The first time Kumail Nanjiani set foot in Orange County in 2010, someone from a passing car yelled, “Hey Kumar! Where’s Harold?”
“I was doing the comedy club here, the Improv (in Irvine),” said Nanjiani, the comedian, actor and star of “The Big Sick,” which has received critical accolades, nominations and lots of buzz this awards season.
“Literally my first experience, getting out of the car, the first time my feet touched the ground in Orange County, that’s what happened,” said Nanjiani, 39, who was born in Pakistan and moved to the United States when he was 18. “It’s hard. Whenever someone’s racist to you, you do laugh it off, but it also sucks at the time.”
On Dec. 7, Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, co-writers and co-executive producers of “The Big Sick,” stepped out of a black van onto a red carpet at the Lido Theater in Newport Beach for an Orange County Film Society screening of their romantic comedy.
The film, based on the couple’s own romantic experiences and struggles with health and family, has earned more than $42.8 million at the domestic box office and $55 million internationally since its release in July. It cost $5 million to make, Gordon said.
The Orange County Film Society — a year-round outgrowth of the Newport Beach Film Festival — screened the film to members and presented the couple with an award for best original screenplay.
“It’s an honor. It’s amazing,” said Gordon.
“It’s awesome that people liked the screenplay and singled it out,” Nanjiani added. “It’s all truly because of (producer) Judd (Apatow) and (producer) Barry Mendel and Mike (Showalter) our director. If it wasn’t for them — they really, really pushed us.”
To date, “The Big Sick” has earned nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Awards for its cast and supporting actress Holly Hunter; from the Independent Spirit Awards for best first screenplay and best supporting actress; and from numerous film critics associations for the screenplay, supporting actress and other categories, such as best comedy and best movie.
American Film Institute has recognized “The Big Sick” as one of its top 10 movies of the year.
“To be in the conversation with all of these great, great movies, it’s really, really flattering,” Nanjiani said. “We’re very happy to be here. We did not expect any of this.”
For Todd Quartararo, co-founder of the O.C. Film Society (OCFS), presenting a film that’s attracting a lot of awards buzz, along with its star and creators, was a special treat for Orange County film fans who can’t always make it to premieres in Los Angeles.
“I’m cautiously optimistic and hopeful they’ll be nominated for an Oscar,” said Quartararo, who noted that “The Big Sick” has been his favorite movie of the year so far. “We’ve had a good string — our history of predicting these award-winning films has been really, really strong.”
Quartararo is also co-founder of the Newport Beach Film Festival, which will be celebrating its 19th anniversary next year. The film fest is scheduled to run April 26 to May 3, 2018.
“Kumail and Emily were extremely accommodating and down to earth,” Quartararo said. “They seemed very honored by our award. And they were so engaging for the Q & A, which just made the whole experience very special.”
The OCFS will present “The Post” for its Red Carpet Club members on Dec. 18, and “Molly’s Game,” also for Red Carpet Club members, on Dec. 21.
Both screenings will be at Regency South Coast Village theaters in Santa Ana, across the street from South Coast Plaza.
Additional OCFS screenings are planned for 2018. Because of the nature of the movie business, the nonprofit organization does not know which movies it will screen until a few weeks ahead of time, Quartararo said.
General membership to the film society is $159, which includes a minimum of 15 screenings in one calendar year. Red Carpet Club membership is $259, which includes six additional, exclusive screenings and private receptions.
For more information on the OCFS, call (949) 253-2880 or visit orangecountyfilmsociety.com.
Richard Chang is a contributor to Times Community News.