Kumail Nanjiani Says He's Not Interested in Playing 'Boring, Good, Noble Characters'
Kumail Nanjiani enjoys a good challenge.
While speaking to PEOPLE at the premiere of his new Hulu show Welcome to Chippendales, theEternals star discussed his leading role playing Somen “Steve” Banerjee, an Indian immigrant who founded the male-stripping empire.
When asked if he was ever concerned about shedding a negative light on a story of an immigrant by doing the show, Nanjiani — who serves as an executive producer on the series alongside wife Emily V. Gordon — told PEOPLE: “For me, it’s more important to play characters who are complicated.”
“I’m not interested in playing boring, good, noble characters,” the actor, 44, explained. “And the idea that I can’t play a certain type of character just because I’m not right is not acceptable to me. So for me, my goal is to play interesting, flawed characters. I really was, I was excited to play this guy.”
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Erin Simkin/Hulu Kumail Nanjiani as Somen “Steve” Banerjee in Welcome to Chippendales
Noting that he has “never done a performance that’s this outside my wheelhouse,” he also told PEOPLE, “I hope they [the audience] think he’s very different from me.”
“So I hope they’re surprised by my performance and I hope they understand him because he is a very closed, tight, to me, very complicated character, and I hope the audiences understand what it is about him that makes him do the things that he does,” he said.
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As for the inspiration he drew from to play the role, he told PEOPLE it was influenced by “a bit of a lot of people.”
“A lot of types of people I know, a lot of types of people I’ve met in the business, so it is that,” he shared. “Nobody specifically, because I don’t know anybody like him. It was just a matter of taking pieces of people that I knew or types of people I knew and trying to make a new character.”
Phillip Faraone/The Hollywood Reporter via Getty
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Welcome to Chippendales, an eight-episode limited series, will tell the “insane, darkly comedic, crime-ridden story behind the unique male revue that became a cultural phenomenon.”
The late Banerjee was an Indian American entrepreneur who struck gold in 1979 when he added a male stripper dance troupe for female audiences to the lineup at his Los Angeles nightclub. The first of its kind, Chippendales has evolved into a Broadway-style burlesque show franchise with residencies all over the world, including a Las Vegas flagship.
Banerjee’s legacy is shrouded in scandal. He was convicted of hiring a hitman in 1987 to kill his business partner — Emmy-winning director and choreographer Nick De Noia (played in Welcome to Chippendales by White LotusEmmy winnerMurray Bartlett). Then in 1994, hours before he was to be sentenced, Banerjee died by suicide.
Banerjee was also indicted for plotting to kill some former Chippendale dancers he allegedly considered a threat.
Erin Simkin/Hulu Murray Bartlett as Nick De Noia in Welcome to Chippendales
In the show created by Robert Siegel, Nanjiani and Bartlett star alongside Annaleigh Ashford as Somen’s wife, Irene; Tick, Tick… Boom!’sRobin de Jesús as Ray Colon, the man Somen helps enlist for a brutal crime, and Juliette Lewis, as Denise, a patron who takes an immediate liking to Chippendales. Other stars of the show include Quentin Plair as a Chippendales dancer named Otis, Nicola Peltz Beckham as ill-fated Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten, Dan Stevens as Stratten’s scheming husband Paul Snider and Philip Shahbaz as Stratten’s director–turned–lover Peter Bogdanovich.
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Welcome to Chippendales is streaming on Hulu now, with new episodes dropping Tuesdays.
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