Why Kumail Nanjiani Feels "Very Uncomfortable" Talking About His Body

Eternals star Kumail Nanjiani opened up about the conversation surrounding his physical transformation in an interview with GQ.

By Kisha Forde Oct 08, 2021 1:30 PMTags
Watch: Kumail Nanjiani's Holiday Pics Spark Controversy

Kumail Nanjiani wants to shift the conversation back to his craft.
The 43-year-old actor, who became a household name for his standout roles in Silicon Valley and The Big Sick, found himself making headlines for a different reason after he unveiled his physical transformation for his role in the Marvel movie, Eternals, in December 2019.
"I've found out over the last year and a half, since I did that picture," Kumail, referring to a picture he shared of himself to Instagram showcasing his workout results, said to GQ for this month's cover story. "That I am very uncomfortable talking about my body—and it's become less and less and less comfortable."
The conversation surrounding the actor's physique only grew after he shared holiday photos with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, later that month.
Kumail explained to the outlet that his physical transformation for the role (his character in Eternals is a superhero who lives his everyday life as a Bollywood star) was "entirely his decision." In fact, the actor said that the film's director, Chloé Zhao, was taken aback when she saw his new physique.

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"Chloé got a little upset at me for getting in shape," he shared, adding, "I shouldn't say ‘getting in shape.' For changing my body to look a certain way." Chloé herself clarified to GQ that she was surprised "only because she'd always felt that [Kumail] had the right mix of humility and charisma to play Kingo" regardless of his physical build, noting, "I wanted to make sure he didn't feel like he had to do it for me."

"If I'm playing the first South Asian superhero," Kumail continued. "I want to look like someone who can take on Thor or Captain America, or any of those people." The actor also noted he wanted to match the aesthetics of the Bollywood stars he grew up watching. "From the '60s to the '90s I know basically every big [one]," he shared. "I was like, I want this to be believable. I want to feel that kind of powerful in this role."


Kumail also said he worries about perpetuating toxic standards of masculinity. "It is aggression," he shared. "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."

As for the Instagram post that started it all, Kumail revealed the real reason behind sharing that picture, beyond just the physical aspect.

"I shared that specifically to be like, ‘Hey, I needed to change how people saw me,' so, I could have the type of opportunities I was excited about. And those did happen!" While he's unsure if the photos are the direct cause, he added, "Now I get those opportunities. I don't just mean action stuff. I mean, like, now I get opportunities to play a normal guy. I was not seen as a normal guy before this."