Kumail Nanjiani on the real-life drama behind "The Big Sick"

Kumail Nanjiani is best known playing software engineer Dinesh in the HBO comedy "Silicon Valley."  He also co-wrote and starred in "The Big Sick." It's one of the highest-grossing independent movies of the year, and one of the most critically-acclaimed.

It's based on the real-life courtship between Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, and tells what happened when Emily was in a medically-induced coma, forcing Kumail to deal with the crisis with her parents.

Nanjiani told "CBS This Morning" that the root of the idea for the film came from his meeting with producer Judd Apatow.

ctm-1127-kumailnanjianiinterview-1450336-640x360.jpg
Actor-comedian Kumail Nanjiani CBS News

"We'd hung out at a festival and he was like, 'Oh, I like you. Do you have any movie ideas?' So I compared all these ideas — I had an idea about a ghost witch. It's a witch, she dies … He said, 'OK, do you have any other ideas?'

"I said when my wife and I were first dating, she was in a coma for eight days and I hung out with her parents. And he was like, 'That's the movie! We've got to do that.' Because his whole thing is taking real, true, emotional stuff and making it funny."

So why was Gordon in a coma?  "She was just very tired!" Nanjiani laughed. "Like a little trip to Europe for eight days. It took them a long time to diagnose her. She had this illness, it was a mystery illness and they couldn't figure out what it was. Her body was kind of shutting down, so they put her in a coma to take stress off her body and put her on a respirator. And it took eight days."

The ultimate diagnosis? Adult-onset Stills disease. "It's a very rare disease. It was actually on an episode of 'House,'" he said. "That was the crazy diagnosis he had, and everyone was like, 'There's no way it's that!'"

Nanjiani and Gordon co-wrote the screenplay and she served as executive producer. Working on the film together was great for their relationship, Nanjiani said. 

SAG-AFTRA Foundation Patron of the Artists Awards 2017 - Arrivals
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

"It actually brought us closer together. Because we hadn't understood each other's perspective going through this event. You sort of think, 'Oh, we went through this together.' Kind of, and kind of not really. When she wakes up in real life, we're really happy, and she's miserable because she doesn't know what happened. She doesn't remember the coma obviously. To her she was like, 'I was OK, and suddenly I'm hooked up to all these wires!?!' And for us it was like, 'Yeah, the worst is over!' It was interesting to go through it and really understand our perspectives."

The film also looks at the perspectives of Nanjiani and Gordon's parents about their relationship.

Nanjiani said, "My parents are Pakistanis, they came here, and I completely understand they wanted me to marry someone within the community because, you know, you want to protect your identity. And when you're in America — any time you're in a different country that doesn't really value the culture you're from, it's always a struggle to hold on to it, to hold onto who you are. That's what they wanted.

"It was difficult for them, you know. But now they really love Emily. They went and saw this movie many times. On Twitter I would see people say, 'After this movie, this couple came up to me and said, Did you like the movie? That was our son!'"

And as far as Gordon's parents' acceptance of Nanjiani, he said, "We were going through a very difficult situation, so it was kind of that thing in the beginning like where it's, it doesn't even matter whether we like each other or not, we're just trying to get through this thing.

"But in going through this really intense couple of weeks together, we really bonded, because you're sort of going through something [where] you're the only three people that can understand it, you know?"

To watch a trailer for "The Big Sick" click on the video player below:

The Big Sick Trailer #1 (2017) | Movieclips Trailers by Movieclips Trailers on YouTube

"The Big Sick" is available on Blu-ray and DVD, and is now streaming on Amazon

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.