In an interview with “Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum,” actor Kumail Nanjianiwho played Kingo in Eternals, had an open talk about how negative reviews of the film affected his mental health. He revealed that he started seeing a therapist after the movie’s negative receptionwhich got so terrible while on the film’s promotional tour that it gave the actor panic attacks.
“The reviews were bad, and I was too aware of it. I was reading every review and checking too much,” Nanjiani revealed in the interview.
The actor explained how, after seeing a therapist, his relationship with his work has changed. He added that what he learned from therapy was that so much of his anxiety was associated with people’s reception of his work as a performer.
“I think there was some weird soup in the atmosphere for why that movie got closed so much, and I think not much of it has to do with the actual quality of the movie,” Nanjiani said on the podcast. “It was really hard, and that was when I thought it was unfair to me and unfair to [my wife] Emily, and I can’t approach my work this way anymore. Some shit has to change, so I started counseling. “I still talk to my therapist about that.”
Filming Eternals Was a ‘Slam Dunk’ Experience
Directed by Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao, Eternals features an all-star cast of actors, including Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Barry Keoghan, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Don Lee, Kit Harrington, Salma Hayekand Angelina Jolie. At the time, the film seemed like it was going to be a big hit as all eyes were on the project as one of the first big releases by Marvel Studios after the COVID-19 pandemic delays.
By Nanjiani’s own account, Eternals was a fun process to create and a “slam dunk” experience while filming despite overcoming the challenges of filming during COVID-19. It was compelling given that the actor was no stranger to geeky material, having started his career in the Nerdist showroom at Meltdown Comics doing standup as one of the biggest figureheads of the alt-comedy and geek culture scene. Add to this his role as Dinesh on Silicone Valley in the 2010s, and Nanjiani was, by all means, someone who felt like a good fit for the MCU given its proliferation in nerdy culture built up in the past decade.
Still, despite what it had going for it, reception to Eternals proved to be extremely negative landing a score of 47% on Rotten Tomatoes. The negative reception focused on its action choreography, shallow characters, and overuse of visual effects. Probably the biggest oddity for most Eternals comics fans was how much changed regarding the original character. (Editor’s Note: I remember covering the film’s review bombing well. Comments on my article about the controversy were so bad that they had to be turned off, and it’s when I learned, “Never read the comments.”)
Artists Give Their All, but Should We Define Ourselves by the Public’s Reaction?
Kingo was originally a samurai sword wielding immortal in the original Marvel comics and by all means, someone meant to be in tip top shape for battle. From that lens, it makes sense as to why Nanjiani had gotten physically shredded into the best shape of his life between months of fitness and dance training to prepare for the role.
A comedic yet odd choice was revealed in the movie when it was revealed that Kingo’s powers had been minimized compared to the original’s physicality in lieu of energy-projected finger guns. Atop this, Kingo’s backstory changed to become someone famous as a Bollywood movie star who kept on his legacy by pretending to always be the next-born son of his famous family (fun fact: choreographer Nileeka Bose you said that the Bollywood dance was “100 percent Nanjiani“).
It’s why Nanjiani had a hard time bouncing back. The actor learned from the experience how not to let other’s perceptions of his work define him, something that modern society often stigmatizes, as it’s common to boil a person’s self-worth down to their careers and social media reception.
I enjoyed Eternals as I thought it was something different from the MCU. However, like all forms of art, reviews are matters of opinion. (Editor’s Note: I highly recommend Zhao’s director’s commentary for a better understanding of the film; there’s some interesting information about how the “Kirby Krackle”inspired some of the film’s special effects.)
Support’s Vital for People in Crisis
It’s important to note that when suffering mental distress or experiencing symptoms of mental illness, a support system is a vital lifeline. It was great that Nanjiani’s wife, Emily V. Gordon, was there to help. Gordon was a therapist before becoming a famous writer and creative. Kumail and Emily have also had a longstanding creative partnership beyond their romantic relationship, between their hit The Indoor Kids and Staying In podcast, and of course, The Big Sickthe hit movie about their relationship that won an Osca.
“Emily says that I do have trauma from it,” Nanjiani revealed. “We actually just got dinner with someone else from that movie, and we were like, ‘That was tough, wasn’t it?’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah, that was really tough,’ and I think we all went through something similar.”
About four percent of the entire world suffers from anxiety. Atop of this, one in ten people suffer from depression at any given time of the year. Being open about mental health has been a refreshing change in Hollywood in the past ten years, especially in a world where stars are heavily associated with their characters and people. Overcoming his past, Robert Downey Jr. is forever remembered as Iron Man.
Now more than ever, actors’ roles and their portrayals of beloved characters have become hard to dissociate in an age of Hollywood IP adaptation. It’s an important topic to shine a light on how this type of connection works both ways, audience praises these individuals for gifting us a moment of escapism, yet they also condemn them when they can’t have it their way (and it’s exaggerated by people’s ability to anonymously post on social media). It’s a subject that is important to openly talk about, teaching people the age-old adage that a person is more than their work. They are their family, friends, beliefs, and above all else, their experiences and how they decide to commit to these things within a lifetime.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health, counselors or specialists are a phone call away. If you’re experiencing depressive thoughts of suicidal ideation, call 988 on your phone.