Kumail Nanjiani went from stand-up comedian to Marvel action hero in a matter of years, but in an interview with Jimmy Fallon on NBC's "The Tonight Show" on Tuesday, he revealed that “Eternals” forced him to step into territory even more foreign — as a Bollywood dancer.
The actor spoke about his role as Kingo Sunen in Marvel’s most recent project, which will hit theaters on Friday. Kingo, one of the immortal alien Eternals hiding on Earth for over 7,000 years, has an undercover identity that’s a little less subtle than his counterparts. Nanjiani told Fallon about this experience of playing a character within a character, with Kingo moonlighting as a movie star in India.
“We’re sort of all supposed to go off on our own and keep a low profile, so my character goes and becomes a Bollywood movie star,” he joked. “For so many superheroes, the power is a great responsibility for them. This guy loves it.”
Nanjiani, who grew up in Pakistan and came to the U.S. for college, wasn’t ready for the demands of being a Hindi movie actor. So when director Chloé Zhao proposed the idea of a full-on dance number, he was more than hesitant.
“I don’t know how to do this,” he said, adding that his wife, Emily, "can’t even get me on the dance floor to dance, and I was in front of millions of people.”
He said that after he protested the idea, Zhao tricked him into believing he would be doing an action sequence instead, even going so far as to replace the dance number in the script. But when Nanjiani arrived in London for filming, “she was like, ‘I lied, it’s a Bollywood dance number,'” he said.
He trained for four months with the scene’s choreographer, and he said the joy of seeing dozens of South Asian dancers on set made it worth it.
“I walked into the gym where we were doing the rehearsal, and I got really emotional,” he said. “It was like 50 South Asian people. … So many years you barely have any South Asian people and then suddenly there’s like 52 of us in one scene. It was awesome.”