The rise and fall of the infamous all-male erotic revue is the backdrop for Hulu’s limited series Welcome to Chippendaleswhich follows strip club founder Somen “Steve” Banerjee as he grows from a promising businessman in the 80s to a reviled accomplice in a murder in the early 90s. Kumail Nanjiani offers an unexpectedly dramatic turn as Banerjee, a hopeful Indian immigrant and entrepreneur who launches the Chippendales franchise and is soon at odds with his business partner and choreographer, Nick De Noia (played in the series by award-winning Murray Bartlett). an Emmy).
For the comedian, who earned a 2018 Oscar nomination for writing The big sick with his wife Emily V. Gordon, Welcome to Chippendales was an exciting opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and adopt a more sneaky persona. But beyond the glamor and debauchery of ’80s excess, the show is an examination of the American dream and the efforts one can make to achieve it. Nanjiani spoke with THR on how he found his way into the character and how he bonded with Banerjee.
What about the show that piqued your interest?
I’ve never had the opportunity to play a character like this, who has such a great arc and descent into darkness. I still have [wanted to play] the bad guy – I’m not just talking about the guys who were kinda shitty; i mean one wrong Bad boy. The story itself was so exciting and unexpected. There are, like, 20 amazing things that happen on our show, all of which happened in real life. And there were some interesting things to say about the American dream and how accessible it is to different types of people, and seeing that through the lens of an immigrant. I’m an immigrant and had some idea of the American dream before I came here. And now, of course, that has evolved. To be able to explore this through the eyes of someone who, in some ways, has had a similar experience to mine is rare.
Most viewers are used to seeing you in comedic roles. Was this project a challenge?
It was a very different process. I created this performance in opposition to everything around me. I saw a picture of Steve Banerjee with his Chippendales dancers, and it was this chubby Indian nerd in a suit surrounded by these shirtless white Adonises. I thought to myself, “He’s the king of a world he doesn’t belong to.” It was a very convincing image. He is surrounded by all these men who are very close to their bodies, very comfortable in their own skin. Murray’s performance as Nick De Noia is similarly; he is very fluid and at ease with himself. I thought Steve must be the opposite of all that. He should be completely disconnected from anything below his neck. He should be very, very bad about himself. And the rigidity comes from this disconnection. You see the cracks appear from time to time, and obviously they get wider. I wanted it to feel like every molecule in her body was working to keep it contained. He always works very hard not to explode.
He’s definitely obsessed with power, not just as a businessman. He even wants to have power over others, like Nick – he wants to be held responsible for everything.
I’ve certainly met people like that in Hollywood – [there are people who] will now treat me as a more valid person because I am more successful. I brought this [into Steve’s worldview]: All that exists is “success” and “not success”. It’s all his psychological makeup. He kind of sees himself as following the rules. It is inflexible, rigid – everything is a duality. I was watching characters who end up being mean in movies, and I feel like there’s something childish about them. They are narcissists. They do not fully understand the consequences of their actions. In the first two episodes, if I do my job well, you see this innocence that is in him. His desire to succeed is almost childish. I think we’ve seen in real life evil characters that figure prominently and are ultimately very childish in the way they [present] themselves in the world. For him, personal relationships are always about knowing who is the boss, who is the servant.
Irene [the Chippendales accountant and, later, Steve’s wife, played by Annaleigh Ashford] is the only person he doesn’t approach that way. He truly sees her as a true equal, and he loves himself when he sees himself through her eyes. In the end, the stakes in this relationship become very high, because it’s the only piece of humanity he has left – what he has with her.
To what extent is his character shaped by being a foreigner, an immigrant? Does that raise the stakes for him?
Ultimately, the reason he craves success is this internal wound that will never be healed by anything from the outside. I don’t think this wound is cultural; the impulse for him who needs success is very, very personal. What I think is cultural is how he takes on the signifiers of what is important to him. In the first episode, you see he cut up magazines and he [pictures of] guys with watches and whiskey and tuxedos – it’s not so important that he’s successful as much as it’s important that everyone thinks he is. I think it comes from him as a kid seeing the West and seeing very glamorous people. Success is wearing a tuxedo and a nice watch and dating Hugh Hefner. As someone who grew up in Pakistan, these signifiers of wealth play a role in our society. Growing up, I was very aware of what good brands are. America goes through these waves of wanting to hide that you’re rich or show that you’re rich. If you look at the 90s and the grunge era, it was all about dressing up. The 80s were about excess. Right now we’re at a point where we’re trying to hide that the rich are rich, or they’re trying to show it off, right?
Speaking of ’80s excess, the show introduces cocaine — and addiction — into the mix, driving a wedge between Steve and nearly everyone he knows and works with. He’s suddenly the one who’s grounded, as everyone else begins to take a different journey.
Yeah, and I think part of him is upset that he can’t do this because of the way he’s built himself. And it gets really interesting, because it [feeds into the dilemma] of how he’s going to show off his wealth, how Irene is going to show off his wealth, and how it’s going to intersect. The idea that material wealth is equal to moral goodness is deeply rooted in our culture. Look at all the really rich celebrities that people look up to who are obviously bad people. I don’t want to name names, but part of it is this idea of, “If they’re that rich, there must be something valuable about them.” When in reality, there really is no connection.
Along the same lines, there is a tendency to identify those who have achieved wealth as good leaders – if we get attached to them, that wealth will trickle down to us.
What he ignores is the inherent privilege that people are born with. Steve is a brown immigrant. He changed his first name to try to fit in, as a westernized name was important to him. But what he doesn’t understand — or understands as the season progresses — is that it’s not equal for everyone. If you don’t look a certain way and if you’re not from a certain background, you don’t have the same opportunities. In this way, the American dream is a lie. This idea that anyone can do that? No, it’s much more difficult for many people. I am very aware of how lucky I was. I am also aware of the things I had to deal with at the start of my career. I had many conversations with [series creator] Rob [Siegel] because there was a certain point of view on all of this that I wanted Steve to express. Steve does a lot of bad things, and I would never do those things. But sometimes something happens in the show that I agree with.
The show addresses how male bodies can be objectified. After being fit for Eternals, you said that the public’s reaction to your body really had an impact on how you perceived yourself. Did that play a role in your interest in this project?
I think it’s really cool that the show addresses the objectification of the male body. We saw that, actually, while we were filming. We had background artists who played the women in the audience and the way they interacted with the actors who were the dancers – it was interesting to see how that dynamic within the show would continue when we weren’t filming. Honestly, for me, what that says about the male form and how we objectify it, or empower it, really wasn’t something I thought about much until I started shooting the show. I just knew that I couldn’t look like someone who could get on stage with these people. I had to look different from them. People have asked me, “Is the suit padded?” No, nothing was padded. And I didn’t give it much thought until I was on set feeling very different from all the men around me – I’m not just talking about my body, I’m talking about the way I dress. , of my appearance. Murray was able to wear absolutely gorgeous clothes, he had fabulous hair. Meanwhile, I’m wearing uncool glasses and earth-toned beige suits while everyone else is so colorful and flamboyant.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a December standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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‘Welcome to Chippendales’ Star Kumail Nanjiani Talks His First Dramatic Role: ‘He’s the King of a World He Doesn’t Belong To’ – MMA Fighting