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This story first appeared in the March 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Kumail Nanjiani, Silicon Valley star and noted X-Files podcaster, is not coming to his first awards hosting gig completely blind. The Pakistan-born star, 38, who will co-host the Feb. 27 Film Independent Spirit Awards with Saturday Night Live scene-stealer Kate McKinnon, is uniquely qualified — having spent his early adolescence compulsively rewatching old Oscar telecasts. Ahead of his big debut, Nanjiani traced the roots of his awards-show affection and explains how he recently booked a gig on his favorite TV series of all time.
So you’re a fan of awards shows?
I am. I love them. When I was a kid, I had a VHS tape of two years of Academy Awards [1988 and 1989]. I don’t know why. It was almost psychotic. I remember Chevy Chase hosted one. Is there a movie called The Milagro Beanfield War? For some reason, I remember that was nominated. [It won for score in 1989.] I remember thinking that was a funny name for a movie. “The Milagro Beanfield War” is a great name for anything. I’ve never seen it. I have no idea why I kept watching them. My dad was a big Hollywood fan, and we had these VHS tapes lying around.
Do you have a favorite Oscar host?
I used to really like watching Billy Crystal. He’s funny, obviously, but he can also sing and dance. He puts on a show. And I thought Hugh Jackman was great when he hosted. There’s a sense of joy to both of them as hosts. I like watching people who give it their all and aren’t snarky and ironic about it. It’s funny, but it’s also fun.
Your co-star T.J. Miller recently hosted the Critics’ Choice Awards. Did he give you any advice?
I did talk to T.J. about it, and he said, “It is the hardest thing you will ever do.” So I’m terrified now. A little terrified. We’re still shooting Silicon Valley, so the real terror hasn’t set in yet. But there’s going to be legends in that audience. Maybe Helen Mirren will be there. And I’ll be making jokes. That’s pretty intense.
Is there anyone you’re particularly excited to meet?
I want to see everyone. Like Cate Blanchett? I’d love to meet Cate Blanchett. She’s f—ing awesome. You know what? Now I am terrified.
Have you and Kate McKinnon ever worked together?
No. And I had never really thought about hosting an award show, but I am such a fan of Kate’s. They called me up and asked if I’d co-host with her. We just did promos a week ago, and that was the first time we hung out. We talked a lot about The X-Files. She’s as big a fan as I am.
How do you figure out your comedy groove with someone you barely know?
It’s a different process with every single person. You aren’t just figuring out how you’re funny, but how you’re funny with this person. Every partnership, you figure out what the dynamics are and how you’re funny together.
Have you talked about how you might address the controversy about the Oscars’ lack of diversity?
Fortunately, the Spirit Awards don’t have that problem. I’ll be interested to see how much the writers want to tackle it. Are there rivalries between award shows? I’m not sure if the Spirit Awards will be like,”Let’s get our claws out and go after the Oscars,” or if it will be, “No, no, don’t mess with the big dog.” It’s a good conversation to have at this time. What I think is exciting about the Spirit Awards is that the protagonists of the nominated movies are across the board. Look at Tangerine; we haven’t even seen a movie like that before.
How did your recent appearance on The X-Files come about?
I got this email from Darin [Morgan, a fan of Nanjiani’s X-Files podcast], saying, “I’m writing an episode of the show. If I wrote you a part, would you want to do it?” Yeah. What the f— are you talking about? It took three months to know if it was actually happening. I didn’t tell anybody but my wife because I was worried it wouldn’t go through. After I shot three days on it, I figured it would cost them way too much money to replace me, and I finally told people.
Was it everything you hoped for?
I was the bad guy. I was the murderer. I could not ask for a better experience. And at the end they gave me the actual X-File that Mulder gave Scully in the beginning of the episode. Just getting that would have been the highlight of my life.
Nanjiani (right, on Silicon Valley with Martin Starr) says “I lost my shit” on the set of the recent X-Files event series. “I realized I’m not talking to David [Duchovny] and Gillian [Anderson]. I’m talking to Dana Scully and Fox Mulder.”
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