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'Mean Girls' Actor Says He Left Hollywood After Film Rejection Left Him Feeling 'Dead Inside'

Rajiv Surendra, known for his scene-stealing turn as Kevin in 'Mean Girls,' says losing out on the main role in 'Life Of Pi' felt 'like someone had died.'

Rajiv Surendra in "Mean Girls"
Paramount Pictures

Mean Girls actor Rajiv Surendra told GQ magazine that his absence from Hollywood after his scene-stealing turn as Kevin Gnapoor in the 2004 teen comedy film was due to the industry making him feel "dead inside."

Nowadays, he is better known for making DIY tutorials on the HGTV Handmade YouTube channel, demonstrating his expertise and passion for traditional arts and crafts, including calligraphy, bookbinding, and painting.

But it wasn't the path he saw for himself when acting.

After the success of Mean Girls, the Canadian former actor, whose parents emigrated from Sri Lanka, got his hopes up in trying to land the leading role in the 2012 movie adaptation of Life of Pi.

But when the role inevitably went to Indian actor Suraj Sharma, Surendra was devastated.

He said of his rejection:

"I felt dead inside for a long time."

Surendra first read Life of Pi during his time on the set of Mean Girls and related to the character Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel, who like Surendra had also grown up near the Toronto Zoo.

Determined to play the role of Pi, Surendra said he dropped out of university and traveled to Pondicherry, India to learn the character's specific dialect.

He said:

"I did that for a few months and came back and was just waiting for them to start production."

But it was all for naught.

He met with the casting director but wasn't selected for the role he had pinned all his hopes on due to some shuffling of directors attached to the project.

"I assumed that it was going to happen any day now and it didn't. They lost their director and the project ended up getting put on hold so I went back to college."

He continued:

"Life of Pi was attached to four different directors over the years 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."
"I worked really really hard to try to get this part. In the end, they gave it to somebody else."

Surendra chronicled his devastating experience in his memoir The Elephants in My Backyard which earned him a nomination for the Canadian literary award Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in 2017.

He continued explaining to GQ the rejection "felt like someone had died."

"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."
"When I got the email saying I 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."

Moving on from acting was a difficult challenge.

He eventually landed a job working at a bank where his mother and sister worked but said that seeing the people working in cubicles under the fluorescent lights "wasn't for me."

"I can’t do this. I’d rather not be here on earth."
"In that period of feeling dead inside and knowing I couldn’t work in an office, I peripherally heard about this thing called being an Au Pair, where a young person would be hired as a nanny for kids in Europe."
"I thought maybe this would be the one thing that would excite me. I also just wanted to leave my life. It felt like a way to escape and to be paid. I applied on a website and I got it, so I moved to Munich."

He said he enjoyed living in a different city and getting to know the family he was assigned to work with.

"I just kept reminding myself how outlandish this whole thing was, having a college degree and this expectation from my family that I should go and get a real job and dispelling and rejecting all of that and going to Europe and working for a family doing their laundry."
"[But] it was the thing that brought me back to life."

Surendra had to return to Toronto to renew his work visa but knew he didn't want to stay.

And even though he wanted to return to Europe, he knew with absolute certainty he did not want to be an au pair again.

"I thought I was going to go back to Europe and do something in the arts."
"While I was waiting, I decided to start a small business doing calligraphy and got some traction."

Surendra eventually founded Letters in Ink, a bespoke calligraphy and graphic design service based in Manhattan, which launched him into a different career trajectory and finding peace.

"Overall I find the ultimate question people need to ask themselves is: What do I want? And they need to come up with that answer on their own. In a very deep way."
"When you figure that out, it actually is simple to achieve it but it means you have to let go of a lot of things."
"I don't have medical insurance. People always ask, well aren't you scared? And I say, not really. It's always a trade-off."
"I know the cost that is associated with that security. I don't want that. I don't want to be miserable on a daily basis so I can have medical insurance."
"To me, it's like what’s the point? What's the point in having the security of a job, an apartment, and insurance and then everyday you come home and hate your life. So you can have three weeks off a year so you can do something fun?"

Here is a clip of Surendra in his element.

When GQ referenced Mean Girls star Linsday Lohan acting again in a new Netflix movie and asked if Surendra would consider doing a possible sequel to Mean Girls, he replied:

"I really enjoyed her new film, but no."
"Why ruin a good thing?"