Kumail Nanjiani opened up in a new Vulture interview about what it was like starring on a show like “Silicon Valley” that continuously turned his physical appearance into a punchline. The comedian starred as computer programmer Dinesh Chugtai on all five seasons of the HBO series. Throughout the show’s run, several jokes and storylines centered on Dinesh being ugly. Nanjiani, whose muscular body transformation for the Marvel tentpole “Eternals” has generated hundreds of headlines, told Vulture he continues to wonder if he should have pushed back against these “Silicon Valley” jokes or not.
“There were entire story lines around it,” Nanjiani said. “That stuff does get to you, where you’re like, ‘Aww…that’s not a great feeling.’ I love everyone on the show, and I never voiced this concern. Maybe I should have. Other actors did when they had stuff that they didn’t enjoy doing. I understand that story line ended up being funny. But yeah, parts of that didn’t feel great.”
Nanjiani was joined in the Vulture interview by his wife and fellow screenwriter Emily V. Gordon. The two earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay thanks to their script for “The Big Sick.” Gordon was even more pointed when discussing “Silicon Valley’s” jokes about Nanjiani’s appearance.
“I did not like that you were considered unattractive on the show,” Gordon said. “That really fucking bothered me…The assumption that [Kumail’s] not attractive did feel a little bit tied…because when you look at those men…If I were ranking completely objectively…Even my mom would call me and be like, ‘Why are they saying that about him? I don’t understand.’ But yeah, it bugged me. I didn’t like it.”
Nanjiani added, “Generally speaking, a big part of the ascribing of things that happens is sometimes it puts a filter on the world, and brown Asian men are completely desexualized.”
With “Eternals,” Nanjiani got the chance to change his body and upend brown Asian men stereotypes on screen. As the actor told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year about sculpting his character, “I looked at the usual opportunities that the brown dudes get. We get to be nerdy. I wanted him to be the opposite of that — I wanted him to be cool. With nerdy goes ‘weakling,’ and I wanted him to be the opposite of that and to be strong physically. Or we get to be terrorists, and I wanted him to be the opposite of that. I wanted him to be this character full of joy.”
Nanjiani added, “In working with Chloé, we were like, let’s take every single thing that I haven’t gotten to do and make a character who’s the exact opposite of the way a lot of American pop culture see people from Pakistan or the Middle East.”
“Eternals” opens in theaters November 5. All episodes of “Silicon Valley” are now streaming in HBO Max.