A night club themed red carpet welcomed the stars and creatives behind Hulu’s “Welcome To Chippendales” on Tuesday night. The series held its world premiere event at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, taking over two floors with period accurate displays and decorations.
The real-life inspired series hails from Emmy nominated writer/producer Robert Siegel, who shot to stardom in the feature realm after penning Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler and John Lee Hancock’s The Founder.
Earlier this year, Siegel wrote and produced the critically acclaimed Hulu limited series “Pam & Tommy,” which earned 10 Emmy nominations including Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series.
Wisely, Hulu is back in business with Siegel with “Welcome to Chippendales.” The series tells the outrageous story of L.A. transplant Somen “Steve” Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani), an Indian immigrant who became the unlikely founder of the world’s greatest male-stripping empire.
The Chippendales brand became so popular that it was featured in an iconic “Saturday Night Live” sketch, where Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze participate in a dance-off for a job with the company.
Siegel deftly explores the tragedy and drama surrounding the well-known events of Chippendales with vibrant characters and a witty humor. “I’m definitely drawn to material about difficult protagonists and the challenge of writing characters that seem unlikable, but are equally fascinating to watch… the Walter Whites and Tony Sopranos,” Siegel said.
The timeline of the series starts in the late 1970s and covers a decade of events. “There was so much material, we could’ve done two season worth of this and drag it out,” Siegel said. “You want to keep the series propulsive and moving in the streaming world.”
Siegel was drawn to series lead Kumail Nanjiani because of his talent and likable persona, which allowed Nanjiani some crossover goodwill as he plays against type with the character of Steve Banerjee. “I knew the character was going to do some not so nice things, and people are going to root for Kumail, and he’s also funny,” Siegel shared.
Siegel pointed to the expanded diversity of the television storytelling landscape, while highlighting there is necessity for a brand name in a leading role. “The nice thing is we’re at a point where you can make a show with a South Asian lead,” says Siegel. “The downside is that there are only four actors that can green light this show… Dev (Patel), Aziz (Ansari), Himesh Patel, and Kumail (Nanjiani). Kumail is so great, there’s a real depth and pain you find with comedians and Kumail has all that.”
Following his Emmy win for supporting actor in “The White Lotus,” actor Murray Bartlett was approached for the role of Emmy winning choreographer Nick De Nola, a captivating character who crafts the Chippendales brand into his own vision. “We needed someone with energy, charisma, and charm and the character is queer so it was important for us to represent that through a queer actor,” says Siegel.
For Bartlett, he was drawn to the project because of Kumail’s involvement and the riveting true life crime story. “Kumail was on board from the beginning, there’s an amazing creative team, and a really surprising story that is a roller coaster,” Bartlett said.
“This is a joy of a character who is a creative visionary, I got to dance and choreograph… I’m not really a dancer but I can move,” Bartlett joked. The Emmy winning actor did “drills” in his living room to fully master the choreography offset.
A key scene in the pilot episode sees Bartlett working both sides of the dance routine. “There’s a scene were I’m auditioning dancers and I have to mirror the routine with them which is really tricky,” Bartlett said. “Then I have to spin around do it with them properly, which was a challenge.”
Bartlett had nothing but praise for Nick De Nola, and he discussed his respect for the man and how he colored in details for his performance. “I think Nick was an amazing man and I wanted to do him justice while filling in some of the spaces that we couldn’t know about the man… in a great way I think,” Bartlett said.
For lead actor Kumail Nanjiani, he likes the idea of a dramatic turn in his career, but he has no interest in shunning the talents that brought him stardom. “I do wanna do more stuff like this, but I don’t want to be like ‘I am not doing comedy roles anymore,’” Nanjiani said. “My next role is a comedy role… I’d love to go back and forth, that’s really exciting.”
Halfway through filming the series, Nanjiani was considering a shift to focusing solely on dramatic work. “Halfway through I was like I only wanna do serious stuff now,” he joked. “By the end, I was like ‘I want to do a comedy.’”
“He is such a dark character, you really have to jump in with both feet and not judge the character,” Nanjiani said. “For me, something like this… the darker the better… let’s really go there.”
The idea of an immigrant coming to America and making it in an industry that’s not made for our success, I related to that aspect of it,” Nanjiani said. “I think it’s a cautionary tale. For immigrants and for everyone. At some point, you have to be happy with what you have… the relentless pursuit of success can corrupt.”
For composer Siddhartha Khosla, this was a rare opportunity to engage with a story centered on a South Asian protagonist. A six time Emmy nominated composer and songwriter, Khosla is the first South Asian person to be nominated in the prime time score and song Emmy categories.
With “Welcome to Chippendales,” Khosla got to experiment with sounds that he hadn’t worked with in a while. “Rob (Siegel) wanted this to feel like The Godfather…something on an epic scale. I grew up in the 1980s with a lot of synthesizers, and I got to musically play with toys that I haven’t used in a long time.”
A child of Indian immigrants, Khosla is also very proud of the show and likes to that the show doesn’t pull punches on this unusual immigrant success story. “This is an immigrant story that’s gone way wrong,” Khosla said. “We don’t get to tell these types of stories, this is subverting the immigrant myth in a very cool way.”
Before screening the first episode of the limited series, Hulu’s Head of Scripted Content, Jordan Helman, took the stage to sing the praises of their ongoing collaboration with Siegel as well as the work of producer/actor Kumail Nanjiani.
“This is an amazing group of artists assembled, and this series hits all the notes on the scale,” Helman said of the true crime dramedy. “Director Matt Shakman, who directed the pilot you’re about to see, worked with Rob (Siegel) on Pam and Tommy for us.”
“I’m looking at you guys now and getting emotional,” Nanjiani said to the packed house of cast, crew, and journalists. “Thank you for pouring yourselves into this and I hope everyone likes the show.”