Nan­jiani finds his way in Hol­ly­wood

CELEBRI­TIES

Orlando Sentinel - - People & Arts -

Ku­mail Nan­jiani has a few names for quar­an­tine life. He has di­vided time firmly be­tween “preHanks/Wil­son” and “postHanks/Wil­son,” re­fer­ring to the early COVID-19 di­ag­no­sis for Tom Hanks and Rita Wil­son. And he has set­tled on call­ing the strange, be­wil­der­ing days of lock­down “The Weirds.”

With his wife, the screen­writer Emily V. Gor­don, Nan­jiani has been chron­i­cling all the mood swings, anx­i­eties and small com­forts of quar­an­tine life from their home in Los An­ge­les in their for-char­ity pod­cast “Stay­ing In.”

The quar­an­tine has given Nan­jiani a chance to con­tem­plate a whirl­wind few years. Since his break­through in 2017’s Os­carnom­i­nated “The Big Sick,” an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal ro­man­tic com­edy he wrote with Gor­don about the dra­matic be­gin­ning of their re­la­tion­ship, Nan­jiani has mor­phed into a lead­ing man.

He played an Uber driver with Dave Bautista in “Stu­ber.” He voiced a tiny CGI alien in “Men in Black In­ter­na­tional” and a mis­chievous ostrich in “Dolit­tle.” He’ll co-star in the up­com­ing Mar­vel movie “The Eter­nals.” And now, he’s star­ring along­side Issa Rae in “The Love­birds,” which de­buted Fri­day on Net­flix.

Not all the projects have worked. But even in the dis­ap­point­ments, Nan­jiani, 42, has been a bright spot of un­re­lent­ing dead­pan sar­casm, spi­ral­ing neu­ro­sis and au­then­tic sweet­ness.

As a Pak­istani-Amer­i­can stand-up co­me­di­anturned-ac­tor, Nan­jiani is un­like any star be­fore him. He’s now find­ing his way in a Hol­ly­wood where South Asian ac­tors, when they’re cast at all, have usu­ally been type­cast. So right now, when Nan­jiani isn’t freak­ing out about the pan­demic, he’s con­tem­plat­ing what kind of movies he wants to make.

“It’s hon­estly dur­ing this quar­an­tine that I sat down and sort of thought, ‘What do I want the next five years of my life to look like?’ ” he says.

Noth­ing cap­tured Nan­jiani’s trans­for­ma­tion more than a photo he posted in De­cem­ber on In­sta­gram dis­play­ing his new chis­eled physique, a re­sult of train­ing for “The Eter­nals.” The photo — a good dis­tance from the com­puter nerd of his “Sil­i­con Val­ley” char­ac­ter — kicked off a storm of de­bate about body image and “the twi­light of the schlubs.”

“To me it was im­por­tant. I was play­ing the first Pak­istani su­per­hero in a Hol­ly­wood movie, in a Mar­vel movie no less,” says Nan­jiani. “And it was very im­por­tant to me that this guy looked like he could hang with Thor or Cap­tain Amer­ica.”

It’s clear that Nan­jiani is mo­ti­vated partly by tak­ing roles that oth­ers might not ex­pect him to. He’s drawn to sub­vert­ing stereo­types be­cause he doesn’t fit them, any­way.

“I don’t feel like I be­long in any spe­cific group. I don’t say that as a way of be­ing like, ‘You can’t put me in a box. I’m so weird.’ I would like to be­long to a spe­cific group,” says Nan­jiani. “But I don’t feel Pak­istani be­cause I don’t live in Pak­istan. I don’t feel Amer­i­can be­cause a lot of Amer­i­cans don’t think of me as Amer­i­can. I do com­edy, but I also other things.”

May 26 birth­days: Drum­mer Garry Peter­son is 75. Singer Ste­vie Nicks is

72. Ac­tor Philip Michael Thomas is 71. Singer Hank Williams Jr. is 71. Ac­tress Ge­nie Fran­cis is 58. Co­me­dian Bob­cat Goldth­wait is

58. Singer Lenny Kravitz is

56. Ac­tress He­lena Bon­ham Carter is 54. Singer Lau­ryn Hill is 45. Ac­tor Hrach Ti­tizian is 41.

CHRIS PIZZELLO/INVISION 2017

Ac­tor-co­me­dian Ku­mail Nan­jiani has mor­phed into a lead­ing man since his break­through in “The Big Sick.”

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