Review: ‘Bad Education,’ starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney

April 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney in “Bad Education” (Photo by JoJo Whilden/HBO)

“Bad Education” (2020)

Directed by Cory Finley

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily on Long Island, New York, and partially in Las Vegas, the drama “Bad Education” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Indian Americans) representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: Based on true events, the movie tells the story of corrupt administrators and their accomplices, who embezzled an estimated $11 million from the school district of Roslyn High School in Roslyn, New York.

Culture Audience: “Bad Education” will appeal primarily to Hugh Jackman fans and people who like dramas based on true crime.

Hugh Jackman and Geraldine Viswanathan in “Bad Education” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“Bad Education” follows many familiar tonal beats of true-crime movies, but the riveting performances of Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney elevate what could have been a somewhat mediocre film. Based on true events that happened in 2002, “Bad Education” portrays the investigation that led to the downfalls of several people involved in an embezzlement/fraud scam that stole an estimated $11 million over several years from the high-school district in the upscale suburban city of Roslyn, New York. It’s said to be the largest prosecuted embezzlement in the history of American public schools.

The two people at the center of the crimes against Roslyn High School are school superintendent Frank Tassone (played by Jackman) and assistant superintendent/business manager Pam Glucklin (played by Janney), who work closely together and also cover up for each other. As it’s eventually revealed in the movie, they cared about more than just increasing the prestige level of Roslyn High School, the high-ranking  jewel in their school-administration crown. They also cared a great deal about increasing their personal wealth using illegally obtained school funds, mostly by billing the district for lavish trips, homes, cars and other personal expenses.

In the beginning of the film, which is effectively bookmarked with a similar scene at the end of the film, Frank is introduced like a rock star at a school assembly, which has gathered to celebrate Roslyn High School’s achievement of ranking at No. 4 in the U.S. for being the highest academically achieving high school. The school has reached this level under Frank’s leadership, and his goal is to elevate Roslyn High School to No. 1.

Frank’s friendly charm and winning smile have made him very popular with his co-workers, parents and students. By contrast, Pam has a prickly and dismissive personality, but her strong alliance with Frank has given her a lot of clout in the school district. Their boss is school board president Bob Spicer (played by Ray Romano), who is Frank’s biggest champion.

One of the school’s goals is a skywalk proposal, which would build a multimillion-dollar skywalk bridge to link the school from end to end. A bright and inquisitive student named Rachel Bhargava (played by Geraldine Viswanathan) is tasked with doing an article about the skywalk for Roslyn High School’s newspaper, The Beacon. At first, when she does a very brief interview with Frank for the article, she thinks it’s going to be a boring puff piece.

Rachel thinks so little of the assignment that she even tells Frank that it will be a puff piece. His response: “It’s only a puff piece if you let it be a puff piece. A real journalist can turn an assignment into a story.” It’s unknown if the real Frank Tassone ever said those words to any of the real student reporters of The Beacon who broke the news of the embezzlement scandal, but those words will come back to haunt Frank in this movie.

While preparing the article, Rachel needs to get some facts and statistics about the skywalk construction proposal bids that the school district received from contractors. She has to get permission from Pam to access those documents, which are in a very cluttered storage area of the school. While Frank was accommodating and gracious in giving his time to Rachel, Pam is impatient and condescending when talking to Rachel for the article. Pam gives Rachel the room key to access the requested documents, but warns her that the area is so messy and disorganized that it will be challenging for her to find the paperwork that she’s seeking.

The storage area turns out to have a treasure trove of documents that Rachel’s assigning editor Nick Fleischman (played by Alex Wolff) happens to notice when he accidentally knocks some of the papers out of her backpack when he impatiently tries to stop her while walking down a school hallway. (It’s one of those moments in the movie that probably didn’t happen in real life, but was fabricated for dramatic purposes.)

Nick thinks she may be on to a big story, so Rachel finds out through further investigation that the documents have a lot of proof that invoices charging a fortune have been billed to the school district, but many of the companies listed on the invoices don’t exist. Rachel gets help from her father David Bhargava (played by Hari Dhillon) in doing the grunt work of making calls to investigate the legitimacy of companies that are listed on the school invoices.

