Kumail Nanjiani wants to break "the tyranny of the positive portrayal" with Welcome To Chippendales role

Kumail Nanjiani wants to break the "tyranny of positive portrayal"
Kumail Nanjiani wants to break the "tyranny of positive portrayal"

Kumail Nanjiani

In a new interview with The New York Times, Kumail Nanjiani claims that he both didn’t realize that his Welcome To Chippendales character was “the bad guy” until watching the episodes, and that he initially turned down the role because he didn’t “want to play a bad guy.” In fairness, the former may be because he empathized deeply enough with Steve Banerjee while playing the role that he felt like the targets of his murder plot “had it coming.” (“But I’m not method or anything; I want to be very clear about that,” he adds.)

As for the latter, Nanjiani says he was initially “intimidated” by the part when he first read the scripts in the wake of his hit rom-com The Big Sick. “I just didn’t feel ready. I didn’t know a way into playing a character like that. So I said no.”

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He had another reason for shying away: “When I first said no, I was like, I don’t want to play a bad guy who’s brown in this climate. But the tyranny of the positive portrayal is just as reductive as the stereotype. I hear from people saying that I need to put up a pure, noble front. That’s not interesting to me.”

Nanjiani has experience with stereotypical roles. “In the beginning, when I was auditioning, it genuinely was taxi drivers, people working at 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway. … Either we’re nerds, or we’re planning to blow something up,” he says. Even so, he seems to sense an overcorrection occurring. “I feel like sometimes in Hollywood, they’re like, ‘Oh, the bad guy can’t be brown because what’s that saying?’ Sometimes with trying to be open minded, you’re actually limiting the parts that people of color can play.”

Steve Banerjee inspired Nanjiani’s baddie era, as did a fellow member of the MCU. “Once I finished this, I was like, I want to play more villains. I saw Sebastian Stan in Fresh, and he plays such a bad guy,” the actor says. “I was like, what an interesting career: He does Marvel, things where he’s a superhero, and then he’ll do things where he’s a really scary sociopath. I was like, I want to do that. Just because I’m not white shouldn’t mean that I can’t do those things.”

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