Hulu’s Four Weddings and a Funeral was kind of a no-brainer for the romantic-comedy loving Brief Take in terms of coverage, but one thing that we did not anticipate was the revelation that is Nikesh Patel, both on-screen (he adeptly plays the male lead, Kash, in the reimagined series), but more so off-screen.
We requested an interview with Patel, who was in London at the time, and the performer graciously answered all of our questions about the series, but then did something that we have rarely experienced, asking for more time to expand upon an earlier answer, and revealing that this show is hugely essential in the history of the medium.
The following is an edited and condensed version of our deeply profound and wonderful interview with Nikesh Patel of Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Brief Take: It must have been amazing to work with series creators Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton, whose work we’ve adored from Champions and The Mindy Project. Also, I have to say, after watching the first seven episodes, you have great chemistry with Rebecca Rittenhouse and Nathalie Emmanuel. Tell me about working with all of them.
Nikesh Patel: Oh thank you! Well I don’t think that this project would have happened if there wasn’t Mindy at the helm saying “This is the vision that I have for this cast and particularly for the couple that we watch”. In classic rom-com fashion, there is a unique sort of world that they weave their story in and I think that really came from her. It was sort of eye-opening to me in a way because there was something that felt very free and easy and obvious about telling the story that way, that kind of made me think: “Oh, yeah, there’s so much more possibility for actors of colour than getting bogged down in stories that are very determined by the colour of your skin or your culture from which you come.”
And to have Mindy on the ground for the pilot and the first few episodes was great because she’s very experienced. Mindy and Matt and the cast were very aware of this particular paradigm that danced between comedy and drama and occasionally tragedy that was painted into there. It was really valuable knowing that you could have this conversation when it came to a comic beat in the script of making sure that it was grounded in something that felt truthful. The show never felt gaggy for the sake of it or there were through lines in everything and felt joined up, and of course, as an actor, it is great to do because you get to flex your muscles doing both.
As for Rebecca and Nathalie, Rebecca, I actually screen tested with her, and Nathalie, we were cast and met on the job. But with both of them, there’s a trajectory or way of telling the story that we tell in the first few episodes, that we don’t find mistakes or the costs of the decisions that my character in particular makes, and if we lose that, then we’re not as invested in these characters as real human beings. That’s something that the three of us, particularly, were all really locked in on. Yes we have to like these characters, but what kind of makes them relatable is not ducking their flaws. Hopefully if we pitch them and play them right, supported by good scripts, the audience sort of goes: “Oh yeah, that’s not ideal but I’m invested in these people and I want them to do good and I want them to be okay”.
BT: Are you going to put “caramel Ryan Gosling” on your CV?
NP: No. [laughs] Absolutely not. The script is sent by my agent and I see an email subject saying “Four Weddings and a Funeral“, and my ears immediately prick up and I’m like: “Oh, that’s cool, that that’s happening”. And I open it and find out who’s behind the project and he’s one of the main characters, and it’s all very exciting. [laughs] I start reading it and it’s an experience, the dialogue is brilliant and yeah [laughs] oh boy, I can’t really [laughs loudly] I can’t really do much about that one, apart from turn up and they say “he’ll do”. I’ve only been asked about that line because a lot of my friends that have seen the trailer already have already sniggered about it. Like I…I don’t have any more to say about it.
BT: Your audition scene on the show was brilliantly performed. Do you have a lot of experience performing Shakespeare?
NP: I have, yeah, I’ve done a fair bit of Shakespeare. While I was a graduate at university, it was pretty much my first…in fact, no, even further back than that, I was in a school play, in The Merchant of Venice. Because I was at a boys’ school, I was cast as Nerissa [laughs]. And all I remember is that there was a bit of business that one of my classmates and I did, we did a bit of comedy business upstage in which I smack him before we came on, and we got a big laugh, and I was like: “Ah, okay, that was interesting, I kind of enjoyed that”. In terms of Shakespeare, my second professional job was at the Royal Shakespeare Company, so I’ve done a lot, that season we did The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew and I got to work with some fantastic people. So it was really nice for me, and again, talking about all of the opportunities that this show has opened up for me, there’s so many different worlds for which Kash gets to be a part and so many different hats that he gets to wear every week – the aspiring actor, the successful professional, the guy who sort of got unlucky in love, the family man – and getting to speak Shakespeare on screen was really lovely.
BT: How did you enjoy playing an actor playing an actor? How experienced did you want Kash to be at performing?
NP: Yeah, it’s very method I guess. I think that the way I tried to play it was someone who had potential and had passion, but maybe not lots of experience. I was trying to find the truth of being someone that has worked for a number of years in this very high-functioning professional milieu and then turns up for a Shakespeare audition and gets a call for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and actually he doesn’t, he gets a callback, but he flubs his first go and that felt more relatable than someone who kind of walks in the room and is blowing everybody away. And I think it’s nicely done.
It’s interesting – I had conversations with the writing staff about that, but I guess I’m being a bit coy, because I know where the story is going. Kash has got some…he does okay [laughs] I can tell you that.
BT: What about experience in musical theatre? Is that your voice in ‘Someone Good’ in the production of The Sound of Music on the show?
NP: Yeah, that was me. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet so I don’t know if it’s any good. [laughs] I’m hoping that I pulled it off.
BT: On the show, the characters are all super invested in a reality show on tv. Do you like reality shows?
NP: No, I’m a snob. More than that, I think that I find it too painful to watch that stuff. Maybe because it’s too real [laughs] but friends of mine, actor friends of mine have made for a very compelling argument that if you want to watch people, if what we are doing is modelling ourselves on real people, in highly charged dramatic situations, then really the apex of that is reality TV. I guess that’s a compelling argument for watching Love Island, which is so big here right now, but I can’t get into it. So I think that I’m dipping my feet into Kash’s reaction, which is kind of a bemused “oh well, everyone else is watching so I’ll tune in”, but I’m not as rabid a fan as everyone else.
BT: Do you have a favourite romantic comedy?
NP: Well, funnily enough, I got to wear the costume, I think that one of my favourites is The Princess Bride. I love that film and in a way, when reading that script, I was thinking about “Yeah, it is a romantic comedy, there’s so much wonderful stuff that goes on in that film, but if Cary Elwes and Robin Wright don’t play that with absolute sincerity and conviction, then we’re not rooting for them.” So I’m very happy that we got to put those costumes on.
BT: What was your experience like working with Sir Kenneth Branagh on Artemis Fowl?
NP: Well, funnily enough, I literally came back today from the ADR, my first look at the film, so you caught me at a good time. It’s really exciting, in terms of…fantasy is a genre that I have always loved, and I guess that as an actor, it’s exciting to get to play in that world. Maybe a few years ago, it’s not something that I would have necessarily seen a lot of people who look like me inhabiting. But it was something that I devoured – those stories as a child, so getting to see myself as a centaur and today was my first glimpse of what I look like as half man and half horse, which was pretty, pretty exciting. [laughs] Yeah, I think that it’s something that is going to be really exciting. Ken’s vision for it is that it’s based on the first book, so it’s set within this mad, wonderful world of where fairies and humans co-exist and all kinds of weird and wonderful beasts, but his vision for it is in the pacing of it. It ran like a thriller, so you hit the ground running and you’re immersed in all of these wonderful elements and visual flourishes. I think that part of what makes him so well prepared for that is his element, he’s got a feel for the epic and he’s an actor, so being able to ground it is what people connect to so yeah, I’m really excited to see the finished thing.
BT: What do you hope that people will take away from this series and what are some of your career aspirations after this?
NP: I’m excited at the prospect of a series that has a cast as diverse as ours and I think I’m right in saying as talented as ours, because it’s such a joy to work with these people and they’re all so good in the show. I’m really excited to see this modern love story reach a wide audience. I feel like a lot of the time, kind of unhelpfully, the conversations around casting and diversity have gone down the route of “Oh, well, it’s excluding people if you cast it this way” and I think the point is the opposite, that there is a world of people out there that are hungry for stories to which they can relate. I think that a show like this one, I am really excited by the possibilities that it will reach fans of the film, people that may know nothing about the film, and people who will look at it and go “Huh! That’s an interesting thing to see. I want to spend time with them”. It feels very exciting for me. It’s not lost on me as well that I’ve been working here in the U.K. for nine years and it’s taken the show coming from the U.S., coming from Hulu, for me to step into a role like this. So I hope that it does well and creates more opportunities and people go “Oh, huh, there’s so many possibilities”.
