Kumail Nanjiani made headlines when he shared a shirtless photo on Instagram back in 2019, showcasing the ripped physique he attained while training for his role in Marvel’s “Eternals”.
“I never thought I’d be one of those people who would post a thirsty shirtless, but I’ve worked way too hard for way too long so here we are,” he captioned the pic.
However, the former “Silicon Valley” star soon came to experience some unexpected consequences from his photo when his physical transformation came to dominate all discussion of his work.
“I’ve found out over the last year and a half, since I did that picture, that I am very uncomfortable talking about my body, and it’s become less and less and less comfortable,” he admitted in a recent interview with GQ.
As he explained, there were varying motivations behind his decision to bulk up, including a lifelong inferiority complex about his physique (his nickname in school was “chicken shoulders”) and a desire to break free of the box he felt he’d been placed in by Hollywood.
“I wanted different types of opportunities. I wanted the industry to see me differently,” he said. “With brown people, there are very specific roles that we used to get. Either we’re terrified or we’re causing terror. Those are the only two options we had. Either I’m fixing your computer, or I’m, like, planning something at the stock exchange.”
While “Eternals” director Chloé Zhao didn’t expect him to get into the kind of shape he did (he admitted she was actually taken aback), he felt it was something he needed to do.
“If I’m playing the first South Asian superhero, I want to look like someone who can take on Thor or Captain America, or any of those people,” he said of his character, Kingo. “I decided I wanted the character to be the opposite of a lot of the stereotypical depictions we’ve seen of brown dudes in American pop culture. I don’t get to play characters who are cool. And this guy is a little bit cool.”
Sharing his shirtless photo, he explained, was his way of announcing he was ready to start transcending stereotypes.
“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!” he said. “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.”
However, he also looks back and wishes his younger self had the kind of confidence he now has.
“Honestly, if I could talk to myself, I would be like, ‘Hey, you’re great. Try and feel better about yourself. And this will be over, I promise,'” Nanjiani said. “‘You’re enough.'”