Kumail Nanjiani is used to getting laughs, but he has also been getting gasps lately. The actor and comedian recently fried the Internet’s collective grid when he Instagrammed a photo of his newly high-def physique, which will be put to good use in the upcoming Marvel movie The Eternals.
What was his reaction to the reaction? “I really did not think it was going to get as big as it did,” Nanjiani, 41, tells EW. “I really was very surprised. I’d been shooting for a few months. I was in good shape. Christmas was coming and I was like, ‘I should take some pictures, because who knows how I’m going to look after Christmas?’ So I put those pictures up while I was shooting, and then I checked an hour later and there was some stuff and I was like, ‘Okay, good.’ Suddenly it started exploding, and it was just snowballing. Each time I looked, it was getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and then it was like this thing that was going out of my control. I remember at one point looking at Twitter, scrolling down, and just seeing my own naked torso over and over and over. I could not believe how big it got. I texted my brother, I was like, ‘Hey, are Mom or Dad okay?’ Because it’s a weird thing. And my brother was like, ‘Oh, Dad sent your shirtless picture to both family WhatsApp groups.’ And I was like, ‘Okay! Thank God.’” He laughs. “To both of them.”
Nanjiani can sigh in relief when it comes to his parents’ reaction, but he does remain worried about one other shoe dropping. “I’m still terrified that someday I’m going to sneeze and it’s just all going to disappear, you know?” he deadpans. “I live in fear of it. Every morning I wake up and go, ‘Okay, thank God it’s not today.’ Because it’s just so much work.”
It’s work, yes, but it’s also a fantasy come to life for this hardcore sci-fi/superhero fan. Now that Nanjiani has been on the inside of the one of 2020’s most high-profile (and most mysterious) superhero movies, what surprised him the most? “My super-suit is very, very comfortable actually, even though it’s very elaborate,” he notes. “But the other thing is, making this massive movie in many important ways still feels like you’re making an independent movie, in the sense that it really feels like a family and it feels like it’s really about characters and relationships and very small moments. So while you have certain scenes where you’re hanging up on a wire fighting bad guys and you have all these superpowers, the rest of it does feel like you’re making something really small. The people who are making it are very very passionate about it and the conversations you have are the [same] conversations when you create anything: ‘Does this make sense? Should we do this?’ Chloe [Zhao], our director, and Nate [Moore], our producer, and Kevin [Feige, Marvel Studios president] — they’ve been just so open to everything and so passionate. I mean, they’ve made 25 of these movies and it still feels like they’re living their dreams every day, which is certainly what I’ve been doing for the last six months.”
What sets apart The Eternals — which is based on Jack Kirby’s trippy comic series — from previous Marvel action-adventures? “It’s really, really an epic,” Nanjiani says. “And it’s really such a science-fiction story. It’s a superhero story, but in some ways, it’s the most sci-fi of all the Marvel movies and it’s the most epic of all the Marvel movies. And the story spans thousands of years. So it’s really not like any of the other Marvel movies.”
And it’s one that seemed almost custom-tailored to his specific tastes. “I love superhero movies, but beyond that, this is exactly the type of movie that I love,” he testifies. “If someone would say, ‘All right, what kind of movie do you want to watch? What are the things that’s going to have?’ I would say all these things. And that’s what this movie is. It really spans thousands and thousands of years. And the story is just so big and so epic. And I don’t mean epic in the internet way, I mean epic in the old-school way…It doesn’t look like any of the other Marvel movies. I was on set shooting, and the director showed me just a still of all of us together in the scene. And I was like, ‘I mean, look at all of us together.’ We all look so different. It’s me and a huge buff guy from Korea [Ma Dong-seok] and Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie and Gemma Chan and Lauren Ridloff. You don’t ever get to see people like this together in the same room, let alone in awesome superhero costumes.”
It won’t be an eternity, but you won’t see this team (which also includes Richard Madden, Kit Harington, Barry Keoghan, and Brian Tyree Henry) in action until Nov. 6. You can catch Nanjiani before that on the big screen with Issa Rae in the romantic comedy The Lovebirds, out in April. He’s also busy with other projects, including voicing none other than Jesus on Fox animated comedy Bless The Hearts, and exec-producing the recently greenlighted season 2 of Little America. For much more from Nanjiani on why he wanted to share these immigrant stories of the critically acclaimed Apple TV+ anthology series that he co-created, head over here.