Former Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani would really like everyone to see his MCU debut as Kingo, an immortal superhero/Bollywood star, in November 5th’s Eternals — if only because he hopes it’ll give fans something to talk about besides how jacked he is these days. (“I don’t think the movie is what people think it’s gonna be,” says Nanjiani. “It sort of occupies a different space than all the other Marvel movies, while still fitting.”) Nanjiani, who’s also in the upcoming Disney+ show Kenobi, has pulled off a career transformation that’s already exceeding his wildest action-star dreams, but he’s far from ready to give up on making people laugh. “I see a lot of comedians who do a dramatic thing or two and then just want to stay in that world,” says Nanjiani, who hopes to return to stand-up and comedic roles as soon as possible. “I love comedy too much. I want to keep doing it.” (Nanjiani also gave us a preview of his Kenobi role.)
Your Eternals character, Kingo, is immortal. Starting out on a light note: Would you want to live forever, or does our existence derive meaning from its finiteness?
Death is what gives life meaning — I understand that on paper. However, I would love to have eternal life. I want to travel. Honestly, this last year and a half, with the entire world worrying about death all the time? It would be fucking great to not have to worry about it.
What’s it been like for you to have people so focused on your body?
It’s a mixed bag, my friend. Initially when I put the picture [of his body transformation] up, it was all very positive. And then at some point, it turned a little dark. And I was like, Okay, if I’m going to accept the positives, I also accept the negative. But I hate it. I wish nobody would ever talk about my body ever again!
People even speculated that there was chemical assistance involved.
I was always like, “If people say that, I’m just gonna take that as the compliment it is. …” I do not regret posting that picture. Because it did change the career opportunities I get. And I know I’m the one who opened the window to this. But for the last year and a half, it’s just been about “Do I look good? Or do I look grotesque?” That’s a word that was thrown around a lot. Obviously, it hurts my feelings. And I don’t want to even give them the satisfaction of knowing it got to me, but it did… I do understand that people feel a little bit betrayed by the way I look now. If I was a fan of a nerdy stand-up comedian and one day he showed up and he was muscular, I would be like, “Fuck this guy! Who the fuck does he think he is?”
Does it give you some new sympathy for what women go through?
Basically I understand like .0001 percent of what women go through. The way that all these people online were talking about my body as if they owned it, as if they got to control it.
What was it like to wear a superhero costume for the first time, and have to act like you have powers?
Putting on the costume was unequivocally, absolutely amazing. The first time I put it on, I stood up a little straighter. I looked at the mirror and I got really weepy. I was like, “I think I have to get my makeup done again.” The first time [using my powers, director] Chloe [Zhao] was like, “You should do little finger guns.” I was like, “That sounds goofy.” She was right. The finger guns look cool!
You said a few years ago that you came to realize just how important onscreen representation is. Now you’re the first South Asian superhero in a Hollywood movie.
It’s pretty cool. It’s also pressure, because it’s a big group of people, millions of people, represented in superhero form, that has not gotten to do that. But going into the job, I couldn’t really think of the representation thing. The pressure would’ve flattened me. The fact that people are this excited to see me is awesome. It’s also a little sad that they had to wait so long.
What other MCU characters would you like Kingo to interact with?
I’m very excited to hopefully interact with Ms. Marvel at some point — she’s a Pakistani teenage superhero [character], and I think she’s in the new Marvels movie [the upcoming Captain Marvel sequel]. Kingo and Thor would be an interesting pairing, and Kingo and Shang-Chi. But number one would be Drax the Destroyer, because I’m friends with Dave Bautista. It would be really cool to do an MCU storyline with him.
Is it true that the Silicon Valley plot where Dinesh gets savagely mocked for trying to pull off a gold chain was based on an incident from your own life?
Yeah, I bought a silver chain in high school, like a really thin, silver chain, which was all I could afford. I was like, “Oh, my God, this is amazing.” Then I started wearing it at school, and it became very obvious very quickly that I was never going to be able to pull that off [laughs].
Maybe you’re finally ready.
I don’t think I can! I think the chain wears me. I don’t wear the chain.
So immortal superhero is easier than the chain, is what you’re saying.
That’s right. Immortal-superhero-Bollywood-movie-star is easier than a gold chain.