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'Ordinary Joe' Star Rushi Kota Talks Ethnic Stereotyping and the Importance of Cultural Inclusion

When envisioning a career, acting was not Rushi Kota's first choice. At the start, he pursued automotive engineering with the hope of becoming a Formula One race car driver. But after graduating from college amidst the economic crisis of 2008, Kota re-evaluated his career goals and ultimately chose a path that would lead him to where he is today. As a rising star in Hollywood, he has starred in the feature film Useless Humans and popular shows such as Grey's Anatomy, Never Have I Ever, Ordinary Joe and iCarly.

However, achieving the Hollywood dream didn't come without obstacles. Specifically, ethnic stereotyping, a challenge that Kota continues to face in his acting career.

"It's making those decisions of when jobs come up requiring any stereotypical accent or anything like that," he explains. "It's choosing to say no. So many writers constantly put the generic name Raj into their material even though the character is South Asian. And they have a huge arc for the character. When I think of that name, I have an aversion to that name because of how Hollywood has mutilated that particular name and everything associated with that name. I either request the writers to change it, or I don't accept the job."

Koto is proud of the positive impact shows like Never Have I Ever have on the South Asian community and how they've found a voice through appropriate cultural representation. Despite Hollywood taking a small step in the right direction, there is still a need to advocate for authentic representation on screen. With this in mind, Kota sets out to change how Indian men are perceived in film.

According to Kota, the Netflix dramedy Never Have I Ever tells the story of three-generational Indian American women as their lives unfold in Sherman Oaks, California.

"We realize how very relatable and American everything that they're going through is," Kota said.

"And my character Prashant comes in season one as a part of an arranged marriage, something that Indian cultures have very prominently. And usually, when arranged marriages are set up, it's always with someone that's not very likable and not very attractive. And so, I think this show has been trying to change the perception of arranged marriages. You can find love, happiness, and compatibility with someone that your parents have arranged for you. And so that's how season one starts. And then, it explores Prashant and Kamala's relationship in season two."

In addition to portraying Prashant in Never Have I Ever, he also stars as Sai in the NBC drama Ordinary Joe. Kota agreed to share some insight on the show and his character.

"[So] they follow Joe on the path as a nurse, a cop, and a musician," he stated. "And my character Sai lives in the music world. And he's in a relationship with Eric. He also runs a campaign as chief of staff for Amy. And it's a really fun dynamic to explore how he is with both Amy and Eric."

When selecting a favorite character, there's a tie between his roles in Useless Humans and iCarly.

"Useless Humans was my first lead in a feature, and so I got to explore a character's arc from beginning to end and how much that person has changed from the beginning to the end," he said.

"He has so many family issues, and he's working through his neuroses. He's dealing with his friends. And it was just a lot going into [it], and that was fun to pace out my time on set. And iCarly because it's a multi-cam. I've never done a multi-cam before. And it was just a fun character to play of a professor who has unique tastes."

Kota's dream project, an Indian superhero movie, is currently underway.

"I want to see some Indian superheroes who are very much in the DC or the Marvel world, and they're part of all of these characters," he commented. "But they're also very culturally ingratiated."

Kota excels not only behind the camera but on stage as well. He fondly remembers the meaningful messages within his favorite plays that he starred in during his time as a stage actor. Progressing from theater to film was an adjustment involving different creative techniques and presentations.

"One was The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz," he recalls.

"And this play explores so many different aspects of the WWE World or the wrestling world, and what a person has to do to get ahead.

They have to become the person that they hate. And they have to become a martyr in order to succeed. And that was cool. And there's another play called The Guards at the Taj that I did at the Marine Theater County by Rajiv Joseph. It's a two-person play that explores the time when two guards have been given orders to chop off the hands of all of the slaves that have built the Taj Mahal so that they would never build anything as beautiful. It's a dark comedy."

When shifting the conversation back to the small screen and reflecting on his many projects, a few stand-out directors have made his time filming on set especially memorable.

"I loved working with Sarah Drew on Grey's Anatomy," he said. "That was cool. She directed the Grey's Anatomy B team, all six episodes of it. And I think it was her first directing job. And so when we found out that she was directing, I was just naturally very excited, because obviously, she's coming from a place of experience. And she's also coming from an actor's mindset and bringing that into directing, which was cool. There was Phil Lewis who directed on iCarly. And now iCarly's a multi-cam, but it doesn't shoot in front of a live audience. And so there's not a laugh track. But Phil was the laugh track. "

With season one of Ordinary Joe wrapping up, Kota looks to the future with optimism for new opportunities.

Photo Credit: Mitch Stone

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