Having blown away two English challengers for the role, the producers (CBS Paramount and Warner Bros.) flew Kalyan to Hollywood for a final look and polish. A year later, he reported for work on "Aliens in America" in Vancouver, along with U.S. citizens Dan Byrd, Amy Pietz, Lindsey Shaw and Scott Patterson.
"I was desperate to be involved with the show because it has a great sense of humor and sincerity," explained Kalyan, "and given the political climate in this country and in the Middle East since Sept. 11 - which I see as a crime against humanity and Islam - I wanted to make sure we did everything right."
Bright and unpretentious - and currently working on a degree in international politics - Kalyan feels he brings a unique perspective to the series' gentle probes of mankind, regardless of personal philosophies, religious beliefs, cultural practices and ethnic backgrounds.
"In terms of my upbringing, I was fortunate enough to be part of the first group of teenagers to experience post-apartheid South Africa," he observed.
"And my high school (Durban's Crawford College), which I was fortunate to attend on a full scholarship, epitomized the idea of a cultural melting pot," he continued. "Lots of my close friends there were Muslims and I was able to gain insights to their customs and practices, none of it foreign or daunting to me in the least. And I do feel a responsibility to the Muslim community in terms of portraying my character as truthful and accurate as possible."
The young actor and his university-student sister, Kirthi, learned their work ethic - whether they liked it or not - from their self-motivated parents while still in the cradle.
"It's wonderful to have my parents - both incredibly ambitious, intelligent and loving - as role models," he said, with deep affection.
"My father, Jiten Kalyan, worked his way up the corporate ladder from a shift worker to a top director for an international paint and resin firm," he explained. "My mother, Sandy Kalyan, is currently serving her second five-year term as a member of Parliament in South Africa as a senior whip in the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. My mother has gone from career to career, always shifting up to the next level. Until she became a politician, she was a psychologist in private practice."
Kalyan's parents enrolled him in a speech and drama class at the age of 4 ("I'm not sure if they did it because they wanted some quiet time on Saturday mornings or if they felt slightly inspired"), and it worked. While he took out his aggressions, joys and sorrows in acting classes during the next decade, his mum and dad slept soundly on weekends.
"I started acting out everything I saw on television, playing cops, doctors, lawyers, Wimbledon winners and so on," he recalled. "By the time I was 10, I realized that acting was about the only thing I could do for a living some day. And my parents were extremely supportive. Acting really didn't mean anything in the South African Indian community - any person of intelligence was expected to choose such professions as engineering, medicine or law. Of course."
But the impish Kalyan fooled them all, making his professional debut in the title role in "Freddie the Frog's Christmas Bash" - a children's theater production at Durban's Botanic Gardens. A major break as a young adult was portraying Fagin in a production of "Oliver!" in 2004. He had been accepted earlier at London's prestigious Central School of Speech & Drama, but the poor exchange rate between the rand and the pound sterling made the tuition and living costs prohibitive.
So the totally unattached bachelor ("no women, no children, no pets") went off to England to forage for master acting classes and hard work. And he found the latter, though in Ireland and the United States.
"What pleases me most about the whole thing is my American 0-1 visa is the one usually issued to artists, including actors and singers," he said, laughing. "It states in print that it was issued to me as 'an alien of extraordinary ability.' Finally, someone was truthful."