Kumail Nanjiani Interview: ‘The Big Sick’
“You’re revisiting parts of your life that are very traumatic and very difficult, so you’re kind of having to relive and really think about the worst moments of your life,” says Kumail Nanjiani about the romantic comedy “The Big Sick,” which is inspired by the true story of Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, who fell in love before Gordon fell ill and was put into a medically induced coma. Nanjiani stars in the film and also co-wrote the screenplay with Gordon, so “you kind of have to excavate yourself.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Nanjiani above about the film co-starring Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano.
But despite the weighty subject matter, “We knew from the beginning that we wanted the movie to be a comedy,” Nanjiani explains, “and from the beginning we knew that was going to be one of the big challenges: how to take something that wasn’t funny to live through and make it a funny movie.” So the film had to walk the fine line of injecting humor while also respecting the emotional reality of the crisis at hand. But that also turned out to be a “therapeutic” experience as it forced Nanjiani to process emotions he hadn’t fully dealt with: “I hadn’t really done that until we wrote this movie. The process of that started as we were writing the movie and it didn’t end until we were done editing.”
But it paid off. “The Big Sick” was a sleeper hit over the summer, grossing more than $50 million worldwide against a $5 million production budget. And it was a hit with critics, scoring 86 on MetaCritic and 98% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes. Nanjiani even decided to respond on Twitter to everyone who watched the film during its first weekend in wide release. “I don’t know why I decided to do that. I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he says. “Actually it ended up being really fun. It was really moving to hear from people having a reaction to the movie right as they walked out so ultimately it was a really positive, lovely experience.” That was before Twitter expanded to 280 characters, but that probably wouldn’t have changed much: “I think Twitter going to 280 characters was a mistake anyway. I haven’t had a tweet that’s gone over 140, and I’m sticking to it.”