Schitt's Creek actor Rizwan Manji is reflecting on the mixed reactions spurred by his recurring character Ray Butani.
Although the series cultivated a devoted fan base over its Emmy-winning six-season run that included critical praise for its depiction of LGBTQ+ roles, some social media users had criticized the jack-of-all-trades character as potentially perpetuating stereotypes of Indian men. In particular, some viewers took issue with the fact that Ray has an accent but that the actor, who was born in Toronto to Indian parents, does not typically speak with one.
In an interview with the Toronto Star published on Tuesday, Dec. 29, Rizwan explained that producers did not ask him to use an accent, but that it made sense to him for Ray.
"It is a very slight Indian accent—somebody who was probably raised in Canada, but probably was born in India or Pakistan," the 46-year-old The Magicians alum said. "I don't regret that because I think it actually works for Ray. He wasn't like everybody else in that town. He was from somewhere else."
The actor explained that he tries to avoid taking roles that feel particularly rooted in stereotype, or ones in which an accent is a defining characteristic. In the case of Ray, Rizwan said he doesn't see the accent as problematic but does wish that the character would have been given a more fleshed-out backstory, including a relationship or family.
"If you want to criticize something, do that," he said. "We need to have three-dimensional characters."
Prior to landing the Schitt's Creek role, one of his most prominent recent gigs was a lead on the NBC sitcom Outsourced, which was canceled in May 2011 after a single season. The Canadian actor explained that because he was offered the role of Ray without needing to audition, he assumed that producers, including co-creator and star Dan Levy, would want a toned-down version of how he sounded on Outsourced.
Rizwan touched base with Dan following the first Schitt's Creek table read to make sure they were all on the same page. "Afterwards, I went up to Dan and said, 'Hey just want to check in,'" the Charlie Wilson's War performer recalled. "He said, 'I love what you did. It was funny.' That ended up being the character for six years."
In a statement released to the Star, Dan praised the "thoughtful choices" that Rizwan made in bringing his character to life.
"No accent was called for in the casting or specified in the scripts," Dan said in the statement. "All characters on our show were created with love, respect and humanity. It has been gratifying to have these intentions reflected through the overwhelming audience support for these characters. That said, I welcome any perspectives that encourage conversations about diversity, especially in entertainment."
In response to the article, Rizwan tweeted on Dec. 29, "I loved playing Ray on @SchittsCreek! The accent question has been ever present in my career!" He added that it "is hard to hear criticism" but that he is "always open to this dialogue."