While most romantic comedies feature a love story that could only be made up in a Hollywood writing room, 2017’s Oscar-nominated The Big Sick was based on a real couple. Our new Men’s Health cover star, Kumail Nanjiani, and wife Emily V. Gordon co-wrote the screenplay about their real-life love story, and Nanjiani also stars as himself in the movie.
The Big Sick helped pushed Nanjiani’s career into overdrive, and this year, fans can see him in The Lovebirds, Little America, and The Eternals. In our April cover story, Gordon talked about her husband’s amazing body transformation for the upcoming Marvel film.
As Gordon revealed to us, Nanjiani’s intense training affected a lot more than just his body. “At first, whenever he came home from a workout, he wasn’t able to focus on anything,” she noted. “He was still a functioning person, but for an hour, you couldn’t really count on him to have a conversation. His body was adjusting.”
Want to dig a little deeper into their relationship? Here’s what else you need to know about Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.
Nanjiani and Gordon met in 2006.
According to a 2017 New Yorker profile, Nanjiani was doing standup at a bar in Chicago when he was lightly heckled by Gordon, then a stranger. They ran into each other two nights later and started texting each other, and eventually had an on-and-off romantic situation that didn’t transform into a full-blown relationship for many reasons. Gordon had already been married and divorced, and Nanjiani feared disappointing his parents, who expected him to marry a Pakistani Muslim woman:
“My American friends would be, like, ‘Dude, just tell your parents you’re not interested.’ But that’s a misunderstanding of the culture,” he told The New Yorker. “I couldn’t imagine a universe where I ended up accepting an arranged marriage, but I also couldn’t imagine telling my parents that. So I just deflected and delayed.”
And here’s where the Big Sick story comes in: A couple of months into dating, Gordon got very ill, and was put into a medically induced coma. Nanjiani met Gordon’s parents while they were visiting her in the hospital, and he decided he needed to tell his parents about his feelings for her, as well.
“I hung out with her parents while she was in a coma for eight days, and that’s when I told my parents…they saw how much I loved her, and they obviously aren’t monsters so they were like, ‘OK, what can we do? Can we come visit her?’,” Nanjiani explained to Cosmopolitan.
It was then discovered that Gordon had Still’s disease.
Still’s disease is a rare inflammatory condition that causes high fevers, rash, and joint pain. And while Still’s can cause life-threatening complications—in Gordon’s case, she was admitted to the hospital and put onto a respirator after her symptoms included an unstable heart rate and unstable breathing—it’s also manageable once it’s identified and treated.
As Gordon explained to The New Yorker, “I have to sleep the right amount and exercise the right amount, and I still occasionally get flare-ups and have to stay in bed for a few days. But no more I.C.U.s, which is pretty fucking sweet. Now I only have to go to the hospital when we’re filming a movie in one.”
And while the ordeal was incredibly scary for the couple, Nanjiani said that the experience also brought them closer together. “This sounds like a movie moment, but it really, really isn’t,” he revealed to NPR. “I remember seeing her laying there in the coma for the first time and I remember having the thought, ‘If she comes out of this, I’m going to marry her.'”
Nanjiani and Gordon got married in 2007.
The couple got married just three months after Gordon got out of the hospital, a decision that seemed less shocking at the moment, as Nanjiani explained to the The AV Club: “It’s strange when you think back on it. We changed so much about our lives within three months. You don’t think of it as, like, ‘Oh, she almost died, so mortality is real, so we must change our lives.’ You don’t think of it like that. But within three months, we had both quit our jobs, we had married, and we had moved to New York…We cut and ran.”
However, Nanjiani also explained: “Us getting married that quickly was sort of a thing for my parents, too, like, ‘Hey, she’s my wife, so let’s all just start the acceptance process.’ But yeah, they love Emily and Emily loves them. We’re all super close.”
They wrote The Big Sick together, and the movie was later nominated for an Oscar.
The idea to make a movie about the couple’s relationship came after Nanjiani ran into filmmaker Judd Apatow.
“I met Judd here [at SXSW], we hung out, did a live podcast together, had a great time, Nanjiani told The Daily Beast. “And then Judd called my manager and was like, ‘Hey, does Kumail have any ideas?’ So I went and met Judd at 7 a.m. out in Santa Monica, and I told him some ideas and then was like, ‘Well, there’s also this real-life thing that I think could make a good movie…’ and he liked it. He said, ‘Go, figure out a pitch, and come and pitch it to me.'”
Apatow would go on to help co-produce The Big Sick, and upon its release, the film was chosen as the American Film Institute’s movie of the year and it was one of the highest-grossing independent films of 2017 with a box office total of $56 million. The movie was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 90th Academy Awards.
And for fans wondering how true The Big Sick is, it mostly follows Nanjiani and Gordon’s real-life love story, although some details were changed: Nanjiani never worked a an Uber driver as he did in the movie, and unlike the break up that’s seen in the movie, the couple never separated in real life.
Nanjiani and Gordon have now been married for 13 years.
Nanjiani and Gordon are still happily married, and still working together. Their most recent project is Apple TV+’s Little America, the moving anthology series about the lives of immigrants in America.
Around the time of The Big Sick‘s release, Gordon and Nanjiani sat down with The LA Times to talk about how working together had impacted their relationship.
“You evolve, and the relationship has to evolve too. For me that’s been the big epiphany of being with Emily for the last 11 years. And for us making this movie has been very exciting, but it’s also been a challenge so we’ve had to evolve our relationship to accommodate for it,” Nanjiani said.
“I think it’s always good to get into your partner’s mindset, or put yourself in their shoes and empathize with how things are for them, and we had the thrill and joy of having to do that professionally, Gordon added.
But even when they aren’t working together, the couple fully supports their separate endeavors, even when it involves some thirsty DMs, as seen when Gordon relayed this hilarious anecdote to MH: “Half the messages I got that day [after Nanjiani revealed his body transformation] were from people being like, ‘Hey, I want to have sex with your husband,’ and the other half were from people making sure I was okay with my husband’s naked body being everywhere…and all I could be was really proud, because he looks amazing.”