Before 2017, actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani was known by most for his stand-up sets and his role on HBO's Silicon Valley. But now, thanks to Nanjiani's wildly successful film The Big Sick, the 39-year-old actor is a bit of an expert on romantic relationships. Because the film, which he co-wrote with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, was inspired by the real life story of how their romance came to be. Sitting down with Nanjiani at the press day for his latest, The Lego Ninjao Movie, the actor shared one of the best pieces of dating advice he has — that you might just be shooting yourself in the foot, when it comes to finding a partner.
"There are different expectations that people have of their partners, but ultimately you can't really control them," he says, sitting on a couch at the Legoland Hotel in Carlsbad, California. "When I was younger I thought the person I fell in love with would be like this, and this, and this. You have this check list" — the fabled "on paper" checklist, if you will.
For the uninitiated, The Big Sick follows a Pakistani comic named Kumail (played by, you guessed it, Nanjiani), who meets a grad student named Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his shows. Their relationship grows, and the comedian becomes worried about telling his traditional parents he's dating a non-Muslim. To make matters much more complicated, Emily comes down with a sickness that leaves her in a coma, and her boyfriend is left to communicate — and eventually, develop a deep bond — with her parents. It's a sweet, layered, and romantic story, and because Nanjiani spent years of his life crafting (and living) in the reality of it, he has a lot to say about love and life. And his biggest piece of advice for achieving a successful relationship surrounds accepting all aspects of your partner — and realizing you can't change them.
There's a scene in The Big Sick that showcases this idea perfectly, when Kumail and Emily's relationship is just blossoming. Emily admits she hasn't seen many horror films, and Kumail, horrified, asks her to watch one of his favorites. She does, and she likes it OK, but (understandably) isn't as head-over-heels obsessed with the film as Kumail is. For the comic, it's a bit of a let-down, but he soon realizes there are far more important things than whether or not his girlfriend has the same specific taste in obscure horror films as he does.
"Being in a relationship is about being with another person and allowing them to be the person that they are," he says. "It's about figuring out how to be in a relationship with a person and all their baggage while you have all your baggage. It's messy. There are expectations, but you have to let those go at some point, and just let the relationship be what it needs to be."
Just like he had to come to terms with the fact that his ideal partner isn't obsessed with horror films, we all have to make concessions — whether superficial or more serious — when it comes to our partners. And this is something that has resonated with audiences, as the film, which debuted in June, has already brought in a staggering 50 million plus in sales. Plus, it's holding on to an impressive 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Clearly, Nanjiani and Gordon's decision to mix their personal and professional lives paid off. And the Pakistan native said he'd do it again in a heart beat.
"It was great," he says. "But we had to set rules, or else your personal and professional relationships bleed in to each other. So, if we were at home and we wanted to talk about work, we'd have to get permission from the other person, but she's just a great writer. I felt very lucky to work with her and I would feel very lucky to work with her again."
And surely audiences would appreciate another big screen collaboration (and further pearls of relationship wisdom) as well.