The Big Sick’s writ­ers Ku­mail Nan­jiani and Emily V. Gor­don on how true-life their true-life tale is

Empire (Australasia) - - Review - WORDS CHRIS HE­WITT

WHEN HUS­BAND AND wife Ku­mail Nan­jiani and Emily V. Gor­don sat down to write The Big Sick, the witty rom­com that tells the real-life tale of how their bud­ding re­la­tion­ship was rudely in­ter­rupted when Emily be­came se­ri­ously ill and fell into a coma, they knew they wanted to draw heav­ily upon the de­tails of their lives; the coma, par­tic­u­larly. But they also had to write a movie that worked very much on its own terms, and wasn’t just a strict retelling. Which is why Emily’s sur­name in the movie has been changed to Gard­ner. (She is played by Zoe Kazan.) But what of the other de­tails, big and small, in the movie? What’s real life? What’s not? We grilled the duo for all the sick de­tails. MO­MENT: The pair meet af­ter Emily heck­les Ku­mail at a gig with a well-placed whoop

Emily Gor­don: That is one part of the movie that is 100 per cent ac­cu­rate, yes. He was a co­me­dian, it was a com­edy show. I’m not a heck­ler, but

I was in the au­di­ence and I thought it would be funny if I an­swered the ques­tion, “Any­one from Pak­istan?”

Ku­mail Nan­jiani: Heck­lers al­ways think they’re help­ing. Al­ways think they’re be­ing funny. Gor­don: I had not done it be­fore (or since), but some­thing com­pelled me to do a whoop­ing noise. I ac­tu­ally ap­proached him to apol­o­gise, I think, be­cause I felt bad about it. I didn’t feel that bad, frankly. But don’t heckle.

Nan­jiani: You def­i­nitely shouldn’t heckle be­cause I don’t want you to get mar­ried to some­one else.

MO­MENT: Ku­mail shows Emily The Abom­inable Dr. Phibes as a taste test

Nan­jiani: Yes. I can’t re­mem­ber if it was The De­scent or The Abom­inable Dr. Phibes, but those were the first two movies I showed her. Gor­don: Now, be­cause of the movie, my brain isn’t sure which is first. I’m ac­tu­ally quite in­ter­ested — had you ever shown The Abom­inable Dr. Phibes to other women? How come I haven’t asked you that?

Nan­jiani: No. I showed it to no­body else. Gor­don: You’re a liar! You’re a liar!

MO­MENT: Emily’s fa­ther Terry (Ray Ro­mano) ad­mits to hav­ing had an af­fair

Gor­don: Did not hap­pen. Did not hap­pen. Not at all. Nope.

Nan­jiani: That was Judd’s [Apa­tow, pro­ducer] sug­ges­tion.

Gor­don: He said it would be in­ter­est­ing if in the movie other peo­ple are go­ing through things, too. It was hard to write your par­ents hav­ing an af­fair and I had to ap­proach it cau­tiously with my ac­tual par­ents. They un­der­stood the rea­son­ing for it.

MO­MENT: Emily and Ku­mail had split up when Emily fell into the coma

Gor­don: We were dat­ing and we were good, but we were at a weird point. I think it was Mike Showal­ter [the film’s di­rec­tor] who said it was way more in­ter­est­ing and gives them much fur­ther to go if they’re bro­ken up when Emily gets sick.

Nan­jiani: That was some­thing we went back and forth on quite a bit. It felt like an ac­tual break-up was more dra­matic.

MO­MENT: Emily can’t go to the toi­let in Ku­mail’s apart­ment

Gor­don: It’s par­tially true in that Ku­mail’s house was just dis­gust­ing. The bath­room was aw­ful, so in gen­eral I would try to avoid the bath­room as much as I could. More to the point, we were try­ing to think of mile­stones in re­la­tion­ships that are non-stan­dard. I talked to a lot of girl­friends about how to nav­i­gate hav­ing nor­mal bod­ily func­tions while stay­ing at a guy’s house. That came from that.

Nan­jiani: I’d re­mem­ber that we’d be in a ho­tel and you’d go, “I’m go­ing to take a walk in the lobby.” Why would you go for a walk in the lobby for 10 min­utes?

Gor­don: A girl­friend of mine dated a guy who lived next to a Tar­get and she had to go to Tar­get all the time to use their bath­room. I found that very funny.

MO­MENT: Ku­mail didn’t smile in pho­to­graphs be­cause he read a mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle where Hugh Grant said he didn’t smile in pho­to­graphs Ku­mail: Yes, it’s very true. I didn’t smile in pic­tures for many years.

Gor­don: You still don’t, re­ally.

Ku­mail: Still not a big smiler. When we met Hugh Grant in Lon­don, did I tell him that? Gor­don: You blanked out for a bit. I don’t think so.

Ku­mail: Richard Cur­tis and Emma Freud were the ones who set it up and sur­prised us. We played it very cool.

Gor­don: Ex­cept when he walked in, I said: “OH MY GOD.” In that ex­act voice. THE BIG SICK IS OUT NOW ON ON DVD AND BLU-RAY

Pil­low talk: Loved-up Ku­mail Nan­jiani (as him­self) with girl­friend Emily (Zoe Kazan); Ku­mail goes to work as a stand-up; Ku­mail en­dears him­self to Emily’s par­ents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Ro­mano).

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