Review: ‘Dolittle,’ starring Robert Downey Jr.

January 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Robert Downey Jr.  and parrot Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson) in “Dolittle” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Dolittle”

Directed by Stephen Gaghan

Culture Representation: Set primarily in the United Kingdom, this dramatic adventure movie’s live-action characters are nearly all white; the voice actors portraying the animated animals are a racially mixed cast; and the social classes range from working-class to royalty.

Culture Clash: A reclusive doctor with the special power to talk to animals reluctantly goes on a journey to find a rare medical cure, and faces obstacles that include more than one villain.

Culture Audience: “Dolittle” will appeal primarily to fans of children-oriented entertainment who don’t mind if the visuals are much better than the storytelling.

Dab-Dab the duck (voiced by Octavia Spencer), polar bear Yoshi (voiced by John Cena), parrot Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson), Dr. John Dolittle (played by Robert Downey Jr.), ostrich Plimpton (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), Tommy Stubbins (played by Harry Collett) and gorilla Chee-Chee (voiced by Rami Malek) in “Dolittle” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

It’s not really a good sign when a major-studio film headlined by an A-list movie star is released in January, the month that’s a notorious dumping ground for bad movies. Universal Pictures must have known that “Dolittle” was going to be a dud, even with star Robert Downey Jr. coming off his major hot streak in the blockbuster superhero “Avengers” and “Iron Man” movies. (“Avengers: Endgame,” Downey’s 2019 movie that was released before “Dolittle,” now holds the record as the world’s biggest box-office movie hit of all time, ending the 10-year reign at the top held by “Avatar.”) “Dolittle” isn’t a terrible film. It’s just a terribly generic film in an era when we’ve been bombarded with kids-oriented movies that have talking animals.

By making “Dolittle” an action-adventure film, “Dolittle” director Stephen Gaghan, who wrote the screenplay with Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, tried to do something different from previous “Dolittle” movies. The original 1967 “Dr. Dolittle” film, starring Rex Harrison and a cast of other Brits, was a musical adapted from Hugh Lofting’s “Dr. Dolittle” book series. The three “Dr. Dolittle” movies from 1998, 2000 and 2006 were slapstick American comedies—the first two starred Eddie Murphy as the title character, and a third film was an ill-conceived flop starring Kyla Pratt, who played Dolittle’s daughter in the first two Murphy-starring films.

Gaghan’s “Dolittle” goes back to the original United Kingdom location, during the mid-1800s era of a young Queen Victoria (played by Jessie Buckley), who has come down with a mysterious illness. During the film’s animated opening sequence, viewers see that veterinarian John Dolittle once led a happy life taking care of animals with his beloved wife Lily (played by Kasia Smutniak), who died tragically.

Fast forward seven years later, and Dr. Dolittle has become a cranky hermit who has neglected his hygiene (he’s so unkempt that a mouse has been living in his beard), as he lives with his animals on his estate that’s essentially an animal sanctuary. The filmmakers have made Dolittle a Welshman, so it might take a while for some viewers to getting used to hearing Downey speak in a Welsh accent that sounds a little too pretentious for a movie where most of his co-stars are animated talking animals. This is a kids’ movie, not Shakespeare.

Tommy Stubbins (played by Harry Collett), a boy from the small village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, is an orphaned misfit who lives with his aunt and uncle. Tommy loves animals, and is therefore uncomfortable when he’s forced to go hunting with his uncle. When Tommy accidentally shoots a squirrel while hunting, he decides to take the injured animal to the mysterious Dr. Dolittle, even though the doctor has a reputation for being a curmudgeon. Instead of being afraid of Dolittle’s menagerie of wild animals, Tommy is fascinated and finds out that he has a knack for communicating with animals too. Affected by Tommy’s presence, Dolittle cleans himself up, as he notices that Tommy sees him as a role model and possible mentor.

It isn’t long before Dolittle gets another visitor: Queen Victoria’s attendant Lady Rose (played Carmel Laniado), who arrives with orders to bring Dolittle to Buckingham Palace to give medical aid to the queen. Dolittle has a big incentive to save the queen’s life, because his property has been loaned to him by the queen, and if she dies, he will lose the property.

