Have you seen Kumail Nanjiani’s body? Of course you have. It would be almost impossible to have missed the actor’s transformation from completely normal-looking man to sentient jawline. People have been discussing it for almost two years now, ever since he posted an image of himself from the set of the upcoming Marvel movie Eternals.
Now that the Chloé Zhao-directed superhero movie is finally coming out, we’re getting a full Nanjiani media blitz. With the amount of buzz centering Nanjiani, you would think that his was the first name on the call sheet.
It’s not — he is part of a large ensemble cast that includes Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek — but his co-stars haven’t undergone self-imposed physical transformations so drastic as to render them unrecognizable. Those co-stars aren’t trying to revamp their public perception from soft-bodied nerd comedian to hunk leading man. And those co-stars aren’t still trying to figure out their place in the Hollywood machine in the face of rampant racism and typecasting — or at least not quite so publicly.
Within the last week, Nanjiani has been extensively profiled in both New York and GQ, and in both profiles his body is the subject. In New York, E. Alex Jung describes Nanjiani’s desire to get jacked as “primal, adolescent.” In Clay Skipper’s GQ piece, Nanjiani says that Zhao was surprised to see that he had put on so much muscle for the film. “I wanted to make sure he didn't feel like he had to do it for me,” she told the magazine.
At one point in the New York profile, a waiter probes Nanjiani about his body. “I have a thing for furry Middle Eastern guys. So, how often do you go to the gym?” the waiter asks. Nanjiani tells him that he goes every day, only taking a rest day if he needs it “mentally or physically.”
“I’ll tell you, man, it’s very easy to get obsessed with that number on the scale,” says Nanjiani. “It’s a tough thing. It’s deceiving. You become obsessed with it. I certainly have, and for me, it’s not great to weigh myself every day. I could tell you what I weigh today.”
“What did you weigh today?” I ask.
“163.4,” says Nanjiani. “I know exactly what I weigh every day, and if I could change something, I would love to not have to think about that.”
Each profile belabors the point that Najiani did this for himself. He was going to be the first South Asian superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and he wanted to look like Captain America or Thor. He wanted to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the '80s, a physique that the Terminator himself admitted was only possible through steroids.
Two years ago, when Nanjiani started his swole journey, the story was much simpler: Normal Man Becomes Rich and Huge, We Love That for Him! Now, the whole thing is much darker — a narrative in which a male actor becomes so consumed becoming shredded for a supporting role in a movie that he knows his weight to the decimal point and has to start going to therapy because of all of the attention.
The real problem is that it doesn’t even seem like Nanjiani loves it for him. “This prison has never been tighter, man,” he told New York. “Having other people decide how you feel about yourself — none of that goes away. It’s all still there. What you have to do is somehow figure out how to have self-worth from within yourself. I don’t know how to do that, but I’ll let you know once I find the key.”
(Not to go completely “As a woman with an iffy relationship with her body,” here, but I’m certain you can’t figure out that self-worth from living in a way where eating a plate of French toast gives you “the sugar sweats.”)
Maybe we have to respect Nanjiani for being so candid, intentionally or not, about how grim his whole situation is. “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 told GQ. I don’t know, man. I hope that Nanjiani’s therapist is good and that he finds a way to not feel crushed if he misses a day of exercise. For his sake, I hope Eternals gets good reviews and makes a ton of money. Imagine what will happen to that man if the movie is a flop. The whole thing really bums me out.