When Kumail Nanjiani‘s very first nude scene screened for the first time — in front of a crowd of studio executives and movie theater owners at CinemaCon in Las Vegas a few short months ago — his world changed right away.
As he recalled to TheWrap during a recent interview, “That was the day my Twitter blew up.”
If you’ve seen the memorable sequence in Fox’s comedy “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” in theaters now, you know why.
The actor, best known for playing computer nerd Dinesh on the HBO comedy series “Silicon Valley,” strips completely down to play an island masseur who practices extremely unconventional methods on his clients.
When his character, Keanu, bedecked with a long, slender ponytail, does his naked massage method on a bride-to-be, the results are sidesplitting — and rather shocking.
Nanjiani spoke with TheWrap, telling us everything — and we mean everything — about the memorable scene. (You can catch glimpses of it in the red band trailer, at the bottom of this post.)
TheWrap: Counting the Key & Peele kitten comedy and your character name, Keanu is a popular name lately. What’s so funny about it?
Kumail Nanjiani: All of them come from legendary actor Keanu Reeves. I think what happened is, obviously, a lot of people my age are fans of Keanu Reeves because of a bunch of his movies: “Bill and Ted” and a ton more. But also, he’s had a little bit of a resurgence with “John Wick,” which came out a couple of years ago. I think everyone in my demo really likes it. It’s a name on people’s minds because of that movie. I feel like this is Keanu Reeves‘ third big moment — from when we first knew about him, then he had the “Matrix” resurgence, and now there’s the “John Wick” resurgence. I also think it’s a fun name to say. It’s ethnically a little vague and my character is ethnically a little vague. So it’s got a lot going for it.
At what point did you know you’d have to get naked in the scene?
I’ll tell you the whole story. I knew [director] Jake Szymanski a little bit here and there. We have the same manager and I’m a fan of his. I wrote on SNL for a week when he was there, so we’ve known each other for a little while. He asked me to come in to read for a bunch of parts and I read four or five different parts along Adam Devine, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Zac Efron and everybody. After that he called me and wanted me to be in the movie and asked me which part I wanted to play. I knew from the beginning I’d have to get naked to play Keanu. I thought it seemed like the most fun part for sure. I’d never done anything like it. It would force me to try and get into shape. And I’ve never done a big physical comedy scene like that. So I talked to him a bunch and my managers a bunch because you can’t just be naked once. In a film you’re kind of naked forever because it will stay online forever. I hemmed and hawed a lot and thought about it and figured I trust Jake comedically. I finally thought, you know what, I’m gonna do it. I’ll get almost completely naked. I wanted to challenge myself and push myself to do this thing that I’d never done before and also [laughs] use it to try to get in shape.
I take it this is your first nude scene, correct?
You’re so covered up as Dinesh in his long sleeve polo shirts. You’ve been hiding your physique from your fans! What did you do to get into shape for this movie?
I tightened sh-t up. I ate very well. I skipped a lot of dinners. I worked out a lot. The good thing was I had a specific deadline to do this. The thing with this character is I think he’s funny if he’s in really bad shape or really good shape. I figured I either I have to really let go and gain a whole bunch of pounds — but I didn’t want to gain a bunch of pounds. So my best option was to get in shape. I don’t think think the character would have been funny as a normal looking person. I don’t know why. And this was not from Jake or the studio — it was in my head. At the end of the day, I wasn’t able to get into the kind of shape into wanted to be in. If you could peer in my head to see what I really wanted to look like it would blow your mind and be very embarrassing [laughs].
Did you want to look like Thor?
Obviously Thor — what a gift that would be to look like that. I was actually looking at the poster for “Tarzan” and I was thinking how abs look so different now. These are not your grandma’s abs. They go so deep and so sharp now. You could grate cheese on [Alexander] Skarsgard’s abs. So I didn’t get into cheese-grating shape.
Now that you know you can go there, have you thought about action movies?
Oh my god. I’d love to be in action movies. I’ve been trying to convince people. I don’t think it’s anything physical holding me back. I think it’s a general vibe thing that’s holding me back. I don’t project action confidence maybe.
What was your reaction when you first saw the nude scene?
I was very embarrassed. What happens is there’s stages of this. I haven’t been in that many big movies or have had big parts in big movies. I haven’t had this experience. Basically I decided I would do it. Then I went and I did it. And the actual doing of it was really fun. Sugar Lyn Beard [the actress with whom I share the scene] was very nice, funny and very easy to work with. At the beginning I’m wearing a little thing [over my crotch]. But the truth is — and I don’t know if you want all this detail — there’s a lot of oil on me and it keeps coming off. At first I’d be hiding myself with a towel. The scene took hours and hours to shoot and physically it’s very draining. After a little while it was totally fine, and I’d be hanging and think, “Oh right, I should put a towel on.” You sort of get used to it and forget the nudity aspect of it, which goes away after the first few takes. But then when you see it, it’s like, what the f— have I done?! Because my parents can go to movie theaters — they know where movie theaters are. It’s horrifying! There’s a whole new level of terror that comes up when you watch the scene and think, “Oh my god. People are going to be able to watch this!… on huge screens!”
I got a text from my dad that said “very disturbed.” He did not mean it to be funny. A couple of weeks ago when he was online, we had a serious talk about how do we keep mom from watching this, maybe we send mom to a different country for a couple months until this all blows over. It’s just a lot to see so much of me. It’s just so embarrassing. The joke doesn’t work unless you see a lot of me.
To what degree was it improvised?
A lot of it was improvised. We came up with a lot of extra stuff that wasn’t meant to be done. It’s all a blur. The thing is, I’m married so that’s a whole conversation, too. I explained it to her and she said, “Yes, of course, do it.” But then afterward I had to tell her that we did so much more. That’s another conversation with my wife. I told her, “We kind of went insane in there a little bit.” It’s all such a blur.
Are we going to see more nude scenes from you?
I don’t think there’s going to be anything but nude scenes from here on out.
Watch Kumail Nanjiani in the red band trailer for “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”: