Kumail Nanjiani on Carbs, Cheat Days, and Going Viral
Last December, Kumail Nanjiani placed a temporary freeze on the internet when the actor, comedian, and card-carrying nerd introduced the world to his newly jacked body on Instagram. Nanjiani, best known for his role as a hapless coder on the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, spent an entire year in intensive training while gearing up to play a god-like superhero opposite Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie in next fall’s Marvel movie Eternals. But Nanjiani didn’t just transform physically. The punishing workouts and ultra-strict diet also rewired the 42-year-old’s brain, to the point where pastries became his enemy and pain his friend. Here, the co-writer and executive producer of Apple TV+’s new comedy Little America, and the star of the upcoming comedy Lovebirds opposite Issa Rae, flexes his thoughts on 14 topics chosen at semi-random. (Actually, this time around, the topics were quite specific—not sure what happened.)
“Fool’s gold. You only hear about it when the unicorn happens.”
“My acting teacher lives in the Valley, and I’ve had some great Sichuan there. I forget where we went, but it was the kind of spicy that numbs your face.”
“Obviously, I put those pictures out. I wanted to have them out there because I was like, ‘Christmas is coming up. Who knows what I’ll look like in two weeks?’ And then I posted them, checked a bit later and it was fine. There was nothing. But when I checked it the next time, it was trending. I was scrolling through Twitter, and it was just my torso, after my torso, after my torso, over and over and over. And I was just like, ‘Oh my god! What have I done?'”
“It used to be that the people who went into computers were nerds. But now it’s such a huge industry that this is absolutely not true. The people who would have gone into investment banking, the ones who are a little more alpha, are now going into tech. Bros who have been bros forever are now going into tech. There are parts of Silicon Valley that are still extremely nerdy, like the programmers, but all the VCs and the infrastructure is as bro-y as any other business has ever been.”
“I’m getting overwhelmed just thinking about it. I’m allowed two cheat days a week. On the first one I’ll eat too much dessert, and because my body’s not used to it, I’ll have a really bad reaction. And then the next cheat day, I’ll be more reasonable and it’s fine. And then the one after that I’ll go crazy again, because I’ve forgotten how bad the first one was. It’s this constant cycle of adjusting and forgetting and adjusting and forgetting. Right now, cheat days are about baked goods, because that’s the one thing that’s very hard to justify when you’re on a diet. You can justify anything else because there’s some protein content to it. But a pastry? It’s just fat and carbs.”
“What are carbs?”
“I’ve been seven times, always as a fan. People say it’s too corporate or whatever, and I understand that. But when I think of Comic-Con, I think of passion. I think of all those people who spent so much time on their awesome costumes and this is the weekend they get to show it all off.”
“Heartbreak. Nobody sets out to make a bad movie. Even if the script or the director isn’t good, there are people who poured months of their lives into it. It’s a real bummer when that happens. I had a movie that came out last year called Stuber that did not do well at the box-office and it was sad.”
“The idea that I get to play one in a Marvel movie is a dream I wouldn’t have even dared to entertain a few years ago. If someone had ever asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ I would have said, ‘Be a superhero in a Marvel movie.’ But it felt impossible.”
“They really, really push you, in a way that you’re not used to pushing yourself. I’ve been working out for so many years and I realized I’ve never really exercised before until this—that feeling of pushing yourself past what you think you could do physically. Sometimes there was so much pain that I would try to dissociate. And then some days I really wanted to focus on how much it hurt. So much of your entire being is dedicated to trying to avoid pain. What trainers are really good at is getting you used to it, and teaching you that there’s a kind of pain that you actually need to chase.”
“I think of Robert Redford or Paul Newman or somebody like that. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio fall into that category. The Rock, obviously. Angelina Jolie. I love that they can all walk into a room and change the frequency.”
“We spend all this time doing stuff just so that one day the Earth could shake and swallow us all up? What are any of us even doing?”
BOBBY SHORE (A FRIEND OF THE INTERVIEWER)
“I love Bobby. Great guy.”
This article appears in the March 2020 issue of Interview Magazine. Subscribe here.
Grooming: Jennie Roberts at Frank Agency.
Production: André Augusto.
Photography Assistants: Andrew Rankin and Anna Rosova.