Anupam Kher’s 35-year career encompasses Bollywood stardom, a best-selling self-help book, an acclaimed acting school, appearances in innumerable plays and TV shows and over 13 million followers on Twitter.
But the native of Shimla, India had never acted on an American television series.
That all changed with Kher’s role as the compassionate, emotionally uptight Dr. Vijay Kapoor on “New Amsterdam,” NBC’s freshman hospital drama and the network’s only new series renewed for next season (so far).
“I needed a shift in my life,” says Kher, 63, who’s starring in the upcoming big-screen movie “Hotel Mumbai.” “What started happening in the last three-to-four years … they started calling me ‘veteran,’ ‘legend,’ ‘thespian’ — very complimentary terms but also very frightening because that was also saying, ‘He’s done enough work. It’s time for him to retire.’ I was being considered for Lifetime Achievement awards.
“But in my own body I felt I had just started,” he says. “I felt … I have achieved this great distinction but it was also a frightening sign that I needed to do something completely different.
“So I cut down on my work in India … and the [‘New Amsterdam’ creators] came up to me and I loved the script and I said, ‘Not only do I need to reinvent myself as an actor, but also as a person.’ Success wasn’t pushing me because I don’t have the fear of failure there. I believe that when you’re confident you can rarely be brilliant — confidence gives you a sense of relaxation.”
It’s been a rollercoaster ride this season on “New Amsterdam” for Dr. Kapoor, whose reunion with his estranged son Rohan (Vandit Bhatt), a recovering addict, hasn’t gone well — nor has his “will they or won’t they?” romance with New Amsterdam cafe barista Ella (Dierdre Friel), who’s now dating Rohan. (It’s awkward.)
“I think [Dr. Kapoor] is a person who’s lived his life and does not wear tragedy on his shoulder,” says Kher. “He doesn’t deal in self-pity. Dr. Kapoor does not like to communicate what he feels. I like to say that [Kapoor] is sad inside and moving on with his life.”
Kher’s insights into the human condition were printed in his 2011 book, “The Best Thing About You Is You,” which stemmed from his one-man show “Anything Is Possible,” which he’s performed worldwide over 500 times. “It’s me laughing at my life. That play became the biggest hit of my life,” he says. “It’s based on my failures [including a failed business venture that put him on the verge of bankruptcy] and it took away my fear of failure. When you tell people, ‘This is what went wrong with my life,’ then they have nothing to frighten you with. I started getting calls for motivational lectures from Oxford, Cambridge, all the top educational institutes. I just gave a lecture at MIT.”
Kher balances that role with his work on “New Amsterdam,” which is shot in New York City. (His wife is actress Kirron Kher, who was elected to the lower house of Indian Parliament in 2014). When “New Amsterdam” went from a pilot to a series, Kher was asked to write a one-page back story for Dr. Kapoor. “I sent them 16 pages,” he says. “Where he was born, how he was at his studies, how he got invested in medicine, what made him come to America, what his first job was.
“I met a very famous cardiologist at Mount Sinai [Hospital], Dr. Samin Sharma, and I picked up some things from his life,” he says. “So I know Dr. Kapoor very well — and once you know that person, then you have to be that person.
“As somebody put it very nicely, when you see other [network] medical dramas you dread going to a hospital,” he says. “When you see ‘New Amsterdam’ you feel it’s OK — that there will be some niceness, some human angle, some compassion.”