Rajiv Surendra is best known for his role as rapping mathlete Kevin Gnapoor in “Mean Girls.”
But after the comedy came out in 2004, Surendra only added one more acting credit to his name — a 2005 short titled “6 ft. in 7 min” — before disappearing from Hollywood.
The reason proved to be a heartbreaking one. Surendra recently told GQ that one rejection changed the course of his acting career.
“While we were shooting ‘Mean Girls’ during my first year of college, I found out they were turning ‘The Life of Pi’ into a film. I was determined to get that part,” Surendra said in the interview published on Feb. 8. “So I dropped out of college to go to the little town in India where the book takes place so that I could do some in-depth research.”
He said he did that for a few months and waited for the people involved in the film to start production. However, the project lost its first director, was put on hold, and Surendra went back to college.
“I used college as an excuse. I’m just going to wait until they are getting ‘Life of Pi’ ready and as soon as the movie is underway, if I get the part, I’ll just drop out of school again,” he continued. “The project kept getting delayed. Three months turned into a year, which turned into four years. It was actually six years because of that year off.”
“Life of Pi” would continue to be put on hold, with a number of directors attached to the film.
“So every time a new director (came aboard), I’d go to the library and get out all the movies they had made and research that director,” Surendra said. “I worked really really hard to try to get this part. In the end, they gave it to somebody else.”
While “Mean Girls” was released in 2004, “Life of Pie” came out in theaters in 2012. Variety reported in 2010 that 3,000 young men auditioned for the main role, which eventually went to then-newcomer, 17-year-old Suraj Sharma.
“I felt like someone had died,” Surendra said of not getting the role. “Very slowly over the course of six years, I was building this boy that was a character in a book. By the end of those years, that was a real person inside of me. Those old Tamil songs I listened to as a kid, Pi would’ve listened to those songs.”
He said that when he got the email that he didn’t get the part, “I felt like that person just died instantly. It was traumatic. I think I was in shock for a couple weeks. I felt dead inside for a long time.”
Surendra would go on to move to Germany and work as an au pair for a family with two kids, ages 9 and 10. He said the experience, which lasted a year, “brought me back to life.”
“It was a good lesson for me. You have to listen to yourself and if there’s something inside telling you ‘I don’t want to do this or I can’t do this,’ then you have to figure out what you actually want to do,” he said, adding that sometimes it means not having money or a set career path.
Surendra then went on to start a calligraphy business, explore the arts with pottery making and work with HGTV on how-to videos. He recently launched his own YouTube channel where he turns the mundane “into magical moments.”
Surenda, meanwhile, still has fond memories of his time on the “Mean Girls” set, sharing with GQ how writer Tina Fey and Amy Poehler pulled him aside before his rap scene and coached him.
“They were so passionate about it," he recalled. "I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until the movie came out that I understood. They knew that that was something the audience would really like. They knew it was important that I did it a certain way.”
As for his favorite line from the comedy: “Don’t let the haters stop you from doing your thang."