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Q&A with "Sanjay and Craig" Maulik Pancholy

Maulik Pancholy, the voice of Sanjay, from the

Maulik Pancholy, the voice of Sanjay, from the new animated Nickelodeon show "Sanjay and Craig,' with Kidsday reporters (l) Rahman Rattoo, James Butler, Hayley Biesaidecki and Alyssa Koza, all from Ronkonkoma and Gatelot School at the Nutmeg Studios in Manhattan. (May 22, 2013) Credit: Newsday Pat Mullooly

We interviewed actor Maulik Pancholy, who stars as the voice of Sanjay on our new favorite Nickelodeon show, "Sanjay and Craig." We watched him do his voice-over work before we talked with him.

What is your favorite movie or show you starred in?

I just finished doing a show called "30 Rock" that was on the air for, like, seven years. That was a lot of fun. I would rank that as one of my more favorite experiences. It was a pretty special show to be part of.

I look up to my parents a lot. They're super supportive, and they've always kind of pushed me to do what I wanted to do and encouraged me to be an actor. I respect them for that -- my mom in particular.

My mom grew up in India, and she was the first person in her town to decide she wanted to come to America and go to school, and so, when she left for America, like, 400 people came to the airport to see her off because nobody had ever done that before her from the city she lived in. So she kind of encouraged me to be a trailblazer and do something different.

Is it fun being to be an animated voice?

Yeah, it's super fun. You guys got to see some of it, right? Does it look fun to you? Yeah. We got into the booth and we had a microphone there and we kind of screamed our heads off and get to do all these crazy make-believe things.

In the episode you guys saw, we were floating around in outer space on these giant dust particles, and so it's super fun to play like that.

We got to go see butt transplants, which you don't get to do very often in real life. So it's fun to get to do that in a cartoon.

What is your favorite thing being on "Sanjay and Craig"?

I love working with Chris Hardwick, who plays Craig. He's so funny. I feel like we've got a great energy together. So it makes doing the show really fun.

Do you actually work with the co-stars or do you record separately? And if you do, who is your favorite to work with?

We do a little bit of both when Chris and I are in the same city, because he lives in Atlanta and I live in New York, and he also like travels the whole world doing standup comedy.

So when we're in the same city, we often do it together, which is really, really nice, because we can get to hear the other actor's saying the line, and get to play off of him. Sort of get a better sense of what the scene is, but we also, like today, what you guys saw today, [it] was just me and the producers on the other line. So we often do that way, too.

Do you wish you had a hat like Craig?

Totally! Are you kidding me? Of course, first of all, he's, like, the perfect best friend, and then, second of all, no one else knows that he has these powers, except that he can talk and do things, stretch himself, like, two miles long and swallow whole animals and no one else knows that except me, and Megan and Hector are in on it too, but it's kind of like having the most amazing best friend in the world and get him all to yourself.

Are you anything like Sanjay?

Yeah, I think so. He's 12, so I'm a little bit older than that, like, a little bit. But I could relate to what it was like when I was 12. He's kind of like any other 12-year-old boy. He's into gross stuff, like farts and then vomiting, but he's also really sweet and he's got this very innocent wonderful side about him and he's got his best friend. He's kind of insecure around the girl he has a crush on, so I can totally relate to all that stuff around Sanjay.

Do you like snakes in real life?

Now I do. I don't know if I did so much before we started doing this cartoon. Now that I know how wonderful they are and all the cool things that they can do, I totally do. I feel after people watch the cartoon, they're going to come to love snakes.

What advice would you give future actors or actresses?

I'd say if this is what you want to do, you should go for it, and it's not a super-easy career. There's a lot of competition and it's hard to get jobs, and sometimes a lot of actors have to do other jobs to support themselves to make money. But if you love it, it's pretty awesome, and every now and then you get to do cool things like a cartoon like "Sanjay and Craig," and it makes it all worth it.

What's the best part of being a celebrity?

I love doing what we do. I just love being an actor, and I love getting to play different characters and doing silly voices and doing all the kind of fun stuff I get to do on this cartoon, but it's also fun to do stuff like this and get to meet new reporters and do interviews and answer people's questions. So this is like a nice little perk of being a celebrity, I guess.

Is it hard to play a kid when you're an adult?

Every now and then my voice is a little bit higher on the cartoon then it is now, because I'm a man now and Sanjay's a boy. It's not super hard because I kind of remember what it was like being a kid. I've got some kids in my family, I have two nephews, they're, like, 7 years old and I'm around them a lot. So I have access to what it's like to be a kid.

Have you ever worked on a show like "Sanjay and Craig" before?

I haven't worked on a show specifically like this, but I do another cartoon. I do a Disney Channel cartoon called "Phineas and Ferb," which I've done for a couple of years now. So I know the animated world a little bit.

Are your mom and dad in real life anything like Sanjay and Craig's parents?

They're not. Sanjay's parents are, his mom's American, his dad is Indian, and both of my parents are Indian, so that's pretty different. I will say, Sanjay's mom is a doctor on the show and my dad's a doctor in real life.

Is Sanjay's mom a ninja?

I don't know about that. Well, she's very athletic, I'll say that. She's surprisingly athletic for a mom, and she's surprisingly, like, into a lot of the gross stuff that Sanjay's into, which is I think kind of unusual for a mom, too. So that's kind of cool. So they have a very special friendship. Sanjay and his mom.

What do you think is the funniest scene on "Sanjay and Craig"?

That's a good question. We've filmed like 20 episodes so far and so there are some really, really funny ones. I think the first one is super funny when we go in to see the world's first butt transplant, which we already talked about. And I get to say, "Bring out the butt" and the butt comes out and that's a pretty funny scene.

We have an episode coming up where there's a town pageant and Megan's in the talent pageant, but she can't make it so Craig jumps onstage and pretends to be Megan and he likes it so much that he wants to be Megan in all her pageants and we have to have this big showdown between Megan and Craig and as part of it we get to sing a big song trying to convince Craig to not be Megan. I think that's going to be a real funny one, too.

If you could be any other character on the show, which character would you be?

That's a good question. One of the other characters I think is really fun is Hector, kind of our best friend. This guy named Matt Jones plays Hector and Matt Jones is so funny. He's got this real interesting voice and he's very surprising.

Sometimes you'll see the line written on the page and you'll think it's down a certain way and then Matt will come in and it sounds completely different and it's really funny and they've created a really strange world for Hector. We get to meet his whole family in an episode and they're pretty bizarre. So I think it would be fun to live in Hector's world for a little while.

Is it hard to change your voice?

It's interesting. I feel like with Sanjay there's a little bit of trying to figure out who he was for me in the beginning. I feel like when we started out, he does these sort of high-pitched screams a lot and he can get a little squeaky every now and then and so there's a little bit of figuring out like where he lives and like my register and how screamy he's going to be and all that kind of stuff. So that was a little, I wouldn't say hard, it was just like a challenge.

But now I feel like we're kind of tapped into who he is and so I feel the bigger challenge isn't really about changing my voice, but like making the moments happen and telling the story. Like unlike acting where you're on television you guys see the animation, but what I'm trying to do is create the whole story with my voice. So it's challenging to do that.

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