Actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani argues non-white actors rarely get the chance to play the villain.
In an interview with Esquire, Nanjiani revealed insights into his role as Somen “Steve” Banerjee in Hulu’s “Welcome to Chippendales.”
Banerjee was an Indian entrepreneur who immigrated from Bombay, India, to Los Angeles, where he purchased and renovated a nightclub, Chippendales. In 1979, Chippendales became the first to include male stripper performances for female audiences. Within the next decade, Banerjee would be found guilty of attempted arson, racketeering and murder for hire in an attempt to remove Chippendale’s competition.
“I’ve never gotten to play an arc like this,” Nanjiani revealed about taking on the role of Banerjee. “By far the most layered, complex, complicated person I’ve ever played.”
The dark role in “Welcome to Chippendales” is a stark turn from Nanjiani’s role in Marvel’s 2021 film “Eternals,” where the Pakistani American actor plays the comedic Celestial Kingo.
However, Nanjiani’s newest character requires the actor to take a 180 on his personality, role and appearance. “I just ate whatever I wanted to because I wanted to look different,” the actor said.
“I didn’t do it in a healthy way,” he added, revealing that he reached his heaviest weight and developed sleep apnea in the process.
The actor also discussed the rarity of seeing a non-white villain. If “Welcome to Chippendales” hadn’t been based on a true story, the central role would have gone to a white actor, Nanjiani argued.
Although diversity in Hollywood is growing, Nanjiani believes fear of misinterpretation is what holds studios back from casting people of color in villainous roles.
“That’s just as limiting as anything else,” Nanjiani stated. “I want to play more bad guys.”
Pointing to co-star Sebastian Stan — who plays both complex MCU anti-hero Winter Soldier and a cannibalistic serial killer in “Fresh” — Nanjiani pointed out the difference in roles offered to the actors based on their appearance.
“He does these big Marvel movies, and then he’ll play a psychopath. I was told that’s going to be hard because people don’t want to cast non-white people as bad guys.”