In terms of what I’d like to do next, the three jobs that we’ve spoken about in a lot of ways were liberating, because I love genre. And Mindy put it really well, I think that she was promoting A Wrinkle in Time and she was talking about how much she loves the fantasy genre in particular, but that she felt that growing up, that it never loved her back. And what’s really exciting right now is whether it’s a genre like fantasy or sci-fi or romantic comedy, more and more we’re seeing there’s an audience out there that’s getting to love that, and what that does I think for the stories that will be told next is great. I got to sort of dip a toe into a bunch of different worlds in Four Weddings, but I’d love to explore them further. It would be great to do a musical at some point, or I would love to do something completely different. I’m a big fantasy nut, so if anyone wants to put me in some armour and let me swing a sword, I’m going to put that out into the universe. [laughs]
[At this point we have concluded the interview. Nikesh Patel has requested an extension on time allotted to expand on an earlier answer about positive South Asian representation]
NP: That’s real life, that’s lived experience. My own South Asian medium and experience is really important to me, but I don’t wake up every day and start my day by reminding myself I’m South Asian, I go about my day. There might be certain situations in which culturally I have a reference point on which I draw, but why this felt really fresh and why it was such a privilege to get the part was I really connected to someone who their culture is very important to them, but so is a whole bunch of other things that are very relatable to anyone. I think that ultimately saying “love can make idiots of us all” is the message of the show in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to talking about diversity. It felt like a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways, it wasn’t about “this character is going to be defined by an issue or a kind of body talking point”, because that’s not how real people work.
One thing of which I have become particularly aware, especially in the last few years, is there are a lot of negative, reductive portrayals particularly of Muslim characters. There’s a few things – a lot of the time South Asian men are desexualized, or not portrayed in a way in which they’re offered as people who fall in love and have relationships and are attracted to people and can be attractive. It was great to play a character in which that label didn’t apply. I hope that this will strike a chord with an audience and it was very liberating to play actually, because I’ve been in lots of stuff in which you roll your eyes and go “Oh, okay, smart sidekick”, but there’s not a lot else there.
And the other thing is as well, is that while we were filming, very sadly, the atrocious events in Christchurch, New Zealand took place. I remembered that we checked in as a cast with the writers and I think that it made us really aware of the stories that we tell, and I’d include the news in that in some way, because we call them news stories…going back to my earlier point, about roles that I am not interested in playing, I think that there should be a pushback against all Muslim men are like this and all Muslim men are flawed, threatening or subjugating, and all Muslim women are weak and submissive. And actually, what more joyful way to do that than in a romantic comedy in which characters are…I’m interested in a girl because she likes Drake and we’ve got the same sense of humour and we like frozen yoghurt and that all felt real. I wanted to come back to that again because I think that it took me a little while over the course of filming to hone in on why this job and these scripts felt so special, and I think that it’s because it understands that specificity really works because it makes things more relatable. If you see two people are really fleshed out and three-dimensional, there will be elements of their character that you will completely understand and go “oh, yeah, that’s me, I have that as well and that’s what I look for in the world or in people”, and the stuff that you don’t understand isn’t presented in a sermonizing way. You look at that and go “Oh, that’s different”, but I don’t feel like you have to be Muslim to feel the pressure of and meet the expectations of family and society and a religious community. I think that this rings true for the Jewish friends, the Christian friends, and the Hindu friends that I have. And that’s what was really exciting about how Kash and his culture and his faith was portrayed in the show, and I wanted to get that off of my chest. [laughs]
The first four episodes of Four Weddings and a Funeral are currently streaming on Hulu. Each new episode will be released on Hulu every Wednesday.