While at the palace, Dolittle has an awkward reunion with a former school rival: royal physician Dr. Blair Müdfly (played by Michael Sheen), who is jealous of Dolittle’s talent and acclaim. Müdfly is such an over-the-top villain that he practically twirls his moustache and gnashes his teeth. And there’s another antagonist in the story: the ambitious Lord Thomas Badgley (played by Jim Broadbent), who will inherit the throne if Queen Victoria dies. (At this point in her life, Victoria is not married and has no children.)

Dolittle determines that the best cure for the queen’s life-threatening illness is fruit from the Eden Tree on Eden Tree Island, because this fruit is said to have magical powers. (How biblical.) Tommy has essentially decided that he doesn’t really want to go home, so he tags along on Dolittle’s voyage, with Dolittle’s numerous animals in tow as they set sail on a ship called the Water Lily.

Now, about the animals. The problem with “Dolittle” is that there are too many of them in this film. If you’re someone with a short attention span, good luck trying to keep track of all the talking animals. The “Madagascar” movies (another animated series with a variety of wild animals that talk) worked so well because the animals were in a relatively small group and their personalities were so distinct. In “Dolittle,” the personalities of most of the animals tend to blend together in a crowded mush, with the notable exception of the parrot Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson), a dutifully efficient assistant/caretaker with a whip-smart attitude. Polynesia holds a special place in Dolittle’s heart because the parrot used to be owned by Dolittle’s late wife Lily.

The other animals in this mixed-bag menagerie are Chee-Chee (voiced by Rami Malek), an insecure gorilla; Dab-Dab (voiced by Octavia Spencer), a maternal, scatterbrained American Pekin duck; Plimpton, a nervous osctrich (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani); Yoshi (voiced by John Cena), a polar bear who hates the cold, loves adventure, and often bickers with Plimpton; Betsy (voiced by Selena Gomez), a kind giraffe; Kevin (voiced by Crag Robinson), the injured squirrel that was accidentally shot by Tommy and who has a cheeky sense of humor; Tutu (voiced by Marion Cotillard), a fearless fox with leadership qualities; and Mini (voiced by Nick A. Fisher), a baby sugar glider that’s constantly curious.

Meanwhile, other talking animals include brainy dog Jip (voiced by Tom Holland), a long-haired Lurcher tasked with guarding the queen; Humphrey (voiced by Tim Treloar), a whale that helps navigate the Water Lily; James (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas), a nervous dragonfly; Barry (voiced by Ralph Fiennes), a Bengal tiger with mommy issues and a grudge against Dolittle; Don Carpenterino (voiced by David Sheinkopf), the leader of an ant colony; Army Ant (voiced by Matthew Wolfe), Don’s sidekick; and Dragon (voiced by Frances de la Tour), guardian of the Eden Tree.

As for other human characters, there’s also Pirate King Rassouli (played by Antonio Banderas), who lives on Monteverde Island, one of the stops along the way to Eden Tree Island. Banderas hams it up as yet another adversary to Dolittle and his crew. Large ensembles can work for well-written, live-action films geared to adults. But when it’s a mostly animated film geared to kids, the movie can come across as too cluttered for its own good.

“Dolittle” certainly has an impressive cast of acting talent. It’s too bad that so many of the characters are bland. Furthermore, Chee-Chee (the gorilla that’s a visual standout) is a missed opportunity, since the character was miscast for its voice. Malek sounds more like the minature “Frozen” snowman Olaf than a massive gorilla. The Chee-Chee character needed an actor with a deeper voice to better reflect the gorilla’s intimidating physical presence. Former wrestling champ Cena, who’s the voice of Yoshi the polar bear, would have been better in the role of Chee-Chee.

