Kumail Nanjiani On ‘The Big Sick’ And Why It’s Possible We May Be Living In Hell

Senior Entertainment Writer
06.21.17

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The Big Sick is just one of those movies that’s hard not to root for. The Sundance darling (written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, based on their real life experiences) isn’t the easiest sell – even though it should be. It’s one of the funniest films of the year and filled with characters you just find yourself wanting to hang out with. Well, I guess that is the sales line: It’s hilarious and you will like all the characters.

Which maybe is a little less complicated then, “A Muslim man, who is supposed to be involved in a prearranged marriage, falls in love with a white woman and then she (played by Zoe Kazan in the film) falls into a coma.” Okay, yes, that sounds a little more serious. And this is what actually happened between Nanjiani and Gordon. But, somehow, amidst all that, there’s one of the funniest, most human films of the year. (I know what you’re thinking, “I will get all that from Transformers, which has a similar plot. You just have to trust me that there are some subtle differences.)

On Tuesday, I met with Nanjiani in an almost comically large hotel conference room for just two people. It seemed apparent that it’s dawning on Nanjiani that after six months of film festival accolades, The Big Sick is just about to finally be available for actual human consumption.

Ahead, Nanjiani is trying his best to convince you that this movie is hilarious (he is correct) with characters you will love (he is correct) – and give us his theory that there’s a possibility we might all be living in Hell right now (he may be correct).

You’ve been on a six-month press tour for this movie.

Yeah, it’s been pretty intense. Well, right out of Sundance we finished up Silicon Valley, so I had like a month of Silicon Valley left. And then since then, this is the most intense it’s been, and we’re not even halfway through this chunk of it.

But it’s nice when it’s a movie that you’re deeply involved in like this, right?

It is. Oh my God. I won’t name anything else, but it’s nice to do it for something you can actually be passionate about, yeah.

Back at Sundance I heard a couple people say they thought the story was unrealistic, until they realized it was true.

Even if they didn’t know it was a true story – it’s so specific that I would like to think that people would be like, it’s such a strange story, it’s like who would come up with this? It feels like such a strange thing to concoct. And we talked a lot about if we were going to say “true story” in the beginning. And then, ultimately, the decisions weren’t up to us. But it was interesting talking about and it was interesting when we would test with the audiences: people who knew if it was a true story and people who didn’t know it was a true story.

Did they both like it equally?

Ultimately, they both did like it equally. But what was interesting was so many people would watch it and not know it was a true story until right at the end. And they were kind of shocked that it was a true story because we had the pictures at the end.

Did you like that way better?

I do. That’s my favorite —

It’s a fun twist.

I feel like now, it’s sort of so much part of the marketing that everyone will know, but I think that’s the ideal thing. Ideally, the best way to see it was Sundance, where nobody knew what the movie was, they knew it was Judd Apatow so they assumed it was a comedy. But I remember people being like, “I had no idea it would be this emotional.” It was great to be in a room of a thousand people, all slowly figuring out what the movie was. I love that.

I was at that premiere. It really was amazing.

Oh, were you? I watched Brigsby Bear like that. And I was like, What is this movie about? Same thing. It’s so great. It’s such an earnest, sincere movie, because that’s sort of not what Kyle Mooney’s comedy is.

At Sundance I spoke to Mark Hamill for that movie.

Was he cool? I bet he was great.

He was really great. Though The Last Jedi will be bittersweet because of Carrie Fisher…

Yeah, what a bummer.

There are few celebrity deaths that really get to me, and that was one.

For Emily, Prince was really, really tough.

I hate this timeline we’re in. I don’t know how I got in this one.

It’s the worst one. There’s no worse one.

I need to get back to the correct one. I don’t like being in this one.

I feel like maybe what happened is that the Ebola scare really happened and we all died, and now we’re in Hell. Because the timeline kind of works out.

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