Kumail Nanjiani teases wild true-crime story ‘Welcome to Chippendales’

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‘I couldn’t believe all this stuff really happened,’ Nanjiani says of the new Disney+ series

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As Kumail Nanjiani pored over the scripts for Welcome to Chippendales, the true-crime drama debuting on Disney+ this week, he thought none of it could possibly be true.

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“I couldn’t believe all this stuff really happened,” Nanjiani says in a video call. “I kept saying to Rob Siegel, the creator of the show, ‘Wait a sec, did that really happen?’ And he said, ‘Yes, this really happened.’ ”

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The eight-episode series charts the rise and fall of Chippendales founder Somen “Steve” Banerjee (played by Nanjiani), who went from managing a gas station and idolizing Hugh Hefner to founding the male-stripping empire before becoming embroiled in a murder-for-hire plot targeting his business partner, famed choreographer Nick De Noia (played by Emmy Award-winner Murray Bartlett).

Created by Siegel (Pam & Tommy, The Wrestler), Welcome to Chippendales finds the affable Nanjiani departing from the likeable characters he has envisaged in Silicon Valley, Marvel’s Eternals, Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Big Sick, for which he and his wife Emily V. Gordon were nominated for a best screenplay Oscar.

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“By the end of our conversation about all eight episodes, I had to do it. I didn’t really have a choice,” Nanjiani, 44, says.

“The story was too interesting and exciting and unpredictable for me to not take it on.”

In a conversation with the Sun from Los Angeles on a recent late Friday afternoon, Nanjiani discussed our obsession with tales of downfall and how the naysayers that Steve faced helped fuel his own career.

When I watched the first episode, I was rooting for Steve. I didn’t know how dark things were going to get. I discovered that after watching more of the series and Googling Steve’s story. At the start, did you relate to his ambition at all?

“I’m glad you said that you were rooting for him. That was the idea. I wanted to have a person who you root for in the beginning and the same person at the end, he’s changed in some ways, but in some ways he hasn’t. The things you rooted for in the beginning repulse you at the end.

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Kumail Nanjiani in a scene from Welcome to Chippendales.
Kumail Nanjiani in a scene from Welcome to Chippendales. Photo by Disney+

“I did relate to his ambition a little bit. I’m an immigrant, obviously, I related to the idea that of coming to a foreign land and trying to make it and seeing all the barriers that are in your way. You have a certain vision of American success before you come to America and then there’s the reality of American success. The fantasy and reality bump up against one another and it’s something that I’ve thought a lot about in my own life.

“That ambition was really my way into it. I completely understood the idea of coming here and wanting to make it and then understanding it’s going to be harder for me than it’s going to be for most people.”

Why do you think we’re drawn to these tragic tales of downfall?

“I think because you sort of see in these flawed characters the parts of yourself that you’re struggling with, too. I think the issues that Steve has are issues a lot of us have. Hopefully, we’re just better at dealing with them than he is. That glimpse into the darkness of other people is compelling to us because we all have that within us.”

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We first spoke for The Big Sick. But at the start of your career, like Steve, I’m sure a lot of people told you that you’d never make it. How did you tune them out?

“This is probably not a positive way to deal with it, but I don’t tune it out. I use it as fuel. A lot of my engine is trying to prove those people wrong. That’s not great to say. But I remember everyone who took a chance on me when they didn’t have to and I remember the people who didn’t. It’s nothing personal against them, but I remember all the negative stuff people said about me and part of the reason I want to do well is to prove them wrong.”

I was excited when Marvel producer Nate Moore said that the Eternals are coming back. What can you share on that front?

“I don’t know, honestly. I read that when you read it. I was like, ‘Oh, wow, Nate, I’m glad you said that.’ I love the direction the MCU is going in. I just saw the new Black Panther and it’s fantastic; it’s just so moving. I’ve never seen such a huge blockbuster with so much emotion in it. But I genuinely have no idea when or if they are coming back.”

Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) in Marvel Studios’ Eternals.
Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) in Marvel Studios’ Eternals. Photo by Marvel Studios

So no one has told you to block off a few months in 2023 because Marvel is going to require your services?

(Laughs) “If it was happening in 2023, I would have heard by now.”

Welcome to Chippendales begins streaming Tuesday, Nov. 22, on Disney+

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