10 Actors to Watch: Kumail Nanjiani Builds Buzz for ‘The Big Sick’

Kumail Nanjiani is one of Variety‘s 10 Actors to Watch for 2017. For the full list, click here.

Fans of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” are familiar with Nanjiani, but ever since Sundance he has broken out on the big screen thanks to sleeper hit “The Big Sick.” The actor had studied computer science, but switched to comedy between his junior and senior year in school because he realized the only thing he could become is a professor. “It was not that interesting to me and I was very bad at it,” Nanjiani says. “I never really felt stupid in my life, but studying computer science, I felt really stupid.”

Standup comedy beckoned and then film and television. He racked up a lot of credits with characters such as: Cable Guy, Statistician, George the Counter Guy. As a South Asian, he has seen his share of stereotypical roles. But he’s grateful to those who pushed for change, including Kal Penn, Aziz Ansari and Mindy Kaling. “It was very helpful because they played characters we hadn’t seen before. Each opened the door for more and more.”

The Pakistan-born Nanjiani wrote “The Big Sick” with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, and plays himself while Zoe Kazan essays the role of Gordon. “I just felt this story was right for a film,” he says. “We knew where this film would end. If you look at the story, it has a very built-in structure, a natural structure. We didn’t want to stretch it out into a miniseries or TV show.” Many South Asians have embraced the indie as have his family. Nanjiani says his parents have shown up at screenings and told the audience of the relationship. “It’s interesting to see just how much my life has changed in a year. I’ve gone from really having to work for parts in movies to getting a lot of scripts. It’s exciting but also daunting.” One thing is sure; in October he returns to “Silicon Valley” to shoot the fifth season.

Influences: Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Curtis, Richard Linklater, Bill Murray
Representation: Agency: UTA; Manager: Mosaic; Lawyer: Isaac Dunham

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