You probably know Kumail Nanjiani from Silicon Valley, but what you may not realize is you probably know Emily V. Gordon as well. Emily produced The Meltdown Show with Jonah and Kumail and has been kind of a comedy mom for many comics for several years. I think her therapy background helps but it’s mostly her warm and inviting personality. Emily and Kumail are married and, from an outsider’s perspective, have an incredibly adorable marriage. It’s the stuff of movies and in The Big Sick, a film they wrote together about how they met, it is now literally the stuff of movies. I got to chat with them about bringing their courtship to the big screen, and maybe I got a little bit of free therapy for myself.
The Big Sick has a limited release on June 23 and opens wide July 14.
Brightest Young Things: How are you guys?
Emily V. Gordon: We’re good. We’re a little tired.
Kumail Nanjiani: [Lays down on Emily’s lap] I’m going to do my interview like this.
BYT: We’re in the West Wing Suite. This is where all the bad stuff happens. I think the obvious question is, how far along did you get in your education so we can perhaps do a quick therapy session.
KN: Oh, in real life?
EG: In real life I was an actual therapist.
BYT: In that case Kumail, can you leave for about 15 minutes?
EG: I practiced for about 6 or 7 years before I left. That was the job I had at the time and we had versions of the movie where you kind of saw me at work.
KN: We decided to turn back the clock a little bit so it felt like she was working towards something.
BYT: Okay so no on the session. I’m between therapists right now.
EG: So am I!
BYT: Do you ever just talk to yourself in a mirror? That’s what I would do if I was a therapist.
EG: It’s a nightmare. You don’t want to get in there.
BYT: Please you guys, I asked a stranger to treat me then I asked that stranger’s husband to leave the room so it could happen. So how much of this film is true?
EG: All the major points of the film are accurate. One thing that’s not accurate is in the film we break up before Emily gets sick. In reality we did not break up. Our relationship was pretty casual and wasn’t quite as serious.
BYT: I’m so glad because I was afraid I was going to have to hate Kumail who seems like a genuinely nice person on the Internet.
EG: Well Judd (Apatow) was great. He said it was one thing to have a casual boyfriend at your bedside but it’s another to have an ex-boyfriend have to be at your bedside.
BYT: So that was his suggestion. Did you have to do some rewriting for that?
KN: There was constant rewriting.
EG: We rewrote for 3 years before anyone saw it, only Judd and Barry Mendel our producer saw anything.
BYT: I don’t know if you guys watch the hit Showtime show The Affair…
KN: She loves it.
EG: I love The Affair, the first two seasons…I haven’t seen anything beyond that.
BYT: It gets real crazy. I was thinking of how you both wrote something about your lives, and in The Affair you have characters telling the same story from their points of view and there are often differences based on what each person remembers. When you decided to write this together did you find that was the case for you?
EG: That happened a lot actually.
KN: It wasn’t very different.
BYT: It’s happening right now! You’re remembering this moment differently.
EG: There were a lot of situations where when we would talk through them to write out the scenes we would find out were on different pages, about how were were feeling.
KN: We remembered things differently. The good thing was we were able to put those perspectives into all the scenes. Kumail sees it like this. Emily sees it like this. Let’s put both in there and that will be an interesting tension or conflict.
BYT: My favorite casting choice in the film is everyone who played Kumail’s family. I didn’t recognize these actors and that’s on me.
KN: The guy who played my dad is a legendary Bollywood actor. This was his 500th film. My brother is British and he just won a BAFTA.
EG: He’s the first person of color to win a BAFTA for a leading actor role.
KN: We sort of were lucky. He has been in a ton of stuff there but we got him before he became huge. He’s in a bunch of British comedies and dramas. He’s in a show called The River.
EG: He’s on a Fox show that’s coming out this fall.
KN: He’s gonna be on a sitcom here.
EG: Which by the way we kind of got him cast in that a little bit.
KN: Ha ha ha…You want to take credit for that?
EG: The person who directed that show saw him in our movie at an early screening and thought he was great. It was his talent that got him in completely but I love that we got him the exposure.
KN: Zenobia (Shroff) who plays my mom was just, we auditioned a lot of people…
EG: She’s a theater actress, right?
