Kumail Nanjiani Recreates Childhood Photo for PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive Issue: 'I Was a Cute Kid'

The Eternals star makes his debut in this year's Sexiest Man Alive issue and talks about when he finally started to feel comfortable in his own skin

Like most humans who successfully make it through the awkwardness brought on by puberty, Kumail Nanjiani admits that his "best" years were before and after his teen years.

"Listen, I was a cute kid. It's not arrogant because I can admit I stopped being cute around eight or nine years old," the actor and comedian, 43, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, where he makes his Sexiest Man Alive debut in the "All Grown Up" section.

Nanjiani says childhood cuteness aside, he "was very quiet and very shy and not very social. I played video games and watched movies. I definitely felt the most awkward the last few years of high school, when I started feeling pressure to have friends and get invited to parties and start liking girls and all that stuff."

The Silicon Valley star says he shared the below photo with PEOPLE because it's a family favorite. "I am about three or four years old," he says. "I have no memory of having a picture taken, but it's one of those pictures that I've known my whole life. I have no idea of the circumstances of it, but it does look like I'm feeling myself in the picture."

Kumail Nanjiani
Courtesy Kumail Janjiani

Born and raised in Pakistan, the actor says he started to hit his stride and found his sense of humor when he moved to the U.S. for college.

"When I got to college, I really sort of started figuring out who I was," he says. "I had a great time in college. I didn't think I was funny until then, but pretty quickly there, I realized that I could make people laugh."

The Big Sick writer and star says that his parents and friends from his youth are the most shocked by his chosen profession.

"They shocked that I do what I do, they're like, 'You were so quiet. You were so shy!'" he says. "It still doesn't make sense to my parents."

For more on Kumail Nanjiani and to see his Sexiest Man Alive issue debut, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE now on newsstands

sexiest man alive all grown up
Peggy Sirota

With age and time Nanjiani, who gamely recreated his childhood photo for us above, is in a much better place of self-acceptance, save for a couple hairs.

"I don't really spend a lot of time looking in the mirror," he admits. "But there are a couple more grays. That's all I see now, I know exactly where the grays are."

He certainly hasn't let working in Hollywood go to his head... yet.

"When I'm working, the way I look is the last thing I think about," says Nanjiani. "I am very grateful for the people whose job it is to make me look presentable. If it was up to me, I would look like a nightmare all the time."

If he could go back and give his younger, slightly more awkward self a pep talk, he says he'd try and give himself some early reassurance.

"I would tell him, 'Don't worry, do what you're doing. Things are going to be okay at some point,'" says Nanjiani. "'Get through high school and then it'll get better.'"

Eternals is now playing in theaters.

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