The Big Sick Interview: Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon
I was lucky enough to be at the World Premiere of The Big Sick at Sundance back in January. Being part of the first audience to see the film which is based on Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s real life relationship felt like a truly special experience. The Big Sick is a romantic dramedy. There are plenty of laughs but then the drama hits, it does pack a pretty powerful punch. I was so happy that this story connected with so many people at Sundance. As you probably heard by now, the overwhelming positive buzz for the film lead to a massive bidding war. The was picked up by Amazon Studios for 12 million and after been shown at various festivals, will finally open in a few select theaters this weekend.
Last week, I was lucky enough to sit down with Kumail and Emily to talk with them in greater detail about the film.
Scott Menzel: This must’ve been a remarkable experience for you guys. I was there with you guys at the premiere at Sundance.
Emily V. Gordon: Oh wow.
Kumail Nanjiani: Oh yeah.
Scott Menzel: What was that experience like to see the finished product on the big screen with the crowd reaction like that?
Emily V. Gordon: It was really overwhelming. It was lovely.
Kumail Nanjiani: For me, it was tough, because I felt like … When it was done, I was like, “Was that good?”
Emily V. Gordon: I was crying. he was like, “Did that play well?”
Kumail Nanjiani: I was so out of it.
Emily V. Gordon: You’re a crazy person. It took you a minute to kind of catch up.
Kumail Nanjiani: It was, actually, during the next screening, the next morning at 9:00 a.m. that I was actually emotional watching the movie, because I don’t know. I was just so nervous during the first screening. I could tell that it was going well. I could tell people liked it and you could tell by people’s reaction that they …
Emily V. Gordon: You could tell in your heart, but maybe not in your head.
Kumail Nanjiani: Yes, exactly. In the next day I could tell in my head.
Scott Menzel: This is such a powerful movie. I’m sure you heard that a lot throughout all the screenings and festivals.
Kumail Nanjiani: Thank you.
Scott Menzel: But I have to ask for you, Emily, why was it that you didn’t want to be a part of the actual movie? Why was Zoe in the film and not you?
Emily V. Gordon: Well, I think writers are a big part of any movie.
Scott Menzel: Well, of course, but …
Emily V. Gordon: I’m just not an actress and I thought, I was like, “Oh I don’t wanna mess this up.” If I was an actress in this movie, I could’ve tanked this whole thing. That’s just not a skill I have. So, I thought if we set out to tell the best story, I could write the words, but I need someone to be the one to act those out. Have you seen her cry on camera? She’s amazing. There’s no way I could’ve done that. No way.
Scott Menzel: I know I was just curious. Not like I was trying to say, “You wrote the movie, big freaking deal.” Nothing like that at all.
Kumail Nanjian and Emily V. Gordon: *Laugh*
Scott Menzel: How was it to be in this movie and become a leading man? I mean, you’ve always played smaller parts in most films and television shows?
Emily V. Gordon: You’re the leading man.
Kumail Nanjiani: Oh, I don’t know if I would say I become a leading man, but it was really, really exciting. On top of being satisfying and gratifying and fulfilling, it was very fun. I had a great time. Like you said, I’d only done smaller parts and even the bigger parts like Silicon Valley, I’d only done comedic stuff, so to do this movie where a lot of it’s comedic, but some of it isn’t. I hadn’t done any sort of dramatic acting like that. I loved doing it. I had a great time doing it. I really, really did, and I hope I get to do it more. The fact that it was for our story, it was obviously a huge part of why it was fun and exciting, but I just had a great time like doing all different kinds of scenes.
Scott Menzel: Was there any point during filming where you were on the set and were kind of like, “This is really tough. I don’t know if I can do this or relive this moment?”
Kumail Nanjiani: Yeah. Oh my God, definitely. The scene on stage where I have meltdown on stage talking about how Emily’s not doing well was very, very tough. We didn’t really script that scene. The plan was that I would just sort of try and put myself there and just talk. We did it so, so, so many times, because we didn’t know exactly what we wanted that scene to be. We did it so, so, so many times. We shot for six hours. We just did that scene for six straight hours. We look an hour long lunch and then we went back and did another couple of hours. So, it was just probably the toughest work day I’ve ever had.
Scott Menzel: Was there anything that you felt like you had to leave out of the movie that didn’t go into it that was part of the story?
Emily V. Gordon: A million things, because it went in through our story and your life, so many things happen and so many things feel significant. Whether or not they are is kind of part of your job as like when you’re crafting this story that’s separate from you. So, there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t go in the movie that we both felt were important, but they weren’t important to the story. They’re important to us but not the story and learning to differentiate between those two things was a big part of the process for us, like just because it’s important to us doesn’t mean it’s important to the movie. Showalter was really great about kind of pushing that too. Then there’s a lot of great stuff that was in the script that fell out, a lot of great stuff that we shot, but then …
Kumail Nanjiani: We shot a lot of scenes that aren’t in the movie. There’s full storylines that are not in the movie.
Emily V. Gordon: We had to edit them out.
Those are all great and they’re not cut out because they weren’t good, they’re cut out because we at some point had to decide on one person in the movie and not like a three and a half hour version.
Kumail Nanjiani: I feel like a movie like this as you edit it and watch it, you sort of get a sense of what belongs in this movie and what doesn’t. There was just a lot of stuff that was really good that just didn’t belong in this movie.
Emily V. Gordon: I kept saying, “There are eight different versions of this movie. We just need to pick one.”
Scott Menzel: Just real quick because I know you have to do another interview. Favorite romantic comedy?
Kumail Nanjiani: Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Emily V. Gordon: Say Anything. I’m a classic kind of girl.
Scott Menzel: Okay, there you go.
Emily V. Gordon: What’s your favorite?
Scott Menzel: What’s my favorite? I’m going to say Love Actually.
Kumail Nanjiani: Ahh. That’s a good one.
Scott Menzel: However, your film ranks pretty high up there now for me as well though, no bullshit. I also love Zoe’s various romantic comedies.
Emily V. Gordon: Like Ruby Sparks?
Scott Menzel: I love Ruby Sparks and also, The F Word which isn’t called that anymore but the actual title is slipping my mind.
Emily V. Gordon: What If?
Scott Menzel: Yea, that’s it. I love that one too. Well, it was so nice talking to you.
Kumail Nanjiani: Thanks so much and good talking to you as well.
Emily V. Gordon: Thanks and take care.
The Big Sick opens in limited release on Friday, June 23, 2017 and will expand into more theaters throughout the month of July.