Kumail Nanjiani is known best for his work in comedy (or his recent entrance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe), but the new Hulu series Welcome to Chippendales represents a number of big changes for him. For one thing, he’s playing a dramatic role, and for another, he’s playing a character based on a real person, a rare opportunity for him as an actor of color.
“If this series was fictional,” he tells Consequence, “there’s no way they would cast a brown guy in the lead. The only reason I’m in this is because that’s what really happened. We don’t really get opportunities to play characters like this.”
In the series, Nanjiani plays Somen “Steve” Banerjee, who co-founded the original Chippendales club in 1979 and oversaw it becoming an internationally recognized brand. But as the series depicts, his rivalry with business partner Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett) eventually escalated into a full-on feud with bloody and tragic consequences.
Nanjiani says that while he initially resisted taking on the role, the complicated nature of Steve as a character made this a part he loved playing. In this interview, which you can watch in the video above or read via the edited transcript below, he explains why he found Steve’s journey so compelling. He also reveals that despite earlier reports, the show’s title was never going to be Immigrant, and reveals that after getting into superhero shape for Eternals, he took it much easier while shooting Chippendales.
So I want to start by asking you, as someone who knows what it takes to get into the kind of shape you need to get into to be a Chippendales dancer — did that affect the way you related to the actors playing those dancers?
A little bit. Mostly I was just grateful that I didn’t have to do it. I could eat whatever I wanted and I did — I had a really great time culinarily on this set. I ate whatever I wanted, and we would get these awesome food trucks and I would eat ice cream every day. It was really, really great.
You would eat the ice cream in front of the dancers?
Yeah. Just to be like, “Oh, look, you could have this life too. Just put on a big suit.”
Yeah, the suits look really nice and comfy.
They are, they’re also quite stiff, but they helped me get into character.