Masala: Kumail Nanjiani Opens Up About Playing Steve Banerjee in Hulu’s ‘Welcome to Chippendales’

The iconic image of male strippers wearing nothing but cuffs, collars, bowties and very tiny underwear became a defining pop-culture moment in the ‘80s from America’s strip club scene. That “uniform” came from none other than Indian American entrepreneur Somen “Steve” Banerjee, founder of the famous Los Angeles night club Chippendales.

Hulu’s “Welcome to Chippendales” provides an intense character study of Banerjee and his dark descent into the world of crime and cut-throat capitalism. Actor Kumail Nanjiani, who executive produced the miniseries and plays Banerjee, admits that reference material on Banerjee was fairly scarce. “There’s not really much about Steve out there [and] not much footage of him,” he said. “I realized there was no way for me to look into the soul of this person that’s gone. I did as much research as I could in terms of what people thought of him and trying to figure out what he wanted.” 

As a result, Nanjianji reflects on the difficulties of bringing the character of Banerjee to life. But thankfully, he was able to figure out the proper portrayal. “It took me so long to figure out how to play him. It was months and months of work to try and figure out how to play a character like this,” he said. “There was [finally] a moment where suddenly everything clicked and he fully made sense. It was surprising how easy it became.”

Though getting into character quickly became second nature, the actor admits struggling with having to snap in and out of certain emotions. “There were [times] you do a scene that’s emotionally very intense or dark; sometimes when the scene was done, I would still be in that [head] space,” Nanjiani said. “So, part of the challenge for me was to learn from the other actors I was with, [like] Annaleigh [Ashford], who plays my wife, Irene. She really helped me figure out how to snap out of that emotion you could get stuck in.”

To help prepare for the role, Nanjiani revealed his own methods for achieving what he needed. “I never look at the original if I’m remaking something because I want to bring myself to it; I want to figure out how to do it myself,” he said. “Once you get into the game of trying to differentiate it from the ways other people have approached him, I think it’s a losing game. At least for me, I don’t work like that.”

Though the show does get rather dark and violent, Nanjiani is quick to point out that it doesn’t glamorize the violence it depicts. “I think this show does anything but sensationalize violence and trauma. I see this story as a cautionary tale and a tragedy,” Nanjiani said. “I think this show is a really good dissection of men and what can happen if you don’t reckon with what’s inside you [and consequently] become obsessed with trying to control the world and the people around you.”

To watch Banerjee’s descent into darkness, make sure to catch the miniseries, which premiered on Hulu today, Nov. 22. Then, make sure to check out our interview with Nanjiani above!