-year-old daughter.
And how does his family, who is originally from Bangalore, feel about his cross-cultural marriage? “It literally was never a question at all. My parents were really laid back about the whole thing,” says Ramamurthy. As for their daughter, Ramamurthy says she “gets exposed to everything—Polish culture and Indian culture. Religion-wise, as well. My wife is Catholic, and I’m Hindu, and our daughter will get to decide for herself when she’s older.”
Of course, that will all come later. Until then, Ramamurthy will stay busy focusing on his blossoming career and launching what could be television’s next great sci-fi series. Here’s hoping that we’ll be seeing Ramamurthy uncovering the secrets of the heroes among us for many seasons to come.