“You ready?” Roberts asks. “Never,” Nanjiani says. Roberts fires another shock anyway, and Nanjiani’s lats quiver. Then he does another all-out rep.
The 41-year-old is hoping all that voltage (okay, only 70 milliamps, but still!) can fast-track his transformation from comedic actor into action star. Nanjiani made his name by making you laugh in The Big Sick and HBO’s Silicon Valley, and this year’s Men in Black: International. But his next role, rumoured to be in a major comic-book film, involves a makeover. “I realise what’s holding me back from those roles is how I look,” he says. “So I’m changing that.”
To that end, Nanjiani’s been trudging down to Granite five days a week for the past three months to train with Roberts, a former Mr Canada. Roberts uses electronic stimulation (e-stim to trainers) to help fire up target muscles – and it’s a strange sensation. But Nanjiani is fully on board, absorbing milliamps and grinding out reps.
It’s just one technique Roberts is deploying to catapult his client onto the action-hero A-list – a major leap for an actor who came to Hollywood after growing up in Pakistan and attending college in Iowa. Before he met Roberts, Nanjiani had been your average gymgoer, riding the stationary bike to nowhere for 20 minutes a day. Now his workouts draw from the bodybuilder playbook, and his trademark wit has been replaced by a thousand-yard stare.
“When I’m exercising, I’m not thinking about anything else,” he says. “It’s like meditation.” That may be why Nanjiani’s friends “practically staged an intervention” a few months ago to get him out of the gym. The last thing they want is a T-1000 clone of Nanjiani replacing Silicon Valley’s Dinesh. “Several of my friends have said, ‘There’s nothing funny about a guy who works out all the time.’ ” Nanjiani doesn’t care: “I’m kind of obsessed with it.”
Even when he’s not hooked up to diodes, Nanjiani thinks about the gym. His diet is so squeaky-clean that Roberts has to nudge him to carb up on cheat day. The actor’s goal: slap 10 kilograms of muscle onto his 68-kg frame. No joke.
But he insists he’s not turning his back on comedy; rather, he’s expanding his acting range. “Look at Bruce Willis in Die Hard,” he says. “He was very funny while staying true to the tone of the movie.” In the process, the TV lightweight became one of the heaviest hitters in Hollywood.
Hollywood. Nanjiani has his eyes on a similar prize. “If I can be a big, buff person with the same outlook I have now, that would be pretty cool,” he says. “There aren’t many people around like that.”
BREAK OF BRAWN
Nanjiani’s spent extra time (and electricity!) building action-hero shoulders. Want to bulk yours up? Try his workout.
DIRECTIONS: Do the first 3 moves as a triset, one right after the other, using the same dumbbells. Do 3 rounds, resting 60 seconds between each round. Then do exercise 4.
1 FRONT RAISE
Stand with dumbbells at your sides, palms in. Raise the weights in front of you until your arms are parallel to the floor. Pause, then lower. Do 5-8 reps.
2 LATERAL RAISE
Stand with dumbbells in front of you, palms in. Raise the dumbbells directly out to your sides, elbows bent slightly. Pause, then lower. Do 5-8 reps.
3 REAR-DELT RAISE
Bend your knees and hinge your torso forward, keeping your back flat, arms hanging. Raise the dumbbells out to your sides. Pause, then lower. Do 5-8.
4 W PRESS
Sit on a bench, dumbbells at your shoulders. Press them up and out; pause when your arms are nearly straight. Return to start. Do 3×12-15.
NANJIANI ON His go-to cheat meal . . . “Pakistani food is delicious, but it’s a lot of carbs: biryani, naan bread, tons of rice. Afterward, my wife and I will say, ‘Let’s take a quick nap’. We wake up five hours later.”
His current diet . . . “Basically, it’s five days of lowcarb, then over the weekend you eat as much as you want. But I’m still trying to figure out the food thing because I wasn’t eating enough. I’m afraid of gaining the wrong kind of weight because I’m very vain.”
His best comedy tip . . . “My favourite comedic actor growing up was Bill Murray. He’s the opposite of effort. He’s really not trying at all.” (Not recommended as a gym strategy.)