Exclusive: Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani on being CEO, Dinesh's new love interest, and his Masters of the Universe crush

Contributed by
Apr 28, 2017

So Dinesh is the new CEO of PiperChat – at least until he screws up.

In last Sunday’s Season 4 premiere of Silicon Valley, Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks stepped down to pursue his vision of a new Internet, and suggested the coder take over as the new boss since he was the one to recognize the compression algorithm’s potential as a video chat platform.

As smart as the techy characters on this show are, they have an uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Based on previews for this week’s episode, not even a copious amount of hair product is enough to protect Dinesh from a similar fate.

Meanwhile, Kumail Nanjiani, the actor behind Dinesh, has fared significantly better than his onscreen alter ego.

In addition to co-starring for four seasons in the critically acclaimed series by Mike Judge, he stars in The Big Sick, a romantic comedy he co-wrote with wife Emily V. Gordon about their real-life courtship. Directed by Michael Showalter, and produced by Judd Apatow, the film premiered at Sundance and opens nationally June 23. Also the host of the The X-Files Files re-watch podcast, and the video-game centric The Indoor Kids podcast, Nanjiani parlayed his nerdy passions into a guest role on the third episode of The X-Files revival (“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”), and is the voice of a dodgy alien in the new Mass Effect: Andromeda game.

In a recent phone interview with Nanjiani, we covered a lot of strange ground by discussing the friendship (or romance) between Dinesh and Martin Starr’s character Gilfoyle. We also take a look back at Season 3 (now available on DVD/Blu-ray) to determine if Dinesh should get more credit as the brain of Pied Piper. And, in a tease for Season 4, he talks about Dinesh’s new love interest, and who is playing her.

Finally, we chat about the return of The X-Files Files, and who amongst the Masters of the Universe toys Dinesh’s Funko Pop! figure would pair well with (Hint: It’s not Evil-Lyn, even though Nanjiani had a crush on her).

First up, are Dinesh and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) soulmates? Will the end of this series be these two characters ending up together?

I will tell you if you look online, there’s a lot of drawings and paintings of us in various romantic situations. Not necessarily sexual, although there is that, but there are a lot of romantic ones. I saw one that was a fan fiction where Gilfoyle is bringing me home to his parents, and I’m really nervous, and he’s re-assuring me. It was really sweet!

Why do you think people want to see that coupling enough to write their own stories?

I don’t know. We’re at each other’s throats, but it’s not constant. Martin Starr and I like each other, and we’re good friends. Maybe that comes through. You sort of get the sense that these two can’t get along, but also can’t live without each other. They kind of need each other. My favorite is when we get to team up for a common goal.

I was rewatching some of Season 3 since it came out on Blu-ray, and Dinesh was the one who realized the value of the video app. Should we look back at that season, and see him as the underappreciated brains of the operation?

He certainly wants you to think of him like that. All of the characters on the show are obviously very smart, but flawed in tragic ways. Dinesh’s thing is that he is very smart and resourceful, but he overreaches with everything. He is not a forward thinker. He is sort of a schemer. That’s the thing that comes to bite him in the ass over and over. He is smart enough to be successful, but not smart enough to keep it. In a way, he’s a really smart child, where he doesn’t think of consequences.

We know Dinesh becomes CEO, but what is his arc in Season 4?

The video chat is Dinesh’s baby, and becomes the CEO for a little bit – then royally, royally f—ks it up, and ends up losing the video chat. It basically ends up that we have to give up the video chat, and Richard has the other idea we all decide we want to do. His arc is a rise and fall this season.

Last season, he was flirting with a girl remotely, but would you like to see Dinesh get a romantic interest?

I actually do have a romantic interest this season played by Phoebe Neidhardt. It is a storyline over a number of episodes, three or four. I start dating somebody who becomes a recurring character on the show.

Typically, when you’re a person of color on a show, you don’t get the love interest.

But on our show, nobody gets a satisfying love interest plotline. We’re not built for success in any field, even though we want it – whether it be romantic, tech, financial, or whatever. But it was fun to play the storyline over a few episodes because the actress was really good, and it was a funny storyline that ties into the main arc of the season in a surprising way.

All of the cast was recently turned into Funk Pop! Vinyls. Does this check off something on your fanboy life goals?

Oh my god! Yeah, of course. It is a dream coming true I never dreamed I would have. It is so crazy that I couldn’t even want it to happen. I’ll tell you, nobody was more excited than me, in the entire world, that there is a Silicon Valley Funko set.

You’re a He-Man fan, so what Masters of the Universe figure would be most likely to team up with Dinesh? On one hand, he has a gold necklace that the villain Jisto may appreciate, but maybe he could bond with Buzz-Off over a shared love of horizontal stripes.

I remember Jitsu, but I had Fisto. Buzz-Off was my first He-Man action figure. Obviously, he would love to team up with Teela, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I always loved Ninjor, out of all the bad guys. I’ll bet Dinesh would think ninjas are cool. I liked Man-E-Faces.

Wouldn’t he be more into Evil-Lyn, thinking he could date the bad girl?

Yeeeeah. And Evil-Lyn is one of my first crushes. There is something about the evil female thing, the vampish thing, he’d get into.  

Speaking of another nerd love, you were doing The X-Files Files re-watch podcast and got to the middle of Season 4. Will you return to that?

I will definitely return to it. And pretty soon. We just finished Silicon Valley, and The Big Sick is done, and we’re going into promotion for it. What I think is I’ll return to it, take a hiatus, return to it, take a hiatus. But I think it’ll be back for a couple months very soon.

Do you see this as a weird career trajectory that you appeared on an episode of The X-Files revival by podcasting about the show?

I started a podcast about X-Files and ended up on it. Then I started a podcast about video games, and I’m in the new Mass Effect game. I have to pick the stuff I love and do a podcast on it. I could do one on Star Trek; that’d be exciting. But eventually, it starts being work. Not that you don’t enjoy it, but there’s a schedule. I missed being able to watch X-Files, and not having to articulate what I thought of it. Or playing video games, and not having to have a smart take on it. That’s why I put those on hiatus.

Speaking of Mass Effect: Andromeda, your character in the game is this opportunistic bureaucrat Jarun Tann. How important was the Mass Effect franchise to you before you were offered this role?

It is my favorite video game series, and I asked to be on it. But I haven’t played it yet because I am a little scared. I just want to play the game, and not be nervous about the job I’m doing in it.