Coma leads to marriage and movie for ‘The Big Sick’ writers
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon share a bit of their own story in new film
Kumail Nanjiani proposed to his wife a year after they tied the knot.
“We talked about (marriage) like a couple of adults and made a decision together,” says Nanjiani, sitting with Emily V. Gordon, his co-writer on The Big Sick and spouse of nearly a decade. But after they wed in July 2007, “Emily was like, ‘I still want to be proposed to.’ So I (waited a while) and she was very surprised.”
Gordon jokes: “Any time you’d drop to a knee, like if you dropped something, I’d be like, ‘It’s coming!’ ”
His belated proposal is hardly the most unusual thing about their love story, which is the basis of the Judd Apatow-produced comedy The Big Sick (in theaters Friday in New York and Los Angeles, nationwide July 14), a critics’ favorite with 98% positive reviews on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.
The cross-cultural romance follows Pakistanborn comedian Kumail (Nanjiani) as he gets together and breaks up with grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan), whom he keeps secret from his devout Muslim parents (Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher). But when he learns Emily has fallen mysteriously ill and is placed into a medically induced coma, Kumail forms an unlikely bond with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) and vows to win her back when — and if — she wakes up. Sick paints a mostly faithful picture of the writers’ early courtship. They met in 2006 when Gordon playfully heckled Nanjiani during one of his stand-up sets in Chicago. He worked a day job as an IT specialist, and she had been pursuing her master’s in psychology. “Kumail asked me out and I said no, and I texted him a couple of days later and asked if we could just get a platonic dinner together,” Gordon says. “But we both knew it was a date.” They dated for months without Nanjiani ever telling his parents he was seeing a white, non-Muslim woman — a predicament Gordon respected, despite feeling unsure about the relationship’s long-term prospects. Unlike their characters, they hadn’t broken up when Gordon was hospitalized for what was later diagnosed as adult-onset Still’s disease, a rare autoinflammatory disorder. It was during her eight days in a coma that Nanjiani “realized how much I love her,” he says, and finally told his parents.
“They were very concerned about Emily’s health,” says Nanjiani, whose Silicon Valley wraps its fourth season Sunday (10 ET/PT) on HBO. But “when she got better, they were like, ‘ Why did you do this to us?!’ ” They were married just two months after Gordon checked out of the hospital.
Sick marks the first big-screen collaboration between Nanjiani, 39, and Gordon, 38. The duo say they’d like to write another movie together, although it’ll probably be set outside an ICU.
Considering their different backgrounds, “both of us come at (writing) from odd angles, which is fun and gives us more life experience to take from,” Gordon says. “I want to keep doing that, but maybe not something about my coma. Not again.”
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon based The Big Sick on the early days of their own relationship.