If you’ve seen the trailers for The Big Sick, you’ve seen the motion picture film debut of North Penn high grad Kuhoo Verma.
She’s plays one of several prospective Muslim brides who form a funny-but-important story thread in the movie, the story of a Pakistani-American (Kumail Nanjiani) who’s afraid to tell his devout parents he has an American girlfriend. Verma plays Zubeida, who tries to impress Nanjiani with her enthusiasm for The X Files, which she’s been told is his favorite show (her laugh line: An enthusiastic recitation of “The truth is out there.”).
Though Verma’s not on screen for long, she was on set for an entire day, improvising with Nanjiani and director Michael Showalter, just to find the right rhythm and the right comedic note for the bit that turns up in the film, which opened in Philly last week, but expands its nationwide footprint to 2,500 theaters (from 365) Friday.
“This was my first experience in film and I didn’t know what to expect. It was one of the last days of shooting, so the cast was very comfortable with each other, and I was this new person walking into this creative family,” Verma recalled. “That being said, it was kind of like ‘My Day,’” she said. The cast and crew were nearing the end of a long journey, and “they were there to facilitate my scene.”
She was nervous but soon found it easy to get down to work. “I was so scared, but by the end they were all applauding.”
Verma’s background is theater — she played Belle in the North Penn’s production of Beauty and the Beast — and found on-camera work a new challenge. “In live theater, you don’t have to do it more than once. [In film], you find yourself sitting around a lot, and you have to re-create that energy out of nowhere, over and over again,” she said.
Verma’s path to The Big Sick was unusual. She doesn’t have an agent and attends NYU to study vocal performance, where’s she in her third year. Some time ago a friend suggested she answer the casting call for a theatrical version of Mira Nair’s 2001 film Monsoon Wedding, just to “‘get her toes wet.”
Verma went “to figure out what it feels like to be in a real professional audition room.”
She got a call back, but eventually lost the job to another candidate. The producers gave her a consolation prize — a head’s up about auditions for the Big Sick job, which incredibly enough she got. Even more incredibly, she got another call from the Monsoon Wedding producers saying that after further consideration, she’d gotten that job as well.
“I must have done something pretty great in my last life to be this lucky, so much of this field is just luck,” Verma said. “It just doesn’t happen this easily. I’ve definitely put in the work, but you don’t expect things to happen this way. It’s like magic.”
Also magical: putting in her day on The Big Sick, then finding out her scene was selected for one of the movie’s trailers. In the old days, her phone would have been ringing off the hook. These days, the words of surprise and encouragement turned up on her Facebook page.
Verma knows she’s lucky, and lucky to have attended North Penn.
“My entire high school experience was the theater classes. They have such an amazing theater program; I was lucky to be a part of that school. If I was anywhere else, I don’t think I’d be where I am now,” she said. “Everyone I knew in high school has been taking a minute to post on my wall, and really just being incredibly supportive.”