"I Think Selling Pot Becomes a Way For Him to Have Something to Do"
MB: Getting back to 30 Rock, I think it's interesting that you are an actor of East Indian heritage, but you are playing a character whose name is Jonathan. His minority status doesn't really come into play, and that's pretty unusual for television.
MP: I don't think the part was written to be played by an East Indian actor, but of course a lot of East Indian people don't have East Indian names, so I think it works. And I think it speaks to the intelligence of someone like Tina Fey that she didn't feel the need to compartmentalize the character by changing his name. I think pointing it up could have made it more of an issue that it needed to be.
MB: Doing you think your ethnicity has affected your career?
MP: Yes. Sometimes in a great way, but sometimes it can be limiting. What's great is there are all these parts I can play that are written for East Indian and South Asian and Middle Eastern characters. I just went in for a French Arab character, and I've played Lebanese. There are all these great things I've been able to do. But on TV, people of color are still usually the friends of the lead characters, so the stories are not always all that interesting.
MB: Do you ever feel a responsibility to be a role model or to, like, wave the banner for your people?
MP: For me, I feel that responsibility in regard to cultural perceptions. For example, in this Law and Order: Criminal Intent that I did, I played this Pakistani kid whose sister wanted to marry an Italian guy, and I basically performed an honor killing and killed my sister. I feel like that's a really complicated issue. And in a culture where Pakistanis and Muslims are already fighting to be looked at truthfully rather than be stereotyped as terrorists, I thought about that a lot, especially since I'm not Pakistani or Muslim. And in the end, that one was based on a true story. And the kid had parents who didn't believe what he did was right, so I felt like [the episode] was doing its best to show something balanced. It's important for me to try to be aware of that because it's part of who I am.
MB: Have you played a role that you thought wasn't balanced?
MP: When I first started out, I played a character on a Saturday morning television show that wore a turban and was feeding his roommate fried pieces of camel. The whole joke was his culture. That was really hard, but it was my first television job, and I needed somewhere to start from. Would I be okay with that now? I don't think so.