I had the chance to speak with Adhir Kalyan, who plays Timmy on CBS’ Rules of Engagement about the series’ sixth season, teaching David Spade the difference between the show and reality and the number of times the Dr. House cameo he wishes would come true.
The series started out as two couples and their single friend, but now that your relationship with David Spade’s character has grown, do you think you’re the third sort of odd couple?
I think that’s a fairly accurate assessment. I think the show is very much one of three couples and we have a married couple, we have the engaged couple and now we have this odd couple with this love-hate relationship where neither seems to be able to do without the other. And people always ask why does Timmy continue to be in this dynamic and there is this sort of quality that neither of them is quite sure why they can’t get away from each other, that they suffer in silence all the while and enjoy the friendship and be on the brink.
This next episode coming up, you get into a sort of a squabble? How bad does it get?
I think David and I had a squabble during the filming of the episode itself. It’s funny how the relationship of our characters onscreen are starting to mirror the relationship of our characters off of it. There are times when he says, “Adhir, just grab me a diet coke.” And I’m like, “David, I’m not actually your assistant. I’m actually playing the assistant.”
Bleeding over a little bit?
Yes. Actually, what happens in this episode is that there is a young man, played by a friend of mine actually, whose name is Andrew Leeds, who needs to be let go from the company and of course, ever convinced that he’s the good guy really when all his actions and words suggest otherwise, doesn’t want to be conceived as the man who fires employees so this task goes to Timmy, who in turn is in the most sensitive way trying to let this person go. But then, he discovers that this doesn’t sit comfortably with him so he tries to look for a new job for the man that he just fired. And in doing so, he’s inspired by the idea that he could use a new job as leverage to gain a raise or perhaps leave the company, but I don’t know if he’s ever really convinced that he’s going to leave and perhaps just hoping that Russell doesn’t call his bluff.
You don’t think that he really wants to leave? He always threatens it, but it’s always a joke.
I with absolute conviction can say that Timmy is greatly pained by many of the tasks he is set out to sort of achieve or carry out on behalf of Russell. That being said, there is without question, beneath this level of sort of faux-hate and great disdain, there is a level of great affection that lies with both of the characters. Though they are not all that ready to admit it.
Of course. What if Timmy’s future were in your hands? What would you want to see in Timmy’s path?
(Laughs) With the way this season has been going, just a victory for Timmy…in anything. Just something where at the end of the episode, Timmy actually manages to break through and achieve a modicum of success. Because episode after episode, thus far, Timmy’s sort of been left season after season with really – I don’t know if the phrase is out in the pastures – but he’s really sort of been left out there. And this episode – the one that we’re shooting currently – is no different. He’s been training for a marathon for six months and his trainer is someone who is highly motivated and sort of incredibly driven and is guiding him to this goal of completing a marathon only for Russell Dunbar to sort of swoop in, sleep with her and send her on a path of sort of absolute destruction. Timmy’s left to sort of race on his own. And he thinks again that he’s going to achieve the goal on his own and he’s so focused and happy with a newfound sense of confidence, only for him to trip over Adam, who sort of placed himself in the way and Timmy does not complete the marathon. And so this season I’m just hoping this season to see Timmy see something through to completion or at the end of the episode leave with a morsel of dignity. That being said, I do enjoy these scenarios where Timmy is ever suffering and can’t seem to catch a break.
Well, he succeeded a little bit with the makeover of Wendi McLendon-Covey’s character last week, didn’t he?
This is true. It was a shining moment for him to sort of step into the limelight and perhaps achieve a sense of gratitude in Russell’s eyes. Of course, he’s got to ward off the rest of the episode that just to be clear, he’s not homosexual and he’s fine with that but he doesn’t necessarily want people being confused. I was very lucky to have the hair and makeup team on the set that day because I was getting coaching advice on the fly.
What’s it like to work with Wendi? I know she’s been on the show before, but she’s kind of a force to be reckoned with. Is it fun being on set with her, is it challenging?
It really is wonderful having Wendi there. On Tuesday night after I go home, I’ll open the script and look at the description for the table read and I’m always excited when I see her name on the call sheet. She is a remarkable, remarkable talent who has really elevated this role to a height that I don’t suspect even the creator of the show had envisioned. I think we are all incredible grateful to her particular brand of genius and it’s certainly wonderful to play opposite her and I have the good fortune this season of sharing more scenes with her on account of the fact that Russell and Liz are married and now I’ve been sort of endowed with the additional challenge of trying to keep a straight face opposite both David and her, which is certainly not easy at all. Actually this season, I don’t think in all my life I’ve broken quite as much in the middle of a scene as I have with them. And there are a few shots that are just completely useless because when the camera cuts to my shot, I’m doing my utmost to stifle my laughter instead of delivering a line.
You’ve got quite a few longtime TV stars – you’ve got Patrick Warburton and David Spade and now Wendi McLendon-Covey – are there any other TV actors you’d like to see guest on Rules?
Off the top of my head, the actors I would love to see on the show are ultimately the actors who are some of my favorite to watch on television. I know I spend many an evening watching the likes of Modern Family and House and those are arguably two of my favorite shows on television, so if Dr. House wanted to stop by the set of Rules of Engagement to sort of diagnose Russell’s rather dysfunctional lifestyle, let’s just say I wouldn’t be opposed to that.
