Pictured (L-R) Utkarsh Ambudkar as Jay, Devan Chandler Long as Thorfinn, Danielle Pinnock as Alberta and Rose McIver as Samantha in Ghosts
Utkarsh Ambudkar as Jay and Rose McIver as Samantha
Utkarsh Ambudkar Goes with the Flow
From rapping with Lin-Manuel Miranda to sharing a house with spirits on the CBS comedy Ghosts, Utkarsh Ambudkar has built a multifaceted career.
Utkarsh Ambudkar is everywhere these days. You probably know him as Jay on CBS's Ghosts or as Devi's teacher, Mr. K., on Netflix's Never Have I Ever. Maybe you recognize his voice from the animated Disney Junior series Mira, Royal Detective or as part of Lin-Manuel Miranda's long-running hip-hop troupe, Freestyle Love Supreme. His ubiquity is no accident — he's built himself a sustainable, multifaceted career.
"I started doing theater at Wootton High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and discovered a community that I really love," he says. "I deeply respect the craft of acting, but I'm a people person. The thing that drew me to acting in the first place was never the craft — it was the community, the feeling of camaraderie."
Ambudkar studied Shakespeare and Chekhov at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts by day and did open mics at night. "About halfway through college I started taking freestyle rap really seriously. I was rapping at clubs and doing rap battles. I got my first off-Broadway show, History of the Word, which was coproduced by a man named Orin Wolf. I was like twenty years old."
Wolf introduced Ambudkar to a pre-Hamilton Miranda, Tommy Kail, Christopher Jackson and their Freestyle Love Supreme. "Lin and I were like two puppies from the same litter. I've been growing up in that collective and have been their little brother for all intents and purposes ever since."
While touring with his new band of brothers, Ambudkar landed a role as a beatboxer in the 2012 film Pitch Perfect. Mindy Kaling saw Pitch Perfect and offered him the role of her brother on The Mindy Project. "Through a series of fortunate events, I branched out from there."
The roles keep coming — including a dramatic turn in Hulu's miniseries The Dropout — and he fits jobs in wherever he can. He's eager to get back into a recording studio soon, too, but working with Rose McIver and the ensemble of Ghosts is his priority. "It's really special in the age of streaming that a show most people wrote off as an afterthought, on CBS, has become universally loved."
Ambudkar credits much of his recent success to getting sober seven years ago. "I got out of my own way. My friends stuck with me and supported me in my growth and recovery, and now here we are. Working hard and enjoying life."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #5, 2022, under the title, "Now You See Me."