September 14, 2020
While 2020 hasn’t been the kindest to most, it is certainly Utkarsh Ambudkar’s year. You may remember him as Mindy Kaling's troubled brother Rishi in The Mindy Project, or rapping and beatboxing in Pitch Perfect (2012), but the 36-year-old actor and rapper is rising to fame once again.
At the Academy Awards in February, he performed a rapid-fire freestyle recapping the show. The documentary We Are Freestyle Love Supreme — about the rapping improv group Lin-Manual Miranda had co-founded in 2004 (which counted Ambudkar as a member) and its culminating Broadway run — released on Hulu on July 17. And just last week, rom-com The Broken Hearts Gallery – where Ambudkar plays a Hugh Grant-esque bad boy — opened at select theaters. After years of him gaining notice in New York’s theater scene, it looks like Ambudkar’s time in the international spotlight has — finally — arrived.
The son of two research scientists at the National Institute of Health, Ambudkar has often said that he did not inherit any of his parents’ technical acumen. Yet, as one watches him freestyle, one can’t help but think of how his methodical approach to comedy seems experimental.
“I suppose there is a lot of acting and music that is indeed scientific,” Ambudkar wrote me, as we exchanged messages about his journey in Hollywood. “We put words together like atoms to build sentences like molecules and….I can’t take this analogy any further because I don’t remember what’s next… Cells?”
In We Are Freestyle Love Supreme, an audience member asks Ambudkar to spin a verse using the word “vibrator.” He takes the opportunity not to make a sex joke, but to tell the story of seeing the group perform, years before.