Although the characters in this movie are very underdeveloped, the compelling visual effects (overseen by visual effects supervisors Nicolas Aithadi and John Dykstra) are the most entertaining aspect of the film. Young children who are dazzled by visuals should enjoy “Dolittle” for the movie’s colorful ambiance, even if they won’t remember most of the movie’s animal characters weeks after seeing this film. (Don’t expect there to be a high demand for “Dolittle” toys.) More mature viewers might get easily bored with this movie, because it wallows in a lot of mediocrity that wastes this talented cast.

Simply put: “Dolittle” is not the kind of movie that people looking for high-quality entertainment will rush to see multiple times while it’s in theaters. We all know how this movie is going to end anyway.

Universal Pictures released “Dolittle” in U.S. cinemas on January 17, 2020.

 

 

 

Apple announces Apple TV+ with Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and more

March 25, 2019

The following is a press release from Apple:

Apple today announced Apple TV+, the new home for the world’s most creative storytellers featuring exclusive original shows, movies and documentaries, coming this fall. Apple TV+, Apple’s original video subscription service, will feature a brand new slate of programming from the world’s most celebrated creative artists, including Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Octavia Spencer, J.J. Abrams, Jason Momoa, M. Night Shyamalan, Jon M. Chu and more. On the Apple TV app, subscribers will enjoy inspiring and authentic stories with emotional depth and compelling characters from all walks of life, ad-free and on demand.

“We’re honored that the absolute best lineup of storytellers in the world – both in front of and behind the camera – are coming to Apple TV+,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “We’re thrilled to give viewers a sneak peek of Apple TV+ and cannot wait for them to tune in starting this fall. Apple TV+ will be home to some of the highest quality original storytelling that TV and movie lovers have seen yet.”

Additionally, Apple debuted the all-new Apple TV app and Apple TV channels coming in May 2019. The all-new Apple TV app brings together the different ways to discover and watch shows, movies, sports, news and more in one app across iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, smart TVs and streaming devices. Users can subscribe to and watch new Apple TV channels – paying for only services they want, like HBO, SHOWTIME and Starz – all on demand, available on and offline, with incredible picture quality and sound; enjoy sports, news and network TV from cable and satellite providers as well as purchase or rent iTunes movies and TV shows all within the new, personalized Apple TV app.

Beginning in May, customers can subscribe to Apple TV channels à la carte and watch them in the Apple TV app, with no additional apps, accounts or passwords required. Apple TV channels include popular services such as HBO, Starz, SHOWTIME, CBS All Access, Smithsonian Channel, EPIX, Tastemade, Noggin and new services like MTV Hits, with more to be added over time around the world.

The new Apple TV app personalizes what viewers love to watch across their existing apps and services while developing a secure and comprehensive understanding of users’ viewing interests. The app will offer suggestions for shows and movies from over 150 streaming apps, including Amazon Prime and Hulu, as well as pay-TV services such as Canal+, Charter Spectrum, DIRECTV NOW and PlayStation Vue. Optimum and Suddenlink from Altice will be added later this year.*

Additionally, the Apple TV app will become the new home to the hundreds of thousands of movies and TV shows currently available for purchase or rent in the iTunes Store.

Availability

Pricing and availability for the Apple TV+ video subscription service will be announced later this fall.

The all-new Apple TV app is coming to iPhone, iPad and Apple TV customers in over 100 countries with a free software update this May, and to Mac this fall.

Through Family Sharing, users can share Apple TV+ and subscriptions to Apple TV channels.

The Apple TV app will be available on Samsung smart TVs beginning this spring and on Amazon Fire TV, LG, Roku, Sony and VIZIO platforms in the future.

Later this year, customers with eligible VIZIO, Samsung, LG and Sony smart TVs will be able to effortlessly play videos and other content from their iPhone or iPad directly to their smart TVs with AirPlay 2 support.

Apple revolutionized personal technology with the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984. Today, Apple leads the world in innovation with iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and Apple TV. Apple’s four software platforms – iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS – provide seamless experiences across all Apple devices and empower people with breakthrough services including the App Store, Apple Music, Apple Pay and iCloud. Apple’s more than 100,000 employees are dedicated to making the best products on earth, and to leaving the world better than we found it.

