When you and your best friends make up a group of secret ninja warrior heroes, you should feel like you’re on top of the world. But when you’re a nervous teenager who’s full of self-doubt like Jay, aka the Lightning Ninja (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) in The LEGO Ninjago Movie, having to face off with Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux), The Worst Guy Ever, is terrifying.
While at the LEGOLAND California Resort for the film’s press junket, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with actor Kumail Nanjiani to talk about why he wanted to be a part of The LEGO Ninjago Movie, how much fun they had improvising when they actually got to work together, playing the sensitive and emotional ninja, how he’s most jealous of Jay, what he’d want his own personal ninja superpower and mech to be, and playing with LEGOs as a kid. He also talked about what it’s been like to be a part of the hit comedy series Silicon Valley, the success of The Big Sick (which he co-wrote with his wife, Emily V. Gordon), what he looks for in a project, and whether he’d also like to try his hand at directing.
First of all, congratulations on the success of The Big Sick! Could you ever have imagined the response you’d get, and have you fully been able to wrap your head around the success of such a personal project?
KUMAIL NANJIANI: No! It’s been far behind what we’d ever hoped for. It’s been a big, crazy thing!
Is it extra cool, when it’s something so personal?
NANJIANI: Yeah, ‘cause if they don’t like it, it’s a pretty big matzo ball. If it’s something so personal and then people don’t like it, it really feels like an indictment of you, as a person. But we were so cavalier, in the sense that we were like, “We’ll put our lives out there and hope people like it.” It’s good that they like it, but it could have gone very awry.
What sold you on The LEGO Ninjago Movie and made you want to be a part of it?
NANJIANI: I’d only seen the first LEGO Movie, at that point, which I had really, really loved. I’ve seen LEGO Batman since then, but when we started, I hadn’t seen it because it wasn’t done. I just loved the first movie a lot. I thought it was very surprising. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that Chris [Miller] and Phil [Lord] were very good, but it was so moving and funny and weird. So, when they called me to ask me to do it, and they said who else was doing it, and it was Dave Franco, Olivia Munn, Justin Theroux, Zach Woods, Abbi Jacobson, Fred Armisen and Michael Peña, I was like, “This is the most unbelievable cast, ever! Every one of these people are so talented!” For me, it was a very easy decision. I didn’t have to think about it.