Romantic dramedy The Big Sick, about an interracial couple dealing with life-threatening illness, has become one of the summer’s smash hit movies. It’s true what they say – life is stranger than fiction. Screenwriter Emily Gordon explains the real story of her relationship with comic Kumail Nanjiani that inspired the film.
By Dorri Olds
American writer, producer, and podcast host Emily V. Gordon was quick to smile as she talked about The Big Sick on June 20 at Manhattan’s Four Seasons hotel. The film is based on her own love story with now-husband, Pakistani-American comedian, Kumail Nanjiani (HBO’s Silicon Valley). The couple co-wrote the script, with a lot of help from the producers Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel, and actors Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, and Zoe Kazan.
When asked if she and Nanjiani could extract themselves from every detail of the script, Gordon said, “Judd and Barry were both good at not wanting us to be precious with our own story. It needed to go from being OUR story to being A story at some point and everybody was collaborating on it and everybody had input. We were encouraged to always have the emotional truth of things but to make sure we were upping the stakes, changing things, moving things, so it would make the movie more dramatic [and funnier] while keeping an emotional truth to it.”
Gordon and Nanjiani agreed that Mendel is a very tough boss. Nanjiani described the producer as “living, eating, showering the film.” He mimicked Mendel saying, “So, why aren’t you?” Gordon chimed in: “It’ll be like midnight and Barry will be like, ‘Okay, so we’ll meet here tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. You’re not doing anything else, right?’ And I was like, ‘Uh, I guess I’ll cancel!’”
But, Gordon admitted, “It was kind of nice to have so many people weigh in on it, because the actual story got back to being our story. It helped me feel more okay.” Director Mike Showalter often told the couple to separate themselves from the script. “It really made the movie better, I think,” said Gordon.
What’s even funnier than the very comedic film is the fact that in real life Gordon and Nanjiani got married only three months after she became ill. When Gordon suggested including that in the script, everyone else pooh-poohed that idea. The reason? It was too ridiculous to ever be believed.
Gordon became a full-time freelance writer in 2010 after working for five years as a therapist. You can find her writing in The New York Times and in magazines Bust, Dame, The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, GQ, Lenny, and Refinery29. In addition to writing, Gordon produces comedy. You can keep up with her on Twitter @emilyvgordon.
THE BIG SICK is currently playing in theaters worldwide. Also see Honeysuckle’s coverage of the film’s stars Holly Hunter and Zoe Kazan.
**A version of this article appeared in print in Honeysuckle Magazine’s HERS issue, summer 2017 edition.
Dorri Olds, who contributed five celebrity pieces to this issue of Honeysuckle’s HERS, is an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in book anthologies, and publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day, Time Out New York, The Fix, The Forward, Yahoo, and Tablet. Visit her YouTube channel and see other works she’s done for Honeysuckle here.