Editor’s note: The shows on Apple TV+ include:

  • Steven Spielberg’s reboot of the “Amazing Stories” anthology
  • Oprah Winfrey projects, including a documentary titled “Toxic Labor” about workplace harassment; a documentary (title to be announced) about mental health; and a book club-oriented program whose title is to be announced.
  • “The Morning Show,” a drama series about morning television, starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, with Aniston and Witherspoon among the executive producers
  • “See,” a post-apocalyptic drama series starring Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard
  • “Little Voice,” a musical drama series, executive produced by J.J. Abrams, with original songs written by Sara Bareilles
  • “My Glory Was I Had Such Friends,” starring Jennifer Garner and executive produced by J.J. Abrams
  • “Peanuts” content, based on the beloved comic-strip characters
  • “Swagger,” a drama series based on the life of basketball star Kevin Durant, with Durant executive producing the show with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer
  • “Defending Jacob,” a drama series starring and executive produced by Chris Evans, about a father whose teenage son is suspected of killing a classmate
  • “Pachinko,” a drama series based on Min Jin Lee’s book, with Soo Hugh as the showrunner
  • A comedy series (title to be announced) about video-game company, executive produced by “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” co-stars Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day
  • “Are You Sleeping,” a drama series about how a podcast affects a cold murder case, starring Octavia Spencer, Lizzy Caplan and Aaron Paul
  • “Dickinson,” a drama series about Emily Dickinson, starring Hailee Steinfeld
  • “Bastards,” a drama series about war veterans, starring Richard Gere
  • A drama series (title to be announced) about CIA operative Amaryllis Fox, starring and executive produced by Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson
  • “Little America,” a comedy series about immigrants, executive produced by Oscar-nominated “The Big Sick” writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon
  • “Helpsters,” a children’s show from Sesame Workshop
  • “Calls,” an American remake of a French drama series that does reenactments of 911 calls
  • “For All Mankind,” a space drama series starring Joel Kinnaman
  • “Central Park,” an animated series from “Bob’s Burgers” creator Loren Bouchard, with a voice cast that includes Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess, Daveed Diggs, Josh Gad, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr. and Stanley Tucci.
  • “Homes,” a docuseries about unusual homes
  • “Losing Earth,” a possible drama or docuseries about climate change
  • “Shantaram,” a drama series about an escaped prisoner from Australia who’s hiding out in India, from executive producer/screenwriter Eric Warren Singer (“American Hustle”)
  • “Time Bandits,” a fantasy comedy series from executive producer/director Taika Waititi, based on Terry Gilliam’s 1981 film of the same title
  • A still-untitled drama/thriller series from executive producer M. Night Shyamalan, with a cast that includes Lauren Ambrose, Rupert Grint and Toby Kebbell [UPDATE: The series is titled “Servant.”]
  • A still-untitled drama series from Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle, with the show’s plot and cast to be announced
  • A still-untitled sci-fi series from executive producer Simon Kinberg, who has written several “X-Men” movies
  • A still-untitled mystery drama series from executive producer/director Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”), based on real-life pre-teen reporter Hilde Lysiak (played by Brooklynn Prince), with Jim Sturgess co-starring as her father

SOURCE: Variety

*Network and streaming app availability may vary by country.

Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter navigate love and medical illness in ‘The Big Sick’

June 23, 2017

by Carla Hay

Barry Mendel, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Kumail Nanjiani, Emily Gordon, Anupam Kher and Zoe Kazan at the New York City press conference for "The Big Sick"
Barry Mendel, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Kumail Nanjiani, Emily Gordon, Anupam Kher and Zoe Kazan at the New York City press conference for “The Big Sick” (Photo by Carla Hay)

Based on the real-life courtship between screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the comedy film “The Big Sick” tells the story of Pakistan-born aspiring comedian Kumail (played by Nanjiani), who connects with grad student Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) after one of his stand-up sets. However, what they thought would be just a one-night stand blossoms into the real thing, which complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents (played by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff), who want him to enter into an arranged marriage with a woman of Pakistani heritage.

