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Kumail Nanjiani says he’d “never done this kind of work” dramatically when playing Chippendales founder Somen Banerjee for an upcoming Hulu limited series, with the intensity of his performance leading him to develop some back pain during filming.
The Eternals star has previously spoken about the impact of changing his body for the Marvel movie but in a new interview with Vanity Fair, the actor discussed how his latest role in Welcome to Chippendales saw him taking his work home with him in a different way — and how he had to learn to separate home and work life in order to alleviate mental and physical stress associated with the part.
“I started having this back pain a few months into the shoot, this gnarly knot,” he says of one symptom of how his performance work bled into his body. “It got worse and worse, and the pain would go from there all the way up to my ear.”
He went on to add that as someone who has “never considered himself particularly Method,” according to the magazine, he sought to have a work-life balance that felt more like the Apple TV+ series Severance, with home and work life separation. It was something that proved difficult, he says.
“The body doesn’t know the difference between you doing a sad scene and you being really sad in real life. I’d never done this kind of work,” he notes, before explaining how he turned to his colleagues for help with managing this. “I talked to [the cast] a lot about approaching specific scenes, specific emotions, how to turn things off, how to snap in and how to snap out.”
The reason for all that tension might be the nature of Nanjiani’s role, which sees him playing the unsavory founder of the exotic-dance troupe — a man whose story sees him go from an ambitious immigrant to an unsavory, seedy businessman and involves heaps of sex, drugs and murder.
Described by the actor as “by far the most challenging job I’ve ever done” when it comes to the project’s shooting length, scene content and “emotional difficulty,” producer Rob Siegel adds that he believes Nanjiani “was a little reluctant, or maybe nervous, about playing a bad guy” in his series, which he likens to feeling like a “Scarface or Goodfellas or Boogie Nights” without being “another wannabe Martin Scorsese movie.”
It’s not just a new kind of role for the Big Sick and Obi-Wan Kenobi actor, either. Siegel says its central character is pretty unlikable — but therein lies a different kind of representation for Southeast Asian characters. “He does bad things,” he shares. “You could say, well, this is a negative portrayal of an Indian guy, but you could also choose to look at it like it subverts the stereotype of the model minority.”
Banerjee might not be the only character who breaks stereotypes, according to Nanjiani’s co-star Murray Bartlett, who plays gay choreographer Nick De Noia. Eventually embroiled in a “deadly rivalry,” Barlett says, “There is this trope of the tragic gay character who never finds happiness and dies in the end; I was very aware of not playing into that. We had a chance to explore Nick’s sexuality in a way that was interesting and three-dimensional, and doesn’t make him a tragic figure in that way.”
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