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Kevin G from 'Mean Girls' Wrote a Memoir About Hollywood and Traveling the World

In an excerpt from his new memoir, "Elephants in My Backyard," Rajiv Surendra discusses going on a journey of self-discovery, starting when he met Lindsay Lohan.
November 6, 2016, 11:38am
Screenshot of Mean Girls

DAMN, JESUS CHRIST had a great body—I thought, as his smooth, naked torso appeared on the giant screen in front of me, lighting up the small dark room with his illuminated flesh. The beginnings of a six-pack were clearly visible, his upper abs following the curves of his rib cage, defined just enough to bring you to the conclusion that this guy knew how to eat well—fish mostly, in all probability. His obliques provided the Adonis belt, aka "sex lines," that led one's eyes downward toward the slightest hint of a happy trail. With his arms raised, his lack of armpit hair gave way to an unobstructed view of his thick lat muscles, which extended to a girth that placed him in the category of an athletic physique (defined by the clothing industry as a man whose chest measures eight inches or more than his waist). His shoulders were built just enough to entail an inward curve at their bases, where they met his biceps and triceps, which also bulged out not too much, but were long and sinewy. Don't even get me started on his chest, the epitome of what every pair of pecs should strive to become; these weren't bulging man-boobies, but taut and square at their corners, like thin but firm pillows, leading upward and outward from the perfect cleft they formed between his clavicle and the base of his sternum. Who, I wondered, might have laid their head on those pec-pillows? His legs followed the template of his torso—lean, long, and tight quads with calf muscles that were ever so slightly verging on emaciated.

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It was my first week of classes at the University of Toronto and I was majoring in art history and classics—a combination that entailed quite a bit of overlap; my courses in the classics arena dealt with ancient Rome and Greece, whose cultures formed the foundation of Western art. This particular course was called "The Image of Christ" and was full of rich, young, white girls who spent the class mostly twisting their long tresses in their fingers and sipping from Starbucks cups while the instructor babbled on about the reed and birch twigs in the painting, blah, blah, blah. She never once referred to his hard nipples.

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I was slightly surprised that my first realization of the ideal male form, and my appreciation for it, were conjured up by this Ecce Homo, but perhaps it had something to do with the fact that within a few weeks I would be ripping my shirt off as the cameras were rolling on the set of the first major motion picture that I had been cast in. My body, although much darker, paled in comparison to the one in front of me. I was ninety-six pounds of skin and bones with a visible rib cage that left little to the imagination. So far, no one involved in the movie had actually seen what was under my shirt—not the director, the casting director, or even my agent, for that matter. I had visions of being on set and ripping my shirt open, followed by the director yelling, "Cut! Oh my God, what is this, a charity commercial for starving orphans from the Third World? We can't work with that—he has the body of a ten-year-old barely surviving a famine!"

School was only a short walk away from set, as most of the scenes were filmed in the center of the city, with a few actually shot on the university campus itself. The commute from home to school, however, was long, and required two treacherous hours of a bus and subway combination.

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Certain members of the crew were highly skeptical of how Mean Girls would fare in theaters—particularly the hairstylist, a buxom blonde in her forties who I suspected rode with the Hells Angels on her days off. I was patiently sitting in the hair and makeup trailer early one morning while she pulled a dangerously hot flat iron through my curly hair, straightening it as smoke dissipated from my scalp. Fascinated to learn that she had been in the "biz" for years and had worked on some pretty big movies, I asked for her informed opinion of how she thought this movie would fare. She popped the giant bubble of gum she was blowing. "Please…" she sneered, "it's starring Lindsay Lohan, and it's called Mean Girls; it's goin' straight to DVD, babe."

My heart sank a little. I knew she was probably right; most of the small movies that my Canadian actor friends were in never saw the light of day. Still, I was over the moon to be a part of an official Paramount Pictures production, even though it was tricky juggling my first year of university with the movie's shooting schedule. Call times were often early (five AM) and I ended up missing quite a few classes to be on set. It didn't bother me—I welcomed any excuse to cut class in the name of a higher, worthier form of self-education.

Even back in elementary school, I can remember waking up lethargically and dreading leaving the house—I would much rather have stayed at home and focused on the things that I actually wanted to learn about, perfecting the flour-to-water ratio of my papier-mâché paste, strategically rearranging the carnivorous Venus fly traps and pitcher plants in my terrarium, or helping Ma prepare the ingredients for her daily Tamil cooking, scraping coconuts using a hand-cranked tool from Sri Lanka that resembled a medieval torture device. To Ma, however, who had childhood dreams of becoming a doctor but never ended up going to college, her children would only be considered fully educated if they had impressive degrees to hang on the living room wall. It's not that I found school difficult or that I was opposed to reading… I loved to read, just not what I was forced to read. Throughout high school, textbooks for geography, history, and French were regularly set aside for books like Ornamental Pen Designs and Flourishes, Setting Up Your Chicken Coop, and The Art of Water-Gilding: A Practical Manual.

