‘The Big Sick’ interviews: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Michael Showalter, Emily V. Gordon exclusive chats [WATCH]

After entering the Oscar race in a big way last year with “Manchester by the Sea,” Amazon Studios is poised to make another strong showing with “The Big Sick.” The autobiographical comedy centers on Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a Pakistani comedian who falls in love with Emily (Zoe Kazan), much to the ire of his traditional Muslim family. Their relationship takes a sudden turn when Emily falls into a medically-induced coma, and Kumail takes charge of the situation when her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) arrive. Gold Derby recently spoke with Nanjiani, Kazan, Hunter, Romano, director Michael Showalter, and co-writer Emily V. Gordon about their work on the film, which reaped a SAG Awards nomination for the entire cast plus six Critics’ Choice noms, including Best Picture.

Nanjiani and his wife Gordon based the screenplay on their own true life experience. “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,” the “Silicon Valley” star reveals. “You kind of have to excavate yourself.” But despite the weighty subject matter, “We knew from the beginning that we wanted the movie to be a comedy, 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.”

SEE Ray Romano (‘The Big Sick’): Why he should be as big an Oscar contender as his co-star Holly Hunter

“I kind of did not talk about being sick whatsoever for a couple of years after I got sick,” divulges Gordon about her real-life health scare. “When we started working on the script about five years ago, a lot of it was the first time that I had dived back into those feelings and dived back into what it was like to go through that … This was kind of my coming out as a sick person. It’s not that it defines me, but it’s part of who I am.” Gordon and Nanjiani have been nominated at the Critics Choice and Independent Spirit Awards for their script.

“At some point Emily and I sort of joked around that it was like we were two parents to this character, both trying to raise her,” Kazan explains about developing the character on the page and on the screen. “When I couldn’t be in the room Emily was an advocate for ‘Emily,’ and when Emily couldn’t be there I was the advocate. And I think the person on-screen is somewhere between us.” Advocating for the character included the crucial third act after Emily wakes from her coma. How would she feel? How would she react having not gotten the “hero’s journey” the other characters in the film had? “Kumail always said this can’t be a movie in which a girl goes into a coma so a guy can change,” she adds.

“I think people have had a good time watching this movie, and I think there’s a complexity about what it means to be human. It’s messy, it’s not black-and-white. There’s a lot of grey,” says Hunter. The Oscar-winning star (Best Actress for “The Piano” in 1993) appreciated that the film gave her an opportunity to subvert the stereotype of the “overbearing mother,” explaining, “I wanted it to be a current friendship between two adult women … I loved being part of that particular expression.” Hunter has reaped SAG and Critics Choice bids for her work.

SEE Oscars 2018: Amazon Studios stakes claim with ‘Last Flag Flying,’ ‘The Big Sick,’ ‘Wonderstruck,’ ‘Wonder Wheel’

“There was a split second when I first got it and I heard a comedian is writing a script, and I was like, I don’t have to do this. But I just think now — can you imagine if I turned this down?” reveals Romano about his initial skepticism. He wasn’t familiar with Nanjiani because “I’m older and out of the loop,” but “when I looked at it with the people involved and everything, I thought this has a chance to be something really special.” The Emmy-winning “Everybody Loves Raymond” star (Best Comedy Actor in 2002; Best Comedy Series in 2003 and 2005) has received rave reviews for his dramatic performance, for which he helped flesh out the character. “When you pair Holly Hunter and Ray Romano — that seems like an odd thing, and I invented my own little backstory of how this odd pairing could happen.”

Showalter divulges he wanted to direct “The Big Sick” because of “what the movie has to say about family and sickness and relationships, and cultural identity, and what it means to be an American.” Knowing Nanjiani and Gordon personally, he says, “I felt like I could be someone to collaborate with them, and help them bring their vision to life.” When working with the two on the script and on set, “They really understood that in order for the movie to take flight, they had to let go, to some extent, of their attachments to it.”

Click on any name below to be taken to their full interview:

Kumail Nanjiani, who plays Kumail (click here for another interview with Nanjiani and Gordon)

Zoe Kazan, who plays Emily (click here for another interview with Kazan and Hunter)

Holly Hunter, who plays Beth (click here for another interview with Hunter and Kazan)

Ray Romano, who plays Terry

Michael Showalter, director

Emily V. Gordon, co-writer (click here for another interview with Gordon and Nanjiani)

PREDICT the Oscar nominees now; change them until January 23

Be sure to check out how our experts rank Oscar contenders in this and the other top races. Use the drop-down menus at the top of each page to see the other categories. Then take a look at the most up-to-date odds before you make make your Oscar nomination predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.

SIGN UP for Gold Derby’s free newsletter with latest predictions

More News from GoldDerby