Ravi Panikkar is back! After last being seen on Fox's 9-1-1 in the season five finale in May 2022, star Anirush Pisharody returns — and there have been big changes for the beloved firefighter.
Ravi has been "off at the academy being what they call a peer instructor," showrunner Kristen Reidel shared at the end of 2022. But he finally returns in season six episode 14, airing on Monday April 17, after Howard 'Chimney' Han (Kenneth Choi) is sent to the academy by Captain Bobby Nash (Peter Krause).
"Ravi's definitely had a lot of growth since we last saw him. His character is stronger," says Anirudh, HELLO!'s latest Spotlight cover star.
Born in India, Anirudh moved to the US with his parents as a child, and grew up watching James Bond films as his father studied and his mom worked. He acted in school plays as a child but then attended the University of Texas at Austin. There, he got a degree in public health before realizing that Grey's Anatomy had lied to him about the romance of being a doctor.
"I realized what I really loved was that dramatized portrayal and the acting behind the actual job— because the actual job is a lot of paperwork!" he says.
Now 28, Anirudh is known for his work on 9-1-1, Big Sky and as Des in Netflix's Never Have I Ever. HELLO! speaks to the star about taking risks, romantic notions, and learning to love fandom…
How did it feel when you got that call to say Ravi is coming back?
It was phenomenal. On a show like 9-1-1, where you're working with such a good group of people in such close contact for so many days, you develop a rapport and when you leave, it does feel like there's a part of you that's missing.
But coming back, it felt like I had never left because everyone was so welcoming and the family element is just always present — and I'll be honest, with the advent of social media we're always in contact with each other anyway.
What can you tease about Ravi's return?
Ravi's definitely had a lot of growth since we last saw him. His character is stronger; I think that is a great word for him. He has more confidence in himself — he's not the probie character that we saw in season five.
How is that going to affect the way he interacts with the 118?
He still gets to play the role of the youngest member of the family and that element is definitely there.
But with some of the dialogue, he's definitely a bit more cheeky. It's a welcome change because I hadn't gotten to play that aspect of him yet and it's a lot of fun… he's slowly encroaching on Buck's title as the cheeky one, and I don't know if Buck is happy about it.
What is one of your favorite things that you've been doing as Ravi in this latter half of the season?
There's a lot more of a physical element to the character which I appreciate and I think that's really fun.
I'll say this, as a whole, the lengths to which the show goes to create crazy disasters is something that is so cool to be ensconced within; to come to work every day and there's explosions and debris everywhere - it's really cool! To see Ravi in that, and seeing the physicality aspect being played up, that's what I was excited to get into.
Was there a character that you were particularly excited to interact with in these episodes?
Yes, Chimney! Kenneth Choi and I got to do a lot of scenes together in the latter half and that was cool because I hadn't had that many one-on-one situations with him.
I knew him and we would joke around, but I had never got to act with him so that was fun because [working with him is a] master class.
Is there something about working on 9-1-1 that would surprise fans?
So much of the stuff that we do is practical. People are ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on CGI but barring crazy explosions that are super close to us, everything else is legit on the show. We will blow up a fire truck, we will destroy buildings.
Have you been surprised by the fandom's love for Ravi?
Definitely. I was very new to all of that when I first started; I'd only been acting for a couple of years when I booked 9-1-1 so when the trailer came out introducing Ravi, and everyone started freaking out, I was like, 'What am I supposed to do with this?'
But they've been so gracious and everyone is so welcoming and loving and there's very little hate and that is so great because we all know fandoms can get very toxic. I hope I can keep giving them what they want.
Will we get more of Ravi's history this season, and do you see the backstories fans create?
We'll get slightly more information, and assuming that we go into season seven I hope it'll be more flushed out there.
I did see one thing a fan shared, about him being a cancer survivor and I'm blanking on the exact details but I was like, 'Oh, wow, you're linking dots that I don't think existed to begin with, but this is amazing!' I think it's a testament to the writing that you could make these plausible connections.
What was it about acting that you first fell in love with?
When I moved to the United States from India as a child, my dad was getting his master's degree in Virginia. My mom would be at work so he would take me with him, put me in the library and just say, 'Chill here for five hours!' And I would watch all these old Sean Connery James Bond movies — that I definitely shouldn't have been allowed to watch because there's some adult themes in there that I did not understand!
It was also a formative experience and I carried that love for movies throughout my life, yet it wasn't until I 22 that it really clicked for me.
I had this romantic notion about all these different careers, whether it's being a doctor, a CIA agent or joining the military or even being a fireman. 'I would love to have this career, this career, that career.' Then I started shadowing a general surgeon during my time at college and it was a day filled with colonoscopies and I remember thinking, 'Wow, this is not how Grey's Anatomy has made it look. This is awful.'
I realized what I really loved was that dramatized portrayal and the acting behind the actual job - because the actual job is a lot of paperwork!
You've spoken about the need for more South Asian actors as romantic leads. Have you seen a change in your six years in the industry?
I had a pretty interesting experience because I moved right on the cusp of Oscars So White and there was this big push for representation.
It's nowhere near where it should be and when I first moved I auditioned for a few of the stereotypical nerdy scientist roles, but for the most part I actually auditioned for a lot of race blind projects. I didn't book a lot of them, but the opportunity was there.
I've actually been very lucky in my career so far to not have booked projects where the race of the character is put front and center in a way that can become stereotypical. Ravi, for example, is Asian but it has no bearing on anything. That's a testament to 9-1-1, and the same with my role in Big Sky, and I've been blessed. That being said though, I have friends who are only getting those stereotypical auditions and it's annoying because it's 2023.
You have a production company with your wife Jill V. Dae, is your goal to help change this attitude?
We have a couple of projects in development right now and the hope, if they get off the ground, is to really change that outlook and mindset.
There's so many directors and producers out there who are championing projects that will make a difference and we're trying to develop a lot of them in house.
Does having a partnership with another creative help you as an actor?
It really helps because she's always my reader and she doesn't pull any punches. If I'm messing it up she's like, 'What are you doing? Get back on track.' But it's a blessing because she gets the best performance out of me.
You've had TV experiences now with Fox, ABC, Netflix, what would you say to 16-year-old Anirudh?
Don't stress too much! Actually, I take that back, I feel like I don't stress enough sometimes! What I would say is, 'Take more risks.' I've been following that ethic in the past couple of years and it's done well for me.
I guess my only regret would be that if I had done that from an earlier age, really put myself out there, maybe I would have started acting earlier. As a teenager, you want to rebel but you're also so scared of so many things and I want to say, 'Forget about the fear. Everything's going to be alright.'
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