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How Kumail Nanjiani went from coronavirus warnings to Netflix and chill

Sonaiya Kelley, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Kumail Nanjiani is tired of romantic comedies ending with the boy and girl riding off into the sunset together. That's why his latest rom-com, "The Lovebirds," centers around a couple on the brink of a breakup.

"There are all these movies that end when the couple gets together but there aren't as many movies about the couple living together and continuing to stay together," he said by phone while quarantined in Los Angeles. "It's just not something I've seen explored in comedy. You know how couples fight about the same things they've been fighting about since they first met? I feel like couples have like five fights and just have them over and over. I thought that was interesting to explore in the context of a wacky comedy setup."

The film is something of a pioneer in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, completely eschewing a theatrical release and instead heading straight to streaming. It was set to debut March 16 at Austin's South by Southwest festival before opening in theaters April 3, but Paramount canceled its theatrical release entirely and sold it to Netflix, where it will become available for streaming on Friday.

For Nanjiani, who along with co-star Issa Rae also executive produced the film, the decision ultimately turned out for the best. "I think this movie is actually a fantastic fit for Netflix," he said. "It's the type of movie that I've seen do well on Netflix. Hopefully it's a movie that people will connect with right now because it's a comedy and it's escapism."

Directed by Michael Showalter (who also directed Nanjiani in the semi-autobiographical love story "The Big Sick," which Nanjiani co-wrote), the film's titular lovebirds were originally written as white. But together with Rae, Nanjiani reworked the script to better reflect the experience of an interracial relationship between two people of color.

"We were like, 'If it's a white couple that's been framed for murder, that situation is very different from a nonwhite couple, a multiracial couple, that is framed for murder,'" he said. "Our relationship with the police is different. When a white person sees a cop and when I see a cop, the feelings are very, very different. So we really wanted to make sure that was a part of it."

 

"It was very obvious that the circumstances would play out a bit differently and the conversations would be a bit different with people of color involved," said Rae. "So in rewriting it we wanted to make it feel relatable. Because of that, we were having a lot of intimate conversations about ourselves in relationships and what we wanted to see about a couple that was on the fringes of separating. In that way it was very hands-on."

"This wasn't going to be a movie about what it's like being a person of color going through the world but we also didn't want to ignore it," said Nanjiani. "So Issa and I had a lot of conversations about it and we were like, 'We want this to be something that's present in the movie but not something that necessarily overwhelms it.' That was a big deal."

The Times caught up with Nanjiani to discuss how he's been faring during quarantine, being hyper-vigilant about the COVID-19 crisis from the very beginning and his other project affected by the global shutdown -- the Marvel action epic "The Eternals."

Q: How have you been spending your time in quarantine?

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