Why does Rachel’s father have that much free time on his hands? In a minor subplot, it’s revealed that he lost his job because of accusations that he was involved with insider trading. In the midst of investigating corruption at her own school, Rachel at one point asks her father if he really was guilty of insider trading. His answer serves to telegraph Rachel’s decision to report what she’s found out.

What happens next has a domino effect that exposes elaborate, longtime schemes orchestrated by Frank and Pam. Because of this high-profile case, many viewers might already know about the outcome. However, screenwriter Mike Makowsky (a Roslyn native who graduated from high school seven years after the scandal) and director Cory Finley infuse the movie with enough suspense and sly comedy to make it a slightly better-than-average telling of a crime story.

“Bad Education” takes a sometimes sardonic look at how manipulative and cunning Frank was in covering up his crimes. He was a man of many faces—literally, since his vanity facelifts and meticulous application of makeup are shown in the movie—and many secrets, which he covered up with a web of lies that eventually unraveled. Even in his personal life (Frank was a closeted gay man), he deceived the people who were closest to him. The movie is also a takedown of the weak-willed enablers who knew about the corruption, but were complicit in covering it up because they didn’t want to lose their jobs and they wanted to keep up the appearance that they had an ideal school district.

Frank also mastered the art of deflection, so that when he was under scrutiny, he was able to turn it around on potential accusers to make them afraid of getting in trouble for not detecting the problem earlier. He also used, to his advantage, the administration’s fixation on increasing the prestige of Roslyn High School, which tied into many administrators’ ulterior motives of raising the property values in Roslyn too.

Janney doesn’t have as much screen time as Jackman does, but she makes the most of characterizing Pam as being more than just a selfish and greedy shrew. The movie shows how she was generous to a fault in sharing her illegally funded wealth with her family. That generosity would turn out to be her downfall, since she allowed certain family members to use school credit cards to fund their lavish personal spending. The family members who were also part of the widespread scam included Pam’s husband Howard Gluckin (played by Ray Abruzzo); Jim Boy McCarden (played by Jimmy Tatro), her son from a previous marriage; and her co-worker niece Jenny Aquila (played by Annaleigh Ashford), who relies on Pam for financial help.

All of these family members are dimwitted in some way—they didn’t do much to hide their identities in the paper trail that exposed their crimes—but Jenny is portrayed as particularly loathsome. At one point in the movie, even after some of the crimes were exposed, Jenny tries to take over her aunt/benefactor Pam’s job at the school. Jenny also makes a pathetic and botched attempt to blackmail Frank, who quickly puts Jenny in her place and reminds her that she’s no match for him and his devious manipulations.

When Pam’s world starts to unravel, Janney uses subtle cues in showing how this character’s carefully constructed façade starts to crumble, as her perfectly posh, enunicated English starts to give way to a very working-class Long Island accent. Pam is so obsessed with keeping up appearances that she makes the mistake of being too loyal to Frank when things start to crash down on them.

“Bad Education” is a very Hollywood version of a seedy true crime story. In real life, none of the people were as glamorous-looking as the actors who portray them in the movie—although, in real life, the embezzlers spent money as if they were Hollywood celebrities. The movie accurately shows that people got away with crimes of this length and magnitude because they were able to fool others by having a “respectable” image. The ending scene effectively illustrates that Frank’s inflated ego and arrogance led him to believe that he was a legend in his own mind—and the results were reckless crimes that destroyed school finances, careers and people’s trust.

HBO premiered “Bad Education” on April 25, 2020.

2019 Hollywood Film Awards: recap and photos

November 3, 2019

Al Pacino (left), winner of the Hollywood Supporting Actor Award, and “The Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola at the 23rd Annual Hollywood Film Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on November 3, 2019. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

The following is a press release from Dick Clark Productions:

The 23rd Annual “Hollywood Film Awards” brought together Hollywood’s elite to honor the year’s most talked about and highly anticipated actors, actresses and films, and those who helped bring them to life. The awards ceremony, celebrating its 23rd anniversary as the official launch of the awards season, was hosted by actor and comedian Rob Riggle, and took place at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. In its 23-year history, over 340 of the world’s biggest stars and filmmakers have been highlighted at the “Hollywood Film Awards” and more than 140 of the honorees have gone on to garner Oscar nominations and/or wins.

