INTERVIEW: Emily Gordon was put into a coma, then her life was adapted into a big screen romantic comedy.

If you sat down to watch The Big Sick , the most critically-acclaimed romantic comedy of 2017, you’d be forgiven for thinking the writers were complete geniuses for dreaming up such an original and emotive plot.

But for Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, watching The Big Sick unfold on the big screen is like watching an episode of This Is Your Life, because it’s their true to life romance that they are now sharing with the world via the release of their self-penned movie.

The couple met in Chicago in 2006 after Emily ruthlessly heckled Kumail during one of his stand-up comedy shows. After a bit of a classic Hollywood-style will they/won’t they comedy of errors, they finally started dating amid protests from Kumail’s Pakistani-born parents who desperately wanted him to enter into an arranged marriage.

Things quickly escalated, however, when just a few months into the relationship they were carefully keeping a secret, Emily fell ill and was placed into a medically induced coma. After being diagnosed with Still’s disease, a rare systemic autoinflammatory disorder that can shut down major organs if left untreated, she eventually woke up and made a full recovery.

The Big Sick is written by and based on the lives of Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani.

Kumail stayed by her side during the entire hospital stay along with her parents, who he had only briefly met once before. The pair were married eight months after her release from hospital.

Now their love story has been given the big-screen treatment in the Judd Apatow-produced The Big Sick starring Silicon Valley actor Kumail as a version of himself, with Zoe Kazan playing the role of Emily and Ray Romano and Holly Hunter on board as her parents.


It all sound's like the perfect fairy tail ending for Emily and Kumail, except there's just one catch.

They really don't want you to call their co--written movie a rom-com.

Watch the video playing above to see Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik talk to Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani about how they adapted their real life romance for the big screen.

The Big Sick plot-line differs slightly from their real life ordeal. In the film, Kumail's family desperately want him to be a lawyer, instead, he lives in a skeezy share apartment while trying to get his stand-up comedy career up and running and moonlighting as an Uber driver.

Zoe Kazan as Emily and Kumail Nanjiani as Kumail in The Big Sick. Source: Roadshow.

During one of his comedy sets he meets Emily, and their romance then goes a little like this.

Boy meets girl, and they proceed to have awkward yet sweet one night stand. Boy and girl want to keep things casual, yet start developing real feelings for each other. Then girl finds photos of the many women boy's family want to arrange his marriage to. Boy and girl have tearful, screaming break-up.

A terrible late night phone call, and a trip to the hospital then ensure, setting up the majority of the film's remaining plot.

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It may all sound a bit heavy and depressing, but everything about The Big Sick is charming, surprising and hilarious. And completely romantic, which as we now know, was a complete surprise to the writers who based this movie on their own lives.


"It’s so interesting, because we never thought of it that way. The director (Michael Showalter) actually said to us just a few weeks ago ‘hey, just so you know, they are kind are marketing your story as a romantic comedy," said Emily while in Sydney for the movie's Australian premiere. "Which is something we never thought we were making."


"Our director is actually a big fan of romantic comedies, but Emily not as much," Kumail said. "Before we started shooting we watched a lot of these types of movies to look at the different troupes used in rom-coms and we saw some really bad ones.

"We were just to trying to figure out how is it that a romantic comedy works and why do they sometimes not work. We did end up using some of the troupes, because you need the story to be very cinematic. The thing that always happens in these types of movies is that the couple end up at the airport and one of them are about to get on a plane and the guy is chasing after her like a rabbit,  just trying to stop her getting on that flight.

"The one romantic comedy trope we stayed away from was the grand gesture," said Emily. "We didn’t do that. I am a woman who has had men try grand gestures with me before and also never a gesture. So, I don't think a grand gesture makes up for being a bad person."

Doing way too many photo shoots: the us edition.

A post shared by Emily V Gordon (@emilyvgordon) on



The biggest point of difference between The Big Sick and other big screen romantic comedies is that the true heart of the story lies not with the star-crossed lovers themselves, but with the characters of Kumail and Emily's parents, Terry and Beth.

Their initial interactions lead to some truly uncomfortable moments, while also providing the audience with the biggest and longest laughs of the flick.

There's an especially memorable scene in the hospital cafeteria where Emily's dad Terry (a wonderfully cast Ray Romano) questions him about terrorism and the 9/11 attacks. Kumail quips that "they lost a group of good guys that day" leading Emily's parents to sit in shocked silence until he hurriedly assures them that he's just kidding.

"It is a courtship, and we didn’t want to make it rapid," Kumail said. "We sort of knew from the beginning that this was the meat of the movie. That it was me and her parents and that was going to be the core, emotional line through the middle part of the movie.

Ray Romano as Terry and Holly Hunter as Beth in The Big Sick. Source: Roadshow

"We didn’t try to tackle issues like race and religion specifically, but the big thing that Emily and I have in common is that we both use humour to cope with stuff. The character of Kumail is also a guy who, when he is uncomfortable and backed into a corner, just makes jokes."


"The biggest laugh in the movie does come from that cafeteria scene," Emily agrees. "Because that is a really dumb question being asked by Ray Romano’s character who is just really uncomfortable in the moment. And Kumail’s character is very uncomfortable as he answers that question in a very stupid way. It’s actually not that far off how it really was.

"We always knew that we could be funny as long as we didn’t lose the reality of the situation," Kumail said ."That was the carrot we were always chasing. Just the humor in the reality of the situation. Other than the fact that there’s a girl in a coma!

"As long as we were being grounded, we knew we could get away with any jokes because the wrong jokes could easily unravel the whole movie."

Whether Emily and Kumail meant it to end like this or not, their movie The Big Sick positively reeks of romance.

But not in the cookie-cutter way that transpires through a mad dash to the airport or a grand gesture in a public arena. Instead, it's a real life romance told through a comedic lens that will have even the most cynical of movie goers chuckling in their seats.

The Big Sick opens in cinemas Australia wide tomorrow, Thursday 3 August. It is rated M. 

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