"The Big Sick" director wanted the rom-com to be funny, messy, serious, and silly — because, that’s real life
The Big Sick tells the real-life love story of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, who wrote the script for the romantic comedy. Directed by Michael Showalter, the film stars Nanjiani (as a fictional version of himself) and Zoe Kazan (as a fictional version of Emily) and follows the pair as they fall for one another, but then have to face cultural differences and a mysterious illness that strikes Emily.
At the The Big Sick’s recent L.A. premiere, Showalter — who has Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later coming up (that premieres on Netflix on August 4th) — spoke with HelloGiggles about the early vision for the film, the balance of comedy and drama within it, and the tears (or, lack thereof) shed on set.
HelloGiggles: What were your early conversations with Kumail and Emily like, about how you all would tell their story?
Michael Showalter: We actually started working on the script the day that I met with them [about] the job. So, I had a meeting with Kumail and Emily and [producers] Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel and pitched my take. Literally right after we finished, Judd was like ‘Okay, go in that room over there and start working.’ We talked about the tone. We wanted the movie to be really funny, but also really serious.
We didn’t want to shy away from the dramatic elements of it. We wanted it to feel authentic and like we were trying to capture a real moment in their life. We talked about movies that we all love — like Four Weddings and a Funeral — that [made you feel] like you were there, you were with these people. We worked on the script a lot. We had a lot of conversations over the course of working on this movie.
HG: How did you go about striking the balance between drama and comedy?
MS: Just a lot of working on the script. When [I’m] working on a script, I try to visualize the movie, try to imagine myself in a theater, watching the scenes that we’re writing, even though they haven’t been shot yet. I kind of go off of a visceral feeling that I have about whether or not we’re calibrating each scene the right way to accomplish that tender balance where you’re kind of always on the verge of laughing and/or crying and not tipping it too far in one direction.
HG: Speaking of, were there a lot of tears shed on set, by you or otherwise?
MS: Not by me, because I’m dead inside.
HG: You’re stone cold.
MS: Yes. There are some pretty heavy scenes in the movie, but we also tried not to be melodramatic or maudlin either. It’s real life and real life is funny and messy and serious and silly, and we tried to reflect all of that in the film.
How true is the film to Kumail and Emily’s story? What sort of creative liberties did you take, if any?
MS: I think the big truths are there, but we also tried to make an entertaining movie. It’s not a documentary. It’s not a reenactment. It’s based on a true story, and the big things that happen in the movie happened in real life. But, we also wanted to make sure that we were taking liberties where we felt we needed to.
BONUS! What can we expect from the next chapter of Wet Hot American Summer?
MS: Well it’s 10 years later, so it’s 1991 and the cast is back. They’re all back to see what kind of people [their characters] blossomed into.