When Emily is beset with a mysterious illness that leaves her in a coma, it forces Kumail to navigate the medical crisis with her parents, Beth and Terry (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), whom he’s never met before, while dealing with the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart. “The Big Sick” was directed by Michael Showalter, written by Gordon and Nanjiani, and produced by Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel. Here is what Nanjiani, Gordon, Kazan, Hunter, Romano, Kher and Mendel said when they gathered for a New York City press conference for “The Big Sick.”

From L to R: Kumail Nanjiani, Writer Emily V. Gordon and Zoe Kazan on the set of “The Big Sick” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli)

Barry, what was it like to make a real-life story into a movie?

Mendel: Judd [Apatow] met Kumail at South by Southwest, and Kumail came in and told Judd and me the story. And Judd and I were moved by it. At the time, Kumail wasn’t the star of a big, successful show.

Nanjiani: Yeah, this was a year before the show [“Silicon Valley”].

Mendel: Our attitude was like, “This movie might end up costing $800,000 to make. It might be a very, very small movie.” We just loved the idea of trying to tell the story and do a good job on the film. There have been lots and lots of stories that people try and take from their true life and put on screen. Most of the time, it doesn’t go well. For us, it was a great challenge.

I think everybody has been in situation where you’re in a medical crisis, or you’re just in a very serious situation. It is surprising that some of the greatest moments of humor in your whole life can come out of those situations. Kumail, as a comedian, in the way he told the story, he was not going to shy away from what was serious about it but also able to find the humanity or at least where humor is a release valve for the intensity for what you’re feeling. It’s really consistent with a lot of the work that Judd’s done, that I’ve done—separately and together. It just seemed like it would be ripe with possibilities.

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon on the set of “The Big Sick” (Photo by Sarah Shatz)

Kumail and Emily, at what point were you able to extract yourselves and say about your story, “Hey, other people might find this interesting”?

Gordon: I think early on. Judd and Barry were very good about us not wanting to be precious about our own story. It went from our story to a story that everybody could collaborate on, that everybody had input in, that everybody could hopefully watch and enjoy. So Barry and Michael Showalter were very, very good about encouraging us to always have the emotional truth of things but always make sure that we were changing things to make the more dramatic or funnier while keeping an emotional truth to it.

Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in “The Big Sick” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Kumail, were you concerned about taking a comedic approach to something so dramatic as Emily’s life-threatening illness?

Nanjiani: Yeah, that was always going to be the challenge that we were talking about in the beginning. It was mostly me and Emily’s parents just sitting there with hurricanes in our heads, but our faces were [he makes a stoic face]. So we knew our challenge was going to be to make it funny. But what Barry did from the very beginning was say, “Don’t worry about the funny just yet. Write it, and we’ll put the jokes on at the end.”

Holly Hunter in “The Big Sick” ( Photo by Nicole Rivelli)

Holly, what was your starting point to playing Emily’s mother?

Hunter: It’s a testament to the over-arching confidence that manifests its way through the whole movie. Judd and Barry and Kumail and Emily, they walked through fire to put this down on paper. It couldn’t have been an easy thing to accomplish. You did all that work with Barry and Judd. And then we [the other actors] come along, and we’ve got all these ideas …

And then there was this overall process of accepting all of those ideas and seeing if they would fly. We had a really intense rehearsal period with the script where we were really going through the script and going through our ideas that would be additional, that might make the scenes even richer, more complicated. And that’s not always received as openly as it was with this project.

Mendel: We envy Mike Leigh, who goes off into the countryside and has his actors in a barn for a month to just talk about the script. You do a lot of that in the theater too, when you’re working on a play and getting it into shape to put it on the stage. So that’s our fantasy in all the movies that we do—to do that, so the actors can get a greater ownership of the part than, “Here, I’m going to execute the part as it was written.”

Also to make the movie feel lived in, which I think is a hard thing to do. I think a lot of movies, you watch them, and they feel like they’re fake. I think one of the things we strive to do—and because the acting is so good we were able to achieve it—is to make it feel lived in and real.

