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The Academy award-nominated actor and writer spoke during a virtual roundtable discussion for Variety’s “#REPRESENT: Success Stories,” where he admitted that he still struggles to find auditions that don’t ask him to play up his accent for more “stereotypical brown guy roles.” While he admits he’s willing to do an accent if the role calls for it, he notes he often refuses to do it just for comedy.
“I have a Pakistani accent, but they would be like, ‘Could you make it funnier? Lean in a little bit.’ And at some point, I decided I just wasn’t going to do that,” he said. “There are certain parts that require a thicker Pakistani or Indian accent, and that’s totally fine, but I just didn’t want the comedy to just be coming from someone exaggerating their accent.”
The 42-year-old comedian went on to share a story of a time in which he was asked in an audition to play up his accent, which he refused to do.
“So there was a really, really big movie, actually, that I auditioned for, and I was a taxi driver, and the director was like, ‘Hey, could you play up the accent a little bit?’ And I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t.’ And then the guy felt really bad,” he recalls. “And I was like, ‘No, it’s fine. I’m just not going to do it. If that’s what you want, I’m not your guy.’ And then that movie was hugely successful.”
The “Lovebirds” actor stopped short of naming the movie. However, he noted on a 2014 episode of his now-defunct podcast “The Indoor Kids” that he previously auditioned for the movie “Deadpool." On the podcast episode, his co-host and wife, Emily V. Gordon, notes that he refused to play up his accent in that audition. The movie features a character named Dopinder, a South Asian taxi driver played by Karan Soni.
Regardless, Nanjiani is getting another shot at being in a superhero movie. He recently revealed that he got into incredible physical shape in order to take on the role of Kingo, a cosmic being and Bollywood star, in Marvel’s upcoming film “The Eternals.”
The “Little America” executive producer spoke virtually with Hasan Minhaj, Jon M. Chu, Lulu Wang and Ally Maki to talk about the importance of diversity in films and how much representation of South Asian people in modern pop culture means to the community.
“[When] we’re represented here, it all gets flattened into one thing. Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, it all gets squished into one,” he explained. “Obviously, on-screen representation is important, but I think writing, directing, those things are very, very important because we just need more people telling their stories. … If someone says, ‘Oh, you know that hit Asian movie,’ I want people to be like, ‘Which one?’”