Utkarsh Ambudkar Is Back Killing It In CBS’s Ghosts: A BUST Interview

by Lisa Butterworth

Utkarsh Ambudkar’s nails are painted a deep, metallic purple. We’re chatting by phone, but I know this because it’s the morning after he presented at the Tony Awards (before SAG-AFTRA joined the WGA strike), and I’ve scoured his natty red-carpet pics as “research.” His nails are actually always on point—a different color at every public appearance. “I have no choice in that. That’s my daughter getting better at doing French tips. That’s why if you look, my nails are half done—the paint is chipping off, not like a real manicure,” he says, before scrambling. “Please don’t actually write that, she’ll kill me—or write that I acknowledged that she’ll kill me. It’s sort of become our little daddy-daughter activity, where I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m going away, and I want to bring you with me.’ So, she comes with me on my hands.” My heart is melting from all the DILF vibes.

In fact, Ambudkar, whose wife just had their third baby, is all kinds of sexy—nerdy-sexy in The Dropout and Pitch Perfect movies, stoner-sexy as Jillian Bell’s boo in Brittany Runs a Marathon, self-declared sexy as Kamala’s boyfriend in Never Have I Ever. And most recently, he’s been serving goofy-sexy in Ghosts, the CBS comedy that starts its third season this fall. People magazine crowned Chris Evans the “Sexiest Man Alive” last year, but gave Ambudkar an honorable mention, something he assures me did little for his ego. “First of all, they chose a photo of me that was ridiculous,” he says. “So, it’s a good thing when you’re chosen to be People’s…whatever…Sexiest 38-Year-Old Man. But when all your friends and your mom call up and they’re like, ‘Dang, dude! You look like an idiot!’ That keeps you humble.”

Humble is a good way to describe Ambudkar, who “grew up going to bar mitzvahs and listening to rap” in a suburb of Baltimore, where his parents immigrated from India in the ’80s. He recently paid homage to his love of hip-hop by writing and executive producing the charming, coming-of-age film World’s Best, about a middle schooler mathlete who finds out his deceased dad (played by Ambudkar) was a freestyle rapper. But it’s all his roles in recent girl-culture touchstones that make me ask if he’s a feminist. “Absolutely,” he says, before praising the many women he’s gotten to work with and digging into the industry’s inequity. “A woman’s experience in Hollywood is way, way different than a man’s, even a man of color. I’ve been in rooms where my co-star, who’s number one on the call sheet, will go to the producers and be like, ‘Hey, can we change this?’ Or, ‘I’m not feeling safe here.’ And I watch male showrunners brush them off. Then [my co-star] will come to me and ask, ‘Can you say something?’ And I will go say something, and it’ll change. It’s that stark,” he says. “We have to break it down.”

Ambudkar faced his own disillusionment after graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2004 when the only roles available were “terrorists and cab drivers wearing hijabs.” That’s part of what makes the major success of Ghosts—one of network TV’s most-watched shows—even more monumental. “I did a lot of looking up, wondering what if for many, many years,” he confides. “And then one day I was in Times Square and saw my face on a billboard. I was like, ‘Holy shit, that’s pretty cool. There’s a brown boy on a billboard.’”

Photographed By Nalani Hernandez-Melo

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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