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Kumail Nanjiani Helps Us Get Into Founder Steve Banerjee's Head For Welcome To Chippendales - Exclusive Interview

"Welcome to Chippendales," a new Hulu drama series based on the true story of Chippendales founder Somen "Steve" Banerjee, is rather little like "Magic Mike." Yes, there are scantily clad, muscle-bound men dancing for cash. Indeed, you can watch the planning and execution of brand-new productions built around disrobing. But "Chippendales," starring Kumail Nanjiani as "Steve" Banerjee and Murray Bartlett as Nick De Noia, isn't a comedy. It's a twisty, tense drama that builds to a conclusion that's guaranteed to surprise audiences.

The new series has a little of everything — ambition, betrayal, revenge, artistry, and more. Perhaps the best part is a true dramatic outing from beloved comedy and Marvel star Kumail Nanjiani. We spoke with Nanjiani about the stunning new series, the terrible and complex psychology behind its main subject Steve Banerjee, the novel Chippendales productions used in the series, and the future of a rather popular "Eternals" hero with a beautiful Bollywood past.

Nick is everything Steve knows he can never be

I love this series. It's so twisty and complicated. There's ambition, murder, the American Dream — what drew you to the story?

All that stuff — the idea that it got at that big stuff about the American Dream, that it was set in the '70s and '80s, which is such a fabulous time period ... I didn't realize that everybody else got to look amazing and that I would be the only one not looking amazing.

But more than all of that, too, was that this character was so fascinating. There's so many layers to him; he's so different from anything I've gotten to play ... I don't get these kinds of opportunities. I get comedy stuff, which is great; I'm very thankful for the opportunities I get. But to play a real motherf***er like this, I was like, "I've got to bite down on this." I was a little intimidated at first, but I was like, "Say yes and figure out how to play him later."

It's a complicated character. You really landed it.

Thank you! How much of the show have you seen?

I've seen the first five episodes.

Okay, great. The last three are great.

I'm looking forward to it going presumably off the rails.

Oh, yeah. [Episodes] 6, 7, and 8 work as one, and it gets tighter and tighter and tighter. It's really tense.

What's interesting is that in some ways, Steve Banerjee is such an adaptive businessman, but his conflict with Nick De Noia gets so tense that he takes some terrible measures to bring him down. What is it about Nick that so gets under his skin?

Nick is everything he knows he can never be. Nick is very creative; Steve is not. Nick is very good with people; Steve is not. Nick is very charismatic. He owns a room. Steve cannot do that. Nick loves himself; Steve hates himself. Nick is very in touch with his body and his sexuality, and Steve is very cut off from everything under his neck.

What he hates about Nick is that he can never be him. Nick has an ease and a belief in himself that Steve does not have and is never going to have, so that is the source of the conflict. They're both opposite people, but the thing they share in common is that they're both extremely ambitious. That's the thing that makes it so that they'll never be okay with each other.

The whole thing is a Shakespearian tragedy

What could have turned it around, hypothetically?

I think Nick would've been okay with Steve if Steve was okay sharing a little bit of his kingdom, but it was very important to Steve that he control it, that he be "Mr. Chippendales," nobody else, [and] not Nick. Even though Nick deserved a lot of the credit for Chippendales' success, Steve did not want him to have any of that credit. I always thought of [Steve] as someone who doesn't like himself. He changes his name — that was a big clue to that. I think that's it. He wishes he was Nick, and he knows he never can be Nick.

Very Shakespearean.

Yes! The whole thing is very Shakespearean. It's a tragedy.

I appreciate how, as the productions evolve, the Chippendales productions get so evolved and large scale. "Hunkenstein" looks like something out of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Were they real Chippendales performances, or were they made up for the show?

They were made up for the show because there was some issue using the real performances. But that's what happened to the Chippendales. Nick wanted to do Broadway shows, so he brought more and more theatricality to those productions.

It was always exciting to see new performers for the first time because I didn't get to be in any of the dance rehearsals. You'd always hear, "Oh, 'Room Service.'" Where are they? "They're doing 'Room Service' over there." I'm like, "What's 'Room Service'? What's 'Room Service' going to be?" Then you get to see it and you're like, "Wow. No wonder they were rehearsing for so long, that's f***ing great!"

I like that aspect of it. As Nick's ambitions grow bigger, the way he expresses them gets more and more elaborate, and it's something that Steve will never really understand. Steve can recognize talent, but there's no creativity to him. To him, it's all about the business. It's interesting — when he's watching "Hunkenstein," which is such a beautiful piece of entertainment, he's not enjoying the performance. He's enjoying people's reactions to the performance. If the people in the audience didn't like it, he wouldn't like it.

The only reason he goes up to Nick and tries to apologize in his own way is because he sees that people love it. He's missing that piece that allows him to be creative in any way, and that was an interesting juxtaposition between Steve and Nick. Nick is creative in expressing himself more and more. Steve completely lacks that and could only judge the success of a piece based on how other people think of it. His whole thing was recognizing good ideas — he could never come up with anything on his own.

The MCU is going in an exciting direction

To pivot a little bit, Kingo is one of my favorite characters introduced in Phase 4 of the MCU. Nate Moore recently said we haven't seen the last of the Eternals, and I wanted to ask if you could tell me anything about what's next for Kingo and if we're ever going to see one of his Bollywood entries.

I thought for a second you said Namor said that, and I was like, "I saw 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,' I don't think Namor said that. Namor said the Eternals are coming back? Great." Nate Moore — wonderful producer friend of mine. I love Nate.

Genuinely, I have no idea what's going on. I have heard truly nothing. I heard that from Nate when you heard that from Nate. I read it, and I was like, "Cool, we haven't seen the last of the Eternals, that's awesome," but I haven't heard anything specific. The MCU is going in such an exciting direction. Have you seen "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" yet?

No, not yet.

I've never seen a big blockbuster that has so much feeling and emotion in it. It's such a magical movie. I love the way the MCU is headed. "Ms. Marvel" — I fell in love with [that] too. I genuinely have no idea. I hope Kingo comes back soon, but right now, I don't know.

"Welcome to Chippendales" premieres Tuesday, November 22 on Hulu.

This interview was edited for clarity.