Actor Kunal Nayyar, born in London and raised in India, moved to Oregon to study at the University of Portland in 1999. Nayyar went on to earn a master's degree from Temple University several years later. In 2007, he debuted in the role of Raj Koothrappali on the sitcom Big Bang Theory. The show has become one of TV's best loved comedies, with Nayyar also going on to do film and theater work.
Early Life and Education
Born on April 30, 1981, in London, England, actor Kunal Nayyar grew up in India and attended St. Columba's, an elite boys' school in New Delhi. Kayyar described his early years to Open magazine, saying that "In school, I was busy playing badminton and chasing girls. I hated studying and only wanted to play sports." Nayyar came to the United States in 1999 to attend the University of Portland in Oregon. Being so far from home, he struggled with loneliness at times. Nayyar told The Huffington Post that he would even frequent a chain clothing store at times because "the sales people were always so nice."
Nayyar studied business at the university, but he also started taking drama classes there. He later "realized that I loved being on stage more than I did being in a boardroom trying to sell something," he told Daily Variety. While he did earn a bachelor's degree in finance, Nayyar went on to pursue acting at Temple University, where he received his master's degree in 2006. After grad school, he made his way to Los Angeles where he first attracted attention for his performance in the play Hack & Holden. Nayyar earned a Back Stage Garland Award in 2007 for the work.
'Big Bang Theory'
With his biggest prior TV role being that of a terrorist on an episode of NCIS, in 2007 Nayyar began portraying shy astrophysicist Rajesh Koothrappali on The Big Bang Theory. The sitcom focuses on genius roommates Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki), their actress-waitress neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and their friends Howard (Simon Helberg) and Raj. Nayyar's character struggles with an acute fear of talking to women, a problem usually only cured by drinking.
Big Bang Theory soon became one of TV's biggest comedies, generating some of the genre's most clever humor. One of Nayyar's most notable moments as Raj came in the show's sixth season. Without the help of alcohol, he shares with Penny his heartbreak over a failed relationship, a moment that illustrated how these comedic characters are often able to transcend nerdy stereotypes. In 2014, Nayyar negotiated a new contract for the series and received a substantial per episode pay boost. He went from $100,000 per show to the mid-six-figure range, according to Variety.
Besides playing Raj on Big Bang Theory, Nayyar has tackled an interesting mix of TV, film and stage work. He has lent his voice to the animated series Sanjay and Craig and the 2012 film Ice Age: Continental Drift. On the big screen, Nayyar appeared in two 2014 films: the thriller The Scribbler and the comedy Dr. Cabbie. He also took to the New York stage in 2015 in The Spoils, a drama written by actor Jesse Eisenberg and staged by The New Group. Nayyar played Eisenberg's Nepalese roommate Kalyan in the production.
A devoted fan of cricket, Nayyar produced and narrated the 2013 documentary Beyond All Boundaries. Nayyar is also slated to publish his memoir, Yes, My Accent Is Real: And Some Other Things I Haven't Told You, in the fall of 2015.
Nayyar is married to Neha Kapur, a former Miss India. The couple tied the knot in December 2011 in New Delhi, India.
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