NEW YORK – Kumail Nanjiani has a few names for quarantine life. He has divided time firmly between “pre-Hanks/Wilson” and “post-Hanks/Wilson,” referring to the early COVID-19 diagnosis for Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. And he has settled on calling the strange, bewildering days of lockdown “The Weirds.” This applies to all the confusion and just plain odd parts of life since the pandemic began. Like when Nanjiani was on “Good Morning America” last week.
“I did that over Zoom from my garage. It's New York time, 5 a.m., so the sun's not out. I'm wearing pajama bottoms,” Nanjiani says. “It's just a strange reminder of how different everything is right now.”
With his wife, the screenwriter Emily V. Gordon, Nanjiani has been chronicling all the mood swings, anxieties and small comforts of quarantine life from their home in Los Angeles in their for-charity podcast “Staying In.” Right now, after more altruistic periods, Nanjiani considers himself in his “most selfish phase.” Like everyone else, he wants his life back.
But the lockdown has also given Nanjiani a chance to contemplate a whirlwind few years. Since his breakthrough in 2017's Oscar-nominated “The Big Sick,” an autobiographical romantic comedy he wrote with Gordon, Nanjiani has morphed into a leading man.
He played an Uber driver with Dave Bautista in “Stuber.” He voiced a tiny CGI alien in “Men in Black International” and a mischievous ostrich in “Dolittle.” He'll co-star in the upcoming Marvel movie “The Eternals.” And now, he's starring alongside Issa Rae in “The Lovebirds.” It debuts today on Netflix after the streaming company acquired the film from Paramount Pictures due to the pandemic.
As a Pakistani-American stand-up comedian-turned-actor, Nanjiani, 42, is unlike any star before him. He's now finding his way in a Hollywood where South Asian actors, when they're cast at all, have usually been typecast. So right now, when Nanjiani isn't freaking out about the pandemic, he's contemplating what kind of movies he wants to make.
“It's honestly during this quarantine that I sat down and sort of thought, 'What do I want the next five years of my life to look like?' ” he says. “Sometimes you just do things because people are asking you to do it and it's a big-budget thing. The last few years, I've gotten to do some stuff that I really enjoyed, that I loved, and some stuff that I didn't enjoy that didn't turn out great.”