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'Welcome to Chippendale' star Kumail Nanjiani on his first drama lead: 'He's the king of a world he doesn't belong to'

The rise and fall of the notorious all-male erotic farce is the backdrop for a limited series on Hulu Welcome to the Chippendales , the strip club founder Somen “Steve” Banerjee from 250 ) was an early . Kumail Nanjiani as Banerjee, an Indian immigrant and hopeful entrepreneur who launches the Chippendales franchise and soon joins his business partner and choreographer A dispute ensues, leading to an unexpected dramatic turn, with Nick De Noia (played by Emmy winner Murray Bartlett).

For the 2021 Oscar nominated comedian and wife Emily V. Gordon co-writing The Big Sick, Welcome to Chippendales is an exciting opportunity to step out of his living comfort zone and presenting a more cunning character. But apart from the charm and debauchery of 37, this The show is an examination of the American Dream and what it might take to make it happen. Nanjiani spoke with THR about how he fit into the character and his relationship with Banerjee.

What is it about this program that piques your interest?

Never had the chance to play a character like this with such a big arc and such dark blood. I’ve always [wanted to play] bad guys — and I don’t just mean guys who are a little mean; I mean bad bad guy. The story itself is so exciting and unexpected. There are Unbelievable things happen over the course of our show, and it all happens in real life. It has a lot of interesting stuff about the American Dream and how accessible it is to different types of people, and looking at it through the lens of an immigrant. I’m an immigrant and I had some idea of ​​the American dream before coming here. Now, obviously, this has evolved. It’s rare to be able to explore this through the eyes of someone who in some ways has had a similar experience to mine.

Most viewers are used to seeing you in comedic roles. Is this project a challenge?

This is a very different process. I created this show to oppose everything around me. I saw a picture of Steve Banerjee and his Chippendale dancers, and it was this pudgy Indian nerd in a suit surrounded by shirtless white Adonis. I was like, “He’s the king of a world he doesn’t belong to.” That’s a very compelling image. He’s surrounded by all these people who are very in touch with their bodies, and they’re very comfortable in their own skin. The same goes for Murray’s performance as Nick DeNoah; he’s very fluid and comfortable with himself. I think Steve should be the opposite of all this. He should be completely free of everything below the neck. He should be very, very uncomfortable in his own skin. Rigidity comes from this disconnect. You’ll see cracks popping up now and then, and they’re obviously widening. I wanted it to feel like every molecule of his body was trying to keep it under control. He always works really hard not to blow up.

He is definitely obsessed with power, not just as a businessman. He even wants to be above other people, like Nick – he wants to be seen as the one who is in charge of it all.

Of course I’ve met people like that in Hollywood – [some people] would now pass me off as one A more effective person because I’ve had more success. I bring it [into Steve’s worldview]: all that exists is “successful” and “unsuccessful.” This is his entire psychological makeup. He sort of thinks he plays by the rules. He’s rigid, his mind is rigid — everything is dualistic. I look at the characters in the movie that end up going bad, and I think there’s something childish about them. They are narcissistic. They don’t quite understand the consequences of their actions. In the first few episodes, if I do my job right, you see the innocence in him. His desire to succeed is almost childlike. I think we’ve seen some villainous characters in real life who appear big and end up being very childish in the way they [present] themselves in the world. For him, relationships were always about who was the boss and who was the servant.

Irene [the Chippendales accountant and later Steve’s wife, played by Annaleigh Ashford] is the only person he doesn’t approach in that way. He really sees her as his true equal and he likes himself when he sees himself through her eyes. Ultimately, the stakes in this relationship become very high because that’s the only humanity left in him – the one he’s with her with.

To what extent was his character shaped by outsiders, immigrants? Does this up his stakes?

In the end, the reason for his desire to succeed is that internal wounds that actually never heal are filled with anything from the outside world. I don’t think the wound is cultural; his need to succeed is very, very personal. I do think culture is the way he employs signifiers that are important to him. In the first episode, you see him cut magazines, and he has [photos] of handsome guys with watches and whiskey and tuxedos — it doesn’t matter how successful he is, what matters is that other people think he’s successful. I think it’s because he saw the West as a kid and saw very attractive people. Success is about putting on a tuxedo, putting on a nice watch, and hanging out with Hugh Hefner. As someone who grew up in Pakistan, these symbols of wealth do play a role in our society. Growing up, I know very well what a good brand is. America has gone through these waves of wanting to hide your wealth or flaunt your wealth. If you look at the ’78 years and the garbage era, this is It’s all about dressing up. ’48 is redundant. Now we’re in a place where we’re trying to hide the wealth of the rich, or they’re trying to show it off, right? Annaleigh Ashford and Kumail Nanjiani in Hulu’s limited series Welcome to Chippendales.

Annaleigh Ashford and Kumail Nanjiani in Hulu’s limited series Welcome to Chippendales.

Annaleigh Ashford and Kumail Nanjiani in Hulu Limited Series Welcome to Chippendales. Courtesy of Erin Simkin/Hulu

Speaking of excess’75s, a show that introduces cocaine — and drug addiction — into it, which in Steve A rift was created between Husband and almost everyone he knew and worked with. He was suddenly grounded, and everyone started on different journeys.

Yeah, I think part of him is frustrated that he can’t because of the way he’s structured himself. It’s become really interesting because it’s [stuck in] how he’s going to show his wealth, how Irene is going to show hers, and how that’s going to cross. The idea that material wealth equals moral goodness is ingrained in our culture. Look at all the really rich celebs people look up to, they’re obviously bad guys. I don’t want to name names, but part of it is this thought, “If they’re that rich, they must have something of value.” And in reality, there’s really no connection.

In the same sense, people tend to view those who have acquired wealth as good leaders – if We are attached to them and wealth will flow to us.

What it ignores is the inherent privilege of the inner man. Steve is a brown immigrant. He changed his name to try to fit in because a westernized name was important to him. But what he didn’t understand — or he began to understand over the course of the season — was that not everyone was created equal. If you don’t look a certain way and you don’t come from a certain background, then you don’t have the same chance. In that case, the American Dream is a lie. Anyone have ideas on how this can be done? No, it’s much harder for a lot of people. I am well aware of how lucky I am. I also know what I had to deal with early in my career. I had a lot of conversations with [series creator] Rob [Siegel] because I wanted Steve to express a certain point about all of this. Steve did a lot of bad things that I would never do. But sometimes he gets something on the show that I happen to agree with.

This show touches on the ways in which the male body can be objectified. Before you shape Eternals Then , you say that the public’s reaction to your body does affect how you see yourself. Is this one of the reasons you are interested in this project?

I think it’s really cool that this show goes into the objectification of the male body. We actually saw this while filming. We have background artists playing the women in the audience and the way they interact with the actors who are the dancers – it will be interesting to see how those dynamics continue in the show when we’re not filming. Honestly, for me, before I started filming the show, what it said about the male form and how we objectify or empower it wasn’t something I really thought about. I just know I don’t look like someone who can jump on stage with these guys. I have to look different from them. People ask me, “Is the suit padded?” No, it’s not padded with anything. I didn’t think about it too much until I was on set feeling very different from all the men around me—and I’m not talking about purely my body, I’m talking about the way I dress, the way I look. Murray has to be in absolutely gorgeous clothes, and he has gorgeous hair. Meanwhile, I was wearing uncool glasses and a beige, earth tone suit while everyone else was so colorful and gaudy.

This story first appeared in the December standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe .



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