Rob Riggle  at the 23rd Annual Hollywood Film Awards at the 23rd Annual Hollywood Film Awards at the 23rd Annual Hollywood Film Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on November 3, 2019. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for HFA)

Host Rob Riggle infused the ceremony with heart and humor, proving to be a steadfast guide through the evening’s many memorable moments. There was no shortage of standing ovations for both presenters and honorees alike, who included some of the most iconic members of the Hollywood community. Al Pacino took time to acknowledge many of his fellow honorees and friends in the room as he accepted the “Hollywood Supporting Actor Award.”

Martin Scorsese at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on November 3, 2019. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for HFA)

After a presentation from her mentor Martin Scorsese, “Hollywood Producer Award” recipient Emma Tillinger Koskoff delivered an emotional speech, offering a tear-filled thank you to the legendary director and producer. “Hollywood Filmmaker Award” honoree Bong Joon Ho, spoke in his native tongue to deliver a universal message that “we use only one language of cinema.”

Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron at the 23rd Annual Hollywood Film Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on November 3, 2019. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for HFA)

In a touching moment between “Hollywood Career Achievement Award” presenter Nicole Kidman and this year’s honoree Charlize Theron, Kidman remarked that “we don’t get to choose our heroes, but through this journey, I got to work with one of mine!”

Antonio Banderas and Dakota Johnson at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on November 3, 2019. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Dakota Johnson took the stage to present Antonio Banderas with the “Hollywood Actor Award,” and reflected upon her realization that Banderas has become one of the most influential people in her life. He accepted by dedicating the award to Dakota, and his daughter Stella, who was in the room to share the night with him.

Cynthia Erivo at the 23rd Annual Hollywood Film Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on November 3, 2019. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for HFA)

Viola Davis presented Cynthia Erivo with the “Hollywood Breakout Actress Award,” calling her “fearlessness personified” as she takes on the role of Harriet Tubman. Ray Romano brought the laughs as he showered praise upon “Hollywood Breakout Actor” honoree Taron Egerton, pointing out how unfair it is that Egerton is not only endlessly talented, but funny as well.

Robert Downey Jr. and Shia LaBeouf at the 23rd Annual Hollywood Film Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on November 3, 2019 . (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for HFA)

Christian Bale and Matt Damon turned up to honor their “Ford v Ferrari” director James Mangold, while Robert Downey Jr. was on hand to laud “Honey Boy” actor and screenwriter Shia LeBeouf with the “Hollywood Breakthrough Screenwriter Award.”  Former co-stars Jennifer Garner and Olivia Wilde celebrated Wilde’s “Hollywood Breakthrough Director Award,” each sharing humorous tales of their adventures together on set.

Olivia Wilde at the 23rd Annual Hollywood Film Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on November 3, 2019. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for HFA)

Kevin Feige and Victoria Alonso joined together to accept the “Hollywood Blockbuster Award,” thanking their amazing writers, directors, and awe-inspiring cast, including presenter Mark Ruffalo. Alicia Keys began her tribute to “Hollywood Song Award” honoree Pharrell Williams by recognizing all of the love in the room, before Williams delivered a powerful speech focusing on the unparalleled contributions made by “The Black Godfather” subject, Clarence Avant. He said that he has opened doors when others would glue them shut and has consistently demanded equality throughout his career.

Finn Wittrock, Renée Zellweger and Jessie Buckley at the 23rd Annual Hollywood Film Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on November 3, 2019. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

“Judy” co-stars Finn Wittrock and Jessie Buckley were on hand to recognize their leading lady Renée Zellweger with the “Hollywood Actress Award.” She said that the experience of playing Judy Garland was “one of those rare opportunities that essentially make no sense at all, but becomes your greatest accomplishment!”

Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe at the 23rd Annual Hollywood Film Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on November 3, 2019. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for HFA)

After an earnest tribute from Jon Hamm, “Hollywood Screenwriter Award” honoree Anthony McCarten joked about finding success when he strayed from his teacher’s advice to write what he knows. He advised others to write what they want to know, that curiosity is what drove him to this project. Willem Dafoe presented his friend and colleague Laura Dern with the “Hollywood Supporting Actress Award,” praising the inspiring way in which she connects to audiences through her compassion.

This year’s award show honored the following:

“Hollywood Career Achievement Award”
Charlize Theron, presented by Nicole Kidman

“Hollywood Actor Award”
Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory, presented by Dakota Johnson

“Hollywood Actress Award”
Renée Zellweger for Judy, presented by Finn Wittrock & Jessie Buckley

“Hollywood Supporting Actor Award”
Al Pacino for The Irishman, presented by Francis Ford Coppola

“Hollywood Supporting Actress Award”
Laura Dern for Marriage Story, presented by Willem Dafoe

“Hollywood Producer Award”
Emma Tillinger Koskoff for The Irishman, presented by Martin Scorsese

“Hollywood Director Award”
James Mangold for Ford v Ferrari, presented by Christian Bale & Matt Damon

“Hollywood Filmmaker Award”
Bong Joon Ho for Parasite, presented by Sienna Miller

“Hollywood Screenwriter Award”
Anthony McCarten for The Two Popes, presented by Jon Hamm

“Hollywood Blockbuster Award”
Avengers: Endgame, presented by Mark Ruffalo

“Hollywood Song Award”
Pharrell Williams for Letter To My Godfather, presented by Alicia Keys

“Hollywood Breakout Actor Award”
Taron Egerton for Rocketman, presented by Ray Romano

“Hollywood Breakout Actress Award”
Cynthia Erivo for Harriet, presented by Viola Davis

“Hollywood Breakthrough Director Award”
Olivia Wilde for Booksmart, presented by Jennifer Garner

“Hollywood Breakthrough Screenwriter Award”
Shia LaBeouf for Honey Boy, presented by Robert Downey Jr.

“Hollywood Animation Award”
Toy Story 4

“Hollywood Cinematography Award”
Mihai Malaimare Jr. for Jojo Rabbit

“Hollywood Film Composer Award”
Randy Newman for Marriage Story

“Hollywood Editor Award”
Michael McCusker & Andrew Buckland for Ford v Ferrari

“Hollywood Visual Effects Award”
Pablo Helman for The Irishman

“Hollywood Sound Award”
Donald Sylvester, Paul Massey, David Giammarco, & Steven A. Morrow for Ford v Ferrari

“Hollywood Costume Design Award”
Anna Mary Scott Robbins for Downton Abbey

“Hollywood Make-Up & Hair Styling Award”
Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou, Tapio Salmi, & Barrie Gower for Rocketman

“Hollywood Production Design Award”
Ra Vincent for Jojo Rabbit

Honoree Portraits are available on the show’s Twitter and Instagram pages. For all information and highlights, please visit the website for the Hollywood Film Awards.

For the latest news, follow the “Hollywood Film Awards” on social and join the conversation by using the official hashtag for the show, #HollywoodAwards.

Twitter: @HollywoodAwards
Facebook: Facebook.com/HollywoodAwards
Instagram: @hollywoodawards

About Dick Clark Productions
Dick Clark Productions (DCP) is the world’s largest producer and proprietor of televised live event entertainment programming with the “Academy of Country Music Awards,” “American Music Awards,” “Billboard Music Awards,” “Golden Globe Awards,” “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest” and the “Streamy Awards.” Weekly television programming includes “So You Think You Can Dance” from 19 Entertainment and DCP. DCP also owns one of the world’s most unique and extensive entertainment archive libraries with over 60 years of award-winning shows, historic programs, specials, performances and legendary programming. DCP is a division of Valence Media, a diversified and integrated media company with divisions and strategic investments in television, film, live entertainment, digital media and publishing. For additional information, visit www.dickclark.com.

About the Hollywood Film Awards
The Hollywood Film Awards, founded in 1997, were created to celebrate Hollywood and launch the awards season. The recipients of the awards are selected by an Advisory Team for their body of work and/or a film(s) that is to be released during the calendar year. For additional information, visit www.hollywoodawards.com.

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.