Photos courtesy of Regan Arts

I tried my best to read my biology textbook in between takes on set, even though it was excruciatingly tough to focus on mitochondria while Regina George and the Plastics were flailing their arms and hopping around in red vinyl skirts on the stage in front of me.

Despite my previous flibbertigibbet approach to school, I was bound and determined to change my ways and excel academically—a goal that was perhaps fueled by the astronomical costs of my tuition. But fate had something else in store for me that year. And it all started at the snack table on the set of Mean Girls.

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Three of us were standing side by side, each preparing our own bagels—the cameraman, Lindsay Lohan, and me. The cameraman had his bagel in the toaster while Lindsay and I waited for our turns. Lindsay was ripping the insides out of her sliced bagel. I stood watching for a few moments before I could contain myself no longer, asking out of pure bewilderment, "What are you doing?"

"It's less bagel…" she explained casually.

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"Why don't you just…" I thought out loud, "eat half the bagel?" She stopped only for a moment and stared down at the crumpled shell she was holding. "Whatever…" she muttered, continuing where she had left off.

Silence ensued and then the cameraman, in his fifties and wearing a khaki vest with too many pockets, turned to me as I put my bagel in the toaster.

"Humph," he puffed, eyeing me with a sly smile, "… you're in the book I just finished." I hadn't spent much time with him and didn't quite know what to make of his declaration.

"Huh?" I responded. "Have you read Life of Pi?" he asked. I knew of the book—its cover had become a repeated sight on the subway during my long commute downtown every day, but I had no idea of what the book was actually about.

"No, not yet," I answered.

"You've gotta read it, bud. It's a book about you," he said matter-of- factly as he headed off, biting into his bagel.

Later that day, I was nodding off as I desperately struggled to get through the week's assigned readings for school. Defeated, I put down my biology textbook during our lunch break and walked to the Manulife Centre at the corner of Bloor and Bay—the shopping complex that housed a cinema, a food court, and a three-story bookstore. Bustling office workers scurried around me as I pulled open the heavy glass door and headed to the second floor, where I found the fiction section and began scanning the books penned by authors with the last name starting with M. There it was, Yann Martel's Life of Pi. The carpet under my shoes was soft and cushiony as my index finger pressed the top of the book, tipping it on its corner and wedging it free from the others. I surveyed the cover—a whimsical drawing of a tiger's face above blue waves with fish jumping out of the water. A tattooed 40-something guy wearing a polyester blue vest rang me up and I put the book in my worn leather satchel, heading back to the set.

I spent the next two days reading the book on all my breaks, in between scenes and during camera setups. Occasionally the camera man would pass by and ask excitedly, "What do you think?" My steadfast response was always that I wasn't finished yet, and that he'd be the first to know, then I'd dive right back into reading.

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How exactly did he know that this book was about me, that I was in this story?

The book is about Pi, a 16-year-old son of a zookeeper who leaves India with his family, headed for Canada. The family sells all their animals to North American zoos and is traveling in a cargo ship with their menagerie when disaster strikes, and the ship sinks. Pi ends up on a life raft in the middle of the ocean, along with a hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger. The bulk of the story is Pi's saga of crossing the Pacific as a castaway, and surviving, with the tiger in tow, the whole way.

What drew me into the book was the description of the main character early on—a young Indian boy named Pi. He was Tamil and grew up in the South Indian town of Pondicherry, one of the few places in India colonized by the French. I was also Tamil, with parents who were from Sri Lanka (Ceylon being its former name, before the British gave it independence—it's the name that my parents, aunts, and uncles still use), and I grew up with mandatory French classes through elementary and high school. Note: For those of you who are wondering what Tamil means, I should probably clarify; Tamil is both a language and an ethnicity. The Tamil people are a type of Indian (not the Pocahontas kind, that's North American… duh) native to both South India and Sri Lanka.

Pi was fascinated with religion and took to practicing multiple faiths as a child.

He grew up as the son of a zookeeper, and the family lived in the zoo itself. The sights and sounds of all kinds of wild and exotic animals were commonplace to him, just as they were to me. Here was another boy with elephants in his backyard.

Pi leaves India and ends up in Toronto, more specifically, the suburb of Scarborough, where we lived. He becomes a student at the University of Toronto and belongs to St. Michael's College—where I happened to be enrolled. Pi was five foot five, thin-framed, with a coffee-colored complexion. Need I say more? This was bat-shit crazy.

Lights and cameras were being set up in the gymnasium of the abandoned high school that we were using as our set and I was sitting alone in an empty storage room when I reached the last page of the book. As if on cue, the cameraman's head appeared from around the corner. "Are you done?" he asked quietly. I nodded. "What did you think?" his voice was almost a whisper. I was at a loss for words. I recall a simple shrug. I don't think I knew what to think at the time—the book, in some creepy strange way, was a story about a guy just like me, who embarks on an unintentional journey that magnifies every element of who he was, and puts those qualities to the test through the struggle of survival. What was I supposed to make of this?

From The Elephants In My Backyard, A Memoir (Regan Arts) © 2016 by Rajiv Surendra.