During an in-depth profile for Men’s Health on how he achieved his insanely jacked body that instantly went viral, Kumail Nanjiani revealed that his path to Marvel stardom actually began almost a decade ago when he was rejected for a role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. While Nanjiani was initially “crushed,” the setback became the spark for how he was going to break into superhero films on his terms:
But later, when he saw comedy performers like Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd being converted into superheroes, he started entertaining the idea, however far-off, that he could become part of the Marvel universe as well. “It was a pipe dream,” says Nanjiani. “But I was very strategic about it.” He turned down supporting parts in other comic-book projects, worried they’d take him out of the running for his own big role. And he made it clear that he didn’t want to play some tech-loving sidekick. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to be just part of a Marvel movie; I want to be a Marvel superhero.’ ”
Clearly, Nanjiani’s dedication paid off as he landed the role of Kingo in the upcoming Marvel blockbuster The Eternals. And then the gravity of the situation hit him. “I’m playing the first South Asian superhero in a Marvel movie,” he told Men’s Health. “I don’t want to be the schlubby brown guy—I want to look like someone who can hang with Thor and Captain America.” That realization led to his now internet-famous bod, which he pursued with the blessing of director Chloé Zhao:
Nanjiani had his own ideas for just how buff Kingo should look. “I wanted Kumail to have the freedom to interpret his character, especially his physicality,” says The Eternals director Chloé Zhao. So he looked to Bollywood stars he admired, like Indian box-office eternal Hrithik Roshan, who’s played the superhero Krrish in a series of smash films. “I went to my trainer and said, ‘I want to look like this guy,’ ” says Nanjiani.
Nanjiani and his sick abs will be joined by an all star-cast featuring Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Gemma Chan, Brian Tyree Henry, Richard Madden, and Kit Harrington when The Eternals hits theaters on November 6.