#INTERVIEW: KUMAIL NANJIANI & EMILY V. GORDON ON “THE BIG SICK”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
After ten years of marriage and multiple projects together, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon are still very much in love. They finish each other’s sentences, have similar thoughts and opinions, and have no trouble cutting off each other’s answers. When we get the opportunity to interview the pair during a recent press day in Toronto for their critically acclaimed Film The Big Sick, they are sitting together on a couch that could seat three comfortably. But with how close they are sitting together, there’s no room for a third.
The semi-autobiographical Film revolves around the relationship between Kumail (Nanjiani) and Emily (Zoe Kazan). They are happily dating, but Kumail is harbouring a secret — his strict Muslim parents are keen on him entering into an arranged marriage with a Muslim woman. Emily has very little time to process this news, as she lands in the hospital with a severe lung infection. This emergency only gets worse, leading Kumail to rethink everything about their relationship and his relationship with his parents.
Despite having iconic Comedy Producer Judd Apatow on-board from the beginning, the writing process was anything but easy. The pair would bring drafts of their screenplay to Apatow for approval, and he “would rip it to shreds and send us off on our way,” says Gordon. “And then after three years, he was like ‘Okay, I think we can get a director now’.” When asked about how much of the Film’s story happened in real life, the pair laugh and give different answers. Gordon settled the debate quickly – claiming the Film being 60% factual. “The broad strokes are pretty accurate to what happened,” Nanjiani says. “But the specifics and some of the characterizations and the order of events, that’s the stuff we changed.”
Having lived the events of the Film, Nanjiani and Gordon recalled certain moments in their lives quite differently. “In doing press, I found out that our relationship before I got sick was way more casual than I thought. That’s something I’ve been discovering that’s been super fun,” Gordon mentions. “I don’t regret saying it all,” Nanjiani says with a laugh. “Every time we found in writing this that we would have a disagreement about how we experienced some from our past. We tried to fold both perspectives into the Movie.” While their emotions would range from “That was a really happy memory” to “No that was a horrible memory”, Nanjiani was quite happy with the end result it had on the screenplay: “I think it made for a much more complicated dynamic between the main characters.”
While the appreciation and gratitude for Apatow was evident throughout our conversation (“We’d never written a movie before and Judd getting behind us and helping us through this has been very exciting” Nanjiani says), the pair also praised the Film’s female lead, Kazan. Gordon explains that after watching her audition, she felt “she was absolutely right for the part. I don’t really know what would have happened if I really wanted her and other people didn’t.” Nanjiani adds, “She has that really fun, funny side, but she’s also a very, very serious person who takes herself serious.”
For all of the enthusiasm the pair shared about the writing and casting process, both Nanjiani and Gordon were more apathetic when asked about the Film’s take on religion and culture. “We didn’t think that we really wanted to say anything with this Movie. We just wanted to tell our story,” Nanjiani explains. “If we’re writing a personal story that’s about us and [religion] is something that is part of that story, not having it in there just felt disingenuous.” Gordon was a little more direct in how she felt: “It’s just another aspect of the story.”
Religious and cultural apprehensions aside, the pair are satisfied with all of the work that went into making The Big Sick. “We wrote this Movie for three years with no money, no plan, no guarantee that it would ever become a thing. And we worked our asses off,” Gordon says. “It was really, really great to make a movie where we could pour in everything that we think about,” Nanjiani mentions. “It’s pretty great to be a part of a Movie where we can be proud of every character.” And if the spectacular limited US box office results from this past weekend are any indication, The Big Sick may just become the breakout Comedy of the summer.
Elevation Pictures release THE BIG SICK in select theatres starting Friday, June 30, 2017 and across Canada on Friday, July 14, 2017.
(Photo credit: Mr. Will Wong)