KN: Yeah and she teaches acting too. She was just amazing.
BYT: Was she teaching you? Not that you’re not an actor but this is a more serious role for you.
KN: Actually the guy who played my dad was teaching me on set because he teaches acting as well. He was really kind of talking me through a bunch of the scenes.
EG: And you had an acting teacher.
BYT: The scene in the movie where you scream in the hospital…I want you to know I spent 57% of the film crying. The woman that was talking to you guys before me was also in the theater during the screening and she just leaned over and handed me a tissue without saying anything. That’s when you know you’re really crying.
KN: Nothing needs to be said. We want people to cry.
EG: We want people to ugly cry.
BYT: The second you got sick I lost it. I was filling in for our film critic at the last minute so I knew nothing about the film. I chose not to watch the trailer.
KN: So you knew nothing? Great! That’s great.
BYT: For the first 20 minutes of the film I was wondering what the sick part was going to be. Was it mental? Was it physical?
KN: I do think the best way to see any movie is to go in not knowing which is why our Sundance screening was so fun. No one knew anything about it. They just knew Judd Apatow produced it. They all expected…they didn’t know what to expect. It was really exciting.
BYT: I also want to tell you the breakdown you had while doing stand up in the movie was one of the best cinematic stand up breakdowns I’ve seen since Tom Hanks in Punchline.
KN: Oh good! Well thank you.
BYT: If there is an Academy Award for that it will just be you and Tom Hanks. Emily, how was it for you being on set? Were you like, “I would never say it like that Emily who is not me.”
EG: I got over that pretty quickly. There are differences between me and the character Emily that help the movie tremendously. The breakup scene they had, more about Kumail I was like, “That fucking asshole.” I wanted to be like, “Say this back to him and you’ll win,” but that wasn’t the object. The object is not for her to win. It could have been way weirder. It helped that Zoe is tremendous and we got really really close. I can see, coming from her perspective, it’s kind of an awkward situation.
BYT: Sure, you had to do some romantic scenes…
EG: Some makeout scenes.
BYT: I guess it doesn’t matter because you’ve been married for a hundred years.
KN: Yeah, we have been married for a hundred years.
EG: I will say Kumail requested, and I honored the request, that I not be on set for the makeout scenes. Zoe and I were just joking last night that we were both fine with it but Kumail was uncomfortable.
KN: I was uncomfortable!
EG: I get it. It totally makes sense. The one time I was on set when there was a makeout scene I was watching on the monitors, as the writer of the movie that’s my job. People kept looking at me to see my reaction. There was no reaction. Am I supposed to cheer?
KN: So it was better that you weren’t there.
EG: What I didn’t realize and what I was happy about is you think makeout scenes in movies are like these sexy things. It’s so awkward. It was like 98 degrees in that room.
KN: It was really hot in that room.
BYT: Why? Was it a weird psychological game they were playing with you?
EG: We had to turn off the air conditioner in the apartment because the sound messes up the sound in the movie so we were all roasting.
KN: We were in a TINY apartment. It was so hot. It is shocking that you can’t see it. Every scene in my apartment…me and Ray in the bedroom, me and Emily in the bedroom, just so hot.
EG: He never sweats.
BYT: Speaking of the apartment. I noticed a Shaun of the Dead poster in Kumail’s bedroom and I wanted you to know I’m interviewing…
EG: Edgar Wright!
KN: Oh, we know him!
EG: Tell him we said hi!
BYT: I was going to ask you if there is anything you’d like to ask him but nope, because you’re friends!
EG: We actually got his personal permission to use the poster.
KN: He made it super simple for us. We live right by him and see him all the time.
EG: The idea that we’ve become friends with him is so bizarre because when I think about it I get a little freaked out because I’m such a fan.
BYT: Well you all make great movies so now he can freak out about you.
Giveaway Alert: We have FREE TICKETS to catch a screening of The Big Sick Monday on Monday, 6/26 at E Street Cinema, before its DC opening on 6/30. Click here.
Featured image from Emily V. Gordon’s Instagram. The banner was made from a still from The Big Sick. We know it’s not Emily in the banner.