Kumail Nanjiani says getting ‘jacked’ helped him break out of stereotypical roles

    usatoday-  Kumail Nanjiani is speaking out about his body transformation that sent social media into a frenzy.

    The “Eternals” actor, 43, went viral in 2019 after sharing a shirtless photo of his muscular physique for his role in the Marvel movie. But he admitted he didn’t enjoy the scrutiny in a GQ interview published Thursday.

    “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.

    Nanjiani also clarified that bulking up was entirely his decision and one that “Eternals” director Chloé Zhao questioned at the time.

    “Chloé got a little upset at me for… changing my body to look a certain way,” he said.

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    But he said: “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 … I was like, I want this to be believable. I want to feel that kind of powerful in this role.”

    Aside from the Twitter trolls and negativity surrounding his viral photo, he said there was one silver lining from the experience: being offered roles that went beyond the stereotypical nerdy trope for South Asian men.

    “With brown people, there are very specific roles that we used to get,” the “Silicon Valley” star said. “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.”

    Nanjiani said he shared those photos of his body to send a message: “I needed to change how people saw me so I could have the type of opportunities I was excited about. And those did happen!”

    “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.”

    Despite “looking and feeling better,” Nanjiani revealed he sometimes worries that his image may perpetuate the notion that “jacked” men are aggressive, angry and threatening

    “A lot of times we are taught to be useful by using physical strength or our brain in an aggressive, competitive way. Not in an empathetic way. Not in an open, collaborative way. It’s the same thing when you have all these guys, like, asking people to debate them on Twitter. That’s the same as arm wrestling. It’s about defeating. And that’s what the male ideal has been. Dominating. Defeating. Crushing. Killing. Destroying. That’s what being jacked is.”

    He hopes his role as Kingo in “Eternals” will shatter that image of toxic masculinity.

    “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,” he says, which is why he made Kingo physically powerful and full of joy. “I don’t get to play characters who are cool. And this guy is a little bit cool.”

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