Comedian Russell Peters has been in two movies with Bobby Cannavale—The Take (2007) and Chef (2014)—but they didn’t share any scenes. In fact, they never met until 2017. Peters mentioned their history to the actor.
“He said, ‘Yeah? Which ones?’ I told him, and he was like, ‘Oh, yeah? Who were you in them?’” the Toronto native recalls during a recent phone call.
“I would like to get in bigger budget films with big-name actors and stuff and actually work alongside them, rather than being in films with big-name actors and not actually ever having a scene with them. I’ve been in two movies with Scarlett Johannsson. I’ve never met her. I’ve been in a movie with Robert Downey Jr. and never met him. I was in a movie with De Niro. Never met him. With all the movies that I’ve done, I’ve never actually met the big celebrity.”
A big celebrity himself in the world of stand-up comedy, Peters is about to embark on his 2018/19 Deported world tour, but that doesn’t mean his acting ambitions are on hold. In a step toward getting him toward his goal of better parts in bigger films and actual scene work with the leads, he is starring in his own Netflix series, The Indian Detective. Peters plays Doug D’Mello, a Toronto cop with detective ambitions who stumbles on murder and conspiracy while visiting his father Stanley (Anupham Kher) in Mumbai. The series—shot in Toronto, Mumbai, and Cape Town, South Africa—debuted in Canada in November and made its US premiere on Tuesday, Dec. 19. It was tailormade for its star.
“They kind of let me do what I wanted to do as far as the character goes,” Peters says. “They wrote the character with me in mind, so they took what they knew of me and then they gave me the freedom to fully ‘Russify’ it. [Co-creator and executive producer) Frank Spotnitz was hitting me up, saying, ‘What kind of jokes should I write?’ I said, ‘Do not write any jokes. You are a dramatic writer. Stay in your comfort zone. Write the best story you can possibly write and when I get the script, I’ll read it in my voice. Don’t write it with my voice in your head, because that is about perception, what you think I would have said. But unless you really know me, you won’t really know what I’m going to say.’
“I would try to be spontaneous on every take,” Peters adds. “But the directors would sometimes be like, ‘That’s great. Can we get one the way it was written on the page?’ And I would say, ‘What’s written on the page is more of a guideline, and some of it is a little way too expositional and I don’t think anybody would talk like that.’ ‘Can we just get one the way it was written?’ ‘Of for fuck’s sake, go ahead.’ I would give them one take of what was written on the page and then on the others, I would do what I needed to do.”
Making The Indian Detective also turned out to be an opportunity for Peters to act alongside an actual legend. Star Trek’s Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, plays a billionaire property developer working on a project in Mumbai who crosses paths with D’Mello. Peters was struck by how youthful the 86-year-old actor seemed. (“He looks like a hard-drinking 62,” Peters jokes.) The comedian who has dreamed of sharing scenes with stars was actually doing it.
“It’s one of those things where you walk in the room and you see Shatner,” Peters says. “As long as you’re from this planet, you know who he is, or you’ve seen him at least 10 times in your life. I walk in the room and I see him and I immediately just geeked out. In my head, I’m ‘Holy shit! That’s Shatner!’
“The funniest thing is we do the first scene and he says, ‘Should we rehearse this?’ And everything he’s saying, I’m just listening to his voice. I’m not even paying attention to the words. ‘Holy shit! That’s really him.’ He says, ‘Do you want to run this?’ ‘Yeah, yeah let’s run this.’ So, he starts the scene and he does his lines, and instead of being involved in the scene, I’m just watching him, like a fan. He finishes his lines and I’m staring at him, but I have a line right there. He’s staring at me, and he goes, ‘Don’t you have a line right there?’ I go, ‘I’m sorry! Line, please!’ I forgot the line completely, because the whole time I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, that’s TJ Hooker right there. I can’t believe I’m working with the Priceline spokesman.’ And he’s Canadian and I’m Canadian, so we were both geeking out about being Canadians.” –Pam Grady
The Indian Detective is currently streaming on Netflix.