Ray Romano in “The Big Sick” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli)

Ray, this isn’t a traditional comedic role for you. How did you figure that out for yourself?

Romano: There’s plenty of comedy in it. I got the script, and I read the role. I knew it was a real story. I knew the characters of Emily’s parents were open to interpretation. I just went out writing a little back story for the guy, and I sent it to the director, and I sent it to Barry.

I was able to make up this guy. I knew this wasn’t about researching Emily’s father. I found out he doesn’t look like me. I’ll tell you how I found out. Emily said that her mother watched the movie and said, “You know Holly Hunter is prettier than me, but your father is more handsome than Ray Romano.”

Gordon: Kumail told you that. I would have never told you that.

Nanjiani: I’m glad I’m giving you new material.

Romano: So that’s how I approached the character. I thought of how her father would really do it, and then I would just do it as if he were ugly.

Zoe Kazan in “The Big Sick”(Photo by Nicole Rivelli)

Zoe, you’ve been a first-time screenwriter. How did it feel to portray someone in a movie who is the movie’s first-time screenwriter in real life?

Kazan: Because my parents are both screenwriters, and because I came up as an actor in the theater, I was drilled that the text is sacred, and it’s your job as an actor to fulfill the text and not alter the text. On previous projects, I felt sort of uncomfortable with some of the improv. I definitely get some of the rehearsal process that’s been alluded to earlier did have a creative aspect to it …

What drew me in from the start was the script. It wasn’t like it needed anything, but I felt that process actually helped me come to feel that I had intended to put some of myself into it as well so it didn’t feel like I was trespassing on someone else’s life all the time. And I think that allowed me to feel a little bit more comfortable making it my own on set, and not worrying about having Emily at the monitors watching what I was doing. In fact, what I came to feel like was that we were co-parents of the character—which I guess you’re always doing as an actor: you become co-parents or co-guardians of the character on the screen.

Anupam Kher in “The Big Sick” ( Photo by Nicole Rivelli)

Anupam, how did working on this American independent film differ from your other film experiences?

Kher: I did this film not for my acting abilities but for emotional reasons … I met [Kumail’s] father for the role, and it was wonderful. I said, “How do you want me to prepare for the role?” And he said, “Just grow your beard. My father has one.” Sometimes, that’s how it goes. Sometimes in life, you have to do things for emotional reasons, not professional reasons. I think that was important.

Kumail Nanjiani and Judd Apatow on the set of “The Big Sick” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli)

Kumail, what was the most difficult thing about playing yourself? And how did you find that emotional truth?

Nanjiani: Barry and Judd were really helpful. Once we’d gotten our story down, they were like, “Now you have to separate yourself from the story, and trust that the emotional core will stay, and just make it a good story.” The most difficult thing about the acting was most of the stuff about Emily’s illness toward the middle-end part of the movie.

Gordon: 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.

Nanjiani: Mike [Showalter] would say to us often, “Separate yourself from this.” I think Emily understood that before I did.

Gordon: It really made the movie better, I think.

Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani on the set of “The Big Sick” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli)

Kumail and Emily, in revisiting this part of your lives, what did you learn about yourself that surprised you?

Nanjiani: Emily was always really honest in the relationship, so there weren’t really any surprises there. What was surprising to me was talking to her friends while writing [“The Big Sick” script] and finding out what she had been saying to her friends about me. I didn’t know that she thought it took me forever to say, “I love you.” I didn’t know that was expected of me after [a certain amount of dates]. And also, she would tell her friends things about me and they would think, “This guy sounds like a nightmare.”

Gordon: On paper, you were a real mess.

Shenaz Treasury, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher  and Kumail Nanjiani in “The Big Sick” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli)

To the non-South Asians in the cast, before you did this movie, how much were you aware of how much a grown man could be scared of his family if he didn’t enter into a marriage arranged by the family?

Romano: A little. I was wondering about the authenticity of that. The fact that he was actually afraid of losing his family was something I had to realize was a truth. I can see it’s a real thing.

