Kumail Nanjiani knows what it's like to have people focus on your body. And he can tell you from personal experience that that kind of attention is not all it's cracked up to be.
"I've found out over the last year and a half, since I did that picture, that I am very uncomfortable talking about my body — and it's become less and less and less comfortable," he told GQ in a new interview.
"That picture" was what started all the buzz. Actually it was two Instagram pictures posted in 2019, shortly after his transformation from comedian (from movies like "The Big Sick" and shows like "Silicon Valley") to totally ripped comedian. He'd gotten himself jacked for the upcoming Marvel superhero film "Eternals," and had something to definitely show off.
The thing is, it went viral. And as Nanjiani, 43, told GQ, he's a little over having to discuss it all the time.
His wife, Emily V. Gordon, is in his corner. "It's almost like being a young woman and having your breasts develop," she told the magazine. "You become aware at some point that you are being viewed differently by everyone."
In the film, he's playing Kingo, a superhero who's almost immortal, and who works as a Bollywood star in the real world. He spent so much time in the gym working out with a trainer that he sometimes threw up. Dwayne Johnson commented on his post, "Extremely hard work. Dense muscle is hard to achieve."
"Eternals" director Chloé Zhao said she was surprised at how buff he'd gotten, Nanjiani explained. "Chloé got a little upset at me for getting in shape. ... I shouldn't say 'getting in shape.' For changing my body to look a certain way." (Zhao told GQ, “I wanted to make sure he didn't feel like he had to do it for me.”)
He wanted to look the part to play "the first South Asian superhero." He added, "I want to look like someone who can take on Thor or Captain America, or any of those people." Plus, as a Bollywood fan he knows those actors are often muscular.
"I was like, 'I want this to be believable,'" he said. "I want to feel that kind of powerful in this role."
At the same time, he worries about perpetuating a toxic image of masculinity. “It is aggression,” he said. “It is anger. A lot of times we are taught to be useful by using physical strength or our brain in an aggressive, competitive way. Not in an empathetic way. Not in an open, collaborative way. It's the same thing when you have all these guys, like, asking people to debate them on Twitter. That's the same as arm wrestling. It's about defeating. And that's what the male ideal has been. Dominating. Defeating. Crushing. Killing. Destroying. That's what being jacked is.”
At the end of the interview, he revealed how he wishes he could tell his younger self to not be so hard on himself, that one day he would be playing Kingo. "If I could talk to myself, I would be like ... 'You're enough.' That's what I would say."