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Kumail and Emily - The couple behind ‘The Big Sick’

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Kumail Nanjiani, left, and his wife Emily Gordon, the co-writers of the upcoming film "The Big Sick," are introduced onstage during the Amazon Studios presentation at CinemaCon 2017 at Caesars Palace on Thursday, March 30, 2017, in Las Vegas. Nanjiani also stars in the film. Kumail Nanjiani, left, and his wife Emily Gordon, the co-writers of the upcoming film "The Big Sick," are introduced onstage during the Amazon Studios presentation at CinemaCon 2017 at Caesars Palace on Thursday, March 30, 2017, in Las Vegas. Nanjiani also stars in the film. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

It’s a love story as old as time itself: A Pakistani-born comedian’s set is interrupted by a beautiful American girl. They begin dating. He is scared to tell his parents of the relationship because they intend for him to marry a Muslim girl.  

The American girl learns of the deceit and ends the relationship just before becoming very ill.

Alerted to her condition by a friend, he rushes to the hospital and is coerced to sign a document to have her placed in a medically-induced coma by a team of doctors who have misdiagnosed her ailment.

During her coma, as he is getting to know her parents (both fully aware of why their daughter broke off the relationship), he realizes he is very much in love with the girl.

Thanks to a tip he shared with a nurse, her misdiagnosis is corrected and successfully treated. She recovers, they reconcile, and marry. Roll credits.

OK, so it doesn’t usually happen that way, but it did, a decade ago, for Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the couple behind the hilarious and moving film ‘The Big Sick.’

Kumail plays himself in the movie while Emily is portrayed by Zoe Kazan.  Emily’s parents in the film are played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter.

Produced by Judd Apatow, and based on the screenplay written by Gordon and Nanjiani, ‘The Big Sick’ premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and opened in wide release last weekend.

The Maine Edge spoke with Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon last week about the ‘The Big Sick,’ and the reaction that people have had to the movie so far.

Emily: It all sounds very serious and intense but the movie is really, really funny.

Kumail: We tell people that this is the best “Pakistani guy falls in love with an American woman while she’s in a coma” movie that you will see this year.

Emily: Yes, just in 2017.

TME: (laughing) The movie has been out for only a short time and is getting so much love. How does that make you feel?

Emily: It’s a little overwhelming for sure. We haven’t had much time to process it yet. One of the great things about the reaction people have had is that we’ve heard from so many who have related to this story in some way. They were either in a medical crisis or in an intercultural relationship. Or from people who just disappointed their parents. It’s really lovely to hear from all these different kinds of people. It makes that overwhelming feeling worthwhile.

TME: Kumail, when you were getting to know Emily’s parents during the time she was in the coma, was there a tug of war between your head and your heart – knowing what your parents wanted but also what you wanted?

Kumail: Before Emily got sick, I think I was really confused and wasn’t really thinking about that. But you know how when things like that happen, your feelings just coalesce, and suddenly your head and your heart sort of align? You suddenly see the light and things make sense. That’s what it was like.

As soon as it happened, I said “This woman is the most important thing in my life and I have to do everything I can. Hopefully she comes out of this because it’s very scary.” Sometimes the thought of losing someone is what it takes for you to really understand how you feel about them.

TME: Emily, I’m curious about your parents’ reaction to the film. Those scenes are so great where Kumail interacts with Ray Romano as your dad and Holly Hunter as your mom. What did your parents say to you after they saw the movie for the first time?

Kumail: (laughing) Can I answer?

Emily: (laughing) No, I’ll do it. My mom said “You know, Holly Hunter is prettier than me but your father is more handsome than Ray Romano.”

Kumail: And I should not have told Ray that.

Emily: I made the mistake of telling Kumail and Kumail made the monstrous mistake of telling Ray Romano, who now brings it up on a near-constant basis - including to my actual parents.

We worked really hard to walk both sets of parents through the movie as we were writing it so there would be no surprises. They realize that it’s a movie and you have to kind of take some dramatic license with conflicts and interesting scenes and conversations. They really love the movie. The first day they had a chance to see it, they watched it five times in a row.

Kumail: Now when we watch a movie with them, they say “Oh, there’s the conflict!” (both laugh)

TME: I’ve heard there is Oscar-buzz for “The Big Sick.” What is your reaction to that?

Kumail: Oh, come on. It’s so early. That’s terrifying.

Emily: We try not to think about that.

Kumail: We just want people to go see it and connect with it. To us, that’s the most important thing. All the other stuff, you can’t control. All we can hope for is that people see it and like it. 

TME: You’ve both really put yourselves out there with this project. What has been one of the most satisfying things about seeing it through and what has been one of the most challenging things?

Emily: I’m a pretty private person and I would say that one of the most challenging parts has been having people ask me if I’ve been in any more comas lately. It’s been a little weird having total strangers ask me about my blood-oxygen levels. What outweighs all of that is the number of people who have connected with the movie on a personal level. I even get people showing me their surgery scars. It’s a lovely thing to be part of a movie that makes people feel less alone. That’s been really beautiful to us and it’s why we do Q&As and keep going to screenings, because we want to hear people’s stories.

Kumail: The stories are interesting and I like hearing stories from people from my part of the world. We were in Manchester when this older Indian-Pakistani couple came up to us – they were probably in their 60s. He said, “Now I understand a little bit more, the choices that my son made.” Oh my God. That was overwhelming. 

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