Kazan: I had seen a tiny bit online some South Asian women saying, “Where’s our representation in this movie, just based on the trailer?” I think the movie has a better representation than the trailer. I just want to say that. Give this movie a chance.

I know Kumail and Emily talked about the casting of those parts and the embarrassment of riches of the actors that came in, and how hard it was to pick just the few that were in the movie. There aren’t enough roles for women of color in general in our industry.

And a lot of that falls on the responsibility of people like Barry and Judd—not Barry and Judd, but people like them. They make the stuff to finance films that have more rules that provide a wider representation. Sometimes those conversations can become very industry-oriented. We have to give those actors and actresses a chance. It’s really about the storytelling that is being done.

What kinds of stories can you tell if you extend past your tiny circle of comfort? I think it’s better in our humanity to have a wider representation in our culture not only because it allows those people to fell more represented on screen but also it allows people who feel very foreign to people who are Pakistani-American open then to that world.

Kher: What makes Kumail’s character endearing and more connected is because he takes care of his parents also. I think that quality makes [Kumail’s] character much more enriching and much more endearing. He listens to his parents. Also, I think arranged marriage has a lot to do with education. That’s why arranged marriages are done.

Romano: We don’t have arranged marriages in this country, but my wife’s family, if I was not Italian, they would not have welcomed me as much. I dated a Jewish girl whose family [had issues with me not being Jewish].

Holly Hunter, Ray Romano and Kumail Nanjiani in “The Big Sick” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli)

To the actors who played the parents, is there anything you brought to the roles that you have experienced in real life as parents?

Kher: Compassion. I think the most misunderstood relationship in the world is the father/son relationship, because both of them hold unnecessary evils. I feel a lot of compassion. The easiest thing in the world is to criticize a son … When I did all the scenes with Kumail, the only thing I felt for him was love. And if a parent conveys that love to his child, I think that makes it easier. But I think we like conflict as parents.

Romano: I think it’s easy for me to criticize my sons. I have a daughter and three boys, and they deserve criticism. They’re good, but they’re not as good as I am. I have a daughter who’s 26, who’s kind of the age of the character, so it’s kind of easy for me to tap into that fear of having her in this situation. It was pretty organic.

Kurt Braunohler, Michael Showalter, Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani, Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel on the set of “The Big Sick” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli)

Kumail and Emily, was there anything that happened on “The Big Sick” set that exemplified keeping things honest?

Nanjiani: There were a lot of times when she would write a scene or she would write a scene, and the other person was like, “That’s not how I experienced it.” We were able to put in both of those perspectives.

Gordon: Once we were on set, we were on the same page.

Nanjiani: We had written the script about three-and-a-half years ago at that point.

Gordon: Kumail was kind of struggling with being an actor and writer and producer [for this movie], so we developed a code word that we used when we had to worry about production stuff. He just needed to be an actor. Go do what actors do. Hang out in a trailer.

Nanjiani: We didn’t have trailers. “Go hang out in your hospital room.”

Gordon: All of us wanted [Kumail] to focus on his job, which was to lead this movie. That was the biggest thing we had on set.

Holly Hunter and Ray Romano in “The Big Sick”(Photo by Nicole Rivelli)

To the actors, did you have any question that you asked the writers that you think helped keep your characters authentic?

Hunter: I was thinking about things that attracted me to the movie. Of course, there were many unexpected things. In Act Two, the movie does veer into the revelation of characters. And it becomes this other love story between this couple [Emily’s parents] and Kumail. It becomes a love story between the three of them and how they learn to love each other.

So much of what’s funny in my life is juvenile or infantile. And the movie also skates on that level too, which makes it so much fun. But I loved the adult relationship of my and Ray’s characters’ relationship. We wanted it to stay adult. [The screenwriters] never, really truly jeopardized the relationship. I never thought, “This couple is never going to make it. This couple is going to be fine.” That’s how I felt from the beginning. I felt so grateful for that. They have an incredible bond together, and they’re going through this bond with their daughter in jeopardy with a great amount of grace and intimacy. The conflict there [between Beth and Terry] is a beautiful one that a lot of married couples relate to.