September 22, 2011 10:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
'The Big Bang Theory': Kunal Nayyar Talks Raj's New Confidence
As CBS’ The Big Bang Theory prepares to kick off its fifth season, the lovable nerds have continued to grow, each taking steps toward overcoming their fears.
While Sheldon (Jim Parsons) has found a female counterpart in Amy (Mayim Bialik) and Howard (Simon Helberg) in Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), Kunal Nayyar’s Raj took a giant alcohol-infused step forward when he spent the night with Penny (Kaley Cuoco).
While the specific details of their drunken night together are yet to be revealed, Nayyar tells The Hollywood Reporter that Raj will be a new man in Season 5 after the initial awkwardness with Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and the gang works itself out.
“What happens that night really gives him this level of confidence,” Nayyar says. “Whether that works in his favor or doesn’t, it does give him some self belief.”
While Nayyar was mum about whether or not Raj would romantically pursue his best friend’s ex-girlfriend, he hopes Raj’s newfound confidence is just a small step forward for the character who at the end of Season 4 was still only able to speak to women with the assistance of alcohol.
“Do I hope that Raj becomes this womanizing player who can talk to women all the time? No, I hope that he continues to grow,” Nayyar says. “I really think if you take away a character’s obstacles then there’s no comedy. Comedy is really based on overcoming obstacles and if you take away that obstacle, my fear is that [Raj] would lose his funny.”
Chances are Raj’s newfound swagger won’t be too over the top, with Nayyar acknowledging that Raj will still be “using the sauce” to talk to women, even though he may not need it when Penny sets him up on a date with Emily (Switched at Birth’s Katie Leclerc) in the Oct. 6 installment.
Meanwhile, Raj will have to face other obstacles as Season 5 begins: repairing the damage done to his relationship with Leonard. “You would imagine that in any situation in real life if your best friend slept with your ex-lover, Leonard feels exactly how any human being would feel: betrayed,” he says.
“Right away the dynamic between the whole group is a little off kilter and it has this ripple effect,” Nayyar teases. “It doesn’t get completely resolved but you can tell everyone makes an effort to resolve things.”
And Raj’s sister – and Leonard’s girlfriend – Priya (Aarti Mann) could help the two get their friendship back on track after she heads back to India later in the season, leaving Leonard and Raj as the odd men out.
“Raj and Leonard will not start dating,” Nayyar laughs. “It won’t be The Big Bang Theory: The Penthouse Letters Edition.”
As for what else is in store, the cast and executive producers were very forthcoming while walking the red carpet at Sunday's Emmy Awards, with executive producer Steve Molaro telling THR that Penny's acting career "will get a little traction" and showrunner Bill Prady offering an update on Howard and Bernadette's potential nuptuals.
"What's worse for Howard: That Bernadette and his mother don't get along or that they do," Prady tells THR. "With the wedding plans afoot, we have a career opportunity for Howard that might pull him in another direction -- sort of up and off the surface of the Earth ... like 23,000 miles up."
Helberg, meanwhile, was looking forward to "more dysfunction and disaster" for Howard. "Bernadette takes a trial run living at Howard's house with him," he told THR. "He has told her that once they get married, they're going to move in there and it doesn't go well."
"It turns out that there's more similarities between Bernadette and his mother than he thought," Helberg teases. "It's two steps forward, one step back. It's never going to be smooth. He gets a promotion at work and that creates more problems. It's going to be a bumpy roaad and we'll see if he ever gets to the altar."
The Big Bang Theory’s fifth season premieres Thursday on CBS.
Check out a trailer for the premiere below.