Kumail Nanjiani and Holly Hunter revel in SAG Award nominations for 'The Big Sick'

Kumail Nanjiani and Holly Hunter revel in SAG Award nominations for 'The Big Sick'
Holly Hunter, left, Ray Romano and Kumail Nanjiani in a scene from "The Big Sick." (Nicole Rivelli / Associated Press)

In the latest twist in this unpredictable award season, just days after “The Big Sick” was entirely shut out from the Golden Globe nominations, the Screen Actors Guild made the romantic comedy Wednesday morning’s biggest comeback kid.

Based on the real-life cross-cultural love story between comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his now-wife, Emily V. Gordon, the sleeper hit scored two SAG nominations: one for best ensemble and a supporting actress nod for Holly Hunter, who plays a character based on Gordon’s mother.


From the film’s rapturously received debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January to its $43-million box office haul this summer to its presence in the awards conversation, its journey has brought one surprise after another, Hunter told The Times Wednesday morning.

“This movie doesn’t necessarily fit the profile of movies that come out in September and October and then are talked about with a great amount of excitement — and yet ‘The Big Sick’ has continued to be there,” said the actress, who has earned five previous SAG nominations but not yet won.

“There are so many ways that a movie can falter along the winding road,” Hunter added. “So when a movie like this, which is so special from the beginning, actually makes it through the crucible and the audience connects with it, it’s just a different kind of thrill.”

Shortly after the SAG announcement, The Times spoke by phone with Nanjiani to get his own reaction.

A lot of people were surprised when “The Big Sick” was entirely shut out from the Globe nominations. You put out a funny tweet about it that morning, but how did you really feel?

I mean, listen, honestly I was a little disappointed — I’m not going to lie about that. But then you’re also upset at yourself. The movie has been so successful for us. We got to tell a version of our story with some of the best actors in the world, and we got amazing reviews and people watched it and loved it. So I was like, “Why am I getting upset at not getting a Globes nomination?”

In the past, I remember I’ve been with people in situations where they’ve been upset about not getting nominations, and I’ve been like: “You’re so ungrateful. The movie did so well. Everybody loves it. Why do you need this?” And then when it happened to me, I had sort of the same reaction. [laughs]

I think Holly is so good in the movie and Ray [Romano] is so good and Zoe [Kazan] is so good, so I was just bummed that none of their work was recognized. I truly, truly believe that their work is worthy of recognition. I was a little sad about it, but I got over it pretty quickly.

The real-life romance of Kumail Nanjiani, left, and Emily V. Gordon was the basis for "The Big Sick."
The real-life romance of Kumail Nanjiani, left, and Emily V. Gordon was the basis for "The Big Sick." (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images for IFP)

So were you up early [Wednesday] morning watching the livestream of the announcement and hoping things would go differently?

No, I was asleep. We just decided we were not going to watch these things live anymore. It’s just too much. Especially after the Globes thing, Emily and I were like, “You know what? Let’s just try to let this go and we’ll hear about stuff when we hear about stuff.” My cat wakes me up in the morning every morning to feed her. So I went and fed her and I went back to bed and I then started getting all these texts.

This one means so much because it’s everyone in the cast and… every single person in the movie is so talented and was so engaged. And these are actors. They know this work better than anyone. So it’s really, really thrilling that they appreciate it.

There’s obviously a long history of comedies not getting the kind of recognition they might deserve when awards are handed out. When you were making “The Big Sick,” was there any part of you that even let yourself fantasize about it being a possible awards contender?

Definitely not. I think thinking about the reaction when you’re making something is detrimental to the creative process. Every now and then I was like, “Man, I hope this movie does well.” But honestly, the work of making a movie — especially for us since we wrote it and were producers on it and I was acting in it — there was so much work that you really didn’t have time to stop and fantasize.

It was a low-budget movie and we had a lot of pages to get through, so there literally was no downtime for us over the 25-day shoot. We just kept going, going, going, and when we had time off, our brains were fried. We’d just sit on the couch eating baked goods and I remember we were watching the “OJ: Made in America” documentary every weekend, which was a nice counterbalance.


We’ve still got months to go in this award season. This is really your first time in the thick of it. How are you maintaining your sanity?

It’s good to be able to go through it with Emily, first of all. Whenever I would read the phrase “crazy ride,” I’d be like, “Oh, God, what a cliche!” But now I’m here and I’m like, “What a crazy ride! It’s a real roller-coaster!” [laughs]

It has been a crazy ride. But Emily and I support each other and we try to have as much fun as we can. A lot of our friends don’t know what the circuit is and what all this stuff entails, so just to be with someone who understands it is great.

It’s a little exhausting so we try and take breaks and have long breakfasts if we can, but that’s tough because I’ve also been shooting [the HBO comedy series] “Silicon Valley” so the schedule has been pretty intense. But at night we try to watch something or play video games before we got to sleep. We try and find little stuff that we enjoy.