Like many aspiring twenty-something actors in New York City, Ben Rappaport did his fair share of "pounding the pavement, trying to make a buck" before catching a break in the industry. But unlike most other aspiring twenty-something actors, Ben's first television role, aside from a few commercials, was the leading man of Outsourced, the new NBC sitcom nestled snugly in the network's Thursday night lineup.
I spoke to Ben about his role as Todd Dempsey, a Midwestern call-center manager whose company is outsourced to India. Todd goes from happily selling novelties and memorabilia in Kansas to supervising a new team in Mumbai struggling to understand the relevance of the quintessentially American gag gifts they're trying to sell. As one might guess, much of the show's plot revolves around Todd dealing with the culture shock of living and working in a foreign place and the inherent differences between India and the US.
Did you know anything about Indian culture before taking on this role?
Honestly the first thing I wanted to do when I found out I got the part was to just learn any and everything I could about India. I was just about to open up my computer and start off with the Wikipedia searches, but I thought about Todd's character. He's never left the Midwest, so why would I as the actor know all this history and know tradition and customs, when Todd doesn't know anything? I decided to just go into it blind and learn things as my character does.
I know you film Outsourced in Los Angeles, but do you have any plans to visit India?
I definitely want to go to India this summer. I really haven't done too much traveling. The only times I've left the country have been to the UK and the Bahamas, and other than that I've pretty much been all over the continental US. I love learning about different cultures -- social studies and history were always my favorite subjects in school.
Todd definitely has his heart in his job, but he seems to offend his coworkers quite a bit. How well do you think you could do his job and manage a novelty call center?
I think I'd do better than him, because I definitely would not put my foot in my mouth as much as he does. He has no filter in terms of his ignorance, where he is, and the customs. And with him, it's not from a negative place, he just doesn't know. I think I'd be a little more aware and navigate a new culture and its territory better than he does. I'm not sure, though, if I'd have his same energy and passion for selling novelty items.
So in real life, are you like the character you play?
In a lot of ways I am. Just in terms of he's a really easygoing guy and kind of goes with the flow. He has a subtle, goofy sense of humor and is totally like me, the way he tries -- not always successfully -- to charm girls with that. I based a lot of Todd's character though on my dad. My dad's been a salesman for years and he's really passionate about it. You know, he's got the all-American wide-eyed optimism that is Todd.
Speaking of nice guys, how would you compare Todd to Jim Halpert on The Office?
I see a lot of similarities. I'm a huge fan of The Office. It's a thrill to be in the same lineup as that show! But yeah, Todd and Jim are thrown into these situations they didn't necessarily ask for, but they both have a real easygoing nature... But Jim is kind of stunted in his career, and his dream isn't to be selling paper. Todd's found a lot of passion with what he does, and he was really shocked to be sent to India to manage the call center. But now that he's there, he wants to be there and he wants to succeed and connect with the people and the culture.
One of the criticisms about Outsourced is that it's stereotypical of Indians and their culture. Do you feel like there's truth to this?
I think we're stereotyping human nature. You know, we're stereotyping personality types. I feel like maybe seeing that, set in India, makes it seem like we're stereotyping something other than what we are, but it'd be the same set anywhere. Through these dynamic personalities we show, in a funny way, how universal office problems are -- even in a world away with new cultures and foreign names and customs, it's all still universal. It's also a fun way for Americans to see ourselves through the eyes of others when we're the foreigners.
Outsourced airs Thursday nights at 10:30 PM EST on NBC.