Marvel Star Says The MCU Changed The Way He Sees Food

By Jennifer Asencio | Published

kumail nanjiani

For Marvel star Kumail Nanjiani, his relationship with food and the body has changed significantly after being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In an interview with NPR, the actor talks about body image, eating, and emotion in a candid discussion about the nuances food has taken in his life. The discussion encompasses his role in the MCU movie Eternals as contrasted with his current part in Welcome to Chippendale’s.

The South Asian actor began as a stand-up comedian but found fame when he and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay The Big Sick. Shortly after that, when cast as Kingo in the Marvel movie Eternals, Kumail Nanjiani became the first South Asian superhero portrayed by the studio. Kingo’s cover identity is as a Bollywood heartthrob, so the actor and comedian buffed up to play the role.

Building muscle is a discipline that requires a strict diet, a fact of life from the actor’s early years as a child in Karachi, Pakistan. However, sculpting his body for the Marvel role also brought its share of discomfort, as Kumail Nanjiani reveals in the interview how uncomfortable it was to feel objectified for his physique. Likening his own experience of having his social media documenting the transformation gawked at to being catcalled on the street, he indicated empathy for women, who are more often and more universally objectified while going through everyday life.

Indulging in food is something the Marvel actor had never done until Kumail Nanjiani was cast in Welcome to Chippendale’s. After the experience of bulking up for Eternals and a lifetime of being taught that overindulgence in food was a negative thing, he says he struggled with a lot of guilt tied to how and what he ate. “It’s really cruel that we had such limits on how much we could eat because Pakistani food is absolutely delicious. … I’ve always had a weird relationship with food,” he admitted in the interview, adding that building his superhero physique brought a lot of these issues to the surface.

Kumail Nanjiani eternals
Kumail Nanjiani in The Eternals.

The role of Somen “Steve” Banerjee, the founder of Chippendale’s, is a departure from Marvel superheroes, where Kumail Nanjiani doesn’t have to worry so much about what he eats and is learning to change his habits. “I realized that I had been so rigid with food and used it in so many unhealthy ways and then forcing myself to eat unhealthy amounts of unhealthy food in a way got me out of that trap.” He also admitted that getting to eat what he wanted was very liberating to the way he thought about food.

As a standup comedian before his appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Kumail Nanjiani was never a fan of humor about the body in his youth and early career and didn’t include such jokes in his routines. He explains that this is because he was raised with the idea that the body and the soul are at odds, with the body being prone to addiction, indulgence, and waste while the soul only wants goodness. This spiritual line of thinking taught him that the body and its functions are shameful, so humor about these topics somewhat embarrassed him.

With his star rising beyond the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Kumail Nanjiani has plenty of time to reconcile his relationship with food and guilt, a struggle many of us are familiar with. For inspiration, the actor can be seen in Eternals on Disney+. He’s not quite as heroic as the scheming Steve Banjeree in Welcome to Chippendales, which is now streaming on Hulu.