The newly muscled-up Kumail Nanjiani plays Marvel’s immortal superhero Kingo in November 5th’s Eternals — but that’s just the beginning of the former Silicon Valley star’s radical career makeover. In our recent interview with Nanjiani (coming soon online and in the new issue of Rolling Stone), he also discusses his role in 2022’s Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi, in which Ewan McGregor reprises the title role for the first time since 2005’s Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith. Here’s what Nanjiani had to say about that top-secret show, which is set between Episode III and IV in the saga.
How did your role in Obi-Wan Kenobi come about?
My agents called me and it was the whole group of them that never call you. And I was like, “OK, this is either amazing news or really awful news.” And they’re like, “They want you to play a part in Obi-Wan, and apparently it’s substantial.” So then I talked to [director Deborah Chow] and we had a great conversation. And the character sounded awesome — I was so excited about this character. We haven’t seen this exact thing in Star Wars yet. This is like a new version of a type of Star Wars character we’ve seen before. And she was trying to sell me on it. And I was like, “I was gonna do it before the conversation!” It was kind of perfect. Right after quarantine I got to do a job, in town, and it was in Star Wars. It was just the most joyful first job back possible. I didn’t know how I could beat the experience I’ve had, which is a Marvel movie with Chloé Zhao, who is amazing, and maybe the greatest cast ever assembled, and then have Obi-Wan as the next thing, with another really fantastic cast. Ewan McGregor! Really? I don’t know where I go from there. [Laughs.] And so I decided to walk into the middle of the woods.
What was it like on set?
I had this moment. I’d heard Ewan [McGregor] was supernice. And then we got to know each other a little bit, just hanging out and talking. Then there was this weird moment where I’m talking to Ewan and they yell “Action,” and he’d started talking to me, and I was like, “Oh, I’m talking to Obi-Wan right now. This is not Ewan McGregor. This is Obi-Wan Kenobi that I’m talking to.” My character is supposed to be a little bit intimidated by him, and I was a little bit intimidated. You know, it’s fucking Obi-Wan, what are you gonna do?
The show is shot on the Volume, which is that remarkable virtual set also used on The Mandalorian, where the CGI is happening all around you in real time. How did that affect things for you?
You really feel like you’re there. The first scene we shot, it was Star Wars outside the windows, with aliens walking around and ships flying by and all this stuff, but the rest of it just looked like a warehouse. So I did a couple of takes and then Ewan was like, “You know, none of this is real.” I knew the windows weren’t real, but the walls weren’t either! I looked and I was like, “Wow, the walls are projected.” The only thing that was real in the whole room was the desk I was sitting at. It was wild. It was really, really exciting. I love shooting like that, because you don’t have to pretend that you’re on a spaceship flying through space. It really feels like you’re in a spaceship flying through space. And it’s amazing to be inside the world of Star Wars, the world that I’ve been watching since I was born. I’ve been a fan as long as I can remember. In fact, I just went to Disneyland, and I went to the Star Wars world, and I was like, “Oh, this kinda feels like being at work.”