That’d be a good episode.
(Laughs) And what is so great, as a side note, is that prior to Hugh Laurie’s arrival in the United States, he was known almost completely for comedy in England. And he was revered as one of the seminal figures in British comedy, so I’d like to see him sort of return to that. But my experience has been almost the opposite, because in South Africa and England the vast, vast majority of my experience has been dramatic until I arrived in the United States and I feel almost purely comedic.
Do your skills from the dramatic arts transfer? Is there anything you find that’s parallel?
I think when, irrespective of whether it’s drama or comedy, the actor is always unaware of what the audience’s reaction will be so the actor is sort of just playing the situation or circumstances as truthfully as he’s able to, so if I’m in a ridiculous situation with Russell it’s not as if I’m endeavoring to make the audience laugh by something I’m doing, I try to play as sincerely as possible so that the audience will maybe gain the greatest benefit from viewing the craziness. So I don’t know that necessarily the sort of dramatic training or theatrical training has aid in any real particular way, not that I’m doing a lot of comedy I think the one thing that my theatrical background has been able to sort of prepare me for is the live audience factor. Where David delivers a funny line or does something that is unexpected as he so often does, you know I’m very often left literally having to hold for 15 or 20 seconds until the laughter dies down and I think my training in the theater in South Africa certainly served me well in that regard. You’ve got to be cognizant of the fact that your almost including the audience as a piece of a character, I’ll deliver my line, he’ll deliver his and then the audience will deliver theirs in the form of a laugh. And sometimes they don’t deliver their line, in which case it’s the actors or the writing that needs to be improved.
It’s a learning experience?
It really is. I think I tease David incessantly about what hard work he is and I’ve actually become very close friends off of set as well. But one of my chief motivating factors behind me joining Rules of Engagement was the opportunity to work with David on a daily basis and week in week out he does prove to be a learning experience and one that’s incredibly humbling and I’m grateful that the show decided I was a good fit for him and brought be me on in a full time capacity and it remains a pleasure to come to work everyday knowing that I’ll be surprised by something he does.
As far as this season, you’re back on Thursday nights – which is just full of fantastic shows. What separates Rules from all the other great shows?
First of all I think we’re all incredibly grateful to be on a night after The Big Bang Theory, which is just a monumental hit for CBS…and even though we were incredibly grateful just to be invited back to the party on Saturday nights, it’s really lovely that CBS has given us this endorsement with this slot opening up after How to Be a Gentleman was brought to end. As for the show itself, I think specifically the one thing that people come up to me and say about the show is that “We like the show because so-and-so reminds me of my husband” or “so-and-so reminds me of my wife” or “my best friends are exactly like Adam and Jennifer.” So I think there’s a relatability to the show that stems perhaps from the writers writing from their own true narrative in marriage and relationships and the experiences of their friends and those they’ve encountered over time. I think that relatability factor is something that has served the show very, very well. It’s not as though this show is set in a heightened reality where you have to envisage what these characters may be going through or imagine what this world might be like. The scenarios that play out week by week seem like scenarios that actually unfold in people’s day to day lives. I think because it’s so relatable, people take great comfort in that and are amused by seeing what they’re familiar with being portrayed by characters on the screen. And the married couple and the engaged couple, that is very much the formula that I think has served them well over the course of the now six seasons. Of course with Timmy’s arrival, the dynamic has somewhat shifted in the sense that the writers really have a blank page on which to write. There’s no real template for this relationship, you could skew it different ways, but the idea of the suffering employee and the overbearing boss in addition to the fact that we are still friends sort of trying to work their way through New York single life together – there’s something to be said for that in the sense that people can identify with it. I’ve given you a rather long-winded answer, hope there’s something useable in there!
Is there something you were filming in the course of the season that you finished and thought immediately, “Gosh, I can’t wait to see what this looks like on TV?”
The most recent episode was one of the most interesting I’ve worked on because the writers of our show have the tendency to ask me questions and then not really pay any particular heed to the answer I’ve given them. Last season they came up to me and said, (in American accent) “Adhir do you speak Italian?” And I said no. They said, “Okay, terrific.” Cut to a few weeks later where half my episode was in Italian. And most recently they said, “Adhir, do you play the guitar at all?” I said, “No, I do have one but I actually just never got around to learning it.” They said, “Okay, terrific.” Open up the script and – you know where the story is heading – I was required to play the guitar. So I worked for a few weeks really hard and trying to learn how to play a song well enough, so that I, as a character, could play it poorly enough. And so I had a chance to play the guitar and serenade a girl with a song in hopes of trying win her over because she had a penchant for singer-songwriters. So that was an interesting episode to do purely because I’d never done anything like that before. It was a lot of fun going to sort of the studio and actually recording the song. I believe they’re trying to release like an iTunes version of the song with David, myself and Oliver [Hudson] as well. I don’t think that one’s going to set the charts alight, I know there was talk of Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber being really concerned about the heat the song was going to generate, but I think they can kind of rest easy.
Maybe, I don’t know…
(Laughs) But that was definitely sort of a fun one to do. I enjoy those episodes really, where I’m asked to do something I myself have never done before and sort of walking on set with a woman there who’s sort walking on set for the very first time really.
Rules of Engagement airs Thursday nights at 8:30 p.m. on CBS.